Apple iPad Pro review (12.9-inch, 2020)

The Apple iPad Pro review 2020 answers our longstanding request by adding mouse and trackpad support in earnest. The iOS 13.2 feature is cleverly designed to overcome the hurdles of adding cursor navigation to an operating system designed around touch. For some, trackpad support is enough to turn the iPad Pro into a genuine laptop replacement and a true competitor to the Surface Pro 7

For everyone else, the Apple iPad Pro review 2020 is a modest improvement to what was already the world’s best tablet. Performance gets a slight boost with the new A12Z Bionic chip and a new dual-camera system delivers stunning photos. Perhaps the most interesting new feature is a lidar scanner, a depth sensor that makes AR apps more compelling.  

The 2020 iPad Pro isn’t a necessary upgrade if you already own the previous version and you can save some money buying a different model, but if you want the most capable tablet on the market, look no further.

iPad Pro 2020 price and configuration options

The 12.9-inch iPad Pro starts at $999 for the Wi-Fi model with 128GB of storage. You’ll pay $200 each time you double the storage, so pricing is as follows: 256GB for $1,099, 512GB for 1,299 and 1TB for 1,499. 

If you want cellular connectivity, the 4G LTE version costs $150 more than a Wi-Fi model with the same storage. Our 1TB Wi-Fi + cellular review unit costs $1,649. 

Those prices are for the tablet alone. If you want to deck out your tablet with accessories, the Apple Pencil (2nd Gen) costs $129, while the Smart Keyboard Folio is another $199. The standout add-on for the iPad Pro is the Magic Keyboard with trackpad, which will ship for $349 in May. 

Apple iPad Pro review (2020) design 

Apple didn’t make any substantial design changes to the new iPad Pro. Available in Space Gray and Silver, the aluminum slate looks identical to its predecessor apart from the rear camera module, which features dual lenses and a lidar scanner in a square housing (much like the iPhone 11). Also on the rear is a large Apple logo and off-color antenna bands. 

Apple iPad Pro review (12.9-inch, 2020)
(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

The front is dominated by a 12.9-inch display that stretches to the edges of the tablet. As a reminder, Apple ditched the physical home button for on-screen gestures in the 2018 model to maximize the screen-to-body ratio. The effect is mesmerizing, especially when you’re holding a display as gorgeous as the one on the iPad Pro (more on that below). 

Though iPad Pro’s utilitarian appearance won’t be for everyone, the design is quite functional. On the right edge of the tablet (when held in portrait mode), just below discrete volume buttons, is a magnetic strip that holds and charges the optional Apple Pencil (Gen 2) stylus. You’ll find dual speaker grills on both the top and bottom edges of the slate.  

Apple iPad Pro review (12.9-inch, 2020)
(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

At 11 x 8.5 x 0.2 inches and 1.4 pounds, the Apple iPad Pro review 2020 is the same size but a tad thinner than the 2018 iPad Pro (1.4 pounds). The Microsoft Surface Pro 7 is a chunkier tablet both in size (0.3 inches) and weight (1.7 pounds).

Apple iPad Pro review ports 

The iPad Pro has a single USB-C charging port on the bottom edge. 

Apple iPad Pro review (12.9-inch, 2020)
(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

Apple gets credit for its harmonious ecosystem of products, but those who own the latest iPhone 11 and iPad Pro are forced to use two types of chargers. If it were up to me, the next iPhone would take after the iPad Pro by abandoning the Lightning connector once and for all. 

Unfortunately, the iPad Pro lacks a headphone jack and its USB-C input doesn’t support Thunderbolt 3. The missing headphone jack is a serious setback in any debate about the iPad Pro being a true laptop replacement. 

Apple iPad Pro review display 

Apple is rumored to bring Mini-LED to its 2021 lineup of Macs and iPads. It’s an exciting display technology but I lost all interest the moment I saw the iPad Pro’s 12.9-inch, 2732 x 2048-resolution display. The exceptionally bright panel radiated with stunningly vivid colors, even from the iOS home screen. 

