iPad Pro 12.9in (2020) full review

2020 marks the 10th anniversary of the iPad, and it’s safe to say that Apple’s tablet has come a long way in the past decade. That’s especially apparent with the release of the new iPad Pro 12.9in and Magic Keyboard with trackpad support, a combination that can totally change how you look at Apple’s slab of glass and aluminium. If you’ve been waiting for the moment that the iPad Pro becomes a serious laptop competitor, that wait is now over. 

I’ve been using the iPad 12.9in (2020) and Magic Keyboard as my main machine for work and play, and here’s what I think. 

There’s something familiar here

The iPad Pro 12.9in is essentially identical to the 2018 iPad Pro, but unlike with most modern gadgets, that’s not really a bad thing. The aluminium tablet offers a near bezel-less experience - compared to the other iPads, anyway - complete with charmingly-rounded corners and an ultra-slim 5.9mm profile, and it’s available in the same Space Grey or Silver colour options too.

You’ll find the same magnetic strip along the right-hand edge of the tablet, used for attaching the Apple Pencil, along with the wireless contact point on the rear and a single USB-C port at the bottom. Sadly, there’s still no headphone jack present - but you weren’t really expecting Apple to backtrack on the decision to remove it, were you? 

In fact, the only noticeable difference compared to the previous iPad Pro 12.9in is on the rear. You’ll now find a square camera bump like that of the iPhone 11 Pro range, complete with a new dual-lens setup and a new LiDAR scanner - but more on that later. 

Despite the large dimensions of the 12.9in tablet - 280.6 x 214.9 x 5.8mm - it’s actually surprisingly light, weighing in at just 641g (or 643g if you opt for the cellular model). That is admittedly a jump from the 11in iPad Pro and Android alternatives like the Huawei MatePad Pro at 471g and 460g respectively, but none offer the screen real estate on offer from the 12.9in iPad Pro.

Crucially, it’s lighter than just about any 13in laptop you can buy right now - although the same can’t be said when combined with the Magic Keyboard. 

The look of the iPad Pro is reminiscent of the much-beloved iPhone 5, and that same design philosophy could also be applied to the iPhone 12 range - if rumours are to be believed, that is. That should speak volumes about how Apple, and consumers, feel about the design and build of the iPad Pro range. 

Like the old adage goes; if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. 

The best display on a mobile device

The 12.9in Liquid Retina display of the larger iPad Pro is easily one of the best screens on a mobile device overall, and it’s certainly the best display of any tablet on the market right now. It sports a high resolution (2048 x 2732) that makes it ideal for watching movies and content creation, with videos displayed in exquisite detail with bright, vivid colours, and it’s further improved by the inclusion of ProMotion technology.

For those unaware, ProMotion essentially allows the display to boost the refresh rate to 120Hz when required, providing a buttery-smooth experience whether swiping through Twitter or designing a poster, and it’s one of the main reasons to pick up an iPad Pro - although admittedly this isn’t exclusive to the 2020 range, as it was first introduced on the 2018 iPad Pro range. 

It’s noticeably brighter than most of the competition in everyday use, and can even be used outdoors in bright sunlight, although you might want to pick yourself up an anti-reflective cover as it can become mirror-esque. Throw the industry-leading True Tone colour adjustment into the mix and you’ve really got one of the best mobile displays available right now. 

The Magic Keyboard really is magic

With the introduction of the new iPad Pro range also came universal trackpad support and, more importantly, the launch of the £349/$349 Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro that essentially turns the tablet into a fully-fledged laptop. 

It’s a pricey upgrade compared to the older £199/$199 Smart Keyboard Folio, but I’d argue that the Magic Keyboard is an essential bit of kit if you intend to use the iPad for work.

For one, the backlit keyboard provides a phenomenal typing experience, backed by the same scissor mechanism as the latest MacBook Pro range, allowing you to type quickly without any real error. In fact, I’ve written this entire review - along with all articles I’ve published in the past few days - exclusively on the iPad Pro using the Magic Keyboard. The clicky feedback provides a better feel and stronger feedback than those of the older Smart Keyboard Folio, and it’s a marked improvement on the butterfly mechanism on the 2018 MacBook Air that I use for work too.

