iPad Pro 11 (2018) review

By admin -

Ever since the original iPad Pro, Apple needed to improve on its formula, and the iPad Pro 11 (2018) is the tablet it always set out to make. With a smaller frame but larger screen, bags of power, and a new redesigned Apple Pencil, this was for a while the new face of the company's slates, though the newer iPad Pro (2020) range stole that title (even if it didn't do much with it).

Apple needed to make these improvements so the iPad Pro 11 could be the true device for a professional user, and it seems the company delivered. So here we are with the iPad Pro 11-inch (or iPad Pro 11, to you and us), which aims to fix the various issues the first Pros had. There's also the iPad Pro 12.9, with a screen that's a little bigger, for those of you who need extra screen real estate.

Indeed, Apple called this 2018 model ‘the iPad we wanted to make from the beginning’ (which says something about the newer 2020 models) – but while this is easily the best tablet Apple had ever made (along with its chunkier sibling) when it came out, there's a big question as to whether the 'average' user will get enough benefit out of the new iPad Pro to warrant the extra cost over the 'basic' iPad line.

This is the most recent iPad Pro, as Apple neglected to release the new iPad Pro in October 2019 as we were expecting, so if you need Apple's newest premium tablet hardware, this is still it, despite it being a little older. That's not bad news though, because it's still receiving Apple's newest software.

When we reviewed this iPad it ran on iOS, but since then Apple has released iPadOS 14, a 'fork' of iOS designed with tablets in mind. It brings a few useful features that iPad owners will appreciate.

With iPadOS, originally released in September 2019, iPads found their proper space in the Apple ecosystem between iPhones and Macs – no longer are they giant iPhones, but useful work stations in their own right.

Some of the useful features of iPadOS include gesture controls, and improved markups. When Apple announced the operating system it showed it in use on iPad Pros, so it's more than likely it was designed with the high-power iPad Pro range in mind.

iPad Pro 11 price and release date

The smaller, iPad Pro 11, which we're looking at here (there's also an iPad Pro 12.9) started at $799 / £769 / AU$1,229, and came in a variety of configurations. 

To start with you can get it in a Wi-Fi-only version, or with a cellular connection to allow you to access 4G data on the go.

You’ve also got a variety of storage capacity options, so let’s break down the pricing. That starting price above is for the Wi-Fi-only version with 64GB of storage on board. 

The next storage size up is 256GB, which starts at $949 / £919 / AU$1,449, followed by 512GB for $1,149 / £1,119 / AU$1,749. Top of the heap is the 1TB version, which costs a whopping $1,549 / £1,519 / AU$2,349.

Note that all the above prices are for the Wi-Fi-only version of the slate – if you want to add cellular connectivity you'll need to shell out an additional $150 / £150 / AU$200.

All these prices can be found with decent iPad Pro deals and prices, and since the tablet is getting a little long in the tooth (at least by tech standards), it's deprecated in price somewhat, so you can save triple-figure sums over the initial launch prices.

For some reference, the newer iPad Pro model costs roughly the same price as this one, but for some of the pricier storage and connectivity variants it can be a touch cheaper - not much though.

All-new screen

Usually with a new iPad there’s one new feature that stands out, but this time around there are several such features, as Apple overhauls its most powerful (and most expensive) tablet.

The first thing that will grab the attention of anyone picking up the iPad Pro 11 is the screen, as it’s stretched closer to the edges of the device, with the formerly thick bezels reduced in width.

The 11-inch screen itself has been upgraded by Apple to a Liquid Retina display, something we first saw on the iPhone XR when it launched recently. It doesn't have the same stunning effect you get from an OLED display, such as you'll find on the Samsung Galaxy Tab S4, and given the high price the new iPad Pro commands, not having the best screen technology irks.

That’s not to say it’s a bad screen in any way – Apple’s TrueTone technology and the 120Hz refresh rate both really do add something to the quality of the experience, while HDR content is rich in detail.

Speaking of HDR though - while the iPad Pro 11 will indeed play HDR content, it outputs said content in EDR (Extended Dynamic Range), which offers the color range but not the brightness of true HDR.

