- The iPad Pro’s long battery life, fast performance, and new trackpad support make it a compelling laptop alternative in 2020. But, the iPad Pro’s software still isn’t as natural and capable as macOS and Windows for it to completely take over as my full-time work machine.
- Using a trackpad with the iPad Pro 2020 is also quite different from doing so on a laptop or desktop. Apple has optimized the cursor to conform to different aspects of the iPad operating system, and the trackpad is compatible with certain touchscreen gestures.
- Overall, the iPad Pro may be worth considering for those in a position to get the most out of its unique attributes, like its LiDAR sensor and Apple Pencil support. But, it’s a pricey commitment for those who are just looking for a computer for watching Netflix, browsing the web, or taking notes.
Apple took another step in turning the iPad into a viable laptop alternative in 2020, thanks to two important launches: its powerful new iPad Pro, and a software update that makes Apple’s current iPad lineup compatible with computer mice and trackpads.
The latter is a long-awaited feature that makes Apple’s tablets much more useful when it comes to work-related tasks. It’s especially important for the productivity-oriented iPad Pro, which starts at $800 if you opt for the 11-inch version and $1,000 if you get the larger 12.9-inch version.
Apple is positioning the iPad Pro not as a laptop replacement, but as a new type of computer that can handle everything a traditional laptop can and more. In terms of achieving that goal, Apple’s newest iPad Pro succeeds in some regards and falls short in others.
Yes, the iPad Pro’s slim and light design, smooth touchscreen with support for Apple Pencil, and powerful cameras make it ideal for certain situations that a regular laptop would be less-equipped to handle.
However, since it runs on software that was designed with mobile-first usage in mind, it’s also struggled to feel as seamless and natural when being used as a laptop. Its lack of mouse support was one of the major factors contributing to that latter point — until now.
Compared to the 2018 iPad Pro, the newest model comes with a new A12Z processor, an additional camera with an ultra-wide-angle lens, a LiDAR scanner for better performance with AR apps, and more storage at the base level.
Overall, the new iPad Pro impresses with sharp design, fast performance, long battery life, and useful trackpad support. But, even with these benefits, there’s still a learning curve you’ll have to embrace if you want to use it as your everyday work machine. Here’s a closer look at what it’s been like to use the new iPad Pro.
Apple iPad Pro 2020 specs
Before we dig in, here’s a look at what you’ll get with the base model, which has an 11-inch screen and starts at $800. For this review, I used the 12.9-inch model with 1TB of storage.
- Display: 11-inch Retina display with a 2388 x 1668 resolution
- Processor: Apple A12Z Bionic with M12 motion coprocessor
- Rear Camera: 12-megapixel wide-angle, 10-megapixel ultra-wide-angle
- Front camera: 7-megapixel
- Ports: USB-C, Smart Connector (for connecting to Apple’s keyboard cases)
- Sensors: Face ID, LiDAR
Design and display
The iPad Pro may be Apple’s largest and most powerful iPad, but it’s still impressively thin and light. At 0.23 inches thin, it’s just about as slim as the iPad Air and a bit sleeker than the 0.33-inch Microsoft Surface Pro 7. It’s also lighter than Microsoft’s productivity tablet: the 12.9-inch iPad Pro with Wi-Fi and cellular weighs 643 grams, while the Surface Pro 7 weighs 775 grams, if you’re going for a Pro 7 with an Intel Core i3 or i5 chip — which you should.
Like the 2018 iPad Pro, the 2020 version has noticeably narrower bezels framing its screen compared to the iPad Air and entry-level iPad. That also means there’s no home button, so you’ll have to use Face ID or a passcode to unlock the device and swipe up from the bottom of the screen to navigate home.
The 12.9-inch iPad Pro’s 2,732 x 2,048 display is vibrant, smooth, and sharp. It has a higher 120Hz refresh rate through a feature Apple calls ProMotion, which not only prevents any lag while using the Apple Pencil, but also makes the interface feel snappier overall since the screen feels more responsive. The iPad Pro display also supports True Tone color adjusting technology, which has become a mainstay of Apple’s products, making the screen feel warmer and less blue than some non-Apple alternatives.