Apple iPad Pro review (12.9-inch, 2020)
(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

I could see endless color variances, from lime to olive green, during an overhead shot of a forest in the trailer for Artemis Fowl. The amount of detail the display captured in the cave city was astounding. Tiny yellow lights against the expansive rockface represented individual homes that overlooked a swampy, misty cauldron below. The cerulean steam circling stalagmites created an eerie atmosphere to the sci-fi city. 

It’s the radiance of the screen that makes everything pop. I turned the screen brightness down to 75% and was still amazed by how easily I could read and play games outside on a bright day. 

Apple iPad Pro review (12.9-inch, 2020)
(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

Our colorimeter clocked the iPad Pro’s average display brightness at 559 nits. That’s much higher than the Surface Pro 7’s panel (395 nits) and it even outshone the display on the 2018 iPad Pro (484 nits). The category average is 442 nits. 

The iPad Pro’s display covers 123% of the sRGB color gamut, making it more vivid than the panels on the Surface Pro 7 (102%) and the category average (108%).

iPad Pro keyboard 

There will be two official iPad Pro keyboard covers when the Magic Keyboard arrives in May. 

For now, I used the $199 Smart Keyboard and have mixed feelings about it. While the fit and adjustability are great, I’m not a fan of the cheap-feeling fabric covering the keyboard and the keys themselves are shallow. But my biggest problem is the lack of a touchpad. This is a lot to spend on a keyboard that doesn’t provide the full functionality of iPadOS now that cursor support has arrived. 

Apple iPad Pro review (12.9-inch, 2020)
(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

The Magic Keyboard should solve all of those problems when it arrives a few months after the iPad Pro. Not only does it have a trackpad, but the backlit keys use the same scissor-style switches as the ones on the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro (16-inch). The accessory also flaunts a new “floating” hinge mechanism that uses ridged cantilevered hinges to hold the iPad Pro a few inches off the surface for better viewing angles. From there, you can smoothly adjust the angle of the tablet by moving it up and down.

Apple iPad Pro review (12.9-inch, 2020)
(Image credit: Apple)

The Magic keyboard delivers 1mm of key travel and has USB-C pass-through charging for connecting accessories like external drives or portable monitors.

Unfortunately, these features come at a steep price. Apple is going to sell the Magic Keyboard for — you should sit for this — a dizzying $299 for the 11-inch iPad Pro and $349 for the 12.9-inch version. 

iPad Pro mouse and trackpad support 

The Apple iPad Pro review 2020 will be remembered as being the first iPad with mouse and trackpad support. The long-requested feature has finally arrived, and it works better than I had anticipated with my Magic Trackpad 2 and Razer Basilisk X Hyperspeed gaming mouse. 

When you connect a Bluetooth mouse or trackpad to the iPad Pro, a small gray circular cursor will automatically appear. Unlike Microsoft’s Surface Pro, the iPad was never meant for trackpad support, but some clever adjustments to iPadOS 13.4 smooth the transition. 

Apple iPad Pro review (12.9-inch, 2020)
(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

I really like how the cursor latches onto icons as you get close to them then disappears when they are highlighted. This made selecting items with a small cursor fairly effortless. The cursor also transforms depending on how you’re using it. For example, the circle turns into an I-beam when you’re in a document, which makes it easier to select and highlight words and phrases.

Similarly, certain icons in the Safari browser turn gray to indicate when your cursor is over them. All these little adjustments make the difference between keeping your finger on a touchpad and lifting your arm every time you want to perform an action. 

Unfortunately, the cursor tricks don’t extend to all apps and interfaces. Google Docs, which I’m using to write this review, isn’t optimized for cursor support. Yes, you can still use a trackpad, but the I-shaped cursor doesn’t transform when you hover over text (you have to use the imprecise circle). This is one of many examples and early users are at the mercy of developers to optimize their apps for trackpad. 