It also doesn't have the rich color reproduction you can enjoy on OLED screens, erring more on the side of more natural-looking hues. If you're watching a period drama or gritty series, this is probably better – but for more visually powerful scenes you might find it a tad washed out, with the LCD backlight bleeding through the dark area more than on an OLED display.

The overall effect of the larger screen is impressive when compared side by side with the older tablet, although you’ll probably be surprised by how much bezel there still is. 

You might have expected to see the display stretch right to the edges of the device, but there’s still a noticeable bar bordering the screen, which stops you accidentally pressing the screen when holding the device in landscape orientation, and which at the top edge houses the front-facing camera.

Improved design

Apple seems to like to go through phases when it comes to design, flipping from smooth curves to a more industrial, almost brutalist design – and the latter is what you’ve got on the new iPad Pro.

The sides are more akin to the iPhone 4 or iPhone SE than to any other device we’ve seen from the brand, and it makes holding the iPad Pro 11 a slightly different experience.

It’s not uncomfortable, and it makes the iPad a touch more grippy, but it lacks the premium feel a curved piece of metal offers in the hand. Sir Jony Ive claimed, in a recent interview, that this design tweak was due to the engineers finally enabling it through component miniaturization, but in reality it feels like the flat edges were only implemented to provide a flat edge to stick the Apple Pencil to.

The overall design quality is definitely a step up, although there's no glass on the back here – a glass back would allow for wireless charging, although that's unlikely to be supported in a tablet just yet given how large the charging pads or docks would need to be.

The speakers in the corners of the device are still present as a quartet, but they've been tooled to include a woofer and tweeter in each to improve the sound – that's a plus for fans of music and gaming, but the bad news is that Apple has removed the headphone jack from this device. 

With no headphones in the box, this is going to be a source of real annoyance for many users, who could run into issues pretty quickly.

You may think "It's fine, I'll just use the adaptor from my iPhone, after Apple dropped the headphone jack from the iPhone 7". Well, firstly we'd ask you why you'd say something so oddly specific… but then we'd have to tell you: not happening, as Apple has transitioned the iPad Pro to a USB-C connection, as on the MacBook.

So the upshot is: if you don't have a pair of Bluetooth headphones, or you have a lovely pair of wired cans you want to use, you're going to have to spend some more money on top of the purchase price of this tablet. 

Sure, you can buy some nice Bluetooth options, and you may already have some. Or you can spend $9 / £9 / AU$15 on an adaptor so that you can use your current wired headphones. Whatever your preference, this is a key thing to be aware of before you purchase the iPad Pro 11.

Let's begin with a big new feature for the iPad: Face ID. Apple has long been a enthusiast for biometric security on its devices, and has been using the Touch ID fingerprint scanner on its iPad range for a while now – but that's gone with the shrinking of the bezels.

Instead, you're now getting facial recognition through Face ID, with a high-definition scan of your face allowing for very secure authentication. We've seen with the iPhone range that this method could be spoofed, but it's very tricky process, so this is safer than a fingerprint.

It's also much easier to use on a tablet, as putting your thumb on the home key was never that easy, especially when holding the iPad in portrait. We found that we were able to get into the iPad Pro 11 easily and instantaneously most of the time, with the scanner able to detect your face within a fairly wide field of view, so you can unlock your device without having to look at it front-on.

However, it's a long way from perfect. Firstly, the way many will hold the tablet in landscape mode will cover the camera – you quickly learn you have to lessen the grip on one side to make sure you're letting the sensor check out your visage.

The second issue is that you'll tend to use a tablet a little further away from your face than you would a phone, and if it's propped up on a desk, or flat on a table, you'll need to position your head in the 'vision window' to make sure you're getting recognized. It's not hard to do, it's just annoying when it doesn't 'just work'.

Using Face ID to store passwords or log into sensitive apps is great though, and on the whole the addition of facial recognition is a massive boon to the iPad range.

Apple Pencil

The Apple Pencil is synonymous with the iPad Pro, having launched at the same time as the original, and now Apple has finally added something we've been crying out for: a way to keep your Pencil attached to your iPad.

There's now a magnetic strip that locks it to the top of the device, on that flat edge, so it should in theory be charged and ready to use when you need it.

