It’s fair to say that picture and sound quality aren’t Apple’s top priorities when it comes to iPhones and iPads. Watch any of the company’s launch events or browse its own product pages and it’s the processors and cameras that are most shouted about.
It’s been clear over the years that the brand does take picture and sound seriously, though, pretty much always delivering excellence in both areas. No device typifies this more clearly than the iPad Pro 12.9 – a tablet with a huge Mini LED screen and a price tag to match.
The latest version of the iPad Pro 12.9 is in many ways very similar to the model that went before it, with most of the focus – once again – on a big increase in power. However, Apple has, once again, included some small tweaks to picture and sound quality.
The current iPad Pro 12.9 starts at £1249 / $1099 / AU$1899 which, let’s face it, is an extraordinary price to pay for a tablet. That gets you a 128GB wi-fi-only model, which will be plenty for many people, particularly those who are buying it as a portable movie device.
If you do need more storage, though, there are options available right up to 2TB, but you have to pay fairly handsomely as you move up the scale. Adding cellular support, meanwhile, adds £180 / $200 / AU$250 to whichever storage option you choose.
The design of the 6th-generation iPad Pro 12.9 is identical to that of the previous model, right down to the last millimetre and gram. While inter-generational design stagnation is always a little bit of a shame, the iPad Pro is a lovely device that’s impeccably well-made and very stylish.
Screen size 12.9in
Resolution 2732x2048 (264ppi)
Storage 128GB / 256GB / 512GB / 1TB / 2TB
Finishes x 2
Battery life 10 hours
Cameras 12MP + 10MP ultra wide on rear / 12MP front
Dimensions (hwd) 28 x 21 x 0.6cm
It is, though, very large by ‘portable device’ standards, which is to be expected of something with a 12.9-inch display. It doesn’t feel like that long ago when some TVs had screens of this sort of size, and needless to say those were much larger and heavier than this iPad.
The size of the 12.9-inch iPad Pro has to be taken into consideration by potential buyers though. This is perhaps too hefty a device to whip out for a short hop on the tube, but ideal for a long-haul Business Class flight.
The one big disappointment of the design is that the front-facing camera is still on one of the shorter edges, which means you’re awkwardly off-centre when doing a video call in the more regular landscape orientation. This is something that users have been complaining about for ages and it’s been addressed with the standard iPad, so it’s inexplicable that it’s still an issue for Pro models.
The headline upgrade for this sixth-generation iPad Pro 12.9 is a move to the M2 processor – the same chip that is found in a number of MacBooks and the Mac Mini. Apple claims it represents an 18 per cent increase in CPU performance and 35 per cent increase in GPU performance over the already extraordinarily powerful M1 chip.
Needless to say, if you’re eyeing up the new iPad Pro as a portable movie and music machine, as we are, you’ll barely use even a fraction of the performance of which the M2 chip is capable, but those who also want a portable productivity powerhouse will surely appreciate all of that extra power tucked into a compact (compared to a laptop) shell. Gamers, too, should soon be able to make more use of the M2’s power: Apple recently announced that console games including Assassin’s Creed Mirage and Resident Evil Village are coming to the iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max, and you have to hope that they also launch for the overall more powerful iPad Pro.
Another productivity upgrade is support for Wi-Fi 6E, which doubles the maximum download speed of the new iPad Pro 12.9 to 2.4Ghz – but only if you’ve also got a Wi-Fi 6E-capable router.
Those who intend to work using the iPad Pro will be pleased to hear that it supports Apple’s expensive but lovely Magic Keyboard, and Apple Pencil support is obviously baked-in, too – there’s even a new ‘hover’ feature that shows the positioning and style of the strokes you’re going to make before the Pencil even touches the screen.
One interesting feature that was introduced with iPadOS 16 (which has now been superseded by iPadOS 17) is ‘Reference Mode’, which switches the screen into a mode for accuracy-critical tasks such as colour grading. This isn’t really intended for simple movie-watching and the performance it delivers is too dim for most situations, but you might want to give it a try if you’re watching something in a pitch-black room.
