There's an Apple promo video on YouTube right called "iPad Pro -- Your next computer is not a computer" that's sitting pretty with more than 22 million views as I write this. Another video, with more than 3 million views, features an old-timey voiceover explaining how to "properly" use a computer, all while showing people flouting those rules with an iPad Pro.
The message is clear: The 2020 iPad Pro doesn't act the way your computer does, but it's just as capable. The company has spent years pushing that message in one form or another, and every time I heard someone invoke it, the notion sort of fell flat for me. Yes, iPads are powerful and clever and user-friendly, but -- and tell me if this sounds familiar -- I've always been able to get more done, and faster, on a proper laptop or PC. Apple sees that, and it's starting to change it.
At the risk of being reductive, Apple took the last version of the iPad Pro, changed a few components and gave it some updated software. Normally, that wouldn't sound like much to get excited over, but taken as a whole, these changes bring the iPad Pro closer than ever to working like a full-blown computer. That doesn't mean I'm ready to give up my MacBook Pro for good, but for the first time, I'm starting to think I actually could.
- Strong performance
- LiDAR could be an AR game-changer
- Mostly elegant trackpad support
- Base model now has more storage
- Ultra-wide camera not as good as main
- Some apps need to be trackpad-optimized
- Still no headphone jack
- Hardware doesn't feel dramatically updated
Like last time, there are two new iPad Pros -- 11-inch and 12.9-inch models -- and also like last time, we're testing the latter. Now, these premium tablets have a lot going for them, but one of the biggest practical changes Apple made this year was giving the base-level Pros 128GB of storage, up from 64GB in 2018. Here's what the lineup looks like now:
- iPad Pro 11 WiFi: 128GB ($799), 256GB ($899), 512GB ($1,099), 1TB ($1,299)
- iPad Pro 11 WiFi + LTE: 128GB ($949), 256GB ($1,049), 512GB ($1,249), 1TB ($1,449)
- iPad Pro 12.9 WiFi: 128GB ($999), 256GB ($1,099), 512GB ($1,299), 1TB ($1,499)
- iPad Pro 12.9 WiFi + LTE: 128GB ($1,149), 256GB ($1,249), 512GB ($1,449), 1TB ($1,649)
A familiar look
There's a lot going on in this year's iPad Pro, but it might be helpful to run through what hasn't changed first. (It's a pretty long list.) Apart from the big new camera hump high on the backside, which we'll get into later, this iPad Pro is the exact same size, shape and weight as the model it replaces. The front-facing camera and TrueDepth Face ID sensor work as well as they did before, though their placement still feels weird. Most people I know are more prone to holding their tablets horizontally, which means the TrueDepth camera used for Face Unlock frequently gets covered up by hand meat.
The three-pin Smart Connector still sits low on the iPad's rear, so the one accessory that uses it -- Apple's magnetic keyboard case -- works fine here. The second-generation Apple Pencil remains a fantastic tool for digital artists and notetakers, and nothing in the new OS seems to improve on it. As far as we can tell, this year's iPad Pro uses the exact same screen as the third-generation Pros.
In case you didn't read our earlier review, that is a good thing. This 12.9-inch display remains a stunner with excellent colors and viewing angles, and it's once again helped by features like True Tone, which adjusts the screen's color temperature automatically. (Trust me, it's more pleasant for your eyes than it might sound.) And like last time, this display refreshes 120 times per second, so on-screen motion looks remarkably smooth compared to earlier iPads -- not to mention most laptops. This is easily the best screen you'll find on a tablet, and it's much easier on my eyes than the one built into my 13-inch MacBook Pro. My only real gripe is that despite being treated with an oleophobic coating, the screen still picks up fingerprints easily. If, like me, you have naturally oily hands, it won't take long for it to start looking... well, kind of gross.
This iPad Pro still packs four speakers, one in each of the tablet's corners. They produce some surprisingly immersive audio when you're just sort of lazing around watching movies, but honestly, a tablet like this needs to have its headphone jack reinstated. Yes, headphone jacks have all but disappeared from premium smartphones, and when Apple axed them from iPhones, it claimed the move required a certain degree of "courage." (🙄) Well, Apple, this iPad is meant to be a pro-grade machine. It certainly isn't cheap, and the headphone jack can be especially helpful to musicians and audio professionals. They matter too, right? Admitting a mistake and reversing course because it's the right thing to do -- now that would be courageous.
