iPad Pro 12.9 (2018)

Apple’s iPhones may have their smartphone dominance upset regularly, but in terms of tablets Apple is clearly king, and the iPad Pro 12.9 model in 2018 was the jewel in its crown. It takes the large display but slim design of its sibling iPad Pro 11, and turns things up a notch (by 17% to be precise), and keeps the great hardware and software.

Sure, it's not the newest of its kind any more, with the iPad Pro (2020) models bringing a few tweaks, but it still stands tall to them thanks to the discounts it's seen in light of their release. The tablets have retrospectively been improved with the launch of iPadOS 15 which brings improvements like handwriting recognition and home screen widgets.

Despite being called the iPad Pro, as in, ‘for professionals’, the 2018 iPad Pro 12.9 has features that make it the best of the bunch for all users, whether you want it for streaming content and playing games, creating skillful sketches or musical masterpieces, or just juggling loads of different work documents.

But the mighty collection of features comes with a mightier price tag, and the iPad Pro 12.9 needed to impress us a lot to justify its considerable cost. 

iPads have traditionally run on the same iOS as iPhones, but in September 2019 Apple released its own offshoot operating system, called iPadOS, which was improved a year later by iPadOS 14 and the aforementioned iPadOS 15.

This new operating system helped turn iPads from large iPhones into impressive Mac-esque work stations, with functions like gesture controls and improved markups and multitasking. 

Price and availability

Image credit: TechRadar

Image credit: TechRadar

The iPad Pro 12.9 is available in all regions, and it came out in November 2018, so you can easily pick it up wherever you are.

When we say “easily”, we should add “assuming you can afford it”, because the iPad Pro 12.9 ain’t cheap – as befitting the specs, it’s Apple’s most expensive handheld device, and it’ll set you back a lot.

There are four different sizes of internal memory to choose from: 64GB, 256GB, 512GB, and 1TB, and when you’ve decided which of those you need, you then have to decide if you’re happy with Wi-Fi connectivity or if you want cellular data too – and of course the more spec you want, the more you pay.

The cheapest model, the 64GB iPad Pro 12.9 with just Wi-Fi, costs $999 / £969 / AU$1,529, and prices then go up all the way to $1,899 / £1,869 / AU$2,869 for a tablet with 1TB storage and both Wi-Fi and cellular connections.

iPad Pro 12.9 (2018) prices. Image credit: TechRadar

iPad Pro 12.9 (2018) prices. Image credit: TechRadar

But that’s not all – if you’re buying an iPad Pro 12.9 it’s also likely that you’re considering its peripherals. These are the Apple Pencil, which costs $129 / £119 / AU$199, or the Apple Smart Keyboard, which will set you back $169 / £169 / AU$299.

The newer iPad Pro (2020) costs roughly the same for most size and connectivity options, although at the real top end it's a tiny amount cheaper for the biggest versions.

If you’re feeling particularly flush, then, you can spend up to $2,197 / £2,157 / AU$3,367 on the highest-end iPad along with an Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard, but of course this isn’t necessary in order to enjoy a great iPad experience.

Design

The iPad Pro 12.9 isn’t the biggest tablet in the world – the Samsung Galaxy View steals that title – but it’s still a huge device.

At 280.6 x 214.9 x 5.9mm, the iPad Pro 12.9 has a wide body, but it’s actually thinner than your average smartphone, so it feels more like a thin rectangle of metal – or an actual slate in fact – than some other tablets we’ve seen. It’s a sleek device, and the rounded edges and minimalist design give it a premium feel.

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The tablet front. Image credit: TechRadar

The tablet front. Image credit: TechRadar
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The tablet back. Image credit: TechRadar

The tablet back. Image credit: TechRadar
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A thin body. Image credit: TechRadar

A thin body. Image credit: TechRadar

The tablet is a little heavy, at 631g for the Wi-Fi model and 633g for the cellular version, but for such a big device it doesn’t feel disproportionately hefty, thanks in part to the aforementioned thin design.

At the top of the tablet (when it’s held in portrait orientation) is a large speaker array and the power button, and on the bottom is another collection of speaker perforations and a USB-C port. On the right side are two volume buttons, a SIM port, and a magnet to hold the Apple Pencil, and on the left is a lone microphone perforation.

