Refined Power: Fstoppers Reviews the 2018 12.9-Inch Apple iPad Pro

Refined Power: Fstoppers Reviews the 2018 12.9-Inch Apple iPad Pro

When I reviewed the iPad Pro last year, I was impressed by its power, beautiful screen, battery life, and portability. The 2018 version of the device takes what Apple had last year and refines it further, introducing new features and improvements. Check out our review of the newest iPad Pro.

What's New

Size and Design

The home button is gone, and the bezel has shrunk quite a bit, significantly reducing the footprint of the device while maintaining the same screen size. I personally find the new design more elegant and don't miss the home button. More importantly, the reduced physical size is significant. Last year, I recommended photographers get the 12.9-inch iPad Pro because of the work we do, but it's a substantially sized device. The new 12.9-inch version is about the size of a piece of paper, and that difference does make it much easier to use and transport in practice. Also worth noting is that the 10.5-inch version has been increased to an 11-inch screen without changing the physical size of the device.

Face ID

With the home button gone, you can now unlock the iPad using Face ID, which works with the device in any orientation. In practice, it worked quickly and flawlessly for me, even when I purposely held the iPad at a weird angle to test it. 

A12X Bionic With Neural Engine

The new chip is fast — really fast. Last year's iPad Pro was no slouch, but watching this year's power through a 3 GB, 157-layer .PSB file was something else. In my own usage, it has tackled everything I've thrown at it without a problem. Photographers waiting for the full version of Photoshop coming to the iPad in 2019 will be thrilled when it gets here.

Improved Audio

The new iPad Pro contains four speakers, each with a tweeter and woofer pair, which provide noticeably better audio. It also now comes with five microphones, allowing stereo recording when filming in both portrait and landscape orientation. 

Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard Folio

The Apple Pencil, likely the most important accessory for creatives, has received quite the upgrade. It now attaches magnetically to the the iPad, making charging much easier, and putting it in a convenient position when you're working. The Smart Keyboard Folio now also supports two viewing angles. Apple placed over 100 magnets in the new iPad to ensure proper alignment of these accessories, and it shows: they easily snap precisely into position every time.

USB-C

Gone is the Lightning port. The iPad Pro now uses USB-C, which frankly, is a smart move by Apple. This is meant to be a top-of-the-line powerhouse, and moving to USB-C enables faster data transfers, connections to external displays up to 5K in resolution, a multitude of accessories, and even charging out, which given the iPad's large battery could be a very useful thing when you're on the go and need to top off your phone or the like. 

Specs (12.9-inch Cellular Version)

  • Capacity: 64 GB, 256 GB, 512 GB, 1 TB
  • Dimensions: 11.04 x 8.46 x 0.23 inches (280.6 x 214.9 x 5.9 mm)
  • Weight: 1.4 pounds (633 g)
  • 12.9-inch LED-backlit IPS Liquid Retina display with Multi-Touch
  • 2,732 x 2,048 pixels at 264 ppi 
  • Antireflective coating
  • P3 color gamut
  • True Tone and ProMotion technology
  • A12X Bionic 64-bit chip with neural engine and M12 coprocessor
  • 12-megapixel, f/1.8 rear camera with Smart HDR and backside illumination
  • 4K video at 60 fps, 1080p at 120 fps, and 720p at 240 fps
  • Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n/ac, 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz)
  • Bluetooth 5.0
  • Gigabit-class LTE (cellular model only)
  • 10-hour battery life

Design

It's smaller, lighter, and more refined, but with the same size screen. What's not to like about that? In practice, the full inch Apple shaved off the length of the iPad Pro does make it easier to cradle in one hand and write on; after all, it's almost identical in size to a piece of paper now. In your hands, it feels solid but light. The Smart Connector has been moved from the side of the device to the back, with a small black strip on the right side where the Apple Pencil attaches. The only buttons you'll find are the power and volume controls. The polished finish and reduced bezel make the device look more modern and sleek in my opinion; I think it's a great improvement in aesthetics and functionality. 

Display

The display won me over last year — to the point that I do most of Lightroom work on my personal iPad Pro now. It's still a spectacular display, by far the best I've seen on any device — tablet, laptop, or desktop. It's bright, vibrant, and accurate. 

