iPad Pro M2 review: tremendous hardware, but software needs work | iPad

THEpple has added yet more power to its top tablet, fitting the new iPad Pro with the M2 chip from the latest Macs while attempting to make it work more like a laptop with new software. But all that power comes at a truly eye-watering price.

The new models cost £899 ($799/A$1,399) for the 11in screen or £1,249 ($1,099/A$1,899) for the 12.9in version as reviewed here. That’s the same price as the MacBook Air laptop, and £250 more than last year’s 12.9in iPad Pro with M1 chip, due to weak currency rates against the US dollar.

For that not-insignificant sum, you get one of the most powerful tablets you can buy. The M2 chip is up to 15% faster, with 35% faster graphics than the already extremely rapid M1 from last year. Whether you will be able to use all that power in an iPad remains to be seen, but battery life remains a solid 10 hours for light use, about nine hours for work, or about seven hours when streaming HDR video with the screen turned up to max.

The new iPad still behaves like a regular Apple tablet running iPadOS 16 until you enable the advanced features. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The outside of the iPad Pro hasn’t changed – it looks and feels just as good as the previous versions. The mini LED screen is still the star of the show: bright, super-smooth and responsive when browsing the web and using other standard content. Fire up an HDR movie and it rivals any top-class TV, let alone other tablets.

The screen has a new trick up its sleeve called “hover”. When using the Apple Pencil stylus (£139), the cursor pops up on the screen when the tip gets within 12mm away from the glass. Most other good styluses, including Samsung and Microsoft models, work similarly. It’s a handy feature in Apple’s apps such as Notes, but will be more useful with third-party tools such as drawing or graphics apps, once they have been updated to support it.

The hover features of the Apple Pencil in action showing a cursor on screen.
Hover enables more precise input showing a cursor before touching the screen, new pop-up tool options and the ability to highlight buttons or other elements before selecting them. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Specifications

  • Screen: 12.9in 2732×2048 Liquid Retina XDR display (264 pixels an inch)

  • Processor: Apple M2 (8-core CPU/10-core GPU)

  • RAM: 8 or 16GB

  • Storage: 128/256/512GB or 1/2TB

  • Operating system: iPadOS 16.1

  • Camera: 12MP wide + 10MP ultrawide; 12MP Center Stage Selfie

  • Connectivity: wifi 6E (5G optional, nano/eSim), Bluetooth 5.3, Thunderbolt 3/USB 4

  • Dimensions: 280.6 x 214.9 x 6.4mm

  • Weight: 682g (5G version: 685g)

Sustainability

The aluminum back of the iPad Pro.
The tablet is super-thin and made of aluminum, with magnets for attaching accessories. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Apple does not provide an expected lifespan for the battery, but it should last in excess of 500 full charge cycles with at least 80% of its original capacity, and can be replaced from £165. The tablet is generally repairable, with an out-of-warranty service costing from £589, which includes the screen.

The tablet contains recycled aluminum, copper, gold, tin, plastic and rare earth elements. Apple breaks down the tablet’s environmental impact in its reports and offers trade-in and free recycling schemes, including for non-Apple products.

iPad OS 16.1 with Stage Manager

Stage Manager puts multiple active apps on screen at once in resizable, overlapping windows for the first time on an iPad.
Stage Manager puts multiple active apps on screen at once in resizable, overlapping windows for the first time on an iPad. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

The iPad Pro runs iPadOS 16.1 out of the box, which is available for all other currently supported iPads and adds a whole load of features from iOS 16.

But exclusively for the modern-shape iPad Pro line and iPad Air with M1 chip, it includes a big change to how multitasking works, called Stage Manager. This allows you to run multiple apps on one screen in resizable and overlapping windows, similar to the way you might on a laptop running macOS or Windows.

Stage Manager includes a desktop of sorts called the “stage”, a dock at the bottom and a floating shelf of apps on the left of the screen that are best thought of spaces or virtual desktops. You can add up to four apps to any stage, which are automatically arranged on screen for you and are resizable by dragging a little tab in the bottom corner of each window.

Four apps resized with Stage Manager to iPhone-like size on an iPad Pro.
Compatible apps can be shrunk down to iPhone-like sizes or expanded to fill the full screen. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Apps properly updated for iPadOS 16.1 change format as they are resized, but others including the Settings app just shrink in size a little, often making text hard to read.

Stage Manager makes the iPad Pro more like a laptop. But it is not very intuitive and may confuse even experienced macOS and iPad users. For instance, there are no less than five ways that I found to add an app on to a stage, but they are not at all obvious or consistent in the way they work.

In addition, if you tap to fire up a new app it opens in a fresh stage, hiding the ones you were previously using in a different stage. Expanding an app to full-screen when grouped with others in a stage hides the other apps behind the full-screen one with no indication of where they have gone.

The settings app and control center showing options to enable Stage Manager.
Stage Manager is not on by default, but it can be enabled in the settings app or with a button in control center. Turning on Stage Manager disables the old split-screen app view and slide-over tools. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Some apps were broken in the new view, too. I experienced bugs in a great many apps over the last two weeks. Gmail, for instance, could get stuck in the email viewing pane, meaning I couldn’t go back to my inbox unless I resized or quit the app. The camera app bizarrely switched to portrait orientation when I resized the window. Some apps had crucial toolbars hidden, while others crashed or locked up key system apps such as Files until I rebooted the iPad. It’s clear that lots of app updates are needed.

Stage Manager has promise, but it is unpredictable and unintuitive at times. It is most useful when using the iPad with a keyboard and mouse, such as the £379 Magic Keyboard or third-party laptop-like cases. But it is clearly still a work in progress, with bugs to fix and support for external monitors to come in an update in the near future.

price

The 11in iPad Pro costs from £899 ($799/A$1,399) and the 12.9in iPad Pro costs from £1,249 ($1,099/A$1,899). 5G costs £180 ($200/A$250) more plus data plan. Keyboards and styluses sold separately.

For comparison, the 10th gen iPad costs £499, the iPad Air costs £669, the M2 MacBook Air costs £1,249, the Samsung Galaxy Tab S8 Ultra costs £999, and the Microsoft Surface Pro 9 will cost £1,099.

verdict

The 12.9in iPad Pro is a tremendous piece of hardware. It has more power than even creative professionals are likely to need, a screen that’s better than most TVs, and reliable battery life, wrapped in a super-thin and light body.

The new M2 version isn’t a tremendous upgrade over last year’s M1-equipped model. The hover feature for the Apple Pencil could be incredibly useful for some, but it is the software, which is also available for older models, which is potentially the biggest upgrade.

Stage Manager in iPadOS 16.1 finally allows apps to run in overlapping, active windows, enabling the iPad to work much more like a full computer or laptop. But it clearly isn’t fully baked yet, being unpredictable and unintuitive at times, with bugs and compatibility issues that both Apple and third-party developers need to sort out.

The iPad Pro is undoubtedly the best tablet you can buy, and will be an incredibly powerful tool for a number of niche, high-end applications. But for most people it is simply too expensive – they would be better off with a laptop for work or a cheaper iPad for play. It might be the very best TV-watching tablet you can buy, but no one should spend £1,249 just for that.

Pros: stunning mini LED screen, extremely fast M2 chip, good battery life, optional 5G, USB-C/Thunderbolt 3, hover feature for Apple Pencil, great speakers, Face ID, large app library, improved multitasking, very long software support life.

Cons: too expensive, no kickstand without case, no headphone socket, iPadOS 16.1 still needs work, webcam on the wrong side for landscape calls, not a massive upgrade.

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