Review: The M4 iPad Pro — an amazing AI PC


Out of the box, my first reaction when taking hold of Apple’s all-new 11-in. M4-powered iPad Pro was how light it was, closely followed by some sense of wonder at how thin it has become. 

The model I’ve been using weighs just 0.98-pounds. (This is the version with both Wi-Fi and cellular capabilities; the equivalent 13-in. model weights 1.28 pounds.)

You got to carry that weight…

To put this into perspective, the previous generation 11-in. model weighed just a little more, 1.04-pounds — but that small, roughly 5% weight reduction is still quite tangible. 

I think it’s worth noting that Apple’s first ever cellular-equipped iPad weighed 1.6-pounds when introduced in 2010, meaning this iPad Pro is only 61% as heavy as that first-gen product, the one thousands of C-suite executives acquired.

At 5.3mm, it’s super-thin, too. (The 13-inch model is even thinner). Apple claims it is the thinnest product it has ever made; it’s even thinner than the iPod Nano I sentimentally keep on my desk.

You’d think that thinness would make it easy to bend the product. I’m not about to try that, but I have found the iPad is reinforced with an additional spine to make it more resilient. My take is that you’ll have to try pretty hard to bend this thing, or you could try sitting on it by mistake when taking a flight, as I recently did with another model. It’s probably best to be careful.

Got to get yourself connected

The second set of reactions kicked in once I turned on the device. I’m always impressed at how Apple continues to improve the on-boarding process for its products. To get this machine working, I just had to bring my iPhone across, go through a very simple set up process, create a PIN code and wait for my apps and data to shift over from iCloud. That process takes longer the more data you need to transfer, but it’s painless.

If you’re setting up a managed device, it will be quite similar, though you’ll probably need to enter your Managed Apple ID before the iPad Pro is provisioned for you and your company. Apple’s on-boarding process is excellently executed.

Looks are sometimes everything

Once the iPad had stuffed itself with my data, I picked it up and began to use it.  That’s when my fourth big reaction kicked in: the image quality on the tandem OLED display is stupendous. 

I mentioned that ill-fated iPad-wrecking flight I took. While I was away, I took holiday photos, including a selection of beautiful, luscious, green landscapes. I like these images, but I have been truly impressed by the true-to-life detail and excellence in color rendering on this particular machine. The multitude of different greens you see in a forest really snap out at you, like being there. 

There’s a reason for this, of course. Both iPad Pro models feature what Apple calls an Ultra Retina XDR display and modestly describes as “the world’s most advanced display.” Those greens, deep true blacks, and all the other visual details are there because these displays use technology similar to what’s used in Apple’s XDR display for Macs. 

And those Mac displays deliver images just as good as the hugely expensive “reference displays” you find in movie studios. That’s great for iPhoto collections, of course, but also means that when you’re working on video footage or photos in the field, you get state-of-the-art color accuracy on a display that’s bright and beautiful. And packed inside a mobile device with a 10-hour battery life weighing less than a pound. That’s great for creatives.

A mobile creative powerhouse

In case you want the technical details, the display can reach a peak 1,600 nits brightness and a stable 1,000 nits most of the time. It also has a 2,000,000-to-1 contrast ratio, which is another reason colors really pop. And yes, if you need professional color, the device can display reference color for all the popular color standards. This display is a professional workhorse.

But iPad Pro isn’t only for creatives. And while Apple does tend to focus on the creative markets in its marketing materials, this system has something to offer any professional who needs a high-performance and highly portable system for any reason.

It might be over-specced for some enterprise uses of tablets (for which the iPad Air remains a more logical choice). But for use in some sectors (medical, education, and architecture, for example) the iPad Pro’s excellent display is most certainly part of the attraction.

Of course, some of the most challenging users really need to get the best possible performance, and you get that here thanks to the M4 chip inside

Possibly, the world’s best AI PC…

Apple suggests it needed to use this processor because it wanted to make the iPad Pro thin and to drive the amazing display. The move to M4 also means you get a huge leap in processor performance (1.5x faster than the last model) and graphics (rendering is four times faster).

But what may become more important is that the deployment of this chip means the iPad Pro with M4 will perhaps soon become the world’s ultimate AI-driven tablet, about which we’ll learn much more at WWDC. 

I’m willing to speculate that once Apple introduces generative AI in iPadOS, the iPad Pro will be seen as even more than a tablet; you’ll even be able to control it with voice and glance. Think about that and recognize that this means it will also become the ultimate mobile computing (with AI) experience. If Apple gets it right. 