Mouse and trackpad support
Being able to use a mouse and trackpad has been a game changer for the iPad Pro. Although the iPad Pro’s software needs some work before it can truly take over for my laptop, I wouldn’t have even considered using an iPad as my daily driver before Apple added this capability.
But, don’t expect it to feel like the mouse and trackpad experience on a Mac or PC. Apple has tailored the way the cursor works to make it fit more smoothly with the iPad’s interface. The cursor conforms to specific buttons and elements through the iPad’s software. When viewing apps in split screen mode, for example, your cursor will take the shape of the dividing line in the center of the screen, making it easy to be precise.
Although computer mice will work just fine with the iPad, I found that trackpads offer a far superior experience. That’s because you can use a lot of the familiar gestures you’re accustomed to on the touchscreen, like swiping up to access the dock, with a trackpad. When using a mouse, I more often found myself switching between using the touchscreen and the mouse, whereas I felt like I was able to accomplish everything I needed with just the trackpad.
Apple has added a lot of features to the iPad in recent years that make it better-equipped to handle work-related tasks. There’s a proper file manager in Apple’s Files app, for example, which lets you access documents stored on your iPad and in other places, like iCloud Drive. It’s also added the ability to view apps in split-screen mode, support for external drives in the Files app, and a new home screen that lets you see information like upcoming calendar appointments alongside your apps, among other improvements.
While these are all helpful and appreciated changes, you should still expect to encounter a learning curve if you’re planning to use the iPad Pro for many of the same tasks as your Mac or PC laptop. You can’t drag, drop, and resize windows around the home screen like you can in a desktop environment, which in my experience can make it hard to get the most out of the iPad Pro’s 12.9-inch display. Instead, if you want to work quickly you’d better get deeply acquainted with Apple’s multitasking gestures.
Apple’s Slide Over and Split View features are the closest you’ll get to this experience, but they’re still not quite the same. With Slide Over, you can open an app in a sidebar and position it alongside the left or right side of the screen. Split View, as its name implies, allows you to view two apps simultaneously alongside one another. You can also open a third app in Slide Over while two apps are running in Split View.
There are also still some aspects of the way I work that don’t translate particularly well to mobile. For example, I typically keep services like Google Drive and Slack open in my web browser, since I find it easier to quickly switch between tabs rather than navigating between different programs. This can be annoying, and in some cases impossible on the iPad. Google encourages you to use the Drive app instead, and Slack requires you to download the app to use it on mobile devices.
That means my only choices are quickly jumping between Slack and Google Chrome throughout the workday, or keeping Slack open in split screen or slide-over view, both of which are more cramped experiences than I’d like.
That’s not to say the recent features aren’t a big improvement. Being able to view two apps alongside one another and easily access files saved in iCloud Drive means I’m able to get a meaningful amount of work done on the iPad Pro that I would have struggled with in the past. But, it’s just not seamless enough to take over as my primary work device just yet.
Performance and battery life
Where the iPad Pro has the potential to truly shine over a laptop is in its performance. While opening more than a dozen tabs on my new 2020 MacBook Air and 2017 MacBook Pro will sometimes result in sluggish performance and whirring fans, this was never an issue on the iPad Pro. I breezed through my work with more than 12 tabs open without and stuttering, lag, or overheating.
Apple’s newest iPad runs on a the company’s new A12Z processor, which Apple claims should offer more power and sharper graphics, thanks in part to improvements in the GPU’s thermal architecture and performance controllers. The previous generation iPad Pro, by comparison, is powered by Apple’s A12X chipset. Apple’s A12Z has eight processing cores, while the Microsoft Surface Pro 7 is configurable up to a quad-core Intel 10th generation Core i7 processor.
Apple claims that the iPad Pro can last for up to 10 hours while browsing the web on Wi-Fi or streaming video, and I find that to be generally accurate. I used the iPad Pro sporadically over the course of about a week, which typically involved using it as my main work computer for a portion of the work day and then using it to browse the web, shoot and render video clips, manage email, and occasionally use AR apps otherwise.
