Apple iPad Pro 12.9-inch full review
Update, 8 April 2016: iPad buyers have a new option: a new tablet that combines the portability and 9.7in screen of the iPad Air 2 with the features of the big-screen iPad Pro. Read our iPad Pro 9.7in review to see if it's right for you.
This time last year the iPad Air 2 had the world at its feet. In Apple's tablet line-up, the Air 2 was the top of the range: Apple's most powerful mobile device ever, with a luxurious 9.7-inch Retina-class screen, Touch ID and all of Apple's latest features. When iOS 9 came along earlier this year, its position of eminence seemed to be confirmed: only the Air 2 got access to the full package of features, with the Split View multitasking feature denied to every other Apple device.
All this ended abruptly with the announcement of the iPad Pro. The Pro vaults effortlessly to the top of Apple's tablet line-up, packing a bigger screen, faster processor, superior wireless and audio setups and two cool new accessories. It's also more expensive, however (we don't know UK prices yet, but we know that it's going to be a cool $250 more than the Air 2 in the US for equivalent models) and there are other drawbacks to going for the Pro.
Our iPad Pro vs iPad Air 2 comparison reviews covers these drawbacks, as well as comparing the design, features, specs and pricing for these two Apple products.
iPad Pro vs iPad Air 2: Physical design & portability
Most obviously and perhaps most importantly, the iPad Pro is a lot bigger than the Air 2. This allows for a considerably bigger screen, which we'll discuss in the next section, but it's important to grasp the difference in portability that results from the extra volume and weight you're going to be carrying around - even if the Pro remains an impressively slender tablet.
The Air 2 won't fit in a pocket, but it slips easily into a handbag or small rucksack and can be held easily in one hand - which is an important consideration if you want to use it an ebook reader. The Pro is closer to a MacBook Air - it too slips into a rucksack but takes up more of the space inside, and while it can be held one-handed it can't realistically be used in this way.
The Pro is about 63 percent heavier than the Air 2; and roughly 27 percent longer and 30 percent wider. We think that getting the Pro's thickness down to 6.9mm is a stunning achievement, but that's still 13 percent thicker than the super-slender Air 2.
Here are the vital statistics:
iPad Pro: 305.7mm x 220.6mm x 6.9mm; 713g (Wi-Fi model)
iPad Air 2: 240mm x 169.5mm x 6.1mm; 437g (Wi-Fi model)
Aside from being bigger, the iPad Pro has a similar physical design to the Air 2: the materials, bezel, edging and so on are the same, only on a grander scale. There are new Smart Connector ports on the lefthand side, which allow for the attachment of new keyboard cases (we talk about these in the accessories section) and you get four speakers instead of two (covered in the audio section) but the rest of the design is the same.
iPad Pro vs iPad Air 2: Screen
The iPad Pro has about 78 percent more screen space than the Air 2. If you use the Pro in landscape orientation, the screen area you get is comparable to a pair of Air 2 screens (each in portrait mode) side by side. This comes into its own when running two apps in iOS 9's new Split View, which works on the Air 2 but was clearly designed with the Pro in mind.
Read next: 32 brilliant iOS 9 tips
Split View, running here on an iPad Air 2
The Air 2's display is comfortably big enough for enjoyable, immersive gaming and film/TV watching; the Pro's extra screen space makes the experience better still (and its superior audio is an added bonus when watching movies) but could not be described as essential.
Where the larger screen really comes into its own is for work applications, and particularly creative work applications. The Pro is a marvellous as a digital art tablet (helped additionally by its new stylus accessory) and is a strong option for the business user who needs to work across multiple documents and/or productivity applications at once.
Here are the screen details:
iPad Pro: 12.9-inch display with 2732x2048 resolution (264ppi pixel density)
iPad Air 2: 9.7-inch display with 2048x1536 resolution (264ppi)
iPad Pro vs iPad Air 2: Processor power
Another year passes, and processors get faster. The iPad Air 2 is no longer the fastest iOS device on the block. Whether you'll need the iPad Pro's frankly ludicrous processing and graphical power to run apps that are currently available is another question, but it certainly offers a substantial degree of future-proofing. Apps are only going to get more processor-intensive.
The iPad Air 2 comes with the A8X processor (and its accompanying M8 motion co-processor). The iPad Pro has the A9X and M9. These are proprietary Apple processors, and the company doesn't announce detailed specs, clock speeds and so on, so for the time being we are limited in the comparisons we can draw. But it's clear that the A9X is seriously fast.
Apple claims that the A9X enables the Pro to deliver "up to 1.8 times the CPU performance and double the graphics performance of iPad Air 2". That's in comparison to a device that was and remains a mobile powerhouse.
The Pro, then, can run absolutely anything on the App Store with insouciant ease, and will carry on being able to do this for months and probably years to come. This is undoubtedly a fine thing for those who enjoy video editing, and high-end gaming, and that kind of thing; but if your ambitions are limited to simpler apps or more basic tasks, the A9X is overkill. (If you honestly can't imagine yourself using your tablet for anything more demanding than email, surfing the web and simple games, even the Air 2 is more than you'll need: consider the Air 1 or one of the mini models.)
