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Review: Apple's 2017 12.9" iPad Pro gains feature parity with its smaller sibling

By AppleInsider Staff

Staggered launches of the first generation of iPad Pro tablets left the larger 12.9-inch model in an awkward position, lacking key professional-grade features like always-on Hey Siri and a color balancing True Tone display. Apple has rectified that with its 2017 12.9-inch iPad Pro, bringing it up to speed with the smaller 10.5-inch version with a simultaneous release.

The new 2017 12.9-inch iPad Pro starts at $799 with 64 gigabytes of storage. A 256-gigabyte model can be had for $899, while a 512-gigabyte capacity is $1099.

The 12.9-inch variant lacks the super-thin bezel found on its 10.5-inch counterpart, though most users are unlikely to notice the difference given the considerable display size difference.

Other than that, the only major difference between the 10.5- and 12.9-inch 2017 iPad Pros is the fact that the larger version is not available in rose gold. It instead comes in a trio of colors: silver, gold, and space gray.

The new ProMotion display is stunning

Apple's Retina displays have always been known for their quality, and the 12.9-inch iPad Pro has been an impressive screen since it launched in 2015. Now, the company is kicking things up a notch with its 120Hz ProMotion display.

As we noted in our 10.5-inch iPad Pro review, the ProMotion display isn't quite the upgrade the Retina display was for Apple's products, but it's significant. And unlike the True Tone option that launched with the 2016 iPad Pro, we think the 120Hz ProMotion display is a true selling point that will allow the new 2017 model to stand out from the pack even further.

It's difficult to appreciate the difference this makes in the fluidness of iOS without experiencing the new iPad Pro in person. Simple acts such as scrolling on a website or switching between home screen pages now happen more fluidly, with details and letters crisp as the content moves.

That selling point is especially valuable if you're an avid Apple Pencil user. The 120Hz display allows the screen to be even more responsive when used with the Apple Pencil, making it feel even more like writing on paper when using the wireless stylus.

Apple says the latency on the new iPad Pros has been reduced to just 20 milliseconds, making it the best in the industry. Simply put, if you're an artist who wants to draw on a tablet, you want a 2017 iPad Pro.

And thanks to some behind-the-scenes technical wizardry, the higher bandwidth and processing power required for the ProMotion display do not affect battery life. Apple says the display refresh rate adjusts automatically to match the movement of content, in turn reducing power consumption when necessary.

As such, the new 2017 iPad Pro is rated with a 10-hour average uptime on a single charge, and in our testing we found that usage of the new iPad was comparable to past models. We had no problem getting through a couple of days of consistent and heavy usage before needing a recharge.

Also new to the 2017 12.9-inch iPad Pro is Apple's True Tone display. This adjusts colors on the screen based on ambient lighting conditions around the user, with the goal of making it easier on the eyes depending on the environment.

True Tone was launched in 2016 with the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, but was not found in the 2015 12.9-inch model. By launching the 2017 versions simultaneously, both now have equivalent displays in every respect.

The new iPad Pro displays are also the brightest yet from Apple. They have an antireflective coating for better use in sunlight and bright rooms, and they are the first iPad displays capable of showing HDR video content.

Hey Siri is (finally) always listening

In a curious omission, Apple's 2015 12.9-inch iPad Pro lacked support for always-on "Hey Siri" commands, only being available when the tablet was connected to power.

This exclusion was noteworthy because the 2015 model included Apple's M9 coprocessor, which the company claimed was crucial to the low-power operation of Hey Siri on other devices like the iPhone 6s.

Whatever the quirk was that left compatibility out of the last model has been fixed this go around. Both the 10.5- and 12.9-inch models include Hey Siri support when on battery, making them great personal assistant stand-ins when your iPhone is in your pocket or not in the same room.

The rest of the hardware is basically perfect

It's hard to find much fault with the rest of the iPad Pro hardware. At this point, the design has been refined and perfected to a point where there is little much else Apple could possibly do with current technology.

It has the same 1.5-pound chassis. It feels great in the hand. It looks stunning.

On the bottom it continues to have a physical home button -- and unlike the iPhone 7 series, this button still clicks. Apple says the iPad Pro's Touch ID sensor has been updated with a second-generation model that is twice as fast, first introduced on the iPhone 6s. Our repeated side-by-side tests showed a new iPad Pro unlocking at the same speed as a 2015 12.9-inch iPad Pro, so we could not tell any difference.

Everything else you would expect is here: dedicated volume buttons, a lock button, and the Smart Connector for thin, battery-free keyboards.

It also has the same same cameras as the iPhone 7, notably a 12-megapixel rear shooter and accompanying camera flash. The previous iPad Pro had a flush camera with no flash.

That means, yes, the 2017 12.9-inch iPad Pro gains a rather unsightly camera bump. We question whether such a high quality camera is even necessary on a tablet, particularly if the result is the strange protrusion on the back of the device, but it's a minor quibble.

