The differences have never been fewer between Apple’s two Pro models, yet the decision remains a tough one.
In 2017, Apple not only introduced a new size of iPad Pro with a 10.5-inch screen, but it also completely overhauled the internals of both models.
They now have identical screen technology, processors, RAM, and GPUs; USB-C quick-charging technology; cameras; and Touch ID sensors. This makes it easier than ever to focus on the actual size of the two devices as your primary differentiator, rather than twiddle your thumbs over which model has a True Tone display.
- 10.5-inch or 12.9-inch Retina display
- 600-nit brightness
- Anti-reflective coating
- ProMotion refresh technology (120Hz)
- True Tone
- Wide Color (P3)
- Full-screen virtual keyboard
- CHIPS & STORAGE
- A10X system-on-a-chip
- M10 integrated motion co-processor
- 64GB – 512GB SSD storage
- 4GB RAM
- USB-C connection speeds
- 12MP, f/1.8 iSight rear camera with OIS
- 7MP, f/2.2 FaceTime HD front-facing camera
- 10-hour battery life
- ProMotion smart refresh adjustment (to save battery life)
- USB-C fast-charge support (optional; not included in box)
Even with all their similarities, the 10.5-inch and 12.9-inch iPads are for distinctly different audiences. How do you decide which camp you fall into? Let’s take a look.
Are you upgrading from an older iPad or iPad Pro?
While we have a separate guide available for those considering an upgrade to a new iPad, it’s worth touching on a few points here, too. If you’re considering upgrading your current iPad or iPad Pro for a 10.5- or 12.9-inch model, you’re going to want to consider spec improvement. As I mentioned above, both now have the same internals across the board, but certain upgrade paths are now much more appealing.
Previous 12.9-inch iPad Pro owners, for example, will see much bigger improvements between those first- and second-generation models than moving from the discontinued 9.7-inch iPad Pro to the new 10.5-inch model — and if you’re going to spend hundreds of dollars replacing a relatively new tablet, that boost may be necessary to justify the cost.
Should you upgrade to the new iPad Pro?
Do you need a standalone computer?
If you’re planning on using an iPad Pro to do most of your daily work, it’s hard not to appreciate the 12.9-inch model. It’s the only tablet in Apple’s lineup that offers two full-sized iPad apps in the horizontal version of Split View; that extra screen real estate also plays a part in providing a better experience digitally typing on the iPad or drawing with the Apple Pencil.
From our FAQ:
When using iOS’s multitasking features, the 10.5-inch iPad Pro uses the Compact size class when going into Split View. This means that after you set two apps into Split View, those apps will display iPhone-style interfaces when set side by side in a 50/50 split, and one iPad, one iPhone-style when in a 25/75 or 75/25 split.
The reason for this is simple: The 10.5-inch iPad Pro isn’t wide enough in landscape mode to fit two regular-sized apps without their interfacesI overlapping. Apple would need an extra 15% or more of width to make the apps scale effectively, which would make for a mighty strange iPad indeed.
In contrast, the 12.9-inch iPad Pro uses the Regular size class when going into Split View. This means that after you set two apps into Split View, those apps will display iPad-style interfaces when set side by side in a 50/50 split, and and one iPad, one iPhone-style when in a 25/75 or 75/25 split.
Both iPads have 4GB of RAM, allowing them to pull up a maximum of two Split View apps, one Slide Over app, and a Picture-in-Picture video, all on the same screen and in focus (all are useable at the same time).
The 12.9-inch iPad Pro’s size also means that it takes up the space of a computer in your bag and may weigh you down further if you choose to add compatible accessories, like a keyboard case.
Do you want a computer companion?
Apple’s Mac line isn’t going anywhere, and people who argue for either Macs or iPads are missing the point. The true brilliance of these devices is how well they work in tandem, with different devices suited to each task. If you believe this (as I do), the 10.5-inch model makes for an excellent companion alongside your iMac or MacBook Pro. Its 1-pound weight and slim frame are perfect to dual-carry with a laptop, and the larger 10.5-inch screen offers enough portability without sacrificing usable space.
The improvements to the 10.5-inch’s software keyboard are also welcome; The virtual keyboard takes up less room on the screen and the keys are bigger, avoiding much of the cramped typing experience that the 9.7-inch iPad provides.
Do you want the best accessories right now?
The 10.5-inch iPad is a beautiful addition to Apple’s iPad lineup — but accessory makers are still making new options for it. As such, there are only two real Smart Connector keyboard cases available for this size, including the Smart Keyboard (which is pretty good, fabric feel aside) and the Logitech Slim Combo (which I really didn’t enjoy).
Here’s why the 10.5-inch iPad Pro won’t fit in a 9.7-inch case
Best accessories for the 10.5-inch iPad Pro
The 12.9-inch iPad, in contrast, can use most of its old casewear so long as the cutouts are big enough for the tablet’s new camera system. As a result, new 12.9-inch buyers have a much wider assortment of accessories available to them than their fellow 10.5-inch fans.
Can the new 12.9-inch iPad Pro fit in 1st-generation cases?
Best accessories for the 12.9-inch iPad Pro
Do you want to save money and get more storage for your buck?
It’s always nice to try and save a few dollars while investing in a giant purchase, and the 10.5-inch model sets users up for a very nice discount on price per gigabyte. The $ 749 256GB 10.5-inch iPad Pro comes out to just $ 2.93/GB, while the same storage option on the 12.9-inch $ 899 model costs $ 3.51/GB.
Note: You’ll notice I’m excluding the 64GB models: Both of them have absolutely terrible price-per-GB ratios (ranging from $ 10-$ 12.50 per GB), and I refuse to recommend them to anyone who actually wants an iPad Pro. If you can’t afford the extra $ 100 to go up to 256GB, I’d personally recommend waiting and saving up the money over buying a device whose storage you’ll quickly outgrow.
Storage and cost-saving shouldn’t be your primary concerns when picking up a new computer, but it’s always worth a mention — and it’s hard not to highlight the 10.5-inch model’s cost-effective pricing, especially given its respective hardware.
Which iPad storage size should you get?
Do you want rose gold?
Spoiler: The 10.5-inch iPad Pro is the only Pro model in Apple’s iPad lineup that you can purchase in rose gold. Womp womp. If you’re a fan of the color, you’ll need to go for the 10.5-inch model — or, y’know, just get an appropriately pink case.
What iPad color should you get: Silver, space gray, gold, or rose gold?
Who should buy the 10.5-inch iPad Pro
The happiest 10.5-inch iPad Pro users are going to be those who need an iPad to augment — rather than replace — their day-to-day workflow. They might be artists who return to a Mac at the end of the day; they might be writers who occasionally want an ultraportable machine for travel; they might be cost-conscious students who need an iPad Pro with enough storage but not the price tag of a 12.9-inch model.
I ended up buying a 10.5-inch iPad Pro, which now travels with me alongside my 13-inch MacBook Pro. I find it an excellent combination, and best of all, I can use the 10.5-inch as a second monitor while on the go.
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Who should buy the 12.9-inch iPad Pro
If you’re considering a 12.9-inch iPad Pro, you’re likely someone who’s considering committing to a tablet-only workflow — or someone who’s already had experience with it and wants the ultimate iPad for their day-to-day experiences. The 12.9-inch currently excels at being a replacement laptop for certain tasks, especially with iOS 11’s multitasking features like Drag and Drop, the Files app, and the new App Switcher.
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Still undecided? Let me know in the comments and I’ll try to help you out.
Updated March 29, 2018: Updated for iOS 11.3 and the 2018 iPad.