It uses the P3 gamut, which is wider than sRGB, almost as large as Adobe RGB, which is great news for creatives doing serious work on the device. Like last year, it features True Tone technology, which constantly measures ambient light and adjusts the brightness and white point to maintain color accuracy, which is a rather important feature considering the device's mobile nature, meaning you won't be using it in constantly controlled lighting like you might a desktop. ProMotion technology makes another appearance, which allows the iPad to ramp up the display's refresh rate to 120 Hz to make things like writing with the Apple Pencil as smooth as possible, then drop it again to save battery life when those faster rates aren't needed.

The iPad continues to exhibit excellent reflectance rates, showing no noticeable glare. Viewing angles also continue to be great; you'll have no trouble sharing the device with friends to view content together.

Audio

Each speaker in the set of four now comes with a tweeter and woofer pair, and the difference is noticeable. I put on John Frusciante's "Foregrow" and turned the iPad up to full volume. First, the sheer volume was impressive. It projected across a large room easily. The synth bass came through without sounding muddy and without distorting. The upper harmonics of the synth strings, the snare, and the stuttering hi-hat showed good clarity, and the voice still had room to work with in the middle. For a device of this size, the audio quality and power is very impressive, and it helps the iPad Pro maintain its status as an excellent entertainment consumption device in tandem with its professional prowess: pop on a movie and enjoy that beautiful display and excellent audio.

Performance

Apple touted the new iPad Pro as faster than 92 percent of all portable PCs sold in the last year (including i7 models), with four performance cores and four efficiency cores giving up to 35 percent faster single-core performance over last year's model and up to 90 percent faster multicore performance and up to 2x faster graphics. Last year's iPad Pro was already about as snappy as I could imagine, and this year's absolutely flies through every task I throw at it. Complex applications load and work without delay. Augmented reality experiences are smooth and work beautifully in real time. This is great news for those who can't wait to push the limits when Photoshop arrives for the device next year. So far, I've yet to make the iPad break a sweat. 

For example, I pulled up Plantale and placed a large sunflower on a table, as you can see in the video above. From there, I could rotate the plant, walk up to it, zoom in on different parts, and more, and the iPad kept up smoothly and realistically. Apple also demoed and mentioned other interesting uses, such as analysis and guidance for athletes, teaching aircraft maintenance, and a very neat game in which players build a real-life Lego set, then wage battle on it in AR. 

Battery Life

Apple rates this year's iPad Pro at 10 hours of battery life, which continues to match what I see in my normal usage, which includes Lightroom editing, wireless and wired streaming of music scores while teaching, watching movies, and browsing the web. I've never come close to not making it through a day without charging it; it should be more than enough for even the most power-hungry users. 

Apple Pencil

Working with the Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard Folio.

The new Apple Pencil is a big step up from last year's. First, it's super easy to pair and charge the pencil. Just hold it near the side of the iPad and the magnets pull it into place every time. The first time you do this, the iPad asks you if you want to use that Pencil with it, and you're off and running. It automatically charges whenever it's in this position, and it's in the most convenient place possible whether you're using a keyboard or holding the tablet.

The new version is more ergonomic, with a flat edge that makes it easier to hold. One very neat feature is that the iPad can always distinguish between the Pencil and your fingers, even when its display is off, so if you touch the Pencil to the screen when it's off, it can immediately open the associated sketch program, whereas if you touch your finger, it opens the normal home screen or last used application. You can also double tap the Pencil to access various shortcuts; for example, I used it to switch between a pen and eraser. Writing with the Pencil remains fluid and natural, and it allows for precise and easy edits. 

Smart Keyboard Folio

Apple also updated the Smart Keyboard Folio, simplifying the design and adding a second angle. It's definitely more snug on the iPad, and the myriad magnets make it impossible not to precisely align and attach it with ease. The new angle is a welcome addition, as it puts the iPad more upright and makes typing and working on a desk surface easier. The keys remain a pleasure to type on. They have good travel, especially for a tablet keyboard, and they're supple but firm, with a mild fabric-esque coating that feels good to type on for extended periods. 

