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iPad Pro M4 reviewed: a technical tour de force

Very little captures the sheer splendour of the Tandem OLED display
5 minute read
Very little captures the sheer splendour of the Tandem OLED display

The first Apple device with an M4 chip; 1600 nits peak for HDR due to breakthrough tandem OLED technology; Thinner than an iPod nano and new accessories tailored to suit... This is a landmark device for Apple’s iPad range, but is it technology for its own sake?

While mid-range Apple devices can feel like a collection of features to hit a price point, the iPad Pro M4 is a cohesive, singular vision. The experience is surprisingly persuasive, but perhaps not in the way you might expect.

The layering of one OLED screen upon another is a technical marvel, but in day-to-day use set beside the previous generation iPad it emphasises how good, how close Apple’s mini LED technology is. Both offer P3 colour accuracy, but with OLED there’s no mini-LED blooming and the screen brightness is exceptional… when needed.

The speed with which apps like LumaFusion operate is stunning, but not 1.5x faster than M2 or M1. Most iPad apps are designed to far lower specs than what M4 offers.

However, the power efficiency of M4, its integration of new display drivers enabling the tandem layer OLED, are undoubtedly what makes the 13-inch iPad’s 5.1mm depth possible.

Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels?

While Apple’s marketing emphasises the M4’s thinness, which is truly stunning, it’s the weight which matters most in a device designed to be held.

As revealed by Apple’s John Ternus, and inevitable YouTube destruction tests, there’s a new internal design where the main logic board is integrated into a central spine that adds strength and dissipates heat, the latter even making use of the Apple logo. The M4 certainly isn’t a tank like the first iPad, but it feels no less robust that the previous generation and is perhaps marginally more so. Under destruction testing, the main point of weakness was the USB-C port.

The M4 is also the first iPad Pro with the front-facing camera central in landscape orientation rather than portrait. This makes for much more natural web calls without any of the ‘eye contact’ software trickery of previous models. Unfortunately, it also kills compatibility with previous generation Pencils due to redesigned charging coils.

The front 12 megapixel camera’s quality is fine if not up to the standard of the comparatively chunky iPhone 15 Pro. At the rear, there’s now just a single camera but there’s an improved flash which Apple demonstrated with document scanning. With Final Cut Pro for iPad 2 the emphasis with multi-cam is using iPhones as source rather than iPad.

Magical Accessories

m4 ipad pro square

Plenty of fat-finger space on the new trackpad

The technical wizardry of the Pencil Pro with its tiny haptic engine and its simulated squeeze and barrel roll function to adjust the alignment of the brush offers perhaps the most technically impressive adjunct to the new iPad Pro. Outwardly identical to the previous generation, enough new tech is crammed into it to make the unchanged $129 price point more bearable.

Magic Keyboard 2, by contrast, looks immediately different and superior to its predecessor. In 2020, the original’s cantilevered floating design was a revelation, while the responsiveness of the trackpad embarrassed third-party competitors. In 2024, its compromises are self-evident with a diminutive trackpad where everyday finger gymnastics of select/copy are cramped and can make the still lightning fast M1 iPad feel slow to use.

The lightness of the M4 iPad Pro means it can be placed further back, giving space for a significantly bigger glass trackpad with the same haptic feedback as a MacBook. There’s also a narrow row of function keys, including the usual media control, volume and screen brightness, plus expose, screen lock and ‘esc’.

If the original keyboard was a valuable auxiliary to a primarily touch-based device, the successor is so fully featured and comfortable to use that you’re rarely tempted to touch that gorgeous screen.

At $350 it’s an expensive way to achieve what could be done with an external keyboard and trackpad, but it finally makes an iPad Pro laptop that’s comparable to a MacBook in ergonomics. And the combined weight is so close to an Air you wonder if it was a design goal for M4.

In terms of negatives, retaining the polyurethane external covering is regrettable, but the spine is now all-metal and looks great, as are the palm rests for a real MacBook look when opened. Unlike a kickstand Surface, using it in your lap is fine, but the lightness and altered centre of gravity make it sensitive to movement and potentially toppling over.

The USB-C charging port built into hinge allows for faster charging than before, but still no data transfer. Today’s bulked up MacBook Pros bristle with ports, but the M4 is still constrained with a single high speed Thunderbolt port. You’ll need a dongle or dock for typical pro connections like HDMI, Ethernet and external storage.

As a side-note, the first Magic Keyboards offer slightly different but cross-compatible models with 2018-2022 iPad Pros. This isn’t the case now, the magnets are positioned differently plus the new keyboard has a protective lip around the keys.

Pricing & Performance

The version reviewed is a 500GB model with 8GB of RAM. The full specification M4 offers 4 performance and 6 efficiency cores, plus a 10-core GPU (similar to M3) and 16 core neural engine (38 trillion ops per second compared to 18 in M3 and 15.8 in M2) and 120GB/s of memory bandwidth. For models lower than 1TB, the chip is binned and loses one high performance core while RAM is 8GB rather than 16GB. In real-world usage, peak performance is diminished but is still well ahead of M3 in multi-core performance with Geekbench.

  • 10-core M4: 14600 points
  • 9-core M4: 13,000 points
  • 8-core M3: 11600 points
  • 8-core M2: 9600 points

iPadOS is not macOS and the difference between 16GB and 8GB in an aggressively memory managed device is marginal. 8GB is definitely better than 4GB for persistence in applications, but the benefits trail off after that. Battery life is quoted as the typical 10-hour iPad figure, but early testing indicates this is quite conservative despite the smaller battery compared to M1 iPad Pro.

In terms of storage, this year the base storage doubled to 256GB and this should be enough for most people. An M1 iPad with full MS office suite, plus apps such as DaVinci Resolve (3.44 GB) and games like Divinity (15.22 GB) uses about 170GB. Obviously if doing lots of heavy 4K video editing, then the 1-2TB models becomes more justifiable - but iPadOS now supports editing off a USB-C attached SSD.

The nano texture to cut down glare and reflections is also only available on 1TB and 2TB models, besides being a $100 extra.

Pricing starts at $999 for the 11-inch iPad Pro with 256GB storage, while the 13-inch model is $1299. The 2TB model with nano texture is $2399, and across the range adding cellular is roughly $200 extra. However much you spend, no charging brick is included in the UK - just a (short) black braided USB-C cable. Resale values for iPad Pros and accessories isn’t as robust as Macs, which is also worth bearing in mind.

Looking to the future

resident evil iPad

Resident Evil 4’s blacks look gorgeous on OLED and performance is smooth. Some fuzziness on hair and textures could be resolved by an M4 optimisation that may not come

At the introduction of the iPhone, Steve Jobs made a point of sweeping away fixed keyboards for a single screen that could transform to whatever an application needed. The iPad builds upon this vision, an utterly protean device that reaches a new apex with the M4. Whether editing in DaVinci Resolve or blasting through Resident Evil 4, it’s a true peer to most Macs in sheer processing power.

The M4’s Neural Engine has already been shown dynamically isolating a subject from its background in Final Cut Pro for iPad 2, but we expect much, much more from WWDC24 and its inevitable AI theme. Already revealed is a tantalising accessibility option to control your iPad or iPhone using just your eyes, a fascinating spin-off from Vision Pro’s core UI.

The challenge for Apple at WWDC24 is not just to deliver on the AI hype to match competitors, but to finally deliver for iPadOS on basic basic functions like dependable background tasks for downloading or exporting files, better supporting plug-ins for pro software, smarter multi-tasking, and more. For this amazing machine to live up to its potential, the latter is no less important than the former.

Tags: Technology Apple