The crazy part doesn’t end there. A frenzied round of Geekbench testing confirmed that the tablet is, in fact, capable of matching and outperforming certain MacBook Pro configurations, including the 2016 Core i7 MacBook Pro I use for work. It didn’t matter if I was playing Fortnite for hours or cutting together multiple lengthy 4K video clips in Adobe Premiere Rush; the iPad Pro never failed to keep up. You’d think this additional power would take its toll on battery life, but even that manages to pull ahead of Apple’s own estimates. In our standard rundown test, the iPad Pro looped a video for just under 11.5 hours before needing to be recharged, and it routinely stuck around for about a day and a half of nearly nonstop use. (Remember, I was using this as my only computer.)
Obscene performance isn’t the only new thing about the iPad Pro experience this year. The tablet runs iOS 12, but since there’s no home button here, Apple adapted the gestures from the iPhone X series to work on this bigger screen instead. If you’ve used an iPhone X before, you know exactly what to expect: Swiping up inside an app takes you back to your home screen, while swiping up and holding shows you all your running apps. Control Center now lives in the top right corner, and it’s accessible only with a swipe down, which makes me long for the days when controls just lived in the app switcher.
Beyond that, you have the usual iPad multitasking gestures introduced in iOS 11, so you can run apps side by side or fire up a floating window in case you need a little more room to breathe. These software flourishes help the Pro feel more capable, but we’re already starting to see more ambitious takes on mobile multitasking. Just look at Samsung’s new folding phone concept: Its large, internal screen can play host to up to three apps at a time. I can’t help but think that approach would work even better on a huge display like the Pro’s.
So, yeah, this whole thing takes a little getting used to, but the learning curve flattens out pretty quickly. Unfortunately, that learning curve can get steep again if you try to use the iPad Pro for everything, like I did.
Take this review, for instance: As mentioned, I wrote it on the iPad Pro, and with the keyboard case, that was easy enough. My photos, however, needed to be processed. For that, I used Lightroom CC for iPad, which let me make some rudimentary tweaks to levels and saturation. Everything was going well until I had to watermark them, at which point I realized I had no idea how to do that with the apps I had. I could’ve cobbled together a Siri Shortcut to make it work, but time was of the essence, so I just ferried the files over to my Mac to complete the job. That pretty nicely illustrates one of the big sticking points when you’re trying to use the iPad as your workhorse: There are ways to get all your fiddly tasks done, but they often take extra time and lateral thinking to figure out. Put another way, you have to adapt to the iPad, not the other way around.
My issues continued when I was shooting our review video. To help keep things running smoothly, I wanted to save some documents from my work email on the iPad for my cameraman to check while he was shooting B-roll. The problem was, iOS still doesn’t really let you download and store files directly on the iPad — the closest you can get is saving those files to iCloud Drive. Again, this is supposed to be a machine for professionals. I don’t think it’s out of the realm of possibility for a professional to want to download a file. That’s just the kind of low-level computing task we don’t really think about often, but the fact that it’s simply not doable on a machine this powerful seems a little silly.
Frankly, by the time I had to format this review, I knew better. It’s far from perfect, but I’ve always been able to edit stories in our publishing system from my iPhone without too much trouble. Just to be safe, I took my first stab at fully publishing a story from the iPad Pro when Apple released its earnings last week, and it quickly became obvious that something wasn’t right: It frequently took multiple taps in a text field to get the cursor to appear, and it got so frustrating that I had to finish my story and pull the trigger from my Mac. Granted, that’s an Engadget problem more than an iOS problem, but I’m sure we’re not the only ones who have to deal with very specific, very finicky web-based systems, and mobile Safari doesn’t cut it.
I’ll be the first to admit that this probably isn’t the use case Apple had in mind when it built the iPad Pro. As with most of its other high-end computers, it seems geared toward creative professionals… albeit ones who don’t feel much allegiance to traditional computing platforms. I thought I fit that bill, but it turned out that, in some crucial ways, the iPad Pro wasn’t the kind of “Pro” I needed.