In November 2015, Apple started selling the 12.9" iPad Pro. the first iPad sold by Apple with a screen larger than the 9.7" screen that had been around since the iPad was introduced in 2010. This was the only Apple product I had ever used that I grew to love but didn't love at first. Usually, I can tell fairly quickly if a product is right for me. The thing that I grew to love most about the product — the large screen — was also the thing that held me back at first. For the first week or so it just felt too big and heavy as compared to the iPad I had been using for five years. However, once I got used to it, I never wanted to go back to a smaller iPad.
This month, Apple introduced the second generation of the iPad Pro 12.9" and the primary improvements are a better screen, speed and a better camera. None of these are critical improvements over the previous model, so attorneys using the first generation version of the iPad Pro don't need to run out and upgrade. But if you are still using an earlier model of the iPad such as the iPad Air, and especially if you are still using something pre-dating the iPad Air, the new iPad Pro is light years better than what you are using.
What remains great
Because I expect that virtually all attorneys considering the new iPad Pro 12.9" will be upgrading from an iPad Air 2 or earlier model, let me begin by discussing what is so great about this latest iPad even though it is the same as 2015 version of the iPad Pro.
First, all models of the iPad Pro support the Apple Pencil. Yes, it costs $99, and that is more expensive than styluses that you can buy from third parties (my favorite of which remains the $22 Adonit Jot Pro which I reviewed here). But there is really no comparison between the Apple Pencil and any other stylus. Because the Apple Pencil and iPad Pro are designed from the ground up to work together, the Pencil does a fantastic job of writing on the iPad screen with virtually no lag. Check out my 2015 review for the many reasons that I love the Pencil, but perhaps most telling is that I continue use the Pencil almost every single day at work. I use it to take handwritten notes, to annotate briefs of opposing counsel, to highlight and annotate cases during legal research, and more.
Second, the larger screen of the 12.9" model makes it so much easier for me to get work done, sometimes when I am using the iPad next to my computer, other times when I am using my iPad instead of a computer. The larger screen is better for reading documents on the iPad. Indeed, in portrait mode, letter-sized documents are essentially full-size. So whether I am reading briefs, looking at the fine print in contracts, or just admiring a great picture of my kids, the screen size is incredible, and I believe is worth the tradeoff of carrying an iPad that is bigger and heavier (1.5 pounds versus 1 pound).
Third, iPad Pro models are much faster than earlier iPads, making everything more responsive. I can flip through the pages of large PDF files easily.
I'll mention a fourth reason, although it doesn't apply to me. Sometimes it is nice to use an external keyboard with an iPad. If you prefer a keyboard that is built-in to a cover, such as Apple's Smart Keyboard, the larger size means that you can have a full-size keyboard just like on your computer. This isn't an issue for me because I prefer to use Bluetooth keyboards, which are stand-alone and can be whatever size you want. But lots of folks tell me that this is a reason that they like the first generation iPad Pro 12.9"
These are all reasons to love the second generation iPad Pro 12.9" too. But there is more.
My favorite feature of the second generation iPad Pro is the screen. It is better in three different ways.
First, the new iPad Pro uses something that Apple calls ProMotion. The technical detail is that it can refresh the screen at 120Hz, whereas the first generation iPad Pro refreshed at a maximum speed of 60Hz. What this means is that everything moves incredibly smoothly on the screen. When you flick through pages of a brief, it doesn't look like an animation of going from one page to another page; it looks like you are actually moving pages. When you move between apps, the process is amazingly smooth. Yes, this is largely eye-candy, but it is incredibly nice to use, and as a side benefit makes the iPad feel more responsive.
ProMotion also makes the Apple Pencil even better because the iPad can "draw" on the screen twice as fast. Don't get me wrong, the Apple Pencil worked amazingly well with the first generation iPad Pro. But with the second generation iPad Pro. the illusion that the Pencil is actually drawing on the screen is virtually perfect. It's like you can "see" the ink flowing from the Pencil onto the iPad's screen.
Second, the second generation 12.9" gains the same screen technology introduced in 2016 when Apple unveiled the 9.7" version of the iPad Pro. Using something called DCI-P3 (the same standard used for theatrical projection and in 4K UHD televisions), colors are deeper and the screen is brighter. And with TrueTone (an optional feature you can enable in Settings), the new iPad Pro senses the light around you and adjusts the white balance automatically. Thus, whether you are in a room with a more yellow light or a more blue light, colors on the screen (especially white) look more appropriate. If you use your iPad outside, the brighter screen (600 nits versus 400 nits for the first generation) makes it easier to see the screen even in sunlight.
Third, the new screen also supports HDR Video, a standard which lets darker areas look truly dark while brighter colors look truly bright. Today, there isn't much HDR Video content. Last year, Netflix added HDR video that could work with certain televisions, and hopefully it won't be long before Netflix brings this to the new iPad Pro models. I've heard folks say that a TV with HDR looks even better than a 4K TV. My understanding is that we will have to wait for iOS 11 later this year before the new iPad Pro can take advantage of HDR video, but suffice it to say that the second generation iPad Pro is ready for the future.
Even when playing high-quality non-HDR videos, the colors look much better on the second generation iPad Pro than the first generation iPad Pro. I did many tests when I played the same video on both iPads at the same time. I looked at my older iPad and thought that the video looked great. Then I looked at the newer iPad and the colors looked much more vibrant — and suddenly my first generation iPad didn't seem so great anymore.
