Tech world was hoping for an event in March, but the covid-19 epidemic decided otherwise. Apple has therefore announced new products, as rumored, but without keynote or specific event.
At the heart of one of the announcements is a new iPad Pro, which looks more like an update in small steps than a major overhaul. When we take the new tablet in hand, we would be hard pressed to distinguish it from its predecessor, released in November 2018.
We find the same design with reduced borders, which highlights the screen of 11 inches or, in this case for our test model, 12.9 inches. It is easily unlocked with Face ID and recharged with USB-C, always a single port, which can be a bit short for a working machine. Although the cloud and Bluetooth are there.
Besides, you will often request this wireless connection because there is no other way (except to adopt an adapter) to connect a headset to this iPad Pro. As on the previous generation, the mini-jack port is still missing.
We will just clarify that in these times of containment, we would like Apple to find a solution so that AirPods (Pro or not) change more easily and quickly device to which they are connected. It’s always a little annoying to miss the first few words of a call or video conference because you have to activate the pairing.
Two objectives …
In short, nothing has changed. Unless you flip the tablet over and then notice that the optical unit in the back has become overweight. It is now a square, rather aesthetically successful. It has two lenses: one for the conventional telephoto (12 Mpixels, f / 1.8), at the bottom, and one for an ultra wide-angle (10 Mpixels, f / 2.4), at the top. This gives us an optical zoom x2, accompanied by a digital zoom x5.
By paying a little more attention, we also see the presence of a kind of third objective, that is LIDAR. He's in charge of enhancing the augmented reality performance of the iPad.
We don't regularly use the iPad (regardless of model) to take photos. Even if the tablets offer a great aiming frame with their large screen, it seems to us that smartphones are easier to draw around, more gifted also in photo and video, in short better suited. So many points that we came to mind by taking a few shots with the iPad Pro.
The results are correct, when the light is sufficient, noisy and in great lack of sharpness when the darkness takes over. Especially since we do not find the night mode of the iPhone 11. However, the arrival of an ultra wide-angle is good news. This will allow you to vary the shots and frame your photos more easily or artistically.
On the video side, the iPad Pro can shoot in 4K at 60 fps (and in 1080p at 240 fps in slow motion), always with the same limitations as in photos, so it will all depend on the light. Note that the digital video zoom is only x3, as on the previous generation.
Either way, like on the iPhone, white balance and color fidelity when switching from one lens to another is pretty good.
On the sound side, Apple has reworked its microphones, which are now given to be of “studio” quality. Difficult without our measuring devices to certify it, it seemed to us that in video recording the audio track was good. During our video chats, nobody complained about their quality. From there to know if it will be enough for a serious shooting or a podcast…
In addition, the front camera is undoubtedly the one you will use most often, since generally it is the one that is activated for video discussions with family or friends. How to do otherwise in an era when aperitifs are dematerializing …
One will wonder however if Apple will maintain this camera in this place. Because, apart from when you use the tablet in the classic way, it ends up on the side when you use the iPad Pro with its Smart Keyboard. Which is moderately convenient when you grab the iPad to move it or readjust its tilt.
… and a LIDAR, as a bet on the future
But the big news is especially LIDAR. Where the size of the iPad is a bit disabling for photography, it becomes a real asset when we talk about current augmented reality uses.
For the time being, in broad outline, because there are always exceptions, augmented reality is mainly used for interior design, video games, or even learning. So many activities that are generally more practiced in a living room than around a street.
This LIDAR makes it possible to create a kind of environmental mesh, an extremely precise 3D map. It reinforces the accuracy of the measurements, refines the integration of virtual elements in the real environment, etc. In particular, it has an immediate beneficial effect on the occlusion (when a virtual object is hidden by a person, for example). Detecting the environment before applying virtual objects is also much faster.
We also have a small overview of its contribution with the Measurement application, integrated in iPadOS, where the detection of planes (horizontal and vertical) and borders seems better, even if everything is not yet perfect. Some areas are still too small to be taken into account.
A good part of the potential of this LIDAR is still combined in the future. The applications will have to take advantage of it so that we can see what it will all give. So it’s a promise that Apple is making and that we’ll have to take our word for now.
A screen for all uses
Let’s talk briefly about the iPad Pro screen. Its Liquid Retina panel incorporates all of Apple’s technologies and all of its know-how.
Upon ignition, the eye is seduced, the colors are warm, nuanced, contrasting. You can play with the TrueTone option to enhance visual comfort depending on the surrounding lighting, take advantage of P3 technology to watch a film with an extremely wide color gamut or even appreciate, without necessarily noticing its presence, the effect provided by ProMotion technology.
It ensures that the refresh rate of the screen varies automatically depending on what you do, the content viewed. A movie ? The refresh rate changes to 24 frames per second. A game, on the contrary, you need fluidity and the iPad Pro pushes its screen up to 120 frames per second. Small details, but which bring great comfort.