Subtleties in performance
While the 2020 iPad Pro doesn't look all that different, its internals have gotten some interesting tweaks. Rather than use a variant of the iPhone 11's A13 Bionic chipset, Apple tried something a little different this year: It upgraded the existing A12 architecture to give us the new(ish) A12Z Bionic. I say "ish" because the cluster of CPU cores appears to be unchanged from the A12X chipset used in the last iPad Pro. Apart from some changes to the thermal architecture and performance controllers to help it handle more-sustained loads, the biggest difference is the updated GPU: Apple says it added one additional processing core, bringing the total to eight.
That won't mean much to many of you reading this, because in many cases it doesn't make a difference. Day-to-day performance feels unchanged compared to the 2018 model, which is a testament to how fast that tablet was and how tightly focused Apple's reengineering was this time. Synthetic benchmarks don't always tell the whole tale, which is why I don't rely on them as heavily as I used to, but I think these are particularly telling.
|iPad Pro (2020)||iPad Pro (2018)||iPhone 11 Pro Max||Mid-2018 MacBook Pro||Gaming PC (Ryzen 7 3700X)|
|Geekbench 5 CPU (single-core)||1124||1117||1337||1089||1261|
|Geekbench 5 CPU (multi-core)||4710||4674||3338||3960||8105|
|Geekbench 5 Compute (metal and OpenCL)||9745||9180||6326||7181||59993|
|Adobe Premiere Rush 4K-to-1080p export time (in minutes)||5:35||6:58||9:52||18:27||4:56|
Single-core CPU performance here is basically in lockstep with the earlier iPad Pro, as is multi-core performance. (The iPhone 11 Pro has a slight lead with that first metric, thanks to its more modern architecture.) Geekbench 5's Compute test taps more thoroughly into the device's GPU, which explains why the new Pro edges out last year's model and blows away my work-issued 2018 MacBook Pro with integrated Intel Iris Plus graphics. And for fun, I ran the same benchmarks on a gaming PC I just finished building. The iPad Pro can credibly take on most mid- and low-end laptops, but it's no match for a proper workstation.
That said, it got surprisingly close in one test. Editing and exporting videos can push a system to its limit, so I threw some 4K60 and 4K24 clips at the devices listed above and had them churn out a YouTube-friendly, 1080p30 video in Adobe Premiere Rush. The new iPad Pro got the job done nearly a minute and a half faster than last year's model and more than four minutes faster than the iPhone 11 Pro Max. My MacBook Pro, meanwhile, sat around for almost 18 minutes and change before the job. And that gaming PC I just built? It was the fastest of the bunch, but even with an octa-core AMD Ryzen 7 3700X processor on board, it still only beat the 2020 iPad Pro by about 40 seconds. (Kinda makes me wish I had sunk more money into my PC.)
Gallery: iPad Pro 12.9 review (2020) | 12 Photos
Gallery: iPad Pro 12.9 review (2020) | 12 Photos
I obviously can't speak for every "pro" use case, but the stuff I do frequently, like working with big, multilayer Photoshop files and editing RAW photos in Lightroom, were no problem for the iPad. The day-to-day stuff is well taken care of too: I had dozens of tabs running in Chrome while watching YouTube videos in a separate Split View window, and the iPad didn't break a sweat. (For what it's worth, I did try throwing some huge CAD files at this thing, but the apps I tried opening them with all failed to import them correctly.) Thankfully, battery life remains as respectable as ever. I've been using it exclusively to research and write this review as well as edit the photos you see here, and I've generally been able to get just shy of 11 hours before needing to charge it again.
Ultimately, yes, there's plenty of power here. It's just that, after a week of testing, I can't say this year's model feels dramatically faster than the one it replaces. Most people simply won't notice the extra performance headroom we got in this refresh, but it's there, and it does make certain tasks run more smoothly. Here's hoping we get a more pronounced power boost next time though, especially now that I've started using the iPad more like a laptop.