The trackpad is admittedly smaller than what you’ll find on most modern laptops, but unlike the competition, the every last bit of it is clickable. It’s more than big enough to handle the three-finger swipe gestures that help you navigate between apps quickly, and like with the keyboard, there’s strong click feedback whenever you apply pressure. 

But, by far the best part of the iPad Pro Magic Keyboard is the cantilever design that makes the iPad look like it’s floating above the keyboard. The angle is adjustable between 90 and 130 degrees, which is more than most other third-party iPad keyboards, and crucially, the well-balanced design means you can use it on your lap without it tilting backwards. Finally! 

But while the hardware is impressive, what’s equally impressive is the trackpad and mouse support now available. Swiping on the trackpad reveals a unique contextual trackpad that looks like a dot on-screen, and morphs into various shapes and buttons depending on what you’re doing. It’ll turn into a I-beam when editing text, and it’ll ‘stick’ to buttons and apps to make them more easily clickable while still promoting touch-first design in apps and you can even access a contextual menu with a right-click.

You’ll also find all the same swipe gestures and keyboard shortcuts as Mac, so there’s a relatively short learning curve if you’re familiar with macOS. 

I was hesitant about using a trackpad on an iPad, and I did initially scoff when Apple announced mouse and trackpad support, but I get it now. Within minutes of using the trackpad, it became my preferred method of input for just about everything. Dragging and dropping is much easier, and I’ve got far more control when text editing - crucial for my job. It also makes editing videos much easier, with more granular control than if I were tapping on screen, and it’s a similar story when dealing with spreadsheets too. 

If you mix that with Apple’s split-screen functionality that lets you use two apps at the same time and the ability to drag-and-drop content between apps, you’ve got a true laptop competitor. Of course it’s not going to suit everybody, and you’ll have to be sure that the apps you’d use are all available for iPadOS, but I can honestly say I’ve not felt the need to use my MacBook Air for a single task since the iPad Pro and Magic Keyboard arrived at my house. 

But while the Magic Keyboard is a truly transformative accessory for the iPad Pro, it isn’t perfect. While you’ve got access to a full-size keyboard, there’s a lack of iPadOS-specific controls, including brightness, media playback, access to Siri and more that are present on most third-party options along with Apple’s older Smart Folio keyboard. 

Then there’s also the issue of bulk: the Magic Keyboard weighs more than the iPad Pro itself, weighing in at 710g compared to 641g of the tablet. That’s a total of 1351g, which is actually slightly heavier than Apple’s latest 13in MacBook Air at 1290g. It’s still relatively thin when closed, so it shouldn’t be too off-putting for travellers, but there’s certainly a noticeable heft to it.

I’d still recommend the Magic Keyboard to anyone looking to get the most out of the iPad in one nicely-designed package, but it’s worth noting that you can get the same experience from any third-party Bluetooth mouse or trackpad - as long as you can deal with carrying multiple accessories around. 

Pro hardware for pro performance

At the heart of the 2020 iPad Pro range is Apple’s new A12Z Bionic processor alongside between 128GB and a whopping 1TB of storage. The upgraded chipset boasts improved thermal design to allow for sustained performance over longer periods of time when using demanding apps, but the real star of the show is the 8-core GPU that sits alongside the 8-core CPU. 

That upgraded GPU translates to improved graphics performance, whether you’re playing a high-end Apple Arcade game or using the tablet for graphic design. In real-world use, the iPad is about as smooth as can be regardless of what you’re trying to do, and I’ve yet to see even a hint of stutter from the tablet. 

That makes the iPad Pro the ideal bit of kit when it comes to running pro-level apps like Procreate 3 and LumaFusion that require a beefy CPU and GPU to provide the best experience possible. It’s especially noticeable when it comes to video editing on apps like iMovie, with the iPad Pro able to handle multiple [email protected] clips at once, and rendering is surprisingly rapid too. It also means you can use SplitView and Slide Over to display up to three apps at once without a compromise on overall performance - ideal for both work and play. 

It’s rumoured that Apple is working on bringing Pro-level Mac software like Logic Pro and Final Cut Pro X to the iPad Pro, which should say a lot about the level of power on offer. 