USB-C 

I use the USB-C Digital AV Multiport Adapter to stream over HDMI when wireless isn't available and the Apple Pencil to notate scores in my classes.

The USB-C port add is a nice step up in versatility and capability when it comes to accessories. It instantly enables you to connect to high-resolution displays, supports faster camera transers, and more. 

Camera

Though you might not turn to a tablet as your go-to camera on the go, if you have it with you and need or want to snap a shot, particularly if you're going to be editing it on the iPad anyway, the built-in camera is quite good. Files are crisp, have good dynamic range, and maintain good post-processing latitude. Above is a shot with the exposure brought up half a stop and the shadows brought up quite a bit; the file retains good quality with the additional edits. The camera is also very useful for quickly scanning documents, signing them, and sending them back.

Photography Workflow

As I discussed last year, you basically have two ways to get files onto the iPad: use mobile syncing in Lightroom or import them via the USB-C SD card reader. The latter is very, very fast, and if you're in the field and looking to make edits and share on the fly, you'll be quite happy. Thanks to Creative Cloud, the actual raw files will sync back to your desktop, so you don't need to worry about getting them off the iPad later. Working in the iPad version of Lightroom is preferable to the desktop version in my opinion. It's faster, edits feel more intuitive because you're making them tactilely right on the photo itself, and the iPad's screen is gorgeous to edit on, plus you can do it anywhere.

Lightroom for the iPad is blazingly fast and a lot of fun to use with the touch interface and the device's beautiful screen.

With Adobe bringing the full version of Photoshop to iPad next year with Creative Cloud integration, those of us who use Creative Cloud should have a very seamless experience in being able to work on a desktop, laptop, or tablet and move between all three at will. The hardware is certainly up to the task, and the experience of using the iPad and Apple Pencil is quite good. I currently use Affinity Photo for more detailed edits, and the iPad flies through them, while using the Apple Pencil directly on photos is a joy. I'm looking forward to Photoshop because it'll provide a more consistent experience in my work between a computer and the tablet. 

Shot on the Hasselblad H6D-100c, imported to and edited on the iPad Pro. Courtesy of Austin Mann.

I was all the more impressed to hear from Austin Mann that the iPad Pro handled raw files from his Hasselblad H6D-100c with ease, making it easy for him to edit and share, even from remote locations in Iceland. My thanks to him for sharing his experience and images!

Which One Is Right for You?

Last year, I recommended the 12.9-inch version for creatives, and this year, it's even easier to recommend because it's so much smaller. You'll really appreciate the extra screen real estate, particularly when editing photos and videos, and the physical size and weight are very comfortable to work with. When it comes to storage, my general advice is to think of how much you need, then go one step higher just to be safe. When it comes to purchasing a cellular or Wi-Fi only model, that really depends on how mobile you are and if you need the higher level of connectivity. That's up to you.

What I Liked

  • Improved and refined design
  • Reduced size and weight
  • Faster performance
  • Beautiful display
  • Improved Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard Folio
  • Great audio
  • Excellent battery life
  • Handles well with good ergonomics

What I Didn't Like

As I said last year, there aren't really any major cons to the device as long as you understand what you're buying. iOS is a mobile operating system with a different app ecosystem than macOS. I personally love the the touch interface and work well with the iOS experience, and as Adobe has brought full Lightroom and is bringing full Photoshop to the iPad, there's nothing I can't accomplish in my personal workflow on it, and much of the time, I accomplish it more easily than I would on a computer. Be sure to take stock of your workflow and the apps you use to decide if a laptop or a tablet is more appropriate for you. Personally, I take my iPad everywhere. 

Purchase

Pricing for the 11-inch iPad Pro starts at $799 for the 64 GB WiFi-only version to $1,549 for the 1 TB version. Adding cellular adds $150 to the price of each model. You can purchase all 11-inch iPad Pros here.

Pricing for the 12.9-inch iPad Pro starts at $999 for the 64 GB WiFi-only version to $1,749 for the 1 TB version. Adding cellular adds $150 to the price of each model. You can purchase all 11-inch iPad Pros here.

