First impressions of the iPad Pro

iPad Pro (back), iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 2. Photo©2015, Steven Sande

iPad Pro (back), iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 2. Photo©2015, Steven Sande

It was a bit of a surprise to me yesterday when I went to order an iPad Pro and found out that I could pick it up at my local Apple Store. After an abortive attempt to get the 128GB Wi-Fi + Cellular version in Space Gray, I was able to get that model in silver. So, does it fulfill the expectations everyone had for the biggest iPad yet?

It's definitely an iPad, and the size will astound you. The photo at the top of this post shows an iPad mini 2, iPad Air 2, and iPad Pro. The 12.9-inch display honestly makes the Pro seem huge by comparison, but the weight of the large unit really doesn't feel that bad. Even with that display, the iPad Pro weighs just 1.57 pounds for the Wi-Fi edition, adding just .02 pounds more for the cellular modem. If those weights sound heavy, just remember that the original 9.7-inch iPad in the Wi-Fi + 3G edition from 2010 weighed 1.6 pounds.

The screen is pretty incredible; 264 pixels per inch and 2,732 x 2,048 pixels. That's 5.6 million pixels in a Retina display. I found that even with all of those pixels, the iPad Pro is responsive and very quick. 

The cameras? Meh. But hopefully not a lot of people are going to be walking around taking pictures with a 12-inch x 9-inch tablet in their hands. The back camera shoots 1080p HD (stills at 8 MP resolution) at 30 frames per second, while the front FaceTime camera shoots 720p video or 1.2 MP stills.

The setup process is very familiar, exactly what you'd see setting up an iPad, iPad mini or iPhone. But there's one huge difference that becomes apparent right away - the onscreen keyboard is now the size and layout of a real keyboard like Apple's new Magic Keyboard, even in portrait orientation. Virtual keys have been added for caps lock, tab, apostrophe, colon, semicolon and more, and there's also a full number row above the QWERTY keyboard. No more tapping that ?123 button to get to the numbers!

The full virtual keyboard on the iPad Pro. Photo©2015 Steven Sande

The full virtual keyboard on the iPad Pro. Photo©2015 Steven Sande

If you're thinking of buying an iPad Pro for consumption of video and movies, you're going to be a very happy person. The speakers are built into all four corners of the Pro, and as it's rotated, the speakers dynamically shift. The bottom speakers, as you're holding the iPad Pro, are always used for the lower bass tones. Volume-wise, the iPad Pro speakers are much louder than those on the iPad Air 2. 

Sadly, I was unable to get the Smart Keyboard yesterday -- it and the Apple Pencil are in short supply and backordered until early December. The Smart Connector that's on the left side of the iPad Pro when it's in portrait mode is very unobtrusive and I can't wait to give it a try with a keyboard soon. I love the fact that the Smart Connector provides power and data to the attached peripheral, so keyboards will no longer need to be charged and Bluetooth pairing woes are a thing of the past.

The Smart Connector. Photo©2015 Steven Sande

The Smart Connector. Photo©2015 Steven Sande

I did have a chance to try out the Smart Keyboard at my local Apple Store, and I found the keys to be widely space, with a good feel and response that is similar to the new Magic Keyboard. The Smart Keyboard has a full set of keys, but doesn't have the set of iPad-specific keys for volume, brightness, etc... that third-party keyboards like Logitech's CREATE Backlit Keyboard do. Yes, you read that correctly -- the Logitech product for the iPad Pro (which we'll be reviewing soon) is backlit, while the Apple keyboard is not. 

Trying out the Apple Pencil was fun. My biggest complaint about all existing styluses is palm rejection -- it's just plain useless with most styluses. I launched the Paper by 53 app, brought up a blank piece of "paper", then place my hand right down on the screen holding the Pencil as I would if I were writing with a pen or pencil on a piece of paper. I was able to write with no difficulty; the palm rejection is absolutely flawless, and I'm excited to give the Apple Pencil a full workout when I finally get mine. 

I had hoped that the Apple Pencil would have a feel similar to that of a lead pencil on a piece of paper -- there's always a slightly rough feel to that combo. The Apple Pencil moves freely on the surface of the display without friction or roughness. It's still impressive, and apps that are designed to take advantage of the Pencil will do well.

One interesting bit of trivia: the Apple Pencil is weighted so that when you place it on a flat surface, it will always roll so that the logo is facing straight up. Jony Ive and crew outdid themselves on the details this time.

iPAd Pro with two side by side apps open. photo©2015 steven sande

iPAd Pro with two side by side apps open. photo©2015 steven sande

As I was busy editing the next issue of MyApple Magazine last night, I wasn't able to give the iPad Pro a complete workout, but I did do some work on it. I love how the display is about the size of two iPad Air screens side by side, so when iOS 9's Split View feature is being used, you have about a regular full iPad's worth of space for each app that's being used. As you can see in the example above, having two apps side by side in full screens is absolutely amazing and should make the iPad Pro a productivity powerhouse.

We'll have a more complete review of the iPad Pro and available accessories in the near future.