That’s generally backed up by our benchmark results, narrowly beating the performance of the Surface Pro 7 in Geekbench 5, although there aren’t huge boosts compared to the previous 12.9in iPad Pro.

It’s worth noting that Geekbench is a CPU-based benchmark so the similarities in performance between the current and previous-gen iPad aren’t surprising, especially considering Apple’s focus on graphical upgrades this time around. Apple has succeeded in that respect, however, with GFXBench results showing a huge boost in graphics performance across the board.

Varied battery life

In terms of battery life, Apple claims you’ll get 10 hours from the iPad Pro, and unlike most manufacturer battery life claims, that’s actually pretty accurate. Using the iPad as a tablet, scrolling through social media, sending emails, chatting and reading magazines, I could comfortably get 10 hours of battery before needing a top-up, and that’s backed up by our battery benchmark. The new iPad Pro lasted longer than Apple’s claimed 10 hours, at 11 hours and 7 minutes, and that’s around half an hour longer than the 2018 model too.  

However, when using the iPad Pro with the Magic Keyboard for work - using split-screen functionality alongside keyboard and trackpad input for much of the day - I found that it’d last around 7 hours before needing a charge, and it’s a complaint of other Magic Keyboard users too. That’s just shy of my standard 8-hour working day, and worth bearing in mind if you want to use the iPad + Magic Keyboard as a laptop replacement on-the-go. 

When it does need a charge, the iPad Pro 12.9in can gain 18 percent of charge in 30 minutes using the supplied 18W charger. While that’s considered a fast charger when it comes to iPhones and other iPads, the iPad Pro range can actually handle up to 30W of power, and using a 60W MacBook Air charger offered an improved 27 percent charge in half an hour. 

Snappy happy

One of the few differences from the 2018 iPad Pro is the rear-facing camera module, which now sports a 10Mp 125-degree ultra-wide lens alongside the 12Mp main sensor. The ultra wide angle presents new options for keen iPad photographers, making it easier to capture group shots at family gatherings (whenever they’re allowed again!) and gorgeous landscapes, but let’s be honest, do you want to be that person who uses an iPad - especially the behemoth 12.9in variant - to take photos?

iPad Pro 12.9in (2020) camera test

As you can see, the photos produced from both lenses feature great detail, handle dynamic range well and look vibrant. Unlike many Android alternatives, there’s no real noticeable downgrade in terms of visuals between the two lenses, with minimal distortion from the wide-angle lens. The low-light performance from the main f/1.8 sensor is decent, but without a dedicated Night Mode or the Deep Fusion tech available on the iPhone 11 range, it’s not quite as good as its mobile counterpart. 

You’ll find a single 7Mp camera on the front that’s more than enough for the likes of FaceTime and Instagram selfies with decent detail on offer, and that’s further enhanced by the Face ID-assisted Portrait mode that captures great bokeh-effect selfies.

The iPad Pro also features five high-quality microphones that generally capture crisp, clean audio and work dynamically both in portrait and landscape orientation. Though it’s not quite what you’ll get from a dedicated £150 microphone, the setup is perfectly suited for video calls, recording meetings and lectures and capturing great audio when recording [email protected] OIS-stabilised video. 

Cameras aside, you’ll notice a new LiDAR sensor on the rear of the iPad Pro. LiDAR stands for Light Detection And Ranging, and is used in self-driving cars to accurately measure distance between the sensor and objects in the environment by bouncing light off them. It’s fairly advanced stuff, and for iPad Pro users, it brings noticeable improvements to AR. 

The LiDAR sensor essentially acts as a Digital Time Of Flight sensor to more accurately measure distance than ever before, allowing for more accurate measurements in the Measure app (although it’s still not quite perfect) and better asset anchoring in AR games like Pokemon Go. AR is arguably still a niche despite the App Store housing more AR apps than any other platform, so I wouldn’t make this the reason to upgrade - especially if you’re coming from an iPad Pro 2018 - but it’s a nice addition nonetheless. 

iPadOS is a game-changer

iPadOS is a sign of Apple’s tablet platform maturing. Since splitting away from iOS with the release of iPadOS 13 and iOS 13, the iPad has seen a number of tablet-specific features introduced, including the mouse and trackpad support I mentioned earlier. 