The buttons don’t stick out much, and the front and back of the device are essentially flat, giving it an aerodynamic feel – the only interruption is the rear camera, which bumps out of the rear a tiny amount, but it’s so slight that it’s only noticeable in relation to the rest of the flat design.

The rear camera. Image credit: TechRadar

The rear camera. Image credit: TechRadar

Display

No prizes for guessing how big the iPad Pro 12.9 screen size is as, like the iPad Pro 11, the tablet is named for this key spec. It’s the biggest display you can get on an Apple device, making it great for a range of activities, from creating works of art to playing games.

The screen uses Apple’s new Liquid Retina display, as seen in the iPhone XR, which is a type of LCD intended to be nearly as sharp and colorful as an OLED display.

The display does show colors very well, as they’re bright and vivid, but the iPad Pro 12.9’s screen has the same problem as the iPhone XR’s, in that black reproduction just isn’t as good as it would be on an OLED display.

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Great for colors. Image credit: TechRadar

Great for colors. Image credit: TechRadar
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The black of the background seems a little bright. Image credit: TechRadar

The black of the background seems a little bright. Image credit: TechRadar

It’s also worth bearing in mind that the iPad Pro 12.9’s pixel density is noticeably lower than what you get on iPhones – the 2732 x 2048 resolution translates to 264 pixels per inch, which is lower than the iPhone XR at 326ppi or the iPhone XS at 458ppi, although you’ll likely be holding the tablet further from your face than you would a phone, so in practice the screen quality will be fine.

The real strength of the iPad Pro 12.9’s screen is the True Tone display, which measures ambient lighting and the setting you’re in, and subtly alters the display’s white balance accordingly. This meant the screen looked great whether we were working in a coffee shop, our dark bedroom, or out in the open air, and we never had to fiddle with the screen settings or brightness to find the right balance.

Battery life

Perhaps the iPad Pro 12.9’s biggest weakness is its battery life – that should come as no surprise to iPhone fans, as Apple’s phone batteries have always been on the small side, but it’s rather annoying in a device that’s intended to be used as a productivity tool. It’s a 9720mAh battery, but we’re left wishing Apple had put an even bigger power pack in the big tablet.

Long periods of use wore down the battery by a significant amount, whether that was using a word processor for an hour or so or sketching and painting with the Apple Pencil, and it didn’t feel like the iPad Pro 12.9 would last a full day of use if your job necessitated it – for example if you were a graphic designer or video editor who needed to be able to work for long periods of time.

Image credit: TechRadar

Image credit: TechRadar

For casual use, such as light reading or catching up on some emails on our commute, the battery was fine, but the ‘Pro’ in the title is there because this tablet is targeted at people who need it for something more than casual use.

In the TechRadar battery test, for which we play a 90-minute video on full brightness with Wi-Fi on and accounts syncing in the background, the battery fell to 78% – that’s a pretty sizeable drop, comparable to the 21% drop of 2014’s iPad Air 2 or 22% for the Samsung Galaxy Tab Pro 8.4, also from 2014.

The iPad Pro 12.9 wasn’t exactly snappy to charge up either, as it took two and a half hours to get from empty to 100%. This felt disproportionately slow for how much battery life the tablet had, so if you’re planning on working out and about, it’s probably best to stay plugged in when you can.

Camera

The iPad Pro 12.9’s camera isn’t exactly one of its selling points, but there are times you’ll want to take a good snap.

The rear camera is a 12MP f/1.8 snapper, with a few features like 5x digital zoom, timer shots and a panorama mode that might be useful depending on how you’re using your iPad.

It was fit for purpose, and while the pictures weren’t of the highest quality, they were fine for functional shots of the type you’d need to take for work or college, but you probably won’t be bombarding Instagram with your snaps. Zoomed-in pictures were a little grainy, and not much light was picked up for indoor shots making our photos look a little dim, but overall there was enough depth and quality for the basic tasks we needed it for – and it's not like you’re going to be using this beast of a tablet as a portable camera anyway.

