M2 iPad Pro (2022) artist review

Drawn with Concepts

This is my artist review of the Apple M2 iPad Pro (2022) for visual content creators, e.g. digital artists, graphic designers, photo and video editors.

Drawing performance of M1 and M2 iPad Pros is similar so I'm reusing some artworks and photos from the previous review.

Bottom line

The M2 iPad Pro (2022) is an excellent tablet just like the previous M1 model.

If you're in the market for a new tablet, this is a tablet I can recommend easily if you have the budget. If your digital workflow and productivity can be improved, this is worth the money. Competing tablets worth considering are Samsung Tab S8 Ultra and Microsoft Surface Pro.

If you're thinking of upgrading, the main new feature worth upgrading for is Stage Manager external display support. Apple Pencil hover benefits digital painters than artists who create line art (me) so it's not a major selling point for me.. But Stage Manager external display support can improve productivity immensely by giving you another work space. If you have no intention of using an external display, then stick with your 2018 or 2020 iPad Pros, and the iPad Air 4 (2020).

I judge technology based on whether they can save time or money, or improve productivity. For digital artists and creatives, the workflow is as smooth even on older iPad Pros. The specs for the M2 iPad Pro is impressive but unless it can help you do more work or work faster compared to your older iPad Pro, I don't feel it's worth the upgrade unless there's a fantastic trade-in deal, or RAM and storage capacity is limiting your work, or your older tablet is no longer working as fast or to your expectations, or you need a larger tablet.

Each time Apple releases a new product, there's a lot of marketing and the Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) is real. It is tempting to get a new piece of shiny gadget. But seriously, if your older iPad is working fine, save your money.


This was drawn on the iPad Pro 12.9 (2018) on location at the hospital where my second daughter was born in Feb 2022.

Apple made the iPad Pro 2018 so good four years ago that it's still a powerhouse of a tablet today, albeit a smaller powerhouse compared to newer models.

That's my take as someone who's still using a camera with rubber melting off the housing because that camera still works. I'm still using my iPad Pro 2018 that has a display that has scratches, a faulty power button, a corroding Apple logo on the back. I just installed iPadOS 16.1 on that and it runs smoothly without lag. The iPadOS upgrade process wasn't straightforward for me at that iPad Pro 2018 has many issues, but it still works.

What's new over the M1 iPad Pro?

The new M2 chip has 15% faster CPU and 35% faster GPU. There's Wifi 6E. And Apple Pencil now has hover mode where you can see the cursor with apps that support the feature. Stage Manager is a new feature and consist of two aspects: multi-tasking features (available to all iPads) and external display support (available to iPads with M1 & M2 processors).


What's the same? The 12.9-inch still uses the mini-LED display and the 11-inch is still uses the normal LED display. Design is the same. Battery life is the same at around 10 hours. Pretty much everything else is the same. This is just an incremental upgrade over the M1 iPad Pro.


Shown above are the M1 and M2 iPad Pros (left and right). The only difference on the exterior is the "iPad" vs "iPad Pro" label on the back.

Prices


These are the prices for the Wifi models in US$. LTE models are $200 more.

Unfortunately due to the weakening currencies against the US$, many Apple products are now even more expensive in some countries. What may used to be a reasonable deal now feels the other way.

The prices do not include Apple Pencil 2 which is US $129.

In the box, you'll get a 30W charger and a USB-C to USB-C cable.

Design


The M2 iPad Pro is a beautiful tablet with thin uniform bezels and rounded corners. Build quality is excellent.

Below are the differences between the display on the 11 vs 12.9-inch model:

M2 iPad Pro 11 M2 iPad Pro 12.9
Liquid Retina display
11-inch (diagonal) LED backlit Multi‑Touch display with IPS technology
2388-by-1668-pixel resolution at 264 pixels per inch (ppi)
120Hz ProMotion technology
Wide color display (P3)
True Tone display
Fingerprint-resistant oleophobic coating
Fully laminated display
Antireflective coating
1.8% reflectivity
SDR brightness: 600 nits max
Supports Apple Pencil (2nd generation)
Apple Pencil hover
Liquid Retina XDR display
12.9-inch (diagonal) mini-LED backlit Multi‑Touch display with IPS technology
2D backlighting system with 2596 full‑array local dimming zones
2732-by-2048-pixel resolution at 264 pixels per inch (ppi)
120Hz ProMotion technology
Wide color display (P3)
True Tone display
Fingerprint-resistant oleophobic coating
Fully laminated display
Antireflective coating
1.8% reflectivity
SDR brightness: 600 nits max
XDR brightness: 1000 nits max full screen, 1600 nits peak (HDR content only)
1,000,000:1 contrast ratio
Supports Apple Pencil (2nd generation)
Apple Pencil hover