Apple iPad Pro review (12.9-inch, 2020)
(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

IPadOS also supports trackpad gestures with the Magic Trackpad 2, and they’re a great way to navigate iPadOS. I’m super-impressed by how extensive gesture support already is (Apple has an exhaustive guide on all the supported gestures), and I found myself using them more than touch controls when reviewing the tablet. 

Some touch controls I used most often included opening the dock by swiping to the bottom of the screen; three-finger swipes up to open the app switcher; three-finger swipes left or right to switch between apps; and pinch-to-zoom. There are two ways to go home: either quickly flick three fingers up on the touchpad or swipe down until the dock appears, then swipe down again. 

Apple iPad Pro review (12.9-inch, 2020)
(Image credit: Apple)

Does trackpad support make the iPad Pro a laptop replacement? No. Without the ability to run macOS programs, the iPad Pro is still a limited device. But the blueprint is there for Apple to finish the iPad Pro’s transformation into a hybrid device.

If the trackpad isn’t behaving to your satisfaction, go to the settings where you can adjust cursor speed, scroll direction and tap-to-click.

 Apple iPad Pro review Pencil 

The Apple Pencil (Gen 2) is among the best stylii I’ve used, and one of the most expensive. But even at $129, the stylus is a great accessory for students, artists or designers who want to draw or write notes on the tablet. 

Apple iPad Pro review (12.9-inch, 2020)
(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

The size and weight of the stark-white pen are nicely balanced. The flat edge gives me flashbacks to using Lamy’s famous Safari fountain pen in school. And the double-tap feature for changing tools or turning on the eraser works as advertised. 

What earns the Pencil its lofty price is that it magnetically attaches to the edge of the iPad and begins charging. It took me a few attempts to find the sweet spot but a satisfying snap will alert you when it’s positioned correctly for charging.

iPad Pro audio 

I’m blown away by the quad speakers on the iPad Pro. They sound much better than the majority of laptop speakers I’ve tested — even those on much larger systems. The Killers’ new single “Caution”” filled my apartment with dynamic, pulse-pumping sound. I tapped my foot along to the weighty drums and heard the finest details in Brandon Flower’s crisp, soaring vocals.

Apple iPad Pro review (12.9-inch, 2020)
(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

I turned the volume down to around 60% when playing games like Draw It to protect my ears from these powerful speakers. A word of warning: anything about 80% volume is meant for when you’re away from the tablet, not sitting in front of it.

I’ve never thought to listen to music from a tablet, but the iPad Pro is an exception. It’s rich, balanced speakers deliver sound that can compete with a stand-alone Bluetooth speaker.

iPad Pro performance 

The A12Z Bionic SoC inside the iPad Pro isn’t much of an upgrade from the A12X Bionic used in the last iPad Pro, but that’s fine by us. The iPad Pro already delivered more power than most of the laptops we test, and the A12Z adds another GPU core for better graphics performance. 

I might not be the “pro” user Apple is after but I put the tablet to the test by opening multiple tabs in Chrome and playing games while listening to music on Google Play Music. The tablet didn’t so much as flinch. I didn’t experience any lag, stuttering or crashes as I flipped between windows and navigated iPadOS. 

Apple iPad Pro review (12.9-inch, 2020)
(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

As always, the iPad Pro crushed our performance benchmarks, scoring a 4,720 on the Geekbench 5 overall performance test. That’s only a slight improvement over the previous model (4,635) but it also tops the Surface Pro 7 (4,443, Intel Core i5). However, higher-end models of the Surface Pro 7, like those with a Core i7 CPU and 16GB of RAM, win on this test. 

Power users, especially video editors, will appreciate that the iPad Pro needed only 34 seconds to convert a 4K video to 1080p resolution after applying a color filter and transition in Adobe Rush. We couldn’t compare that score against Windows 10 systems, but Apple’s tablet outpaced the iPhone 11 Pro, which needed 46 seconds. 

