I've spent a lot of time now with both the 10.5-inch and 12.9-inch iPad Pros. I'm hearing from a lot of listeners and readers who want some help choosing which iPad to buy. I have a few thoughts about that.
The Good News: They Are Both Great iPads
The first point to acknowledge is that Apple has largely leveled the playing field. A new 10.5-inch iPad and 12.9-inch iPad have the same internals. They have the same screen technology, processors, quick-charging capabilities, camera, RAM, and all the other internal bits. In the past, choosing one size over another usually came with compromises. One had a better screen than the other. One had a better camera than the other. That is no longer the case. Now you just get to pick which screen size is most appropriate for you, and you are going to have a great iPad.
The Case for the 10.5-inch iPad Pro
You would think that the difference in screen space between 9.7 inches and 10.5 inches does not add up to much. That would be incorrect. While the additional space and pixels do not bring the smaller iPad Pro into the same league as the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, that extra space significantly improves typing.
Typing is noticeably easier both on glass and using an attached Apple Magic Keyboard. Making things that much wider makes the keys just a little bit larger, which makes typing much easier.
I did not find the small increase in pixel count with the increase in size from 9.7 inches to 10.5 inches noticeable. The 9.7-inch iPad could not display two full-sized iPad apps next to each other in landscape mode. (The 12.9-inch iPad Pro can.) This remains true with the 10.5-inch iPad Pro. Instead, the best you can get is one iPad class view next to one iPhone class view. I took the 10.5-inch iPad on my vacation and did a lot of split-screen work with this setup. For a lot of tasks, it was all right, like iPad class Safari next to iPhone class Apple Notes. However, some other multitasking setups without two full-sized iPad apps, such as a PDF next to a word processor, were a pain in the neck.
One of the best things about the 10.5-inch iPad is its convenient size. It is a lot easier to carry around. When I’m holding up the 12.9-inch iPad Pro to read while in bed, I’m worried I’ll drop it on my face. The 10.5-inch iPad feels much more convenient.
The Case for the 12.9-inch iPad Pro
In contrast to the 10.5-inch iPad Pro, the larger 12.9-inch iPad Pro has a definite presence while you are holding or carrying it. I can even feel the width of the 12.9-inch iPad when I lug it around in my backpack, whereas the 10.5-inch iPad Pro disappears when I carry it around. “Carry it around” is key here. If your iPad is going to primarily sit at a desk with a keyboard attached, this isn’t a problem at all. Indeed, when setting up the 12.9-inch iPad Pro with the Smart Keyboard while sitting on the couch, the wider stretch of the device is more comfortable in my lap than the narrower 10.5-inch iPad Pro.
Once you set up the iPad with that larger screen, there are some real advantages to the bigger screen. First, everything is just bigger. The larger screen allows you to see more pixels and more content. PDF documents show you more (or bigger words). Productivity apps have room for white space. Games are easier to play. The experience spoils you.
Second, multitasking is a great deal easier with the larger iPad. With the 12.9-inch iPad, multitasking allows you to see two full-size iPad apps next to each other when held in landscape view. This was not the case with the 9.7-inch and 10.5-inch iPad Pros. With the smaller iPad Pros, you get one iPad-size app and one iPhone-size app. For some folks, that's a dealbreaker.
The 12.9-inch iPad also has some benefits in certain situations. For instance, I spend a lot of time annotating contracts with an Apple pencil. That job is made significantly easier with a few additional inches of screen real estate. The bigger iPad gives me more room to annotate, and the words are larger so it's easier on my middle-aged eyes. Another example for me is reading sheet music. My iPad is my primary sheet music device. I have hundreds of songs stored on the iPad, and it makes practice so much easier than the old way of digging through piles of paper. With the smaller iPads, the notes are just small enough that I will misread them and end up playing a clunker. That doesn't happen with the 12.9-inch iPad Pro.
A Few Closing Thoughts
The conventional wisdom is that if you want to replace a laptop, you get a 12.9-inch iPad, and if you are keeping a laptop, get the 10.5-inch iPad. I think that is too simplistic. You could replace a laptop with a 10.5-inch iPad. Likewise, I use my 12.9-inch iPad alongside my laptop all the time.
I think for most folks the 10.5-inch iPad Pro is the starting place. It is big enough without being too big. The fact that the slightly larger screen now makes it even easier to type on than the 9.7-inch iPad Pro will make the 10.5-inch iPad Pro the most popular choice by far.
I think the 12.9-inch iPad Pro is the one you would choose for particular reasons. Maybe you do a lot of multitasking and getting two full-size iPad apps on the screen is important. Or maybe you just have less than perfect vision and need things a little bigger. Either way, if you plan to use the iPad on the go, the bigger one can be a pain, and you need a tangible reason to justify putting up with that.
For me, if my vision were better, I would be tempted to work with the 10.5-inch iPad exclusively. However, I do a lot of work on my iPad and being able to pull out the bigger one for certain tasks sure is nice. I won’t be upgrading my 12.9-inch iPad to the latest iteration, but I won’t be getting rid of my first generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro either.