Inside is the new A10X processor, which somehow blows away the performance of the previous iPad Pro and A9X CPU. Apple's chip design department is operating on another level, so much so that there isn't really much in the way of software that truly taxes even last year's iPad Pro, let alone this year's major upgrade.

We ran the assorted Geekbench benchmarks and saw a multi-core CPU score of 9,418, and a single-core performance of 3,916. The compute Metal score clocked in at 27,807.

Those numbers came in slightly higher than the 10.5-inch model, suggesting the A10X may be somewhat overclocked in the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, likely to accommodate for the larger screen and more pixels it must drive.

An Octane 2.0 browser benchmark returned a score of 30,847, slightly lower than the 10.5-inch model Finally the 3D Mark Slingshot Extreme score was 4,698, higher than the 10.5-inch. RAM remains at 4 gigabytes.

Frankly the horsepower of the 2017 iPad Pro is absurd, and seems almost unnecessary given the state of tablet software at the moment. We hope the extra overhead pushes developers to truly take advantage of the A10X in the months and years to come.

Oh, and the Lightning port on the bottom once again features USB 3 speeds, meaning connected accessories can transfer data more quickly, and the device can also charge faster. About that quick charging, though...

The lack of a 29-watt charger in the box is even more offensive with the 12.9" iPad Pro

But at $799, the 2017 12.9-inch iPad Pro ships with a paltry 12-watt charger, even with faster USB 3.0 charging speeds capable through the updated Lightning port.

Given that the 12.9-inch iPad Pro has a rather large 41-watt-hour battery, this is a nearsighted move by Apple that should have been addressed in the box.

While we didn't have the opportunity to conduct thorough battery testing with the 2017 12.9-inch iPad Pro, we have had enough experience with the 2015 model and its 39-watt-hour battery. In short, the 29-watt power adapter and Lightning to USB-C cable charge the jumbo-sized iPad in under an hour and a half, while the 12-watt charger takes considerably longer -- nearly five hours.

Apple sells the 29-watt power adapter separately for $49, and a 1-meter USB-C to Lightning cable is $25. Why didn't Apple include these in the box? It could be a cost cutting measure, which would be a shame considering the entry price has gone up again.

As a consolation, the 2017 model carries the same $799 entry price as the 2015 launch version, even though the entry-level capacity has been doubled to 64 gigabytes. This is a change from the 10.5-inch iPad Pro, which saw a $50 price hike over the launch price of the 2016 9.7-inch iPad Pro.

The Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard remain sold separately for $99 and $169, respectively. Tack on $74 for the 29-watt charger and Lightning to USB-C cable, and you're looking at a minimum cost of $1,141 if you want to get the most out of the 2017 12.9-inch iPad Pro.

We're not saying that Apple should include the Pencil or keyboard in the box, of course. But consumers should consider the extra costs of these accessories, and Apple should consider making the 29-watt power adapter standard, in the box, for all iPad Pro models going forward.

Why hasn't the company made the switch? It's possible that officials are concerned that shipping the device with a USB-C to Lightning cable -- one that cannot be connected to most current PCs on the market -- would actually hurt consumers.

But considering the fact that the iPad Pro is intended to be a standalone device, not dependent upon a full-fledged computer, it's inexcusable that Apple didn't choose to offer users the best charging experience out of the box. Especially with the 12.9-inch model.

Smart Connector port needs more support

The Smart Connector remains a great addition to the iPad Pro, but support for it is limited. It is unclear whether the lack of accessories are a result of Apple restricting access to it, or a lack of interest from third-party manufacturers.

Regardless, the Smart Connector port is there, and if you wish to pony up the extra money for Apple's Smart Keyboard, it offers a vastly improved text entry experience.

New additions launched earlier this month from Logitech in the form of their Slim Combo keyboards. The 12.9-inch version is more affordable than Apple's keyboard, at $149.95, and includes a protective case that covers the rear of the iPad.

Outside of Apple's Smart Keyboard and a trio of accessory options from Logitech, the power of the Smart Connector remains untapped. We would like to see more accessories compatible with the magnetic port, including different keyboards and docking station configurations. It'd also be nice if the Apple Pencil connected and charged through the Smart Connector instead of Lightning.

iOS 10 is good, but iOS 11 will be a game changer

We didn't install iOS 11 on the new 12.9-inch 2017 iPad Pro for the purposes of this review, as we wanted to focus on the current out-of-the-box experience for users running the latest public release of iOS. However, this review would not be complete without at least noting what is to come in the future.

Having beta tested iOS 11 on a previous-generation iPad Pro for a few weeks now, we can assuredly say it is a game changer for Apple's tablet lineup. Going from iOS 11 back to iOS 10 felt like a step backwards in many ways as we tested the new device.

If you buy a new 12.9-inch iPad Pro, you'll be tempted to install the iOS 11 beta on it, though you probably should not, at least yet, especially if your iPad is a mission-critical part of your daily workflow. Beta software exists for a reason, and in its current pre-release state, iOS 11 still has a number of bugs to iron out.