I thought my first generation iPad Pro was pretty fast. This new one is screaming fast. There is noticeably less lag when working with huge documents, using Safari to search the web is faster, switching applications is faster ... everything is much more responsive. This is great today, but with the new multi-tasking features of iOS 11, this speed increase will be even more valuable as iOS 11 does more.
I've been using this new iPad Pro while researching and drafting several major briefs over the last few days, and I really love how quickly I can move around from app to app, and how quickly I can scroll through documents. It's really nice. When the iPad doesn't slow me down, I feel even more productive.
In the past, the camera on an iPad was always lacklaster as compared to the newest cameras on the newest iPhones. But now, the iPad Pro has the same great camera that is on the iPhone 7, and even gains a flash. (It doesn't have the dual-camera system found on the iPhone 7 Plus.)
My main use of a camera at work is scanning documents. In the past, I would always use my iPhone to take the picture because it had a better camera and then transfer the picture over to my iPad. Now, I can just use my iPad to get a great picture.
But the main reason that I'm interested in the better camera is for using the iPad just for fun. No, I don't plan to be one of those people who walks around with a huge iPad taking pictures, and I'm still amazed how often I see that happen. But what excites me is that at Apple's developer conference earlier this month, Apple previewed new and powerful augmented reality tools which developers can use to create amazing experiences. A demo showed a virtual animated 3D village sitting on a real table, and you could move an iPad around the table to see everything in incredible detail. The quality was amazing. I'm not yet sure how developers will use this technology, but I have no doubt that it will be fun and impressive. The high quality camera on the second generation iPad Pro, along with the faster processors inside, will make the augmented reality experience all the more realistic. My hope is that in just a few months, we will start to see some cool stuff.
[UPDATE: This 9to5Mac post by Chance Miller has some very early examples of the augmented reality possibilities I'm talking about.]
There are a few other improvements. First, Touch ID works better and faster, with the iPad finally gaining the second generation Touch ID that was introduced with the iPhone 6s.
If you get the cellular version of the iPad Pro, it gets better reception. I myself prefer saving money and getting the WiFi version; I can always just tether to my iPhone when I don't have access to WiFi.
There are also new memory options. When the first generation iPad Pro was introduced in 2015, you had a choice between 32 GB and 128 GB, and I thought that the 128 GB was the natural choice for most lawyers. Apple added a 256 GB option in March, 2016. With the second generation iPad Pro, the choices are 64 GB, 256 GB and 512 GB. 64 GB (at $799) will be enough for many lawyers, but if you want to put what will seem like unlimited documents on your iPad Pro, and especially if you want to put lots of photos and videos on the device and want to future-proof, I think that spending an extra $100 for 256 GB makes good sense, and that is what I purchased. For $1,099, you can now get a new 512 GB option. That seems like overkill to me, but if you have grand plans to download lots of HDR video (in the future, once it becomes available) and want to spend the extra money on getting the most capacity, well then Apple has you covered.
One thing that hasn't changed is the Lightning to USB cord and charger that come in the box. I realize that most folks are still using a computer with traditional USB and, for now at least, Apple wants to be compatible with that. But as was also true with the first generation iPad Pro, if you purchase a USB-C Power Adapter ($49) and USB-C to Lightning Cable ($25), both of which I reviewed here, you can charge an iPad Pro much, much faster. It is a shame that you need to spend an extra $75 to get the best charging option, especially since you need to spend an extra $99 to get the Apple Pencil which I consider essential for most lawyers use an iPad Pro.
The second generation iPad Pro is better than the first generation iPad Pro in the ways that matter most for attorneys using an iPad to get work done — how the screen looks, how fast and responsive the system is, and how it works with the Apple Pencil. If you are using a first generation iPad Pro, don't get too jealous because your iPad is almost as good. You don't need to upgrade. But if you are using an older model of the iPad, the iPad Pro will be a major improvement and will help you to be much more productive with your device. Plus it will be a lot more enjoyable to use.
After using the 12.9" screen for 19 months, I wouldn't want to go back to the smaller screen. It's a big change at first and takes a week or two to get used to, so give yourself time before you decide if it is right for you. Remember, Apple has a 14-day, no-questions-asked return policy, so if it still seems too big for you after 10 days, you will still have four more days to get to an Apple Store and swap it out for the smaller version. But I love the larger screen.
If you think that the smaller size if better for you, the good news is that the smaller iPad Pro now has a 10.5" screen instead of a 9.7" screen, and thanks to a thinner bezel, Apple packed the 10.5" screen into a device that doesn't feel much bigger than the traditional iPad size. California attorney David Sparks — who literally wrote the book on getting work done with an iPad many years ago — wrote on his MacSparky website that he is trying out the 10.5" screen to see if it works for him. I'll be interested to see if he sticks with the smaller size, but I'm confident that I made the right decision for me.
Perhaps the best part of this new device is that the best is yet to come. The iPad is going to get major improvements once iOS 11 comes out in a few months. Older iPads may struggle to keep up with the new features, and some new features won't even work with some older models, but the second generation iPad Pro will be more than up for the task with its improved screen and faster processor. So as much as I am enjoying using this new iPad today, I have no doubt that it will be even better this Fall.