We say 'in theory' as we had a few issues with the Pencil. The first is with synchronization: when it clips on magnetically it's supposed to pair with the iPad Pro (which ours did) and then be ready to use when removed (which ours did not always do). The Pencil also came unclipped easily when the iPad Pro was taken out of a rucksack, slipping off into some dark recess rather often.

There were also multiple occasions when we'd remove it from its clip to find that it didn't work, and we'd have to 'tap to connect'. Not what you'd expect for something that costs $129 / £119 / AU$199. Yes, you read that right... the Apple Pencil is incredibly expensive thanks to the tech packed inside, costing far more than the previous iteration.

And that extra tech, and extra cost, are only to add in the new design and magnets to clip it to the iPad, along with a double-tap function to let you change modes without tapping. What irks more is that you can't use the old Apple Pencil with its Lightning connection. 

Sure, we're glad to lose the weird 'antenna' look of charging it from the bottom of the tablet, but we're at the point where people will be upgrading from an older iPad Pro, and it feels unfair that Apple didn't come up with a way to let people use their existing Pencil.

And it's not as if there's been an upgrade to the drawing tech inside – the new Apple Pencil and the old one have the same level of sensitivity and pressure awareness.

Anyway, that's the gripes out of the way. So what's the new Apple Pencil actually like to use on the iPad Pro 11? Very good, is the answer.

Apple has added a layer of hardware acceleration to the screen, which means the lag between a Pencil press and the screen showing the result is barely noticeable. 

Add in the bigger screen and we found that we finally wanted to actually use the iPad Pro 11 as a notepad, thanks to the ease with which we were able to jot things down, and to having more colors to play with, and multiple apps supporting the double-tap functionality already.

It's really simple to tap on the Pencil body and change modes – going from pen to eraser felt very natural, and it's clear that Apple has given some thought to what users might want.

The cost of the Pencil rankles, as does the lack of backwards compatibility, but for the professional user buying this tablet it's definitely still worth the investment.

Keyboard

If you thought the Apple Pencil was expensive, then wait until we tell you about the Smart Keyboard… it's another optional extra for the iPad Pro 11, and it'll cost you $179 / £179 / AU$269. Yes, it’s a decent keyboard for typing, but it adds another layer of expense to an already expensive purchase.

We found that we could achieve a fast level of typing with Apple's keyboard, which is good for something that doesn't have the amount of key travel you might expect. There are also two ridges in the keyboard in which the iPad Pro 11 can sit, allowing you to position it correctly for either the desk or the lap.

We did set out to try and use the iPad Pro 11 as the machine on which we would write this review, but it soon became clear that we'd need a proper laptop. The iPad Pro 11 is capable of a  lot of things, but the time constraints meant it just wasn't possible using the iPad – it was much easier, and quicker, to be able to tap away on a laptop with larger keys offering more travel.

The Smart Keyboard is more than good enough in a pinch though, and teamed with the iPad Pro it makes for a very capable second word-processing machine.

We're not sold on the design of the folding keyboard though. Firstly, unlike the Smart Keyboard for the iPad Pro 10.5, this one doesn't have a cover for the keys when folded. That means that when you're handling it in landscape mode you're holding it on the keys.

You won't do anything by pressing these – the iPad is smart enough to know when you're using the new Pro 11 as a regular tablet, so you won't accidentally start typing when watching Netflix.

But it's annoying to have to use the iPad and try and hold it by the bottom of the tablet section, where it's a bit more tactile... not more comfortable though.

Apple has plopped a lot of magnets into the keyboard back, so it sits perfectly on the smart connector when clipped in. When the connection is strong, it certainly works (although we didn't always have the regular connection we'd hoped. 

Too many times we went to open the tablet from sleep mode, it's actually a touch difficult to physically open the new iPad Pro without accidentally disengaging the keyboard.

We also feel that it should be backlit, especially for the cost, as that would help elevate the new iPad Pro towards the level of a real laptop a little more.

The new iPad Pro has launched at the same time as iOS 12.1, which means you've got some neat new tricks like Group Facetime, which enables your iPad to be used as a videoconferencing device if your business associates also have an iPhone or iPad.