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Close-ups had acceptable levels of quality. Image credit: TechRadar

Close-ups had acceptable levels of quality. Image credit: TechRadar
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Zoomed shots looked a little grainy and low-res. Image credit: TechRadar

Zoomed shots looked a little grainy and low-res. Image credit: TechRadar
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Wide shots were a little grainy. Image credit: TechRadar

Wide shots were a little grainy. Image credit: TechRadar
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The iPad's love of yellow colors made the chips look tasty. Image credit: TechRadar

The iPad's love of yellow colors made the chips look tasty. Image credit: TechRadar

On the front of the iPad Pro 12.9 is a 7MP f/2.2 TrueDepth camera, which is used both for front-facing pictures and for the device’s Face ID. It’s not the highest-quality camera in the world, but you’re mainly going to be using it for video calls and the odd quick portrait shot.

Portrait mode on the front-facing camera has some nifty filters that could come in handy, like Stage Lighting mode for more-or-less professional-looking headshots against a black background, or Studio Lighting mode to brighten your facial features and emphasize colors. 

Portrait shots on the front camera had great, subtle background blur. Image credit: TechRadar

Portrait shots on the front camera had great, subtle background blur. Image credit: TechRadar

The size of the iPad Pro 12.9 made it rather hard to take a reliable selfie however – if we held the tablet so that we could reach the shutter, we were too high up in the shot, and if we tilted the tablet to balance that out, the picture was at a rather unflattering angle. We had a similar problem for video calls in landscape mode, as if we held the tablet so we could see the screen we were only half in shot.

We did have a few issues using this camera for Face ID – we’ll explore it more in the ‘Interface and reliability’ section, but in general the TrueDepth camera’s facial recognition doesn’t have a very long range.

You’re not going to be using this front-facing camera all that much, though – we only used it once during our time with the iPad Pro 12.9 other than when we were testing it.

Apple Pencil

The first of Apple’s optional extra peripherals for the iPad Pro 12.9 is the Apple Pencil, which we’ve seen work with various iPads since the iPad Pro 12.9 (2015).

The Pencil is a vital piece of tech if you’re using your iPad Pro for art or note-taking, and we found it unlocked a whole collection of features and shortcuts that we’d never previously considered.

Not surprisingly, we found the most benefit when using sketching or painting apps – the display picks up each touch quicker, and with better location accuracy, than with a finger, so brushstrokes or pencil lines were more accurate to our vision, and the harder you press down the thicker the line drawn, making the iPad behave much like a normal canvas.

An a-pen-dage to the iPad. Image credit: TechRadar

An a-pen-dage to the iPad. Image credit: TechRadar

When using the pencil, you can rest your hand on the screen without accidentally drawing a hand-print, as the iPad disregards any touch save for that of the pencil, so you can put your mitts on the display to help you draw more precisely without ruining your picture.

Similarly we could scribble notes just as you would in a notebook, and we even used the pencil as we would a finger to swipe through the menu and play games.

There are some things the Apple Pencil can’t do – you can’t use it to swipe up or down from the edges of the screen to bring up previously used apps or open the toolkit, but this just made it more useful, as we wouldn’t accidentally open another screen while drawing near the edges.

The dynamic duo. Image credit: TechRadar

The dynamic duo. Image credit: TechRadar

The Apple Pencil locks to the top of the device (when in landscape mode) via a magnet, where it also charges wirelessly, so when we weren’t using it it was easy to pop the tool down and know it was powering up.

If you’re an artist or creative type the Apple Pencil is a vital piece of kit, as it has integration with most apps and opens up whole new ways of using the iPad Pro 12.9, but it’s just as useful for navigating the tablet and taking quick notes.

Smart Keyboard

The second additional product is the Smart Keyboard, and the name doesn’t really do it justice – it’s a magnetic stand and sturdy cover as well as a keyboard. It snaps to the back of the iPad Pro 12.9 magnetically, so you’re not going to be shackling the tablet with a case with claspings that blocks your view of the display, and it’s thin and lightweight enough that it doesn’t add much mass.

We found it really useful for quickly typing out messages, as using on-screen keyboards can often be a little slow. For users who will need to type a lot, for word processing or emails, the Smart Keyboard could save a lot of time.

