Yesterday, we covered Tim Cook’s claim that the iPad Pro could easily replace laptops, to the point that most people wouldn’t even need a computer. Early reviews of the iPad Pro are in, and while they point to a very strong device, they don’t entirely affirm Cook’s views.
First, let’s hit the high points. Everyone agrees that this is a very big, very sexy iPad. It’s light, it’s well-built, the screen is gorgeous, and it’s fast. Ars Technica’s benchmarks show the iPad Pro outperforming the Core M-equipped system in CPU benchmarks and blowing it away in graphics tests. Granted, the ability to cross-compare across operating system’s is extremely limited, because most iOS applications don’t have easy parallels with desktop software. Geekbench is an excellent synthetic test in some ways, but it’s not clear how well it maps to the complicated question of cross-architecture CPU comparisons.
That performance comes courtesy of the A9X, which maintains a dual-core configuration but clocks the CPU an extra 300MHz faster. If the iPad Pro’s CPU is fast, however, it’s GPU is remarkable. Here, the primary competition is Intel’s integrated Iris and Iris Pro graphics, and the iPad Pro smashes both. It may or may not be matched by future Skylake hardware with onboard EDRAM, but Intel would have to make serious improvements to match what Apple has delivered here.
Ars also reports that the iPad Pro doesn’t really throttle at all, even after 30 minutes of solid testing. That’s in contrast to the iPhone 6S, which does engage in throttling, though less so than some previous devices. The Verge echoes that performance on the device is excellent, confirms it as a remarkable iPad (if a large one).
The growing pains
Neither site, however, confirms the iPad Pro as the must-have device that Tim Cook painted it as when he claimed it could replace computers for most people. Even ignoring the classism embedded in the remark (the iPad Pro starts at nearly $1000 with the $169 keyboard; Chromebooks and low-cost Windows systems can be had for $150 – $250), the fact is, the iPad Pro isn’t ready to take over this role. Some of this is caused by the limitations of iOS 9 — many of which appear to echo criticism of Windows 8’s ill-fated Metro interface. Capabilities like app pinning and split-screen view don’t always work properly. Some applications automatically adjust themselves to this new split interface, others don’t.
The Verge notes that apps on iOS don’t feel as jarring as the application splitting that Microsoft used in Windows 8, since that effort often involved blending two completely different UI schemes, but attempting to multi-task on the OS still sheds harsh light on many of the platform’s limitations. There’s no trackpad, no interfacing with more than two applications at a time, and no options to change how the secondary app switcher displays the list of switchable applications or the option to change how these applications are presented.
Veteran tech journalist Walt Mossberg loved the overall build quality on the tablet, but criticized the keyboard’s high price ($169), and its lack of a trackpad, backlight, or dedicated iPad shortcut keys. Multiple reviewers have noted that the Logitech Create keyboard for the iPad Pro includes these features — and costs $19 less.
Right now, everyone’s recommendations are qualified. Mossberg praises the Apple Pencil and its graphical applications, but finishes by saying “The iPad Pro will no doubt make a lot of Apple users happy, especially if they use it for graphics. But I won’t be buying one, and I don’t recommend that average users do so either.” The Verge states that the iPad is an awesome device that makes fewer sacrifices than expected, but that it “is still not quite the computing savior that Steve Jobs predicted it would be five years ago.” Ars Technica writes that the best way to think about the iPad Pro is as a starting point, with limitations that may make it a poor fit for many current users, but that most of the problems are in software, not hardware, and could be relatively easily fixed in future versions of iOS.
Speaking strictly for myself, based on the review coverage I’ve read, I’m not sold on the device. While I personally own an iPhone, my tablets both run Android and my PCs are Windows based. As a person with a foot in all three camps (don’t try to visualize that), I still rely on Windows for serious work and overall utility. Obviously this isn’t going to be true for everyone, and I’ll be the first to say that the A9X’s SoC performance is damnedimpressive, but I like the look of a device like the Surface Book more than either theSurface Pro 4 or the iPad Pro.
Still, that’s a choice I’m making based on software, not hardware. If Apple keeps iterating on the iPad Pro, that could change down the line.