Apple iPad Pro 2020 review: Better than a PC


Apple’s advert for the new iPad Pro asks a simple question — what’s a PC? It’s a snide swipe at Microsoft whose CEO once cheekily mocked me for using an iPad while interviewing him. Of course, back then Microsoft’s Surface convertibles were better computing products than the iPad for a wide variety of tasks. But today, I’m not sure even Satya Nadella can say the same thing. The new magic keyboard provides one of the nicest typing experiences coupled with a trackpad which provides intelligent cursor control working with a glass and metal slab that packs a punch that even the best portable computers don’t have. In more ways than one. The iPad Pro isn’t just a tablet or a PC; it’s better objectively for 95% of the population. Apple has done it — and at the same time confused us all. Seriously — what’s a PC?

What’s Warped

  1. Calling the new iPad Pro fast would be a simplistic characterisation of it. The new A12z bionic processor is fundamentally the same as the A12X which debuted with the 2018 iPad Pro, however, it comes with some differences. There is a new GPU core; there’s a new thermal architecture and a new controller that help it perform at a higher level for longer. And yes it works, but one never really needed extra horsepower with the iPad. Since the 2018 update it hasn’t just been fast, it puts the MacBook Pro and most ultrabooks to shame. And this update this widens that gulf, even though it’s rather minute in the scheme of things. You can do everything that you can do on a PC and then some more. Watch Netflix, no problem, edit docs on Google Docs within the browser, no problem, edit photos in an online editor, no problem. Heck, it can run high-resolution games without breaking a sweat, and can also edit 4K video while rendering it faster than even a top-tier 13-inch MacBook Pro. There is not much the iPad Pro can’t do now that on an operating system level iPadOS is evolved supported by a thriving app ecosystem to support creators.
  2. One of the most fascinating things about the iPad Pro is that it is the only device which can handle the end to end widget of video production. And Apple has moved a couple of levers with the 2020 iPad Pro with the upgraded dual-camera system on its back. This is also handy for still photography, but the biggest benefit is to indie video producers and YouTubers. You can two perspectives from the rear cameras now — coupled with the prodigious ability of the iPad to capture better 4K video at 60 FPS than most high-end video cameras, you can go from storyboarding a video using the Apple Pencil on the notes app, to shooting it with the new cameras, capturing great audio using the new studio microphones and then editing it on pro-grade software like LumaFusion and Adobe Premiere Rush. Imagine, this was a job for a setup that would minimum cost you $10,000 only a couple of years ago and you can have all of this starting at less than Rs 90,000 — more realistically with the accessories for less than Rs 1,50,000.
  3. We are in the age of work from home and the iPad Pro is primed for this scenario more so than any laptop or convertible, Microsoft’s Surface included. Its front-facing camera is a 7-megapixel sensor which is flanked by a bunch of sensors for Face ID. This is a very solid front-facing camera — definitely leagues ahead of the crummy web cameras that come these days in most notebooks. Hey, this is the same camera as the previous-generation iPad and the iPhone XS, but the big deal is that it is one of the best selfie camera systems around. This means it takes great photos and shoots robust video. What amps up the iPad Pro in the productivity scenarios are the new studio microphones which sound incredible. This makes the iPad Pro great for casual and formal video calls as it records both great audio and video without the addition of external accessories. If you are someone like me, then you can even record a podcast on this device which is just insane.
  4. The magic keyboard adds much-needed dynamism to the iPad Pro, especially for users who are used to a mouse and people who need to do a lot of productivity work like handling big spreadsheets, journalists like me who need write and edit long articles and people who are in video and audio production needing more precise control. The typing experience on the magic keyboard is the best I’ve had on an Apple product since the 2015 MacBook Pro. Even compared to third party alternatives and accessories on something like a Microsoft Surface – the typing feels very comfortable with good levels of travel, supreme reliability as the keys don’t get stuck and a layout that everyone likes. The magnetic stand can rotate up to 40 degrees going from a full right angle to a mild tilt of 130 degrees offering a great experience for people who will use this tablet to draw and design stuff using the Apple Pencil. The trackpad also is ingenious. Apple has reinvented the trackpad for a touch-first interface something Microsoft and Google weren’t able to for their various platforms. It is fluid, supporting the same macOS gestures combining some iOS gestures alongside a chimaera of a cursor that is a round blob while navigating and melting into a button when overlaid on a UI element like an icon. The magic keyboard also adds a USB Type C port for charging which frees up the main port on the iPad for attaching accessories. For instance, I hook up the iPad to my projector for watching movies, often I like to connect the iPad to a power source while I watch movies which is where the extra port comes in handy.
  5. Augmented reality has been a big part of what Apple has been trying to push with the iPad for the last couple of years. The addition of the miniaturised LiDAR supercharges that narrative. The LiDAR already facilitates some supremely accurate capabilities using the in-built “measure app”. But the real power of this system comes to life when you use it on games like HotLava or the Ikea app. It also works well on the Angry Birds Pigs game which is a ton of fun. But again, these are early days, and the iPad Pro is proof that Apple has a massive head start in this space which is why if you have a passion for augmented reality, this tablet may not satisfy you today, but in the long run, it will considering the extreme long ownership cycle of iPads.
  6. General performance and quality of the hardware are superlative. The iPad Pro has the nicest display right now on a tablet with its pro-motion 120Hz refresh rate and pin-sharp resolution coupled with great brightness and colours. It also is great for watching HDR content on streaming platforms like Netflix or even Apple’s own TV+. It is an elegant tablet super slim and also not overly heavy even at the 12.9-inch size. Apple has kept the formula the same but also added support for a new camera system on the back, with the new bump having a more attractive look. The battery life is also superb — 10 hours are achieved like clockwork and it also gets juiced up quite rapidly within 2 hours. These are things one takes for granted, but are not sure shots on modern laptops.

