It has been a year since Apple released the 9.7 inch iPad Pro. Since that time they have obviously done some work, and a lot can happen in a whole year. This thing is a beast.
That iPad that Phil Schiller revealed has already been discontinued, making way for the shiny new 10.5-inch model Apple unveiled at WWDC 2017. The Pro 10.5 ($649+) feels very familiar, not to mention surprisingly powerful, but that’s no surprise — every new iPad Pro that Apple releases is the best one out there. What’s more impressive is how finally — finally — Apple has put together an iPad that feels capable of living up to the company’s lofty words. It’s not perfect, and it’s not for everyone, but the iPad Pro 10.5 is still a bigger step forward than I expected.
iPad Pros have always been great options for people who need high-powered tablets, and the new 10.5-inch model is no exception. It’s a more exciting update than it might initially seem: The screen is bigger and brighter than before, and the new A10X Fusion chipset makes this model one of the most powerful in Apple’s Pro lineup. Throw in an excellent main camera and the same 10-hour battery life we’ve come to expect, and we’re left with a great — albeit expensive — tablet for users who crave excellent performance. It still won’t replace your laptop, but it might be able to soon. iOS 11 is set to launch this fall, and the update will make these new Pros even better for people who need to multitask.
If you’ve ever so much as looked at an iPad Pro, you know what to expect. The Pro 10.5’s body is crafted from a single block of aluminum, and it’s as sturdy and seamless as the previous model. There’s a sleep/wake key on the top-right corner, and a few millimeters around the corner from that are the volume keys. Going down from there, you’ll find the nanoSIM card slot — that is, if you’ve splurged on a cellular model.
The usual quartet of speakers is back, too, etched in pairs into the iPad’s top and bottom edges. And on the left side: the three-pin Smart Connector that provides power and data connectivity for a slew of fancy Pro-series accessories.
Really, there’s only one clear sign that you’re looking at a different kind of iPad. Look at the screen — or more accurately, look around the screen. The Pro 10.5 has much smaller bezels because Apple squeezed a larger panel into a body that’s only slightly bigger than the 9.7-inch model.
The other changes are apparent only when you turn the iPad on. The improved Touch ID sensor in the home button is noticeably faster than the one in the last Pro, for one, and Apple raised the storage minimum across all Pro models. The base is now 64GB, though the model I’m testing has a whopping 512GB. That’s as much storage as the laptop I just bought, a sign that Apple wants the iPad Pro to be able to stand in for a traditional computer when needed.
Both of the earlier iPad Pro models had good screens, but neither were all that exciting. Not so this time: The Pro 10.5’s display is fantastic. For one, it’s a little bigger than the panels Apple once used in its iPads. I really like the 12.9-inch Pro in theory, but it was always too hefty to lug around (especially since I often have a laptop with me, anyway). And the 9.7-inch Pro was fine for reading and video, but less than ideal when I needed to get work done. It honestly would’ve been nice to get an even bigger screen this time — say, 11 inches — but Apple’s size decision here was at least a step in the right direction. And because Apple bumped this screen’s resolution to 2,224 x 1,668, it’s just as crisp as every other Retina iPad display.
This is also Apple’s first ProMotion screen, which means it refreshes at a rate of 120Hz instead of the typical 60Hz. As a result, scrolling and animations are almost startlingly smooth. Your TV probably has a similar feature, which makes actors on-screen look like they’re walking around a soundstage instead of their fictional world. Here, it just makes the action look more fluid, as though the icons you’re pushing around a home screen are real objects. Frankly, I don’t want to go back to a non-ProMotion iPad after this.
While similarities to televisions are fresh in our minds, the Pro 10.5 also packs support for the DCI-P3 wide color gamut. This first debuted on last year’s iPad Pro, and it just means colors here are livelier and more saturated. Beyond that, this is also one of the brightest iPad screens I’ve ever seen. It tops out at around 600 nits, putting it ahead of many existing tablets, not to mention quite a few laptops. That brightness makes this model a champ for watching movies in well-lit environments, and an improved anti-reflective coating also means it’s great for outdoor use, too. Throw in True Tone, which changes the screen’s color temperature based on your surroundings, and you’ve got one of the most technically impressive displays Apple has ever made.
As mentioned, the 10.5 has the same four-speaker setup we’ve seen in earlier Pro models. They’re not quite enough to fill a room, but they offer loud, crisp audio without distortion. I spent a lot of time watching cooking videos on YouTube while futzing around in my kitchen, and the Pro 10.5 was always audible above the domestic din. I have Apple’s speaker design to thank for a lot of that clarity — all four speakers play low-frequency sound, but only the top two play the mids and highs. That clever trick makes for surprisingly good channel separation for movies and music, though the benefits are less clear for audiobooks and podcasts.
Not to sound too enthusiastic, but the superlatives don’t end with the screen. Thanks to Apple’s A10X Fusion chip (a more powerful spin on the processors used in the iPhone 7), an updated GPU and 4GB of RAM, this is the most powerful iPad to date. Apple says CPU speeds here are 30 percent faster than last year’s Pro, and that graphics speed has improved 40 percent. Our usual set of benchmarks (below) certainly point to some big performance gains, but here’s the most important thing: Hardly anything I threw at the Pro over a week of testing managed to trip it up.
Working for Engadget involves a lot of multitasking, so I often had two apps — like Slack and Safari — running side by side in iOS’s Split View mode. Things sometimes felt a little cramped, but everything ran smoothly. Visually intense games like Monument Valley 2, Skullgirls and Telltale’s Guardians of the Galaxy were no problem for the Pro either and actually seemed to get a visual boost thanks to the ProMotion screen. Even editing multiple 4K video files in iMovie was a surprisingly painless process, partially because the updated 12-megapixel camera can shoot native 4K footage. (You’ll still look a little ridiculous taking photos and video with a tablet, but at least the results will be worth it.)