You'll get (key)bored of typing on your screen. Image credit: TechRadar

You'll get (key)bored of typing on your screen. Image credit: TechRadar

The Smart Keyboard only works when the keyboard is functioning as a stand for the tablet, and is in landscape mode, so you’re going to need to set it up this way in order to use it – this makes the keyboard a little less useful as a quick way to respond to messages, as you’ll save time by just typing your message with the on-screen keyboard in landscape or portrait mode.

Typing on the keyboard was quite loud too – this isn’t something we noticed as much as something people around us noticed, but we were told it was even more annoying to listen to than a normal keyboard.

The extra protection the case gives, and its use as a stand, is almost as useful as the keyboard functionality itself – it’s not as indispensable as the Pencil for productivity users, but it’s a useful and versatile addition to the iPad Pro.

We should also point out that, after a year of using the iPad Pro, the Smart Keyboard did look a little worse for wear, so it's likely not the best case you can buy for your tablet if you don't need the keyboard too.

Interface and reliability

The iPad Pro 12.9 comes with iOS 12 installed, and that version of Apple’s mobile OS performs just as well here as on every other device that runs it. However Apple has released an update for all iPads with a new operating system, iPadOS, which overhauls the way iPads Pros look.

iPadOS doesn't revolutionize the tablet experience, but it brings a few little tweaks and perks which improve how the slate handles productivity features.

On such a large screen the icons look a little spaced out, which gives each menu page a rather underpopulated look, but it does mean you’re not at risk of pressing the wrong icon if your aim isn’t the best.

One of the most useful features of iOS 12 on the iPad was the easy navigation using gestures – if you swipe up from the bottom you access the recently-used apps, while pulling down from the top brings up the toolbar so you can search apps, and doing so from the top-right opens the Control Center with settings like brightness or volume. Using these controls to navigate the menus, and jump between apps, was very intuitive, and quickly became second nature.

The iOS you know and love. Image credit: TechRadar

The iOS you know and love. Image credit: TechRadar

As previously mentioned, you can’t use these navigation shortcuts with the Apple Pencil – the advantage is that you can write or sketch with it right into the corners of the tablet, although this could be a problem if you use the tool for navigating the interface.

We did have a few reliability issues with the iPad Pro 12.9 during our time with it, specifically in the Face ID department. It didn’t pick up our face every time we tried to log on, and sometimes we had to try a few times to get into the device before it worked, although it was fast enough to recognize us when it did. 

The bigger issue we had was that our face needed to be quite close to the camera in order to unlock – something like that wouldn’t be a problem in a phone, as you’d naturally hold the phone up to your face to look at it, but when we set the iPad Pro 12.9 up on a desk in order to use it like a computer, we often found ourselves having to lean in so that Face ID would recognize us.

The position of the front-facing camera on the far left of the display (when you're using the tablet landscape) isn't great for video calls, as the distance between the camera and display makes it seem like you're staring into the distance when you're on a call.

Music, movies and gaming

The speaker setup on the iPad Pro 12.9 may be the best we’ve ever seen in a handheld device. With a four-speaker array – two in the top and two in the bottom of the frame (when in portrait orientation) – audio quality was tremendous: bass was booming, treble was crystal clear, and the max volume was surprisingly loud.

This sound quality means the iPad is equally good whether you’re listening to music that’s on the device, using it as a glorified smart speaker, or playing games and watching media.

When we watched video content on YouTube, and films and TV shows on streaming services, the iPad Pro 12.9’s screen was large enough that it felt like we had a cinema on our laps, and the speakers certainly added to this effect.

You won't be able to go back to your tiny smartphone. Image credit: TechRadar

You won't be able to go back to your tiny smartphone. Image credit: TechRadar

However, the 4:3 display of the tablet meant than when we streamed different types of media, such as TV shows in the 16:9 aspect ratio or movies that are 21:9, there were often chunky black bars at the top and bottom of the screen, and lots of screen real estate was wasted as a result.

This wasn’t a problem when we played games on the tablet, as most games we played made use of every inch of screen space available. When we set up the tablet in stand mode to play slow games like Angry Birds or Old-School Runescape Mobile we felt like a proper armchair general, and the large screen experience was every bit as good as gaming on a TV.