The anti-reflective coating is quite effective compared to my glossy external display. I wish more companies can apply the same anti-reflective coating onto their tablet and laptop displays.

The display is vibrant, sharp and bright. P3 colour support is good for creating visuals for web and video editing. The iPad Pro isn't really suited for print design work due to the lack of CMYK or AdobeRGB colour space from many of the drawing and graphic design apps. At the time of this review, tablet version of Photoshop can only create RGB files but not CMYK files. But if you don't need critical colour accuracy for your print design work, sure go ahead work on the iPad Pro.

Just like the M1 iPad Pros, The mini-LED display is only available on the 12.9-inch and not the 11-inch. Mini-LED allows XDR brightness to reach 1000 nits and HDR to reach 1600 nits. For digital artists these don't matter much because the drawing apps can't utilise the extra brightness beyond the SDR 600 nits. However when watching HDR content, e.g. movies, you will be able to see the extra brightness.

Portability is a more important feature than the mini-LED display because it's not like the 11-inch is using a dim display. It's just that the 12.9-inch can get brighter with the appropriate apps and content.


The film still above is from Life of Pi. With HDR on the M1 and M2 iPad Pros, you can see the circular sun against the glow. With the iPad Pros 2018, 2020 and the 11-inch iPad Pros 2021 and 2022, you won't be able to see the sun as that area is all blown out. The photo above has been edited to show the highlighted area that I'm talking about.

There is a clear and noticeable difference between HDR vs SDR movies.

Deciding between 11 to 12.9-inch comes down to portability, and maybe the US $300 price difference.


The mini-LED display still has blooming. The example above is exaggerated to show you the blooming effect.


This is what I actually see in the real world. Blooming noticeable when there are large areas of complete black.


There won't be any blooming when surfing webpages in dark mode. That's because all the dimming zones are lit. It's only with areas that have localised blooming will you then see the effect. There won't be blooming when watching videos with black bars either because only the dimming zones behind the moving images will be lit.

iPad Pro 11 weighs 466g to 470g, and the iPad Pro 12.9 weighs 682g to 685g. The 11-inch is still quite portable with a case on. The 12.9-inch is already a table-top tablet even without a case, and this is a tablet you'll want a surface to work on.

FYI, the 2018 and 2020 models of iPad Pro 12.9 weigh 633g and 643g respectively.


That's the size of an 11-inch iPad Pro against an A5 sketchbook.


If you have to bring your iPad outdoors or around often, the 11-inch is a clear choice. 11-inch still has a comfortably large surface area to draw on without feeling cramp.


This is how much more space you get with 12.9-inch. These are 2020 models.


When drawing on the iPad Pro, I always have it on my Parblo PR100 tablet stand. It's not ergonomic to work with the tablet flat on the table for long periods of time. A tablet stand is another accessory you have to spend money on.

Drawing performance and experience


Drawing performance with the Apple Pencil has been fantastic ever since the Apple Pencil exists.

Apple Pencil 2 is sold separately for US $129. Having pen support allows you to draw and is one of the main selling points of getting an iPad. You can do graphic design, edit photos and videos on an iPad, but I feel like it's way more productive to use a laptop for those workflows.

Apple Pencil 2 supports tilt, pressure sensitivity and palm rejection. The pen has minimal initial activation force, reacts to minimal changes in pressure very well, and is overall a sensitive and accurate pen.


Charging and pairing with the tablet is via attaching to the side of the tablet magnetically. When buying a case for the iPad Pro, make sure the case mentions Apple Pencil charging.


The display is laminated so there's no gap between the pen tip and the LCD beneath. There's no parallax.