If your computer interactions are no longer reliant on keyboard and mice, and your device can deliver the computational power (thanks to the M4 chip) you require, at what point does the PC become history? I think these iPads are part of that story.

But let’s not focus too much on what isn’t here yet, because what we actually have is quite something already. The iPad Pro can easily handle powerful apps such as Procreate, or large spreadsheets, or video apps, or whatever you need to run; all will run faster, perform better, and complete their tasks more swiftly than before. 

(It also gives developers of mobile apps an on-ramp for the addition of powerful new features in the future, and a glimpse at M4 Macs.)

What about the Magic Keyboard?

I’m using the iPad Pro with Apple’s new Magic Keyboard. I love it. 

Not only does it provide a 14-key function row, but it has been designed to include a comfortable aluminum palm rest and a much bigger, haptic trackpad. It makes working with iPad Pro much more Mac-like, especially as the keypad is backlit for use in darker places. The keyboard is comfortable to use and responsive — so much so, that I’m writing this review with it. 

The keyboard is a little heavy. At 1.27 pounds (according to my scales), the Magic Keyboard is actually heavier than the iPad Pro it holds, though the keyboard is a little lighter than the last version. Together, that’s a combined weight of 2.3 pounds — considerably lighter than a 3.4-pound 13-in. MacBook Pro .

Of course, these do different things, and your iPad Pro can deliver all its functionality in a lighter case, along with that precious, Made For AI M4 chip. 

Weight aside, if you intend on using your iPad Pro as a highly mobile productive device, the Magic Keyboard is a must.

Write me kindly, sir

Digital creatives have another must-have accessory, the Apple Pencil Pro. Actually, a tiny computer in a pencil, the real achievement here is that Apple has managed to cram so much into something that feels just like the original Apple Pencil.

This iteration lets you squeeze the side to bring up a tool palette; you get unlimited undo; double tap; and a new barrel roll capability which changes the orientation of shaped pen and brush tools. You also get haptic feedback, so when you do something, you’ll feel something, and support for existing pencil features like low latency and “hover.” (Hover lets you precisely place where you want to be, with on-screen objects jumping at you.) 

It’s the squeeze function I find most useful; it makes the pencil so much more intuitive to use, as I’ve always kind of struggled moving between modes. Now, it seems much more natural. There are six sets of commands you can set Squeeze to handle, but only one can be in use at any point. The only limitation at present is that apps must be updated to gain all these tools. 

More to think about

There are lots of elements I’ve not touched on. One of these is the iPad Pro probably won’t get too hot, as thermal performance has been improved by almost 20%. Another is the four speakers and four microphones inside the system, which support the new landscape front camera to make the device a great tool for video conferencing on Zoom, FaceTime, WebEx, even Teams (if you must). 

The primary camera has also been improved for better performance in low light, augmented by AI to secure better images. There’s a built-in document scanner function and a LiDAR camera.

Who pays the iMan?

What may be the world’s most advanced mobile device comes at a price. The model I tested has the nano-texture glass (what’s this?) and 1TB storage. It costs $1,899. 

Add the Apple Pencil Pro at a surprisingly low $129 and Magic Keyboard at $299 and the combined system I’ve been testing costs $2,327 — just $71 less than the top-of-the-range 14-in. MacBook Pro with an M3 Pro chip. 

Price isn’t the only consideration, of course. You don’t necessarily have to get nanotexture, unless robust color accuracy is something you need. You might not want 1TB of storage. You might not even need cellular, the pencil, or the Magic Keyboard. The entry-level configuration will set you back $999, and frankly from what I’ve seen, you’re still getting a lot at that price. (If you are price conscious, the also-new iPad Air might be precisely what you need. I can’t say, as I’ve not yet looked at that model since I broke my own iPad on that flight.)

Who is this for?

Apple’s varied range of iPads now has something for every price point. The iPad Pro is for aspirational Apple fans, high-end mobile creatives, critical workers in some industries, designers, movie makers, quite possibly data analysts, IT admins and (as ever) the C-suite executives who get everything.

It’s also an amazing, high-class product that I think checks the boxes for almost every task we once relied on computers to achieve. I can’t wait to see how Apple plans to exploit the computational capabilities of the device in the days ahead.

On its own account, the iPad Pro with M4 is a very desirable machine, and while most of us might choose an M2-based iPad Air, those who don’t can look forward to a great experience. And the rest of us can look forward to at least some of these improvements extending across Apple’s other tablets over time.

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Apple, iOS, iPad, Mobile

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