Small tablets may be the way to go to save money at schools, but in the race to supersize slates, Apple takes the lead. Its iPad Pro not only has one of the biggest and highest resolution displays in a tablet, but it sounds great and can teach the others a lesson or two.
The Pro takes its place alongside the standard iPad and the Mini. As is the case with the others, it is beautifully sculpted from aluminum, has a flush screen and heavily rounded corners. At 0.3- by 8.7- by 12.0-inches and 1.6 pounds, it’s a pleasure to hold in your hand. Fractions of an inch wider and longer than Microsoft’s similar Surface Pro 4, the Pro is a couple of ounces lighter.
It’s great to use in landscape mode, although small children will likely do better with a Mini or standard size iPad. In fact, the iPad Pro can be a lot to carry around and hold in portrait mode, where it feels top heavy.
Add the snap-on Smart Keyboard and it is transformed into the equivalent of a small notebook or desktop computer that is half an inch thick and weighs 2.4-pounds; the keyboard costs an extra $169. The cover folds over to make it into a desktop stand that has an indent for holding the Pencil stylus, but it lacks the pull out leg of the Surface family.
The iPad Pro's keyboard has 19.2-mm keys that have just enough stroke to them to make them comfortable to type with. It, however, lacks a volume control. As is the case with other new iPads and iPhones, the Home buttons is also a fingerprint scanner.
Powered by a 2.3GHz 64-bit A9X processor, the iPad Pro comes with 4GB of RAM and your choice of 32- or 128GB of storage space. The 128GB version can be ordered with a cellular data card that adds $130, but you’ll need a monthly service plan. The Pro starts at $800 for the 32GB model and I looked at the $949 128GB version.
Just like older iPads, it has a single Lightning port that’s used to charge the system’s battery or drive a projector. By contrast, the SP4 has a USB 3.0 connection (such as for a memory key) as well as a mini Displayport (for projecting) and a microSD card reader (for adding storage capacity).
As is usually the case with iPads, the screen is the center of attention. The 12.9-inch display is more spacious compared to the Surface Pro 4’s 12.3-inch screen. It shows a pinpoint perfect 2,732 by 2,048 resolution, versus the SP4’s slightly boxier 2,736 by 1,824 resolution. Its colors are bright and vibrant and the display delivers smooth video.
It’s no slouch as far as audio goes either with four strategically-placed speakers. It sounds rich and deep without bass notes or voices booming. There’s a headphone jack for more personal listening.
Like earlier iPads, the Pro comes with a pair of cameras: There’s a Web cam pointing at the user and one pointing out of the back of the case. The best part is that they can shoot bursts of images for catching something moving quickly, like a chemistry experiment, and a panorama that can be as big as 43-megapixels for something like a field trip or a class photo.
The screen works just as well with fingers as a generic stylus, but the Pro adds a new dimension: Apple’s Pencil stylus, which after a couple of weeks of use, I learned to love. The Pencil is long, narrow and its plastic case is a little too slippery for my taste.
For programs that can use it, the pen is sensitive to the angle it’s tilted at as well as how much pressure is exerted, so it can be used to teach drawing and calligraphy. I found it to be just as good for sketching a map as for writing math equations.
Unlike the ones that Microsoft has used in various Surface Pro models, the Apple Pencil doesn’t have a replaceable battery. Instead its battery gets recharged with a lightning plug that’s hidden under the Pencil’s cap. The pad comes with an adapter so you can use it with the included AC adapter or you can plug it into the side of the iPad Pro to give it a boost. You can’t, however, charge both the pad and the pen at once.
It doesn’t magnetically stick to the side of the system, although it does stay on the keyboard. Forget about calling up the OneNote program (or any app for that matter) by clicking the Pencil’s cap and the pen adds another $99 to the iPad Pro’s price tag.
The Pro uses the latest iOS 9.2 software that comes with the basics for use in the classroom, including the Safari Web browser, Pages (writing), Keynote (presenting), iMovie (video editing) and Numbers (calculating with spreadsheets). There are tens of thousands of school-ready instructional apps available on the iTunes App Store. In addition to split view, the iPad Pro can show picture in picture.
It all adds up to a system that is powerful, yet thin and light. It’ll easily slide into and out of a teacher’s or student’s backpack. The system I looked at scored 19,809 on the Java-based Octane 2 series of Web-based tests. That’s one-third better than a Microsoft Surface Pro 3 and more than four-times the score of a $200 Lenovo IdeaPad 100s notebook. Clearly, the iPad Pro is the tablet to beat when it comes to online work.
The iPad Pro was able to continuously playback online videos for 8 hours and 20 minutes, putting it more than three hours ahead of the Surface Pro 3’s 5:07 battery life. It should be more than enough for a day at school as well as some correcting homework correcting or quiz grading in the evening.
It would have the potential to have a huge impact in the classroom if the iPad Pro weren’t so expensive. With school’s struggling to equip staff and students with $250 Chromebooks, a $949 Pad may be wishful thinking. It’s also just the start because to truly outfit the iPad Pro, you need the keyboard ($169) and Pencil stylus ($99) for a total of $1,217.
That’s enough to get about four or five Chromebooks and a pair of smaller Surface 3 tablets, but a slate with a lot of educational potential.
+ Ultra HD screen
+ Beautiful design
+ Online performance
+ Fingerprint scanner
- Can’t charge stylus and system at once
- Cumbersome in portrait mode