Combined with productivity-focused features like SplitView and Slide Over, I’d argue that the iPad Pro is the perfect workstation, but unlike the majority of apps you’ll find on your smartphone, iPad apps generally aren’t free.

People tend to dislike the fact that they have to pay for productivity-focused apps on the iPad, but I’d argue that people need to start putting the iPad in the same category as a Mac or PC, where paying for premium software is pretty standard stuff. That’s especially true of premium iPadOS apps like Pixelmator, Coda Editor and LumaFusion that match or even outperform popular options on Mac and PC.

My rant about apps aside, iPadOS 13 offers a clean, user-friendly experience with plenty of tablet-specific swipe gestures and features to take advantage of. You’ve also got the benefit of being in the Apple ecosystem, providing a level of synchronicity between your iPad, iPhone and Mac that frankly isn’t available from any Android alternative. 

Value

The iPad Pro 12.9in (2020) is the most expensive in Apple’s current tablet range, and is pricier than most competitors too. 

The Wi-Fi only variant of iPad Pro 12.9in starts at £969/$999 with 128GB of storage, and increases to £1,069/$1,099 for 256GB, £1,269/$1,299 for 512GB and £1,469/$1,499 for 1TB of storage, and you can add £150/$150 to each variant if you want to add 4G LTE connectivity via eSIM. Just like every Apple product, it’s available to buy from the Apple Store along with third-party retailers like Amazon.

For comparison, the popular 10.5in Samsung Galaxy Tab S6 costs £619/$649, and the Google Play-less Huawei MatePad Pro costs £499. If anything, it’s in line with Microsoft’s Surface Pro 7, which starts at £799/$749 and goes up to £2,249/$2,299. 

That’s expensive enough, but to really get the most out of the iPad Pro, you’ll want to pick up either the £349/$349 Magic Keyboard or £119/$129 Apple Pencil - or both if you’re so inclined. That takes the price of the iPad Pro truly into laptop and desktop territory, and although it will depend on what you want to do with the tablet, there’s certainly enough power on offer to directly compete with traditional setups.

If you’re on the market for something cheaper, we look at the best iPad and the best tablets separately. 

Verdict

The new iPad Pro 12.9in might not be that different from the 2018 variant, at least from a design perspective, but with the introduction of trackpad support and the Magic Keyboard, it’s the first time that I’ve truly seen the potential of the larger iPad Pro.

I’ve been able to use the iPad Pro and Magic Keyboard as my main computer for work since it arrived - I wrote this review, edited the photos and even uploaded it to our CMS via Safari without the need to switch to a Mac or PC. Can the iPad Pro and Magic Keyboard combination be a true laptop competitor? For some people, I’d say yes. 

Throw an upgraded A12Z chipset and up to 1TB of storage to play with and you’ve got a seriously powerful tablet that can easily handle 4K video editing, graphic design, word processing and just about anything else you could throw at it - as long as you’re happy to pay for the plethora of premium apps available on the App Store. 

There’s no doubt that it’s an expensive Pro-level tablet, but make no mistake, you certainly get your money’s worth from the iPad Pro 12.9in. 

Specs

iPad Pro 12.9in (2020): Specs

  • A12Z Bionic chip with 64-bit architecture and M12 coprocessor 128GB/256GB/512GB/1TB storage 12.9in Liquid Retina display (2732x2048 at 264ppi), wide colour display (P3), 600 nits brightness, ProMotion, True Tone Twin rear-facing cameras: wide (12Mp, f/1.8) and ultra wide (10Mp, f/2.4), 2x optical zoom out, digital zoom up to 5x, flash, 4K video at up to 60fps, slo?mo video at 1080p and up to 240fps Front-facing camera: 7Mp, f/2.2, 1080p video at up to 60fps 4 x speakers, 5 x microphones 802.11ax Wi-Fi 6
  • Bluetooth 5.0 36.71-watt-hour rechargeable lithium-polymer battery
  • claimed battery life up to 10 hours of surfing the web on Wi-Fi 280.6 x 214.9 x 5.9mm
  • 641g/643g (with/without cellular)

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