That's the operating system we tested the iPad Pro 11 on, but Apple has a newer operating system intended for iPads called iPadOS, which rolled out in September 2019, so you can expect the iPad Pro 11 a device intended for professionals.

The iPad Pro 11, with its larger display and no home button, is perfectly made for the gesture-based interface, and swiping around the display, with the incredibly powerful engine underneath, is something of a joy if you’re used to an older iPad Air or similar.

Let’s talk about the power, while we’re on the subject. The iPad Pro 11 is, according to our benchmarking, the most powerful mobile device we’ve ever tested by an absolute street. Its multi-core score – the score that attests to the true heavy lifting capabilities of a device – is exceptional.

It’s twice as powerful as anything we’ve used before, barring the iPhone XS (which is using a simpler version of the A12X Bionic chip found in the iPad Pro, which here is coupled with 6GB of RAM). If you’re not bothered about the numbers, consider this: the iPad Pro 11 offers more than double the power of the Samsung Galaxy Note 9, which is an incredibly strong Android phone.

The thing is, that amount of power makes it hard work to out who Apple is pitching this tablet at, other than professionals. The chipset in this device says Apple is positioning the iPad Pro 11 as something a working digital artist, photographer, video editor or musician might carry around – yet the marketing suggests this is an iPad for everyone – a consumer device, albeit a high-end one – and not everyone is going to want to drop this kind of cash on something to watch Netflix on.

Testing out and appreciating some of the capabilities of the iPad Pro 11 is tricky if you’re not a media or other professional. We were, though, treated to a demo of Adobe Photoshop, which is coming next year, and it’s incredible the sheer amount of functions this iPad is capable of running simultaneously.

Running DJ software, creating video projects, exporting video all happened quickly and smoothly – perhaps exporting could have been a touch faster (to the layman’s eye) but then again there needs to be a degree of optimization to make full use of the chipset inside.

We happily spent an hour sketching away on the new iPad Pro, with the Apple Pencil an excellent tool for playing with many different styles, and the multitude of pressure levels really offering something interesting. That said, that’s hardly a new thing on the new iPad, as we’ve had it for three years now.

But it’s the raw power and lower latency that really help to make drawing feel more natural. We were told the new iPad Pro could be the device to encourage many artists to switch from paper to digital drawing, and while we’re not particularly gifted in that area it certainly felt very natural to draw and sketch on the slate.

On to the next question: if this is a tablet for the professional, how might they best use it? Ditch their MacBook or PC forever? Scrap the iMac? What if you’re someone who still needs to use a web browser or file management system?

Well, for a number of reasons the iPad Pro 11, despite the high power and high price, still doesn’t manage to be a true laptop replacement. You can’t, for example, right-click and download a spreadsheet with ease.

If you’re using photos shared in Google Drive and want to download them for editing, it’s a laborious process. Yes, there are apps that can circumvent this if you look hard enough, but until it’s easy and obvious the iPad Pro will always be a secondary device.

That’s not to say a photographer won’t love having a mobile editing studio in their kitbag, enabling them to connect their camera and upload processed pictures to clients instantly. Or, to give another example, it's great if you're an architect who wants to pull out a tablet to show designs to others, rather than balancing a laptop on their arm.

Neither of these professionals will be able to use the iPad Pro in place of their main computer though, nor might they want to. Even us humble wordsmiths, having tried to write this whole review on the iPad Pro to test how practical it was, slunk back to a laptop in search of a more pleasant typing experience.

There’s also the issues of bugs in the system, with unoptimized apps failing still. Gmail froze on us a couple of times, and the excellent SketchBook app froze and lost our drawing midway through a session. It's likely that these are just cases of apps not properly interacting with the chip or OS for now, but every slip on the new and expensive tablet brings enormous frustration.

Music, movies and gaming

If you’re any kind of media lover, then the iPad Pro 11 is going to impress you in a number of ways. 

We feel duty-bound, just in case you missed it above, to remind you that the iPad Pro 11 doesn't have a headphone jack, nor does it come with any headphones in the box. Given that this is a premium media device, with up to 1TB of storage, a wide-color-gamut screen and slick operation, you'd want to use a decent pair of cans.