Overall, I used the iPad Pro for about 10 hours before the battery died, which seems to line up with Apple’s projections. It’s important to remember, however, that battery life will always vary depending on how you use your device. If you’re consistently streaming video or editing high-resolution footage, or if you keep the screen brightness high, your battery will probably drain faster.
If you’re planning to take photos or shoot video with your iPad Pro, you can expect similar image quality to the iPhone 11. Like Apple’s newest iPhone, the iPad Pro has a wide-angle camera and an ultra-wide-angle camera, except there’s one important difference.
While both devices have a 12-megapixel wide camera, the iPad Pro has a 10-megapixel ultra-wide-angle camera, which is a slightly lower resolution than the iPhone 11’s 12-megapixel ultra-wide-angle shooter. There’s also a 7-megapixel camera for selfies and video calls, which is also isn’t as sharp as the iPhone 11’s 12-megapixel selfie camera.
Still, the iPad Pro does offer higher resolution cameras than the Surface Pro 7, which has an 8-megapixel rear camera and a 5-megapixel front camera.
But, it’s the iPad Pro’s LiDAR sensor that Apple is strongly positioning as being one of the characteristics that makes it stand out. This sensor is geared toward improving performance in augmented reality (AR) apps, as it measures the distance between objects by detecting how long it takes for light to reach an object and reflect back.
In general, most of the AR apps I used on the iPad Pro were capable of detecting surfaces quick and easily. However, existing AR apps will have to build support for Apple’s new Scene Geometry application programming interface (API) into their apps to get the most out of the iPad Pro’s LiDAR sensor. That tool should help developers build apps that can more accurately understand the size and dimensions of your environment.
Apple’s Measure app is probably the best and most practical example of how the new Scene Geometry API and LiDAR sensor can be put to good use. When used on the LiDAR-equipped iPad Pro, the digital tape measure app can provide horizontal and vertical guide lines and instantly measure a person’s height from the floor to the top of their head.
Overall, the iPad Pro is faster and more accurate when it comes to detecting surfaces through the Measure app than my iPhone 11 Pro. When trying to measure the length of my couch, for example, the iPad Pro detects the surface nearly instantly, whereas my iPhone is a little slower to recognize the starting point.
The iPad Pro’s biggest drawback is that it’s expensive, and that high price can make you question whether a laptop or a cheaper tablet may be better suited for your needs.
The iPad Pro starts at $800 for the 11-inch model and $1,000 for the 12.9-inch version, with the latter being the same price as the newest MacBook Air. That price gets even higher when you tack on the accessories that make the iPad Pro so appealing in the first place.
The newest Apple Pencil will cost you $130, while the company’s Smart Folio Keyboard costs $180 for the 11-inch model and $200 for its larger sibling. Apple’s brand-new Magic Keyboard is priced at $300 for the 11-inch model and $350 for the 12.9-inch version.
That means, if you’re opting for the smaller iPad Pro even with a basic keyboard that lacks a trackpad, then you’re still spending nearly $1,000.
The bottom line
The iPad Pro is a powerful, sleek computer with a fantastic display and long battery life. Support for trackpads and computer mice only makes it more useful as a productivity machine, making it possible to get real work done on the iPad for the first time.
That being said, the software experience still isn’t quite as capable and flexible as that of a laptop running on macOS or Windows. You can’t, for example, launch multiple apps in floating windows as you would on a laptop.
The iPad Pro is also expensive, and getting the most out the experience by adding one of Apple’s keyboard accessories or the Apple Pencil will require even more spending. The iPad Pro may be ideal for artists, designers, and architects that could greatly benefit from using a computer that can scan it’s environment using high-quality cameras or that has a super-responsive screen for lag-free digital sketching.
But, if you’re looking for a tablet for web browsing, occasional note taking, managing email, and watching Netflix, the less expensive $500 iPad Air may be a better option.
Or, if you’re looking for a laptop that’s as portable and flexible as a tablet, it may be worth considering Microsoft’s Surface Pro 7 or another Windows-based laptop-tablet hybrid.
Pros: Long battery life, lightweight design, trackpad support makes it easier to get work done, fast performance
Cons: Expensive, software is still somewhat limiting compared to a laptop
SEE ALSO: The new MacBook Air fixes the previous models worst flaw, but you should avoid the cheapest model
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