You can purchase the Smart Keyboard Folio here and the new Apple Pencil here.

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13 Comments

Umar Junaid's picture

Can you connect USB-C drives to it now? Or is it still using SD card? And where does PS save the edited files?

Alex Cooke's picture

Not at the moment, but I use a WD My Passport Wireless and it works just fine: https://fstoppers.com/originals/fstoppers-reviews-western-digital-my-pas...

Not sure about PS as it's not out yet.

Gordon Cahill's picture

I took my iPad Pro 12.9 travelling with me last year. Yes it has certain advantages. It's light. Has great battery life and a tiny charger. But it's really not the full version of Lightroom and there is one major disadvantage. Getting images out of LR mobile and onto a workstation is a huge pain in the butt. Having to upload gigabytes of files and then download them again just to get those files and the LR catalogue to sync to a desktop is ridiculous.

If Adobe would allow us to sync the catalogue (and not upload the raw files) and then we could point LR on the desktop to the raw files it would be great. However they want us to buy cloud storage which is useless on the road with slow limited mobile connections. It was quicker for me to just redo the images than wait for the upload download stuff to happen. Never again.

Next trip I'm packing a Surface Pro 6. Yes, the iPad pro hardware is awesome. But Adobe has crippled it for serious photo work for all but a few. Maybe if you work on only a few images at a time but not for serious mobile work.

Gordon

Alex Cooke's picture

I would love if Adobe created a way to wirelessly sync when you're on the same network, but I've never had a problem with letting them upload overnight while charging, then my desktop is pretty much ready to go when I get back. The other solution is to import them on desktop first, then put them in a mobile album, which is what I normally do. Neither method has ever been a problem for me.

Gordon Cahill's picture

I took my iPad Pro on my last trip. How long do you think it would take to upload 400GB of files and then download them to a machine on the same desk? If I take my Surface, I just need to unplug and plug in a portable SSD (what I do). That takes 5 seconds.

If I did wait till I get home (why would I do that??) and sync from a desktop I only get Smart Previews on the mobile device, right?

The new iPad Pro hardware looks stunning. I'm not convinced it's a viable platform for a working photographer unless you shoot very low volumes.

Gordon

It takes few minutes for 400Gb for me at home. We have fast internet ;)

Studio 403's picture

I like this new IPad, I have th 12” I bought about a year and half. So when I can sell my 12” one, think I will buy it. I might even sell my MacBook Pro, 15 inc model. With my work style this new IPad might let me kill of two machines. ....

"Be sure to take stock of your workflow and the apps you use to decide if a laptop or a tablet is more appropriate for you."
This is the most important sentence in the entire review. I love the iPad. But have you ever tried editing a file on a NAS or even just an external hard drive? Hello, third party apps which I didn't want. Your website looks slightly weird on tablets and you just found out? Better emulate the entire tablet on a Mac or PC in Firefox because you sure are not going to find what's wrong with it on mobile. The iPad makes simple things trivial and marginally advanced things a nightmare. It's a shame that such a great product comes with one of the (in my opinion) worst operating systems on the market.

Cristian Perotti's picture

It is nice and sleek, but I would rather use a Surface Pro.

Motti Bembaron's picture

Never needed a mobile machine to edit but if I go for one it will be the Surface Pro. Full desktop apps and integrating with my Android phone & my PC. We had two iPad Air at home, one was sold and the other I would not even know where it is if you asked me :-)

Rob Fry's picture

Is it possible to shoot tethered to it?

Unfortunately I can’t agree on all of this.
First: I don’t think it’s the full lightroom version as your masking options are really limited.
Also, am I the only one who has the issue that the apps aren’t full screen? Most of my apps look horrible on my 11”.
I also wonder if they’ll update the pencil to be pressure sensitive in Lightroom for masking and why can’t you import directly to lightroom but have to go though the photos app? I don’t want my raw files in there

Just a quick tip. Install Teamviewer on your PC/Mac, in the options enable LAN access if not already enabled. Install Teamviewer on your iPad, connect using your local IP. If you have a decent router and wifi signal you'll be pretty amazed at how well it works :) The key here is using your LAN instead of the default WAN.