What’s Not

  1. For some workflows, the desktop-class browser of the iPad Pro still doesn’t cut it for all tasks. It is close, but I believe the iPadOS 14 update has to make it on par with what one expects on a MacBook. For example, some websites, still redirect to iOS apps instead of letting the user being in the browser. A good example is Google Docs when you’re using a GSuite account. If this has to be true workflow replacement, then the browser has to be able to do everything.
  2. Apple needs to add at least one more USB Type C port in the iPad to make it more usable. It also needs to push the camera towards the side of the device so that it can be used properly in landscape mode.
  3. The iPad Pro remains a luxury for many as it starts at Rs 89,000 for the 12.9-inch model. Add another Rs 30,000 for the magic keyboard and Rs 15,000 for the Apple Pencil, and a couple of thousand bucks for a USB HUB, you’re realistically looking at a machine that will cost around Rs 1,40,000. It is flatly encroaching on both MacBook Pro and MacBook Air turf, legitimately so mostly, but in the eyes of many, this will sound extremely expensive.
  4. Apple also needs to work with developers to improve mouse support on the iPad. It also needs to elevate the level of some of the core apps like Mail, Apple TV+ which has a confusing user interface and introduce multiple user support so that the device can be used by many people in a family.

Should you buy it?

For most people, the iPad Pro will be the fastest and easiest computer they’ll ever use. For most people it will also be amongst the most portable and dynamic computers they’ll ever use. So if anyone claims that the iPad isn’t a proper computer — then I’d say, this review has plenty of evidence on the contrary. If you are a creator, it is the only device that can go from shooting to editing a video. So in many ways, depending on what you do, it can do things that even a MacBook Pro even can’t do — that too more elegantly and dynamically with the addition of the magic keyboard. Then if you do the math, around Rs 1,40,000 for an iPad Pro, a magic keyboard and Apple Pencil sound like chump change considering the iPad Pro is objectively faster, secure and more reliable for most things even professionals will do compared to a base level MacBook Pro or a similar Windows notebook or tablet. In other words, the thing that was once mocked for not being a PC is now better than a PC.