The 12.9-inch screen is, in spec terms, identical to that of the previous-generation model. That means it’s a Mini LED ‘Liquid Retina XDR’ affair with a resolution of 2732 x 2048, which equates to a pixel density of 264ppi (pixels-per-inch). Peak brightness with HDR content is a claimed 1600 nits in small areas and 1000 nits full screen. That puts it roughly on a par, brightness-wise, with a top-spec 2023 OLED TV.
Watching 1917 via the Apple TV app, it’s clear that while nothing has changed in terms of screen specs, Apple has – as it so often does – slightly improved picture performance. The first change you notice doesn’t initially appear to be a good one, though – bright highlights, such as the sky in the opening scene, aren’t quite as bright from the new model as from the one it replaces. However, this is compensated for by a slight increase in bright detail.
The new iPad Pro tends towards a deeper delivery overall, with more solid blacks and marginally more lusciousness to colours. And, despite its blacks being deeper than before, shadow detail is marginally higher and high-contrast elements, such as Colin Firth’s candlelit face in the briefing room, are more pronounced and impactful.
To be clear, we’re talking minor differences, and owners of a 2021-edition iPad Pro 12.9 certainly shouldn’t feel the need to upgrade to the newer model purely for the picture quality upgrades. Those considering an iPad Pro for the first time, though, will be blown away by the movie performance it offers. It really is like having a flagship OLED TV that you can take anywhere. The image is exceptionally sharp and detailed, colours are supremely well-judged and delicately shaded, contrast is superb and, as mentioned, blacks are both super-deep and insightful.
Motion is good, too. There’s no processing as such, so there’s a little bit of blur at times, but the Pro’s overall control over proceedings is outstanding and there’s obviously never even a hint of the soap opera effect.
All told, barring its predecessor, this is a huge qualitative jump over every other tablet we’ve tested, including the iPad Air. Of course, that’s very much what you’d hope for from a device that costs as much as this iPad Pro does.
Should you find yourself watching a movie using the iPad’s own speakers for sound, you’ll discover a delivery that’s surprisingly spacious and atmospheric, with effects that are sent out quite a long way to the left and right of the tablet’s chassis. Detail levels are good, too, and dialogue is projected clearly, regardless of what else is going on in the soundtrack.
Of course, even the best tiny speakers struggle to produce much bass, and the iPad Pro’s presentation is too lightweight for serious cinematic enjoyment, so connecting a pair of headphones is strongly recommended. Adding the AirPods Max is an extravagant but compelling option thanks to their synergy, all-round ability and superb Spatial Audio. Combined, the iPad Pro 12.9 and AirPods Max make for an awesome on-the-go cinema system that will make you the envy of everyone in Business Class.
Alternatively, you can pick up a USB-C to 3.5mm adapter and connect a pair of standard wired headphones. Do so and fire up Tidal and you’ll hear a delivery very similar to that of the previous model but with a minor uptick in energy and drive. Apple has always gone for a fairly neutral and balanced delivery, and the iPad Pro very much follows this template, proving clean and consistent through the frequency range, revealing oodles of detail from good recordings, and offering the sort of rhythmic pace and dynamic agility that will make every listening session an engaging experience.
Power-hike aside, the latest iPad Pro 12.9 is only a minor upgrade on the previous model. That’s a bit of a shame, of course, but the iPad Pro has long been in a class all of its own and so this is a case of the best being made just a little bit better.
There are rumours that the next iPad Pro, which isn’t expected until 2024, will feature an OLED screen. Some buyers might want to wait for that, but it could be quite a long way off and who knows how much of an upgrade it will prove to be – if any at all. In the here and now, this iPad Pro 12.9 is a stunning device for movies (and music) on the move.
- Picture 5
- Sound 5
- Features 5
Read our review of the Samsung Galaxy Tab S9 Ultra
Also consider the Apple iPad Air (5th Generation)