When we get hold of an iPad Pro review sample we'll compare the two tablets in Macworld's rigorous speed tests and update this article with more scientific comparisons.
iPad Pro vs iPad Air 2: Accessories
The iPad Air 2 has a wide range of accessories, some made by Apple but many more made by third parties: you can choose from a huge variety of cases, covers, keyboards and audio accessories. The same can't be said of the iPad Pro, which isn't even out yet, but you can be sure that the accessory makers will rush out compatible products in short order. (And in fact many iPad Air accessories will work with the Pro anyway.)
One advantage held by the Pro in this department relates to a pair of rather nice Apple-made accessories that were announced at the Pro's launch event. These are a stylus - called the Apple Pencil - and a new keyboard cover called the Smart Keyboard. The keyboard attaches to the Pro via data/power ports on its lefthand side, and therefore even a smaller version of it couldn't be used with earlier iPad models. The Apple Pencil, too, has been designed (Apple says) with the Pro specifically in mind, and because of a redesign to the Multi-Touch screen subsystem on that device you won't get the full experience if using the Pencil with the Air 2.
Our early experiences with the Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil have been positive - you can read more about them in our iPad Pro review. Bear in mind that these are not included with the Pro, however: we haven't been given UK pricing but we know that the Smart Keyboard will cost $169 in the US and the Apple Pencil $99.
Apple's own accessories will always be that tiny bit better integrated than those made by third-party accessory makers, since Apple controls and has full access to the design of the primary device and the operating system that runs on it. But they are almost universally more expensive than the equivalent by another company.
Bear in mind that there are likely to be lots of styluses and keyboard cases launched by third parties in the run-up to the iPad Pro's launch that echo the designs of the Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard - and these will probably be made for both Pro and Air 2.
iPad Pro vs iPad Air 2: Audio
The Pro is a better pick for those who consider audio output a priority. Whereas the iPad Air 2 has twin speakers - and these so close together at the front edge that you get scarcely any stereo effect - the Pro has four. What's more, Apple says that the Pro incorporates an automatic rebalancing system that adjusts the output of the speakers to compensate for the position the Pro is in, the way you're holding it and so on.
We haven't tested the Pro's audio - the noise generated by gathered journalists at the hands-on session made accurate analysis impossible - but we're optimistic that a historically weak area for the iPad range has been given a boost.
iPad Pro vs iPad Air 2: What's the same?
The Pro features numerous upgrades, as we've seen, but there are plenty of things these two tablets have in common.
Their screens are different sizes and different resolutions, but they should offer the same degree of sharpness. The extra pixels are proportionate to the extra space, in other words: both devices have a pixel density of 264 pixels per inch, or ppi. (In practice you may find yourself holding the Pro further from your eyes, meaning it could get away with a lower pixel density to achieve the same impression of sharpness. Apple used this logic in the past to allow lower-pixel-density devices to be rated as Retina if it believed they would be held further away, but we're pleased it hasn't done so here.)
Battery life for the two devices is officially rated the same (10 hours of Wi-Fi based web surfing), and the front- and rear-facing cameras on the two tablets have matching specs and features. (Both devices' rear cameras are rated 8Mp, and front cameras are 1.2Mp.)
Both the iPad Pro and Air 2 feature fast 802.11ac wireless and the newer Bluetooth 4.2 standard. (The iPad mini 4 offers these too. The iPad Air 1 and mini 2 are both restricted to a/b/g/n wireless, however, and Bluetooth 4.0.)
The Touch ID fingerprint scanner appears to be the same on each device - if Apple has given the Pro the faster Touch ID we're enjoying in the iPhone 6s, it hasn't drawn attention to this fact - and both can use this for Apple Pay online and in apps, but not in shops.
Lastly, the Pro and Air 2 come in the same colour options: silver, Space Grey and our beloved gold. Rose gold remains an iPhone-only offering for the time being.
iPad Pro vs iPad Air 2: Price & availability
One down side of plumping for the iPad Pro is that you're going to have to wait before buying - and we're not even sure exactly how long for. Apple has only said that the iPad Pro will launch in November. (The iPad Air 2 is available now, and has been for about a year.)
You'll also have to wait until closer to launch before you find out how much the Pro will cost in the UK. We do, however, have US pricing, which allows us to get an idea of how the two products will compare price-wise. As you can see, at the two points at which direct comparisons are possible, the Pro is $250 more expensive. (You'll also notice that the storage options for the iPad Pro are more restrictive: nothing less than 128GB is permitted for cellular models.)
iPad Air 2:
Wi-Fi (16GB): $499
Wi-Fi (64GB): $599
Wi-Fi (128GB): $699
Cellular (16GB): $629
Cellular (64GB): $729
Cellular (128GB): $829
Wi-Fi (32GB): $799
Wi-Fi (128GB): $949
Cellular (128GB): $1,079
Here's the current UK pricing for the iPad Air 2:
Wi-Fi (16GB): £399
Wi-Fi (64GB): £479
Wi-Fi (128GB): £559
Cellular (16GB): £499
Cellular (64GB): £579
Cellular (128GB): £659
And our estimates of the prices you're likely to pay for the iPad Pro:
Wi-Fi (32GB): £629
Wi-Fi (128GB): £759
Cellular (128GB): £879
We'll update these when official UK pricing is confirmed by Apple.
Macworld poll: Which tablet do you plan to buy?
We've nearly reached a verdict. Have you come to a decision yet? We'd love to hear your thoughts.