Your options are limited to Bluetooth headphones, which will be an extra outlay if you don't already have some, or heading to the Apple Store, in person or online, and buying a dongle to let you use the 3.5mm headphone jack-to-USB-C connection. 

That's right – you can't even use the Lightning connector from your iPhone, as that's no longer the standard on the iPad.

We know we're laboring this point, but we can see a lot of people not taking this factor into consideration before buying the new iPad Pro, and being thoroughly annoyed as a result.

Anyway, moving onto the performance and it's hard to choose which element to talk about first. Through headphones, sound quality is just fine – it's rich and deep, with the iPad Pro basically capable of doing whatever your headphones can in terms of sound reproduction. 

As for the external speakers, well, you'd expect them to be impressive given they're using a dedicated woofer and tweeter in each corner.

That's not to say that music played out loud isn't a little tinny at the top end – or perhaps just more focused on the treble – but still, as a backup portable speaker we'd reach for the iPad Pro time and again.

Those speakers really come into their own when it comes to watching movies, with the stereo sound, rich bass and cleanly separated vocals making it the perfect device for a solo movie session in a hotel room, or if you're just cooking dinner and want to listen to a YouTuber blathering on about something or other.

The quality of the screen, as mentioned, isn't as visually striking as an OLED display, and we're still missing HDR capabilities for the real top-end performance. That said, we've never seen a huge uplift in quality on a mobile HDR device, so perhaps we don't need it just yet.

It's when it comes to gaming that the iPad Pro 11 really shows us what it can do; it's capable of console-level graphics, and just playing a few simple games showed the sheer breadth of graphical capability – on the larger screen it's really something to behold.

We need to spend more time testing the hardcore gaming element of the tablet, as we feel we weren't able to really test it to the full, but everything we tried on it gave us a slick, smooth experience.

We have to question, though, why Apple has made the iPad Pro 11 as capable as a console at playing games – who's going to use it for that? It's not like you'd ditch the Xbox for a tablet, despite the burgeoning games catalogue. We suspect it's an impressive by-product of the powerful chip and its graphical capabilities, rather than an outright play by Apple to attract serious gamers.

We're going to talk about the camera on the iPad Pro 11 in a way we've never really done with a tablet before – because if this is a professional device then you're going to want a decent snapper with which you can take photos for presentations or demonstrations, and which you can annotate using the Pencil, or to capture slow-motion video for analysis.

The good news is that the iPad Pro 11 does indeed possess a half-decent camera on the back, with the 12MP sensor capable of taking more than acceptable low-light photos, with rich enough detail when zoomed in. The larger display does make a good viewfinder too, and if you're doing something scientific or technical then you'll have some good-quality visual data to work with. 

Bright, well-lit photos look decent on the screen too, so if you must take photos with this tablet they won't be a disappointment. Just please don't be that person at the festival or sporting event trying to document it on the large-screened tablet, even if it can do timelapse with ease.

Video recording supports 240fps at 1080p resolution – not the 960fps that a few phones are capable of (and which we were sure the iPad Pro 11 would be too), so if you're looking for something that's powerful in the slow-mo department, this isn't the device for you.

Editing your photos, especially with the Apple Pencil if you're willing to pay for it, is a much nicer experience, and with things like Lightroom on offer for free (for the basic version) we can see that in a pinch the iPad Pro could be a one-stop shop for all your photography needs... as long as you don't want the high-quality snaps you'll get from many smartphones on the market at the moment.

The 7MP front-facing camera has been upgraded to the TrueTone snapper, meaning you can take background-blurred snaps of your own face – and it works well. It's nice to be able to frame your face on such a large device, and being able to mess with the level of focus behind your head is rather nice too.

The iPad Pro 11 camera setup is more than capable of what you'll need from a tablet – just remember not replace an actual camera with an iPad.

Battery

It's always been quite tough to assess the battery life on a tablet, as they're usually so good that it's hard to really notice when things are running down hard. In the case of the iPad Pro 11, Apple is claiming all-day battery life for the slate, but we'd argue it's even better than that.

In our testing we found that the new iPad Pro 11 was capable of going beyond 24 hours, still plugging away well into the next day despite a lot of heavy activity as we tried to test the limits of the device.

