What Can You Do on an iPad Pro? Worth the Upgrade?

Updated on April 7, 2019
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Jonathan Wylie is a writer, educator and podcaster. You can hear the audio version of this article, and others, on the Unpacking iOS podcast

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The Case for the iPad Pro

With prices starting at $799, the iPad Pro is not a purchase that people make lightly. This elevated price tag puts it firmly into the mid-range laptop territory, but can an iPad Pro really do things that a regular iPad cannot? What kind of people buy an iPad Pro, and is it the right device for your needs? These are the questions that need answered, so let's take care of that right now.

How to Compare iPad Models

Currently there are five different iPads available for sale. Choosing between them might seem like a tricky task, but it's actually easier than you might think because each one is aimed at a different type of user. Here's a quick rundown of what you can expect from the non-pro Apple iPads.

The 9.7-inch iPad was introduced at an education focused event in March 2018. It was designed to give schools an affordable alternative to Chromebooks, but it quickly became a popular option with consumers too because although it retails at $329, it can often be found for as little as $249 at Amazon or Best Buy. The 9.7-inch iPad is built to a price, but it's still more than adequate for the majority of online tasks. It also supports the 1st generation Apple Pencil.

The 7.9-inch iPad Mini was updated in March 2019. It now has the same A12 Bionic processor that is found in the iPhone XS and XS Max, and that makes it a fast and capable tablet. The iPad Mini has a better (albeit smaller) display, compared to the 9.7-inch iPad, and it has better cameras too. It can also be configured with up to 256GB of storage where the 9.7-inch iPad tops out at 128GB. The iPad Mini supports the 1st generation iPad Pencil and starts at $399.

The 10.5-inch iPad Air was released at the same time as the 2019 iPad Mini. In terms of specs, it is almost identical to the iPad Mini. It has the same processor, the same display technologies, and the same cameras. However, for $100 more you get a larger 10.5-inch screen and the option to add Apple's Smart Keyboard. The iPad Air starts at $499.

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Should You Buy an iPad Pro?

The next step up is the iPad Pro. If you buy an iPad Pro, you are buying the best iPad that Apple makes. As such, there are things you will find on the iPad Pro that you won't find on other iPads. Some of these matter more to some people than others, so to help you weigh up the pros and cons, here are the features that make it unique in the iPad lineup.

  • Screen Size: If you want the biggest screen available, the iPad Pro is the one to get. It's available with an 11-inch or 12.9-inch display.
  • Screen Quality: The iPad Pro screen has a 120hz refresh rate. This means you have buttery smooth scrolling on webpages and apps. Apple calls this ProMotion technology. The iPad Pro is the only Apple device to use ProMotion.
  • Face ID: The new design of the iPad Pro meant that the home button was sacrificed in favor of Face ID. This new facial recognition system uses 3D sensors to identify you and unlock your iPad when you look at it.
  • A12X Sensor: The CPU in the iPad Pro is the most powerful mobile chip that Apple has ever made. In fact, if you look at the benchmarks, you will see that it's faster than a MacBook, a MacBook Air, and several MacBook Pro models.
  • Apple Pencil 2: The second generation Apple Pencil was redesigned to work exclusively with the new iPad Pro. It has automatic pairing, wireless charging and is stored magnetically on the side of the iPad. There is also a touch zone at the bottom of the pencil that you can double tap to switch between pen modes. The 2nd-generation Apple Pencil is $129.
  • Cameras: The iPad Pro has the best cameras of any iPad. It has a 12MP rear camera and a quad-LED flash. It takes advantage of the same Smart HDR technology found in the new iPhones, and the front camera can be used for portrait mode, portrait lighting, Animoji and Memoji. The iPad Pro is also the only iPad that supports 4K video recording. The other iPads are limited to 1080p.
  • Storage: The iPad Pro can be configured with up to 1TB of storage if you need it. Cheaper iPads can't be configured with anything more than 256GB.
  • USB-C connector: Many people think that USB-C is the future of connectivity. Apple seems to agree. The iPad Pro is the only iPad to have a USB-C port for charging and accessories. If you want, you can even use the USB-C connector on your iPad Pro to charge your iPhone via a lightning to USB-C cable.
  • Smart Folio Keyboard: Apple redesigned the Smart Keyboard to make it compatible with the larger iPad Pro screens. They called it the Smart Folio Keyboard. Functionally, it doesn't really do anything that the Smart Keyboard doesn't do, but it does provide additional protection for your device because it covers the back of the iPad. It also offers two viewing angles.
  • Speakers: The iPad Pro has four speakers, two on each side. The rest of the iPad lineup have just two, so the volume is louder and fuller on the Pro model.