Graphics also gets a modest boost in the new model. On the BaseMark GPU test, the iPad Pro scored 21,009, compared with the 19,588 from the previous model.

iPad Pro battery life 

The iPad Pro lasted 10 hours and 16 minutes on the Laptop Mag battery test, which involves continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi at 150 nits of brightness. That strong runtime crushes the Surface Pro 7 (7:20) but falls short of the category average (10:56) and is several hours worse than its predecessor (13:14). 

I got around 6.5 hours of battery life using the iPad Pro to browse the web and play games with the display at 75% brightness.

iPad Pro cameras and lidar 

Taking photos from a tablet is goofy, but at least with the iPad Pro you can impress your remaining friends with some stunning images. The standard 12-megapixel, f/1.8 main camera and secondary 10MP, f/2.4 ultrawide camera capture sharp and colorful photos. 

Apple iPad Pro review (12.9-inch, 2020)
(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

As you can see from the above photo, the colors on the fire hydrant are amplified, making the red and green hues look pleasantly saturated despite the dreary environment of a wet spring day in the suburbs of Detroit. You can see paint peeling off the hydrant and individual blades are grass visible when you zoom in. 

Apple iPad Pro review (12.9-inch, 2020)
(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

The roses in this flash image are closer to the scarlet red they were when I first gave them to my fiancée. It’s flattering but not very color accurate. 

Apple iPad Pro review (12.9-inch, 2020)
(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

This Portrait-mode selfie I snapped with the 7MP, f2.2 front-facing camera shows the extent of my devolution into a caveman during the coronavirus lockdown. Every strand of my disheveled beard is exposed by the detailed image. In all seriousness, this is a fantastic selfie. 

Next to the two rear cameras in a lidar sensor. You might have heard of lidar as a technology being used for anonymous vehicles. It’s a complicated technique that uses lasers to determine the distance between objects in order to create a spatial map of an environment. On the iPad, the lidar sensor is used for augmented reality (AR) apps. 

Apple iPad Pro review (12.9-inch, 2020)
(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

More specifically, lidar will help AR developers create more immersive apps by giving them faster, more accurate tools. I was impressed by the speed and accuracy of the preinstalled Measure app. Measuring my Pixel 4Xl was easier than I expected. A rectangular outline appeared around my phone with measurements, in inches, for each of its sides. 

The readings weren’t perfect — the app said it was 6.5 x 3 inches when it’s actually 6.3 x 3 inches — but they came close. And when I drew a diagonal line from one corner of my monitor to the other, the app accurately measured 27 inches. 

I wouldn’t use it for home improvement projects but the app is smart enough to give you a useful ballpark measurement. 

Apple iPad Pro review (12.9-inch, 2020)
(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

When I played the game AR Dragon, my pet dragon knew exactly where each surface was in my house, and sat itself down as if it were a physical object. It’s not clear how much work the lidar sensor is doing, but AR on the iPad Pro is already in a great place, and it will only get better.

Bottom line 

The iPad Pro 2020 is the best tablet in the world. It has a gorgeous display, blistering speeds, fantastic speakers, an improved camera and even a new lidar sensor for next-gen AR apps. Yes, it’s extremely expensive, but no other tablet — not even the Surface Pro 7 — offers the same combination of performance and endurance. 

Should you buy the new model if you already own the previous version? Probably not. The best addition this year is trackpad support, but that feature will come to older iPads with iOS 13.2. So will the upcoming Magic Keyboard, although a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard is a much cheaper solution.

Additionally, the A12Z Bionic chip in the new iPad Pro is a very modest upgrade, and battery life is worse than before. 

If you don’t already own a tablet, then the iPad Pro 2020 is the one to get. And now that it can act as a proper laptop replacement (with some updates to iPadOS), that sky-high price (plus pricey accessories) is justified.

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