Except for the iPad, in its many varieties, the tablet market hasn’t been doing too well. Smartphones are big and laptops come in hybrid forms that let you get some tablet-like functionality by detaching the display, making it difficult to see why one should buy a separate tablet. Perfectly understandable.

In this nebula of confusion, the iPad stands out as special. When Steve Jobs showcased the first iPad in 2010, he told an excited audience that there was a need for something that wasn’t a laptop and wasn’t a smartphone. Then he lifted up the iPad with a full page of the New York Times fitting on it. He described the iPad as being the best browsing experience, giving the user the ability to move the page using fingers.

Fast forward all the way to today and the iPad remains a beautiful content consumption option — lean-back rather than a lean-forward device. If we revisit the reasons for getting an iPad in the first place, it’s that you can recline with it and browse the web, flip through photographs, watch whole movies, read your mail, lose yourself in a book, listen to music or play a game. You can also use a whole marketplace of apps that can’t be matched by what’s available on Android.

In time, users couldn’t see why they shouldn’t be able to sit up and lean forward from time to time and use the tablet as a little laptop. That’s where a keyboard comes in and when a bunch of applications open up for work.

But with the iPad Pro, Apple introduced another dimension to the tablet. With the addition of the Apple Pencil, the tablet is more than a lean forward device. It’s now a canvas for artists to sketch and paint and architects to draw up plans and musicians to create songs. The iPad Pro has the power for it — and with the iPad Pro 2018, even more so.

Monster of a chip

Powering everything the new iPad Pro can do is its A12X Bionic chip, designed for strong performance on devices larger than iPhones and smaller iPads. You can see that power even by just unlocking the tablet — it’s just a blink. Moving about on the iPad Pro is extremely fast and you may sometimes have to race to keep up with it.

But it’s the more processor-intensive tasks that the A12X chip makes short work of. It handles graphics like melted butter. Using apps like Procreate (artists only) or Paper (anyone), you can see how smoothly you can write and draw and colour with the Apple Pencil: there’s just no detectable lag between your action and the result. Photoshop can be used on this device, as can heavier 3D rendering apps, big games, and of course Augmented Reality applications, which typically need lots of power to work with any semblance of smoothness. The A12X chip is actually more powerful than those found on Core i7 laptops. The chip is a beast and blows away others on benchmark tests.

No ordinary iPad

While one can buy much cheaper iPads, the iPad Pro is for those who will really be able to use at least some of the power available. I’m testing the 12.9-inch version, not the 11-inch, but both work identically except for the size. The new iPad Pro now has a not-insignificant redesign. Its form factor is quite flat, a fact that some like and some don’t. I rather do and think it just feels more contemporary. The Home button is gone, a change that existing iPad users will take a while to get used to. There are a number of ways of unlocking the device, including double-tap on screen, or by tapping any key on the keyboard. The device now supports Face ID, which works no matter which way the iPad is turned.

The display on the iPad Pro isn’t OLED but is nevertheless beautifully bright and vivid and has Retina Display. It’s just a little smaller than an A4-sized sheet of paper. It’s very comfortable to hold though it’s best to pull off the case when holding it to read or browse for a long time. To watch a movie, it’s best snapped onto the keyboard — which is an optional expensive extra purchase —where it has two angles you can place it in: straight up and tilted back slightly. No tent mode is possible with Apple’s own keyboard for this device. The typing experience (I’m a touch typist using all the correct keys) is pretty good and I didn’t encounter any problems with it. There are apparently better and less expensive keyboards but they’d need careful searching and checking out.

The Apple Pencil, another optional expensive purchase, has also been redesigned to have a flat portion that snaps into magnets on top of the iPad. It stays secure there and the position works well until you turn the device into portrait mode and hold it in your hands. Then you’ll have to set the Pencil aside and make sure not to lose it. It charges on its own through the iPad.

Three more features set this iPad apart from others — there are fantastic speakers that sound really full and loud, better than I’ve heard on any other mobile device. In fact, the sound makes the iPad really nice to use for music related tasks, such as composing with GarageBand.

The second is that the camera on the iPad Pro is the same as the one on the iPhone XR. Occasionally holding up the device, which is of course too big for regular photography, works very well if you happen to see something you want a shot of then and there. It also does a great job with video. The large screen works as a big view-finder making it easier to frame and compose a photo or video, both of which can be edited right there on the iPad.

The iPad Pro has now moved on to USB Type C instead of the famous Lightning port. Many other devices can be supported, including another monitor, for example. But not your ordinary external drive. That will still not work with this device. It would need a change of philosophy from Apple to make that happen and for now, they’re still deciding to keep their system fenced in rather than let in vulnerabilities from other ecosystems.

Works as a laptop?

Numerous reviews all over the internet have elaborated on why the iPad Pro isn’t a laptop. This really depends on what one’s work happens to be. As a journalist, I’ve completely replaced my laptop with the iPad Pro for the past two years or so, but then, I no longer am able to use a mouse or touchpad. I’ve got used to not finding a proper file system where I can put different files to do with one task, no matter what the application. Multi-tasking is a different experience than on a laptop. Whether you manage to use the iPad in lieu of a laptop also depends on what applications you use and whether these are available on iOS in their complete form. Some, such as artists, may want an iPad Pro in addition to a notebook or desktop because those don’t have the use of the Pencil. Hybrid laptops use Windows even for the tablet functionality and that doesn’t include the unbeatable app ecosystem on the App Store. But all said and done, the iPad Pro is still an expensive purchase that needs a whole lot of thinking, unless you have the spare cash. If not, it’s for a niche customer group that needs the power and flexibility, the accessories and functionality only this machine has.

Price: Between ₹71,900 (11-inch WiFi) and ₹1,71,900 (12.9-inch WiFi and cellular)

Pros: Enough power for smooth functioning no matter what task, great thin-bezel display and expansive sound, can double up as laptop for some kinds of work, a great artists’ tool, very portable, excellent FaceID implementation

Cons: Astronomically expensive in the higher-end models, expensive accessories

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