Multi-touch Gestures for the iPad Pro

Can an iPad Pro Replace Your Laptop?

So, is it worth it? What can you do on an iPad Pro that you can't do an a regular iPad? The answer is, it depends. Not everyone needs an iPad Pro, but if you are a creative professional or someone that uses your iPad for more than just consumption, then the new iPad Pro can be a compelling option, especially when you consider the increasing number of apps that are optimized for the performance you get from an iPad Pro.

Writers, bloggers and journalists will hook up a Bluetooth keyboard or snap on the Smart Folio keyboard and happily type away all day on an iPad Pro. Apps like Drafts, Ulysses, Microsoft Word, or Scrivener are common place for these kinds of users, as are note taking apps like GoodNotes, Notability, OneNote and Evernote.

Digital artists are perhaps best inclined to make full use of the Apple Pencil and apps like Procreate, Affinity Designer, Autodesk SketchBook, Concepts, and Adobe Illustrator Draw are just a few of the burgeoning number of drawing and sketching apps that are available for the iPad. The Apple Pencil makes the transition from paper to digital somewhat effortless and the power of these pro-level drawing apps mean that layers, shading, and compositing is easier than ever.

Professional photographers might not take all that many photos with their iPad, but they do edit, upload and share images using a variety of photo-centric apps like Affinity Photo, Pixelmator, Snapseed, Lightroom, and Darkroom. Adobe has also announced that the full version of Photoshop is also coming to the iPad in 2019.

Videographers edit video in the same way that photographers edit images. Apple's iMovie is a popular app to start with, but newer additions like LumaFusion, and Splice are becoming increasingly popular. And for those who are interested in recording video on an iPad Pro, the FiLMiC Pro app has all the manual controls you could ask for.

Lastly, Garageband has been a go-to app for musicians for years now, especially because it allows you to plug in MIDI instruments to record your music. However, other apps offer this functionality and more. Blocs Wave, Minimoog, AudioShare, Reason Compact, Launchpad, Tize and Auxy are among the huge number of music composition apps available for iOS.

How to Create Music on an iPad Pro

Who Should Buy an iPad Pro?

When you look at what all that you can do on an iPad Pro, you would be forgiven for wondering why you should buy one instead of an iPad Air or even an iPad Mini. After all, most people would get on just fine with a cheaper iPad. For email, web browsing, social media, gaming and Netflix, you really don't need an iPad Pro.

However, if you like the larger screen, and you think you can take advantage of the added performance or the unique technologies that are included on the iPad Pro, then you won't regret it. The iPad Pro is the ultimate vision of what an iPad can be and there are an increasing number of people are thinking about using it as a replacement for laptops and desktop computers simply because it is so capable.

Of course, it's not perfect. File management, in particular, still has a long way to go for something that is labelled as a "pro" machine. Multi-tasking could also be a little more intuitive, but this is a software problem, not a hardware problem, and the chances are good that we will see changes made here in the iOS 13 update. Until then, the iPad Pro remains a compelling choice for those that can get the most out of it, and also for those that just want the best iPad that is available.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

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    © 2019 Jonathan Wylie

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