There's no wireless charging on offer here, which some will bemoan, but we can't see a tablet being able to make use of the accessories just yet – although we would have liked to see a stand that can also charge the device being offered as standard.

We can't really fault the battery life on the new iPad Pro 11, and Apple's claim of 10 hours of life seems modest – you'll definitely get to the end of the day unless you're absolutely hammering it for hours on end, which you wouldn't expect to be doing with a secondary device.

We've struggled to sum up the iPad Pro 11 for so many reasons – but the main one is that we can't see this as a tablet Apple is aiming at the general consumer.

Scoring it was therefore difficult – we feel that it's nearly 5/5 for the professional user, but closer to 4/5 for the average user.

Think about the cost to start with: $949 / £919 / AU$1449 for the 256GB version, $129 / £199 / AU$199 for the Pencil and $179 / £179 / AU$269 for the keyboard – and perhaps another slug of cash to get yourself a decent pair of Bluetooth headphones. 

All that together will cost you nearly $1,500 – and for a tablet that we can't say you'd be able to use as your main laptop.

There's so much power kicking around in this iPad, and if you're capable of using it in the spirit in which it was created, and harnessing that power, then you'll likely get a lot of joy out of your new tablet. 

But you are spending a lot of cash to get that power, so unless your job requires you to have a device that offers power and high performance on the go (or you're thinking of taking up some sort of creative career or serious hobby) then you'll be wasting your money on this new tablet.

And if you’re looking for a true laptop experience, the iPad Pro 11 isn’t going to be it; it's a secondary device to add to your arsenal. We also wish that some of the apps were better optimized before launch, as it diminishes the overall quality of the iPad if you're not able to use it to its full potential. 

There’s a solution for just about anything if you look hard enough on the App Store, and the iPad Pro can do 90% of most tasks well, but it’s that final 10% that you’ll wish you had a traditional computer for – and if you're a professional you’ll absolutely have to have a larger machine as well.

Who's it for?

Well, this should be easy. The clue is in the iPad Pro 11's name: the professional part is the key focus. 

However, we don't buy that Apple is only intending this for use by those employed in the creative and related industries, as when the new MacBook Pro was launched it was done so quietly, and pitched towards those who need power in their day to day work. By contrast the new iPad Pro was launched to great fanfare by Tim Cook alongside the new Macbook, positioning them side-by-side.

The iPad Pro 11 has a great speaker and screen combo, and that's also going to attract the average user who might also be looking to drop the laptop for web browsing and document editing. 

You'll probably be able to get through most of the tasks you need on the iPad without an issue, but you'll need to be okay with paying for it (especially as most will also want the Smart Keyboard and new Pencil to get the most out of their device).

For the professional creative who wants a powerful second device, the iPad Pro 11 is a strong choice, and should be an easy sell to your IT buying department.

If you're just an average user wanting something new and shiny, you'll have a very, very strong tablet in your hands, one that's remarkably capable and which has been upgraded and enhanced in a number of ways by Apple – just be ready to pay for it.

Should I buy it?

This might come as a surprise, but we're not sure that you should... at least not now. There's a few things that irk that can't be changed: not being able to use the old Apple Pencil and the lack of headphone jack are two elements that you'll baulk at (unless in the latter case you've got a pair of Airpods or Bluetooth headphones).

There are also bugs in the system that are quite un-Apple – the Pencil not syncing all the time, certain apps freezing, and video apps like Netflix not being optimized for the larger screen (presumably for now).

Then there's the issue of cost and – once again – if you're not going to use the raw power on offer here, or aren't desperate for the great speaker quality, then the new iPad 9.7, launched in 2018, will be more than good enough.

It even supports the original (and cheaper) Apple Pencil if you like to do a bit of sketching, and remember that the new and old Pencils offer the same level of functionality. You’ll may also like the rounder edges, as the flat sides of the new iPad Pro 11 aren’t going to be to everyone’s tastes.

However, if you're someone that's looking first and foremost for a powerful device, one that can run roughshod over most tasks, then we'd say grab the new iPad and spec it out to your (or better still your company's) heart's content.