Apple has also advertised the new hover feature with Apple Pencil 2 on the M2 iPad Pro. Basically, you get a cursor beneath the pen tip on the display, a feature that has been around for decades. FYI, the first Wacom Cintiq was released in 2001.

At the time of this review, the cursor isn't implemented by any drawing apps yet. Hence I'll have to update this review in the future.

The lack of a cursor has not stopped artists from creating art over the years on the iPad. Listed below are other possible features from other tablets that are already possible with a visible cursor.


With the first-time-ever-on-an-iPad hover mode, in theory you should be able to see the brush size update wherever your pen tip is. With Procreate currently, the brush size updates beside the brush size slider.


With Clip Studio Paint, the brush size updates in the middle on the display.


Brushes that have specific shapes and designs can be seen before you draw. This is useful if you need to create a precise pattern or texture from specific brushes. Knowing the width or thickness of the brush will prevent you from painting or covering more area than you want. Digital painters should find the cursor preview useful.


It is possible for the cursor to follow the direction and tilt of the Apple Pencil 2.

Other things I like to see are the pop-up labels when you hover across certain tools. This is helpful because I can't remember tools that I don't use frequently.


SideCar wireless external display does not support hover mode yet.

All these are basic features available to drawing app on Windows and MacOS for decades. And now they are coming to iPadOS. I'm not sure if you're excited but I'm like "okay". The ability to "right-click" to call up contextual menus with shortcuts may be more useful.

I used to use a matte screen protector. A matte screen protector provides a nice textured surface to draw on. But the anti-glare with the diffused reflections are too glaring for me and affects the image quality too much so I stopped using matte screen protectors. If you really want a matte screen protector, get the SuperShieldz brand which is cheap and good. If you don't like how the matte screen protector looks, you won't have wasted more than US $10.

Drawing on a glass surface takes some time to get used to. Apple Pencil 2 is not slippery on the glass.

Creative and visual apps


iPads have a huge selection of feature-rich drawing, graphic design and video editing apps.

Below are non-exhaustive lists for some of the popular creative apps:

Drawing

Graphic design

Photo and video editing apps

The main advantage iPads have over Samsung tablets for creatives comes down to the availability of the graphic design apps, more specially apps that are great at creating vector art and handling type.

And the main advantage iPads have over Microsoft Surface devices is the 10-hours battery life and Apple Pencil is more accurate. There's no lack of great drawing, graphic design, photo and video editing apps on Windows. Touch interface implementation on Windows devices isn't as good compared to iPads and Samsung tablets.

My general recommendation is always to choose the device based on the software you want to use.

If you don't need to draw, there's no compelling reason to get an iPad over a laptop.

Below are the number of layers you can get for an A4 sized 300 DPI canvas in Procreate.

Model RAM No of layers
iPad 9 (2021) 3GB 26
iPad 10 (2022) 4GB 26
iPad mini 6 (2021) 4GB 26 (at launch)
iPad Air 3 (2019) 3GB 26 (19 before update)
iPad Air 4 (2020) 4GB 57 (19 before update)
iPad Air 5 (2022) 8GB 116
iPad mini 5 (2019) 3GB 19
iPad Pro 2018 4GB 57
iPad Pro 2020 6GB 73 (56 before update)
M1 iPad Pro 2021 8GB and 16GB 116 (26 before update)
M2 iPad Pro 2022 8GB and 16GB 116

Video editing

I don't edit videos on iPads but I've no doubt the iPad Pros are powerful enough to edit videos.

The main consideration here is how are you going to manage the terabytes of videos you've recording. How are you going to manage and backup source footage and exported videos, transfer them in and out of the iPad.

I don't know about you but most video editing apps have user interface that work best on larger displays... and this leads me to talk about external display support provided by Stage Manager.

Stage Manager

Stage Manager is a feature that provides multi-tasking and/or external display support.

Stage Manager multi-tasking features are available with iPadOS 16.1.


Stage Manager external display support is available with iPadOS 1.62 and works only on iPads with Apple M1 and M2 processors. I've installed iPadOS 16.2 Beta on my iPad Pro and Stage Manager has many bugs and glitches.