When we played action games like PUBG Mobile or Call of Duty: Zombies, the in-game displays took up the whole of the tablet display – this did make it a little challenging to play at times when we needed to reach for a higher button, as the big display meant we had to stretch a bit, and this might be an issue for people with smaller hands.

Each game we played was enhanced by the A12X Bionic chipset, which ensured smooth graphics and no lag.

Performance and benchmarks

The iPad Pro 12.9 is perhaps the fastest handheld device we’ve ever got our hands on, performing impressively across a range of apps and features. It runs Apple’s A12X Bionic chipset, and comes with 4GB RAM unless you’ve got the 1TB memory version of the device, in which case you get 6GB

Image credit: TechRadar

Image credit: TechRadar

When we put the tablet through a benchmark test it returned a multi-core score of 18,104 – that’s a frankly breathtaking score, and by far the highest we’ve seen from any mobile device. For example the most recent iPad Air (2019) returned a score of 11,575, which is slightly higher than the iPhone XS at 11,481 – and those are the second- and third-highest  scores we’ve seen.

You can see the benefits of the iPad Pro 12.9’s A12X Bionic chipset every time you use the tablet. Video editing and rendering is a lot quicker than on any other handheld device, games have heightened performance with better graphics, and we could run two apps in split-screen mode with no drop in performance.

Verdict

The iPad Pro 12.9 isn’t just a fantastic tablet; it’s probably the best tablet we’ve ever used – which isn’t really a surprise given that the iPad Pro 11 (2018) tops our best tablets list, and the iPad Pro 12.9 is basically the same device but bigger.

With its huge screen, fast processor and useful peripherals, the tablet is fantastic at a range of tasks and functions.

The main thing counting against the iPad Pro 12.9 – and this also isn’t a surprise – is its price, as spending upwards of $2,167 / £2,127 / AU$3,317 on a piece of tech isn’t something many people can justify. Even at $999 / £969 / AU$1529 for the most affordable model you’re still paying triple the price of something like the iPad 9.7 (2018), which is only $329 / £319 / AU$469.

But the high price pays for some cutting-edge features, and even though the battery is on the small side and the Face ID could do with better range, we wholeheartedly recommend the iPad Pro 12.9 as the best tablet available in 2019.

But the high price pays for some cutting-edge features, and even though the battery is on the small side and the Face ID could do with better range, we recommend the iPad Pro 12.9 as the best tablet available in 2019.

Who's it for?

The iPad Pro 12.9’s massive display, powerful processor, snappy user interface and unrivalled speakers make it brilliant for a whole range of applications, and for a variety of users. It’s an amazing device for everything from consuming media and creating art, to business tasks such as editing spreadsheets and creating presentations.

Whether you’re looking for a digital canvas for your sketches, a touch-screen timeline for editing videos or a slick and responsive desktop for working on documents, the iPad Pro 12.9 provides it.

Should I buy it?

Because of the price we’d have a hard time recommending the iPad Pro 12.9 as a personal tablet for casual use, despite the fact that it’s a fantastic personal cinema, speaker and games device, among other things. 

However, if you work in the creative industries, or need the big-screen real estate to juggle lots of documents, this tablet could be a valuable tool. If you can get your employer to pay for one even better, but even if not the lowest-end iPad Pro 12.9 is more versatile, and in some areas more powerful, than many laptops.

Competition

Samsung Galaxy Tab S4

Image credit: TechRadar

Image credit: TechRadar

If instead of the best of Apple you want Samsung’s finest, the Galaxy Tab S4 is your tablet. It’s much cheaper than the iPad Pro at $730 / £559 / AU$1,179 for its LTE version, but it’s quite a bit smaller, and doesn’t have as advanced specs. 

Read our full Samsung Galaxy Tab S4 review

iPad Pro 11

iPad Pro 11-inch (2018)

Image credit: TechRadar

You can tell the main difference between the iPad Pro 12.9 and the iPad Pro 11 from their names – the latter’s screen is slightly smaller at 11 inches, so if a 12.9-inch screen sounds like more than you need, you can drop down a size without sacrificing much in terms of specs and features – and you’ll save yourself the cost of this extra real estate. 

Read our full iPad Pro 11 review 

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