Should you upgrade to the iPad Pro (10.5 or 12.9)?

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If speed and having the best drawing features matter to you, Apple’s new iPad Pro models are worth your money.

Apple’s 2017 10.5 and 12.9-inch iPad Pro models are bigger, better, and faster than any other iPad — but are they worth your hard-earned cash? Whether you currently have a first-generation iPad Pro, considering buying your very first Pro-model iPad, or weighing the 2018 base-model iPad over a Pro, here’s what you need to know.

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Capacity & Color

Both the 10.5 and 12.9-inch iPad Pro models start at a baseline 64GB of storage space — a welcome doubling of the iPad Pro’s previous storage capacities — and go all the way up to 512GB at their highest configuration. (For reference, the base MacBook Pro model starts at 128GB.)

Colors is the only place where the two new iPad Pro models differ: The 12.9-inch model is sadly lacking a Rose Gold option; otherwise, the two share the same Space Grey, Silver, and Gold color choices.

If you need more storage on your next iPad and cloud-based storage won’t do, both of these iPads are great improvements — 512GB of storage is the largest ever offered on an iOS device, and it’s especially nice given the storage needs of iOS 11 and the Files app.

Screen & ProMotion

The Pro models are all about that screen technology: The entire line now carries a 264PPI Wide Color Retina display with True Tone (which allows it to intelligently detect and adjust outside light to match the screen tone to your environment); like iPads Pro of old, it also sports a laminated display and anti-reflective coating.

But the big deal here is ProMotion, Apple’s screen refresh technology. Like Retina and Wide Color, the tech specs of ProMotion are interesting, but not really necessary for the average user to understand. What’s important: ProMotion makes the iPad Pro screen feel fast. Blazingly, blisteringly fast. Scrolling feels more responsive, opening apps is faster, and Apple has made another gigantic leap forward in digital sketching technology. Drawing with Apple Pencil still won’t feel exactly like drawing on paper, but the company is inching ever-closer to that goal.

ProMotion alone is worth an upgrade to the new iPad Pro for plain screen speed, but if you like drawing on the iPad Pro, the upgrade is almost mandatory. This sounds like hype, but I mean it truly: Once you try a screen with ProMotion, you’ll never want to go back.

A10X Fusion Chip

If faster screen technology wasn’t enough, the iPads Pro also get a super-powered processor in the form of the A10X. Every year, Apple iterates on its chipset, but 2017 was a particularly impressive one for the iPad Pro: The chip now has three fusion cores and a 12-core graphics processor, and uses that technology to blow away the 9.7-inch iPad Pro’s previously rather impressive metrics:

  • Single-core: 3,935 (9.7-inch: 2,675)
  • Multi-core: 9,299 (9.7-inch: 5,015)
  • Metal: 27,131 (9.7-inch: 15,161)

That chip is paired with Apple’s M10 motion co-processor and a standard 4GB of RAM across both iPad Pro sizes, giving the device even more power and memory to work with.

If you need a tablet that can hit faster speeds than some of Apple’s entry-level Macs, this is the iPad Pro for you — no question.

Camera

Let’s get this out of the way: I’m not a fan of people shooting video and photos with the iPad. Why would you shoot with an overly large and cumbersome display when you have a perfectly good IPhone or Android device in your pocket? But I know there are those it makes sense for, largely those who need a large preview of their content (like location scouts or macro photographers), and Apple has improved the camera for that market.


The iPads Pro now have the iPhone 7’s 12MP iSIght camera and 7MP FaceTime HD front-facing camera, with all their bells and whistles: optical image and video stabilization, a True Tone flash, 5x digital zoom, Wide Color capture, and a six-element lens.

Why did Apple choose the iPhone 7 camera system over the 7 Plus’s dual cameras? I’d guess it was primarily a cost decision — not enough iPad photographers out there to warrant the extra component pricing.

If you’re an iPad camera buff, this is a welcome improvement; for most, however, you’ll likely only notice these camera improvements when chatting on FaceTime.