Stage Manager in its most basic form is just a multi-tasking shortcut. Stage Manager will reduce the size of your app window to show the dock and the app shortcuts on the left. Stage Manager works best on larger iPads since the app window is reduced in size.

The dock with apps is available at the bottom and your opened apps are located by the left. Having all these icons and shortcuts visible allows you to switch between apps instantly. This is very useful if you switch apps frequently. The alternative to switching apps is to swipe up from the bottom and scroll to the app you want to switch to, of if you have a keyboard just use Alt+Tab keyboard shortcut.


With Stage Manager you can windows overlaps, resize windows, and group windows/apps. Split screen multi-tasking has existed for a long time and Stage Manager does not do it better. Stage Manager split-screen functionality doesn't seem to be more useful than the old split-screen functionality.


External display support is useful but not all apps are optimised for external displays yet.


This is how Affinity Photo looks currently on an external display. Not usable currently on iPadOS 16.2 Beta.


LumaFusion UI is able to expand full-screen but when I played the video, only the audio plays but not the visuals.


Adobe Lightroom seems to work fine. Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator do not work on external displays at the time of this review.


On the tablet, you can swipe in from the left to see the shortcut icons. You can't do that on the external display.

Stage Manager multi-tasking and external display support will take time to get used to. External display workflow is not your usual Mac or Windows external display workflow. E.g. You can't drag a window from one display to another, you can't open two instances of web browser one on each display.

There's a lot of potential with external display support.

It's now possible to use apps on much larger displays, and this can benefit certain apps, such as photo and video editing apps, maybe graphic design apps. Downside is you have to use keyboard and mouse to use the apps on the external display which can be confusing at first because the UI is designed for touch and fingers.

Also the apps may not be re-designed to take advantage of larger displays. With desktop apps, you can always show palettes and (top) menus but tablet UI usually have tools and settings hidden inside palettes when you have to open and close repeatedly. This is one big reason why I prefer to do graphic design work with desktop apps rather than tablet apps, and the other reason is tablet apps only have a subset of features and not all the features from desktop apps.

Conclusion

If you're looking for a tablet to create art, the big three to consider are the M1 or M2 iPad Pros, Samsung Tab S8 and Surface Pro 8 or 9. Choose based on the apps you want to use.

The M2 iPad Pro is an excellent tablet. It looks great, is portable and powerful, has excellent build quality and is a device that will last for many years. It's pricy but it's worth the money if you have a good use case for it. It's a great device for digital artists and have made careers for many.

Stage Manager external display support is a useful feature worth upgrading for if you have the use for it. If you have no use for that, then just stick to your old iPad because upgrading from one iPad to another is just spending money to do the same thing. Of course if money is not an issue, go ahead and buy since you don't really need anyone's justification to how you spend your money.

The hover mode or cursor is a nice feature to have but not a tablet seller, at least not to me. It's a feature other companies won't even mention and Apple treats it as a feature that can be marketed to sell tablets.


This is the same scene as the sketch right at the top of this review, except it was drawn with Procreate.

Pros and cons at a glance
+ Beautiful design
+ 10 hours battery life
+ Many drawing, graphic design, creative apps
+ Thunderbolt 4
+ Beautiful designs with good brightness and colours
+ HDR display but note the issues
+ Apple Pencil have great drawing and writing experience
+ Apple Pencil now has a cursor
- 12.9-inch model noticeably heavier than 2018 and 2020 models
- Blooming effect from the dimming zones under certain conditions
- Shadow effect at the edges
- Streamed iTunes movies have HDR, but downloaded ones don't
- Huge price increases due to weakening currency against USD
- Stage Manager multi-tasking's usefulness is mainly for switching between apps
- Stage Manager external display usefulness depends a lot on third party app implementation
- Cursor is a basic feature that should have been added when Apple Pencil came out

Availability

If you're interested to get this tablet, consider supporting my blog by buying through the affiliate links listed below at no extra cost.

Here in Singapore they are available from Lazada SG and Shopee SG.

They can be found on Amazon too via these links
Amazon.com | Amazon.ca | Amazon.co.uk | Amazon.de | Amazon.fr | Amazon.it | Amazon.es | Amazon.co.jp

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