At the very least, prospective buyers looking to take advantage of all iOS 11 has to offer should wait for the first public beta of the upcoming operating system, which is expected to arrive before the end of the month. But most users who rely on their iPad for day-to-day use should exercise patience and wait for the release of iOS 11 this fall, likely in September.

Your patience will be rewarded, as iOS 11 -- and in particular the new app dock and multitasking modes -- bring a great deal of professional-grade capabilities to the iPad Pro. We won't ding the 12.9-inch iPad Pro for running on iOS 10 right now, and we don't think you should hesitate to wait for the operating system's release if you need an iPad right now, but you should know that the experience on the device will be vastly improved in just a few short months.

Conclusion

Choosing between the 10.5- and 12.9-inch iPad Pro is a much simpler choice in 2017, thanks to the fact that Apple decided this go around to include the same hardware in both.

This is a noticeable change from other products in Apple's lineup. Most notably, the iPhone 7 Plus has the dual-lens camera and 3 gigabytes of RAM that the smaller iPhone 7 does not.

And on the MacBook Pro side, if you want a discreet graphics card, the 15-inch variety is your only option.

There are no such up-sell attempts with the 12.9-inch iPad. For more money, you can get a larger, spacious display. If you favor portability, the 10.5-inch model is a great option too.

It's hard to go wrong.

Where Apple did unfortunately go wrong, especially with the 12.9-inch version and its massive battery, is skimping out with a 12-watt power adapter. This is an easy fix that should have been addressed in the box.

Thankfully, the value proposition for the 12.9-inch iPad Pro has been increased with the 2017 model, doubling the entry-level storage capacity to 64 gigabytes without increasing the $799 price.

The addition of the 120Hz ProMotion display with True Tone is a significant upgrade, particularly if you're eyeing using the Apple Pencil with an extra large canvas.

In all, the 2017 refresh of the 12.9-inch iPad Pro is a solid update. Current owners will have a few tempting reasons to upgrade, while first-time buyers eyeing a jumbo-sized iPad will find a lot to love.

Score: 4 out of 5

Where to buy

Apple authorized resellers are currently shipping 2017 12.9-inch iPad Pros with instant discounts and sales tax incentives. Below is a list of the models currently in stock and ready to ship. Looking for another model? Check out the AppleInsider 2017 12.9-inch iPad Pro Price Guide for a complete list of configurations, including pricing and availability.

64GB Silver Wi-Fi Only for $799.00 @B&H ($64 off in tax outside NY & NJ)

64GB Silver Wi-Fi Only for $799.00 @Abt ($64 off in tax outside IL, IL, WI & MI)

64GB Space Gray Wi-Fi Only for $799.00 @Abt ($64 off in tax outside IL, IL, WI & MI)

64GB Gold Wi-Fi Only for $799.00 @Abt ($64 off in tax outside IL, IL, WI & MI)

64GB Space Gray Wi-Fi + Cellular for $929.00 @B&H ($74 off in tax outside NY & NJ)

64GB Space Gray Wi-Fi + Cellular for $924.00 @MacMall ($5 off)

256GB Silver Wi-Fi Only for $899.00 @B&H ($72 off in tax outside NY & NJ)

256GB Space Gray Wi-Fi Only for $899.00 @Abt ($72 off in tax outside IL, IN, WI & MI)

256GB Gold Wi-Fi Only for $899.00 @B&H ($72 off in tax outside NY & NJ)

256GB Gold Wi-Fi Only for $899.00 @Abt ($72 off in tax outside IL, IN, WI & MI)

256GB Silver Wi-Fi + Cellular for $1,029.00 @Abt ($82 off in tax outside IL, IN, WI & MI)

256GB Space Gray Wi-Fi + Cellular for $1,029.00 @Abt ($82 off in tax outside IL, IN, WI & MI)

256GB Gold Wi-Fi + Cellular for $1,029.00 @B&H ($82 off in tax outside NY & NJ)

256GB Gold Wi-Fi + Cellular for $1,029.00 @Abt ($82 off in tax outside IL, IN, WI & MI)

512GB Silver Wi-Fi Only for $1,099.00 @Abt ($88 off in tax outside IL, IN, WI & MI)

512GB Gold Wi-Fi Only for $1,099.00 @Abt ($88 off in tax outside IL, IN, WI & MI)

512GB Silver Wi-Fi + Cellular Only for $1,229.00 @B&H ($98 off in tax outside NY & NJ)

512GB Silver Wi-Fi + Cellular Only for $1,229.00 @Abt ($98 off in tax outside NY & NJ)

512GB Gold Wi-Fi + Cellular Only for $1,229.00 @Abt ($98 off in tax outside IL, IN, WI & MI)

B&H will not collect sales tax on orders shipped outside NY & NJ. Abt Electronics will not collect sales tax on orders shipped outside IL, IN, MI & WI.

(See even more configurations...)

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