Home Button

If you’re looking for a Taptic Engine-based Home Button on the new iPads Pro, prepare to be disappointed: The new iPads continue to use physical buttons, though they both get Apple’s speedier second-generation Touch ID sensor to make up for it.

Apple’s Taptic Engine is difficult to do on an iPad for a number of reasons, largely technical — the bigger screen presents problems in effectively generating the right haptic feel, among other issues. So until Apple conquers that, we get physical buttons on the iPad.

Faster Touch ID may not be the sole reason anyone should upgrade, but it’s a nice perk; speedier authentication means that you can access your device faster, pay for items faster, and download games faster.

Battery

Like all iPads before them, these iPads Pro continue to boast a 10-hour battery life (9 on the cellular models). The internal batteries themselves have been slightly altered given the power needs of the new iPads: The 10.5-inch iPad now has a 30.4-watt-hour battery, while the 12.9-inch continues to have a 41-watt-hour battery.

Apple Pencil

People have been making stylus pens for the iPad for years, even ones that tried to emulate pressure sensitivity through clever use of Bluetooth and code. Apple Pencil, however, delivers real pressure sensitivity. It also plugs right into the Lightning port to charge, in case you run out of juice at a coffee shop or park bench.

Apple’s 2018 base-model 9.7-inch iPad offers support for the Apple Pencil, but it lacks the ProMotion technology found in the 2017 iPad Pro line. With it, you get a digital drawing experience unlike any other, rivaling Wacom.

If you regularly draft, scribble, write, sketch, do calligraphy or technical drawing, or otherwise express your creativity in ways previously only possible on paper, you’ll be happy with either model of iPad Pro. If you only want to use the Pencil occasionally (or not at all), the base model iPad may be more up your alley.

Smart Connector & Keyboard

All iPad Pro models have a Smart Connector, which allows you to wirelessly connect to a keyboard, dock, or other accessory for quick powered access. Accessory manufacturers have largely used this to make great keyboards for the iPads Pro, including Apple itself. The company’s second-generation Smart Keyboard is very similar to the first: It lets you connect and charge directly without having to worry about Bluetooth or batteries. As keyboards go, it’s divisive — some love the ultra-light laser-ablated fabric keys and others hate them. But those considering Pro iPads will be happy to know that the Smart Keyboard is a full-sized model for both the 10.5 and 12.9-inch — no miniature keys here.

Should you upgrade?

There are a number of compelling reasons to get the new iPad Pros if you’re considering upgrading your older device: They’re much faster and offer a brilliant screen that you’ll want on all your other devices. They come in bigger sizes and offer a camera package equal to the current-generation iPhone. And for artists, ProMotion is a game-changing technology for drawing on glass.

If you’re upgrading from a non-Pro iPad

As long as you have the cash to make an iPad Pro purchase work, you should 100% consider a new iPad Pro — the benefits you’ll get from the processor, RAM, ProMotion, and more are worth it.

If you’re upgrading from a first-generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro

Even without a form-factor change, the 2017 12.9-inch iPad Pro is a big update: Its screen now has True Tone, Wide Color, and ProMotion technology; the camera system is greatly improved; and the speedier A10X processor will allow apps to truly roar on the larger size. If you can afford an update and need any of these features, the 12.9-inch is worth the buy.

If you’re upgrading from a first-generation 9.7-inch iPad Pro

This upgrade is a trickier sell, largely because the 9.7-inch iPad Pro is still quite good. It shipped with True Tone and a 12MP rear camera; the only real reasons to consider an upgrade here are the blazing fast A10X processor, ProMotion, the 2GB increase in RAM (up to 4GB), and the new wider screen. In honesty, those are still pretty compelling reasons — I purchased a 10.5-inch myself to upgrade over my 9.7 — but they’re not for everyone. If you don’t think you’ll need either the extra screen real estate, chip upgrade, or ProMotion, you may be able to eke out another year or two with the 9.7-inch iPad without issue.

Questions?

Other questions about upgrading to the new iPads Pro? Let us know in the comments!

Updated March 29, 2018: Updated to include reference to the new 2018 base-model iPad.

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