Hands-on with iPad Pro and Apple Pencil, built for getting stuff done

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

ipad pro apple pencil screen

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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 both the iMac and the iPhone 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.

Thin and light

The iPad Pro is only 1.57 pounds, which is astonishing since my first-generation iPad is still in active service at my house, and it weighs 1.54 pounds. The iPad Pro is so much bigger but doesn’t feel unbalanced or awkward. I could hold it easily, but—and I realize you’ll make fun of me for this, and that’s OK—I sort of wished it had a kickstand like the Surface Pro.

ipad pro pedestal Susie Ochs

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 2732x2048 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.

Pencil power

You don’t need a stylus to use any iPad, and the iPad Pro is no exception. Luckily, the Apple Pencil isn’t 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.

ipad pro apple pencil Susie Ochs

Apple Pencil is a $99 add-on that only works with the iPad Pro.

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.

ipad pro apple pencil lightning connector Susie Ochs

The Lightning connector for charging is hidden in the end of the Pencil. 

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.

Apple also created its own Smart Keyboard, similar in appearance to the Touch Covers that Microsoft makes for the Surface tablets. It closes around the front of the iPad Pro and flips back to form a stand, just like the Smart Covers Apple has made for a while. But it has a built-in, fabric-surface keyboard with short key travel similar to the new MacBook. Third-party keyboards will be able to use the iPad Pro’s Smart Connector, which powers and pairs the keyboard for you automatically—Logitech just announced one.

ipad pro apple pencil plugged in Susie Ochs

You can charge the Pencil directly from the iPad Pro, or use a charger with the help of (sing it with me) an adapter. 

I actually didn’t get hands-on with it—by the time I got all the photos and video I needed of everything else, it was getting late and they were packing it up. But that’s OK, because my colleague Jason Snell wrote his More Color column this week on his hands-on time with the Smart Keyboard, so we’re all in luck. (Thanks, Jason.)

More of the same, FTW

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.

The new iPad Pro starts at $799 for a 32GB model with Wi-Fi. If you want more storage, there’s a 128GB model (nope, no 64GB) with Wi-Fi for $949. Gotta have cellular? Your only option is a 128GB version for $1079. The Pencil is $99 and the Smart Keyboard is $169. Everything ships in November, and we’ll have a review up as soon as we can.

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