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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

What’s new in the 12.9-inch iPad Pro (2017 edition)

The new 12.9-inch iPad Pro (upper portion of image) features an LED flash, changed cellular cut-out, and relocated microphones.

I’ve been a believer in the 12.9-inch iPad Pro from the very beginning. Before 2015 was over, I had bought one of my own and it has been my constant companion ever since. My MacBook Air, once my primary computer, rarely gets used. When the 9.7-inch iPad Pro arrived on the scene, I liked it a lot, but preferred the extra screen size of the larger model.

I’ve got both new iPad Pro models here and I’m planning on writing a more comprehensive review after I’ve spent more time with them, but for fans of the 12.9-inch iPad Pro in particular, here’s what I’ve noticed so far:

Improved cameras. The 2015-model iPad Pro had a 8MP camera with 1080p HD video, and a 1.2MP FaceTime camera. The new one’s gotten a huge upgrade to iPhone 7-level specs: a 12MP camera with support for 4K video, and a 7MP FaceTime camera. The 12.9-inch iPad Pro also now has a LED flash, which it lacked before. (So finally you can use your gigantic iPad as a gigantic flashlight, if you need to.)

With the better camera also comes a bump. Unlike the old camera, which sat flush to the back of the iPad, this one joins most recent iPhones (and the 9.7- and 10.5-inch iPad Pros) in having a small camera bump.

Improved display. The old 12.9-inch iPad just missed out on Apple’s wide color gamut revolution. This new model rectifies it: Its display supports the P3 color gamut and has a True Tone sensor, which means the display can automatically adjust the white point of the display to match the color of light in your current location.

Just this morning I was looking at a friend’s Instagram stream and marveling at the vibrancy of colors on the new display. I’m a person who has a problematic relationship with color, but the difference in the displays is obvious. And last night, as I read a bunch on the iPad, I was struck by how pleasing it was to have True Tone match my room light as I moved around my house and as daylight was replaced by our interior lighting.

The screen’s brighter, too, and with an improved anti-glare coating. Using an iPad in direct sunlight may not be ideal, but you can do it. I’m writing this sentence in direct sunlight, and I can see my screen clearly (turned up to full brightness)… but I can also see every single finger smudge. (Summer tip: Maybe bring a cloth with you if you’re going to be working in direct sunlight?)

Finally, there’s the new 120Hz refresh rate on these displays, which (combined, presumably, with a major upgrade to the graphics power via the A10X Fusion processor) creates ridiculously smooth scrolling and animation effects. I don’t want to overstate it: This isn’t as revolutionary a change to your device’s display as the leap to Retina was. But it’s still a clearly noticeable improvement. This is no placebo effect: The very first time I used one of these new iPad Pros, I was shocked by how smooth all the animation effects were.

Faster processors. It sort of goes without saying, doesn’t it? But let’s just marvel at what a year and a half of Apple processor advancement can provide. Powered by three cores (instead of the two-core A9X on the old model), the new model was 33 percent faster (1.3×) in single-core performance and 89 percent faster (1.89×) in multi-core performance, as measured by GeekBench 4 speed-testing software.

Now, will you use this processing power? Do you use the processing power of your existing iPad Pro? It’s a good question. I rarely ever feel that my iPad Pro is grinding away on a difficult bit of computing work, though when I’m exporting audio from Ferrite Recording Studio, it does happen. The more you stress your iPad, the more you’ll appreciate the power. But I suspect that for most users, making the iPad Pro faster will simply prevent them from ever running into the feeling that the device isn’t fast enough. If there was a performance barrier out there, beyond which the device would begin to struggle, it’s been pushed back substantially by this update.

Faster radios and an Apple SIM. The new iPad Pro has a faster Wi-Fi radio inside it, and support for faster cellular bands. I am nowhere near an expert on this topic, but the previous 12.9-inch model didn’t support LTE Advanced, which gives this new model the ability to connect to faster LTE networks in certain countries. This is also the first 12.9-inch iPad Pro to feature an embedded Apple SIM, the “virtual SIM card” technology that lets you switch carriers without needing to swap in a physical SIM card. (Except on networks like AT&T, which will lock your Apple SIM to their network.) There’s still a physical nano-SIM slot as well, if you’re using a carrier that really wants to give you a SIM card.

Very little physical changes. If you’ve invested in 12.9-inch iPad Pro accessories, I’ve got good news: You’re fine. The new iPad Pro’s only real physical changes involved the LED flash—it’s just below the camera on the back—and a repositioning of the microphones along the top and back edges. My old Apple-branded silicone case for the 12.9-inch iPad Pro fits the new model fine, but it does cover up the microphone and the flash. All my other external keyboards and cases fit just fine. In other words, if you’re upgrading, you shouldn’t need to replace any of your accessories.

Oh, there’s one more cosmetic change: On cellular models, the cellular cut-outs are no longer monochrome strips that somewhat mar the back shell of the iPad. Now they’re thin color-matched antenna lines, with the bulk of the case retaining its existing color (space gray, gold, or silver).

Better Touch ID. Both old iPad Pro models used the first-generation Touch ID sensor, but both new models use the second-generation sensor introduced with the iPhone 6S. This sensor is faster and more capable of working even when your finger’s got a little moisture on it.

“Hey Siri” when unplugged. Little-known fact: The original large iPad Pro didn’t support “Hey Siri” activation unless it was connected to a power source. The new model doesn’t have that issue—it’ll wake up when you call it, even when it’s unplugged.

More accessories. Even if you don’t upgrade to a new iPad Pro, you might want to take advantage of the new accessories Apple is making for the 12.9-inch model. Back in 2015 I complained about the fact that Apple seems to think 12.9-inch iPad Pro users are dull gray drones, owing to the fact that the only case colors they made for the iPad Pro were white and gray. Boring.

But now there are some new options. The $149 leather iPad sleeve is a bit of an odd product—again, I’ll write more about it later—but it’s available in brown and dark blue. Likewise, the new $79 leather Smart Cover is available in those colors. I bought a Midnight Blue leather Smart Cover the moment it was announced. Color, at last! (Unfortunately, if you don’t like leather, you’re out of luck—the $59 standard Smart Cover still only comes in white and gray. Double boring.)

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