We get hands-on with the iPad Pro, Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard

The iPad Pro is ready to work, with a huge screen perfect for multitasking and an Apple Pencil for precision design and artistry.

Five years after its launch, the iPad is growing up. The new iPad Pro, introduced at Apple’s media event on Wednesday, blurs the line between iPad and MacBook just a little more, with a 12.9-inch screen capable of running two apps side by side without either of them feeling cramped in the slightest.

But as large as it is, the iPad Pro doesn’t feel unwieldy, even to me, an avowed fan of the iPad mini. We’ve learned from the iMac and the iPhone both that people love giant screens with tons and tons of pixels crammed on to them, and that’s what the iPad Pro delivers, along with performance that should let more people than ever leave their laptops at home.

The iPad Pro is only just over 700g, which is astonishing since my first-generation iPad is still in active service at my house, and it just under that. The iPad Pro is so much bigger but doesn’t feel unbalanced or awkward. I could hold it easily, but I sort of wished it had a kickstand like the Surface Pro.

It's the size of a big magazine, or a clipboard. But it doesn't feel unwieldy. But once you have it propped up just how you like, the iPad Pro’s screen looks amazing. At 2,732 x 2,048 resolution, it’s got 5.6 million pixels, and the short side has as many pixels as the longer side of an iPad mini. I was impressed with the responsiveness of iOS 9 on this tablet, as I easily pulled out the sidebar and entered Split Screen view.

You don’t need a stylus to use any iPad, and the iPad Pro is no exception. Luckily, the Apple Pencil is more of a pen than a stylus. It’s not aimed at pointing and tapping things you can reach just fine with your fingers, thanks. Rather, it’s for pressure-sensitive drawing and painting in apps as simple as Apple’s own Notes app, or as complex and professional as the demonstrated Procreate or AutoCAD.

The Pencil felt great from the moment I picked it up. It feels like a pencil, very natural (although you can say the same for other smart Bluetooth styluses on the market), and using it felt natural too. Sensors can detect the pressure and angle, so it was effortless to create lines of different thicknesses. The Notes app even has a ruler that let me draw perfectly straight. Using the side of the Pencil’s tip created realistic shading, like using the side of a pencil lead.

Advertisement. Article continues below

A Lightning connector hidden in the end of the Pencil lets you plug it right into the iPad Pro for charging. An Apple rep told me that its quick-charging feature lets it grab enough juice for another hour or so of work in just a few minutes, and a full charge should last all day. You can plug it into an AC charger with an adapter that I didn’t get to see – and I dearly hope is included in the purchase price.

The Smart Keyboard looks like an oversized iPad Smart Cover. The outside is polyurethane, and the lining is microfiber. But rather than ending with three foldable panels, the Smart Keyboard continues with a fourth panel that’s a full keyboard. This configuration means that depending on how you fold it, you can use the Smart Keyboard as a stand without a visible keyboard, as a stand with the keyboard laid out in front of you, or folded up and appearing like a somewhat thicker Smart Cover.

Once you fold the Smart Keyboard out, there’s an obvious strip (with three metal contacts) to drop the iPad Pro onto. It attaches magnetically, making contact with its own three corresponding metal contacts, also known as the Smart Connector port. (The Smart Keyboard’s not the only device that will use that port, by the way – Logitech has a keyboard called the Create that will also use it.)

The Smart Connector supplies power to the keyboard, so it contains no batteries, and provides a data connection, so it doesn’t need to be paired via Bluetooth. I hope to see this connector extended to other iOS devices in the future– I’m sure accessory developers would embrace it.

Like the Surface’s type cover, this appears to be a device that’s designed for tabletops, not laps. The Smart Keyboard doesn’t seem to offer the stability or weight to keep the iPad Pro upright in your lap.

Advertisement. Article continues below

So now to the keys themselves. On stage Wednesday, Apple highlighted that it’s using the same stainless steel dome switches that it used in the ultra-thin retina MacBook. That’s true, but this is a very different keyboard. Rather than using the butterfly mechanism of the MacBook, this keyboard is covered in taut fabric. The fabric itself provides the tension for the keys.

The keyboard itself feels pretty good, given how thin it is and how little movement there is when you press a key. I was able to type a few sample paragraphs without much trouble. The keyboard’s got five rows, including arrow keys and all the modifier keys you’d expect on a full keyboard. iOS 9 includes a bunch of features that make it easier to discover and use keyboard shortcuts–and now we know one big reason why.

Apple talked about how much faster the iPad Pro’s A9X chip is than the A8X in the iPad Air 2, but remained characteristically mum about details like how much RAM it has. Apple has teamed up with IBM to create iPad apps to be used for all kinds of work, since anything a clipboard can do, an iPad can do so much better, and having a laptop-quality iPad Pro on the high end of the line can open up more possibilities for people who need big power in a package that’s half a pound lighter than the MacBook.

My demo running splitscreen Microsoft Office apps was impressive, but when developers put the pedal to the iPad Pro’s Metal, it’s going to be fun to see what happens.