Apple iPad Pro and MacBook Air 2018 First Look: Worth the Premium?
Apple unveiled the last bit of their 2018 holiday season lineup with the launch of the new iPad Pros and a long overdue refresh of the MacBook Air at a press event in Brooklyn on Tuesday, 30 October.
The devices should head to India in the following weeks, but I got to spend some time with the new devices at the launch and came home with some first impressions. Here’s a look at what the new iPad Pros and the MacBook Air offer for its respective prices.
iPad Pro: 11 and 12.9-inch
Let’s take in the big changes, shall we? The iPad Pros, now in 11-inch and 12.9-inch avatars, no longer have a home button and have made the transition to Face ID for authentication – an iPad X, if you will. With the home button gone, Apple’s made the bezels slimmer, which allows the already gorgeous screen to take center-stage, and how!
Picking one up for size, and you immediately feel the added density and weight and the squared-off edge design. But what’s also equally evident is that the 11-inch model fits in a form-factor no bigger than the previous slim-bezel 10.5-inch iPad Pro, and the larger 12.9-inch variant is noticeably smaller than its predecessor.
Of the two, I continue to prefer the 11-inch model, since it’s the same size as the 10.5-inch iPad Pro that I use but with a slightly bigger, more immersive screen. Even with its reduced size, which is now super comfortable to hold in the one hand, the 12.9-inch still feels a little bulky to me – maybe it’s just a matter of time.
The screen is bright and sharp, as with the previous iPad Pros, even if Apple insists on using the Liquid Retina moniker for the display. And Face ID works in any orientation, which is a big win for folks who primarily use the iPad in landscape orientation. Twirl it around, and you notice a couple of big changes.
First, the headphone jack is gone, as is the lightning port, replaced by a USB Type C port. I watched demos where it drove an external 5K display and connected to a digital SLR, but the most interesting part is that the iPad Pro can now charge an iPhone from its capacious battery.
Under the hood, the new iPad Pros are packing considerably more power than last year. The big boosts are courtesy of Apple's new eight-core A12X Bionic processor with the Neural Engine enhancements we saw in the iPhones XS. Apps feel snappy to use, and AR and complex game rendering didn’t seem to slow things down one bit.
Then there’s the redesigned Pencil, which has a flat edge and a matte finish which gives it a better grip. Plus, in a major improvement from last year, the iPad Pencil now lets you clip it to the side of the iPad (with magnets) and charge wirelessly, none of that silly Lightning port charging like the past couple of years.
The Pencil has a new double-tab gesture shortcut that let you switch between the pen to the eraser in Notes, or switch between different views of brush styles, depending on how third-party apps remap that gesture. The new Pencil feels a lot more integrated to the iPad experience, rather than something you’d buy and probably lose very fast!
When you want to use the iPad for work, you can attach a new Keyboard Folio cover via the repositioned smart connector on the rear – which feels like the previous keyboard cover I reviewed alongside the iPad Pro 10.5 earlier, but this one can adjust the screen to two different viewing angles.
You'll end up paying more for all of this when it becomes available in stores around mid to third week of November. The 11-inch iPad Pro starts at Rs 71,900 for the Wi-Fi model and Rs 85,900 for the LTE variant, and the 12.9-inch at Rs 89,900 and 1,03,900 respectively.
Accessories have gotten dearer as well. The Pencil is now Rs 10,900 and the new Smart Keyboard Folio (space grey) is Rs 15,900 (11-inch) and Rs 17,9009 (12.9-inch).
New MacBook Air With Retina
For a laptop as popular as the MacBook Air, Apple sure took its own sweet time updating the ultraportable. But the good news for Air loyalists is that the new model adds in the much-requested Retina display alongside Touch ID and USB-C and all the other touches that characterise the latest Macs.
At first glance, the refreshed Air has a lot in common, design-wise, with the MacBook Pro, but it’s still retained that distinctive tapering wedge shape that defined the iconic design of the original Air.
In the hand, the Air is discernibly heavier than the 12-inch MacBook that still remains the lightest and most portable Mac around. And the extra weight on the Air feels rather familiar, as if you’re picking up an old book you have been reading all these years.
Yet, along the way in making this model the spiritual successor of the Air, Apple made some key upgrades – it thinned out the bezels and blacked them out to give you more screen for the size.
And while this is no True Tone display like the latest Pros, it does pack in the same number of pixels as the 13-inch MacBook Pro and is on par with the best Mac displays around.
There’s no Touch Bar though, but you do get the Touch ID fingerprint sensor – good call by Apple in keeping some of the pricier features out, not to mention there are many who still don’t see the value in the Touch Bar. You do get the full complement of colors – silver, space gray, and gold – as the MacBook range.
The keyboard is Apple’s 3rd Generation butterfly mechanism which retains the minimal key travel of the MacBook Pros but is possibly a little quieter – one couldn’t really make that out in the crowded demo area – but the typing experience coming from the new Pros feels rather similar.
The enormous Force Touch trackpad is a welcome move. Yet the decision to only have Thunderbolt-3 USB-C ports (2 on the side) instead of a USB-A port is a bummer and will necessitate the #donglelife for more folks. No MagSafe either.
At Rs 1,14,900 when it goes on store shelves later next week, the MacBook Pro has launched the Air at a bit of a premium, considering what you get for your money in the base variant – Core i5, 8GB RAM and 128GB storage – isn’t a lot. It just feels like it’s a bit too high of an entry price.
(Tushar Kanwar is a technology columnist and commentator and has been contributing for the past 15 years to India’s leading newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at @2shar.)