Without having access to our usual measurement tools, we could not raise the brightness of this model, nor the precision of its Delta E. Nevertheless, juxtaposing the 2018 model and the newcomer, it seems to us that the young tablet does as well as its predecessor.
Let's dive into the heart of this iPad Pro 2020. One of the new things inside the iPad Pro is its processor. Apple could have, as it has done so far, attached an X to the name of the chip that equips the latest generation iPhones. So we would have had an Apple A13X in our hands. In this case, and without there being any explanations provided, it is an Apple A12Z chip that is found, an evolution of the chip present in the iPad Pro introduced at the end of 2018, the A12X.
Starting from the alphanumeric principle that Z is larger than X, we imagine that this new chip will have power to spare. In fact, the A12X already had enough to fine many PCs on the market.
If you want to go further and quickly compare the two chips, in theory, the differences seem minimal. We find the same number of cores on the CPU side (eight, to be exact), clocked at a similar, not to say identical, frequency (2.49 GHz).
However, for the first time, the graphics processor in Apple’s SoC also has eight graphics cores. He had only seven over previous generations.
Suffice to say that the chip of the iPad Pro 2020 should bring a little burst of power, but it will not cause a revolution. For the record, some of the benchmarks confuse the Apple A12X and A12Z as they are so similar. This is what we observe by running some usual measurement tools, like Geekbench.
The differences in score for the processor performance measures (Single Core and Multi Core) are not really significant and confirm the similarity of the two chips.
On the other hand, the graphic part of the A12Z is logically better. The additional core plays its role and justifies its presence by providing almost 9% more performance. Not a revolution, we warned you, but any gain is worth taking.
With AnTuTu 8, the differences noted thanks to Geekbench 5 are confirmed. Not surprisingly, the two iPad Pro work together except when it comes to measuring graphics performance.
The iPad Pro 2020 is therefore much more efficient than all pro tablets of previous generations, even if it is only slightly compared to its direct elder.
But faced with this considerable lack of gain, two remarks will be made. The first is autonomy. The iPad Pro 2020 accompanies us for almost a whole working day, between 8 and 11 hours, depending on usage and needs. More power could mean less endurance.
The second remark arises from a question: apart from perhaps some ultra-demanding users, who has already lacked power with the iPad Pro 2018?
In fact, in its communication, Apple never gives a quantitative comparison between these two models. The gains displayed are compared to the A10X, released in 2017 and on board the second generation of 12.9-inch iPad Pro.
De facto, the power is there. The most demanding games run without any hiccups, the various professional applications launch quickly and run without slowing down. The iPad Pro 2020 has the power it needs for all uses that the million applications dedicated to iPadOS allow.
“Your next computer is not a computer”
And precisely, in the great quest of the iPad Pro to replace our laptops, its operating system was until now its weak link. With this new tablet has arrived iPadOS 13.4, and with it the support of the mouse, which implies some software evolutions, ergonomic.
In particular the appearance of a round cursor, which adapts its appearance to the context.
In this case, the support of the trackpad / mouse does not correct the deep ergonomic shortcomings but largely fluidifies the uses and allows not to have to systematically abandon the keyboard and raise your hand towards the screen when working. We find in part the daily gestures that we are used to performing on the touchpad of our Macs (and some PCs). So we are not lost.
However, some interactions are still a bit complicated, it must be said that the overlays of gestures introduced over time and especially with iPadOS 13 are sometimes not very intuitive.
However, we gain in fluidity and get closer to what we know on laptops. With a Magic Trackpad, you take pleasure in using this new function without having to activate specific settings. But we could just as easily use a Bluetooth mouse. Our old Magic Mouse, however, did not seem to be welcome.
However, if the support of the mouse is a time saver and we manage to touch the screen of the iPad Pro only when it is most relevant – a bit like on a touchscreen PC in Windows 10 in fact – it seems to us that there is still an important point missing for iPadOS to be perfect.
Apple now needs to soften its windowing system and find a solution to provide more open workspaces. Spaces where you can get a semblance of a desktop and quicker access to a Finder – just having the Quick Access Files window on the side isn't enough. In the end, is this a sign that we still have to adapt or that, on the contrary, the model that we have known for a long time is the best? Hard to say, but it seems to us that Apple needs to “reinvent macOS” for the iPad in PC mode.
In full page of its site, Apple claims that our “Next computer is not a computer”. That is true. The iPad Pro still doesn't make it as efficient when you work as a Mac does. But the foundations are becoming more solid and the tools available more and more convincing.
In addition, materially speaking, this fourth generation of iPad Pro is (still) one of the most successful and convincing incarnations of a third way between tablet and laptop. This year, even more than the previous ones, we can't wait to see what iPadOS has in store – the 14th, to start with. The expectations are still huge, let's hope the promises are too.