Tech review: Apple iPad Pro 12.9-inch (2020) puts new spin on tablet use

The new iPad Pro's enhanced cameras and lidar scanner promises a more immersive and accurate augmented reality experience.
The new iPad Pro's enhanced cameras and lidar scanner promises a more immersive and accurate augmented reality experience.PHOTO: APPLE

Apple last week refreshed its flagship tablets with the iPad Pro (2020) series.

The Straits Times has not done extensive tests to determine if the 12.9-inch model can replace a laptop. But the new device certainly puts a new spin on how people can use a large-screen computing device, even though the improvements are incremental.

In terms of looks, there is nothing to differentiate between the latest iPad Pro and its predecessor, which was launched about 18 months ago.

In fact, the new 12.9-inch iPad Pro shares the same physical dimensions as its predecessor and it is just a teeny 10g heavier.

Perhaps the most significant difference is the extra 10-megapixel (MP) ultra-wide-angle camera and the light detection and ranging (lidar) scanner in the new iPad Pro's rear camera system, which retains the 12MP wide-angle camera of its predecessor. These additions could be why the new tablets are slightly heavier.

The dual-camera unit does not have the night mode of the iPhone 11. Neither does it have the iPhone 11's image quality. Shooting the same scene, the iPhone 11 Pro Max delivers much better dynamic range and sharpness compared with the new iPad Pro.

The lidar scanner measures distance by how long it takes light to reach an object and be reflected back. The scanner has a 5m range and works both indoors and outdoors. Combined with the two cameras, it promises a more immersive and accurate augmented reality (AR) experience.

Using the native Measure AR app, I measured the length of a 30cm ruler and got a spot-on 31cm reading (the ruler has an around 1cm space after its measurement markings end). I measured my dining table and only the breadth is off and just by 1cm.

Using the Ikea Place AR app, I "placed" an Ikea laptop table in my living room. I compared the laptop table's specified height to the actual height of my sofa (they looked level in the AR app) and they are a match.


The iPad Pro 12.9-inch (2020) delivers more value than its predecessor, but it is still an expensive tablet. PHOTOS: APPLE

The launch of iPadOS 13.4 brings official mouse and trackpad support to all iPad models. While the iPad Pro already has mouse and trackpad support since the launch of iPadOS 13 in September last year, the latest iPadOS still makes a significant upgrade with many quality-of-life changes.

With older iPadOS 13 versions, you have to dive deep into the Accessibility options to activate the mouse cursor. You can now do so easily under the General setting.

Instead of a huge circle, the mouse cursor is a little greyish dot in iPadOS 13.4. It disappears when you are not using it and appears when you tap on the trackpad.

 

The cursor also changes according to context - for instance, it turns into the familiar I-beam shape when you point it over text. This works on most apps, including the native Mail, Safari and Notes apps.

There are also iPad-specific trackpad gestures you can use to speed up productivity. For instance, a three-finger swipe up on the trackpad will lead you to the home screen.

I tested all these features with the new Smart Keyboard Folio and Apple's Magic Trackpad 2 that Apple sent for this review.

Of course, I would like to have used the new Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro ($519 for the 12.9-inch iPad Pro version) that comes with its own trackpad and adjustable hinge, but it will be available only in May.

The iPad Pro (2020) is powered by Apple's new A12Z Bionic processor, which Apple says outperforms the processor in a vast majority of portable PCs sold last year. This chip also has the latest Wi-Fi 6 technology.

 
 

Using Photoshop to edit photos and iMovie to edit videos were swift and seamless operations, especially if you use the trackpad to drag and drop video clips or cut audio to fit.

In The Straits Times' intensive battery test (looping a 720p video with Wi-Fi switched on and the display at full brightness), the review unit lasted 10 hours and 10 minutes - five minutes more than the 2018 12.9-inch iPad Pro.

The iPad Pro 12.9-inch (2020) delivers more value than its predecessor, but it is still an expensive tablet.

If you want the iPad Pro to be a laptop replacement, you probably will want to buy the Magic Keyboard, which brings the total cost to $2,988.

That is more expensive than Apple's flagship standard 13-inch MacBook Pro ($2,899). Of course, you will not be getting a gorgeous touchscreen display.

FOR

- Gorgeous display

- Great overall performance

- Enhanced AR experience

- iPadOS 13.4 makes the iPad experience more desktop-like

AGAINST

- Still expensive

- Magic Keyboard not available yet

TECH SPECS

Price: From $1,499 (12.9-inch 128GB Wi-Fi) to $2,469 (12.9-inch 1TB Wi-Fi + Cellular, version tested)

Operating system: iPadOS 13.4

Processor: Apple A12Z Bionic with Neural Engine, M12 co-procesor

Display: 12.9 inches, 2,732 x 2,048 pixels

Camera: 12MP wide-angle camera, 10MP ultra-wide-angle camera, Lidar scanner (rear); 7MP TrueDepth Camera (front)

Weight: 641g (Wi-Fi), 643g (Wi-Fi + Cellular)

RATING

Features: 4.5/5

Design: 5/5

Performance: 5/5

Battery life: 4/5

Value for money: 3.5/5

Overall: 4.5/5

ST Tech Editor's Choice

This article contains affiliate links. If you buy through these links, we may earn a small commission.