Apple bites back

All-new Macs, the best tablets ever, big software upgrades, And a smart home Assistant? Apple’s back, baby

Ever since it launched in 2011, Siri has been confined to Apple smartphones and computers, unable to break free in the way Amazon’s digital assistant Alexa or Google’s Assistant have. But now, nearly six years on from its debut, Siri is finally moving into living rooms via the HomePod, a Siri-powered, voice-controlled Wi-Fi speaker with an A8 chip for brains.

Siri meets Super Speakers Apple’s new toy is crammed with seven beam-forming tweeters and an upward-firing woofer, designed to project a sound tailored to the size of room it’s placed in. As much as it seems like a competitor to Amazon Echo or Google Home, the HomePod is concerned with music and sound quality first. Yes it can turn off your smart lights, but it would rather blast out some AC/DC – then suggest similar bands for you to check out.

At just under seven inches tall, the HomePod is certainly small for the tech it’s housing. The smart speaker uses room-sensing tech to learn where it’s positioned and to analyse the room’s acoustics, intelligently tuning its output to sound great in that space. The speaker also provides access to Apple Music, with Siri finding tracks. Naturally, there’s multi-room support: add more HomePods around the house and the speakers communicate via AirPlay 2, which means you can use the HomePod to control other AirPlay 2- compatible speakers. Place two HomePods in a room and they’ll automatically detect and balance one another, producing an immersive sound experience.

Apple bites back

Apple bites back

The multiple tweeters have their own amps, for a fully directional sound, and even the woofer is smart – an algorithm analyses the music playing and dynamically tunes the low frequencies.

Touchy-feely types will also dig Apple’s integrated controls – tap the top of the speaker to play, pause or adjust volume. The setup is easy, too – just hold your iPhone next to the HomePod to kick-start things.

“Hey Siri, who played the drums on this song?”

“Hey Siri, set up for a house party”

“Hey Siri, dim the lights then play some Van Morrison”

HomePod vs Amazon Echo vs Google home

So, how does the HomePod stack up against the Amazon Echo or Google Home? In terms of audio performance, the HomePod’s spec outshines the other two with its seventweeter array, custom subwoofer and real-time acoustic modelling, while the Echo has a 2.5-inch tweeter and 2-inch subwoofer, and the Google Home a 2-inch driver and 2-inch passive radiators. The HomePod is closer to a Sonos.

Things aren’t so clear-cut when it comes to smart assistant clout.

Siri is older and more polished than Google Assistant and Alexa, but it doesn’t have Google Assistant’s superior natural language processing, nor is it as progressive as Alexa’s growing Skill set. There’s a lot of overlap between the devices, but price will be a deciding factor for many, as Apple’s HomePod costs a whopping, compared to the Echo’s or the Google Home’s mere.

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imac pro

Earlier this year, Apple announced that the current Mac Pro was dead. Well, it didn’t phrase it that way, but it admitted the direction of the super-small workstation hadn’t worked out, and that it was listening to what people wanted from a true pro-level rig instead (an expandable computer with huge processor power and big graphics power). But it also said that any new Mac Pro is years off. So in December 2017, we’re getting another new pro desktop to tide us over. And it’s a beast.

5k hits

The iMac Pro is the same shape as a 27-inch 5K iMac (including the latest generation of super-clear and sharp 5K screen, which is brighter than before), but includes between eight and 18 cores of cutting-edge Intel processor power, AMD Vega graphics tech so advanced it hasn’t actually fully been unveiled yet, and up to 128GB of top-tier error-correcting RAM.

There are four Thunderbolt 3 ports on the back for connecting super-high-speed peripherals (including up to two more 5K displays for a ridiculous 44-million pixel desktop, if you want – and who doesn’t?), and even a 10-gigabit Ethernet port, for the first time on a Mac.

Oh, and it comes in black.

Seriously, this thing can be configured to be almost comedically powerful, though you’ll absolutely pay for that power: (so expect the £ price to be roughly the same), but that’s with the eight-core processor. 18-core Intel Xeon workstation processors cost around alone, so if you also go for the optional 4TB of crazy-fast (3GB/s) flash storage, and top out the RAM and the graphics card options… well, some estimates put the possible maximum.

It’s really not made for most of us, but if you’re the kind of person who renders VR worlds or needs to crack GCHQ, all in a package that fits on the average Ikea desk, this is one hell of an exciting machine. Who are we kidding; this is one hell of an exciting machine anyway.

Basic 5K iMac vs iMac Pro

The new generation

Along with the Mac Pro’s unveiling, most of the other Mac lines have just been updated by Apple, now packing the latest generation of Intel processors. The 12-inch MacBook gets a speed boost (though not a second USB-C port… we still hold out hope), as do the 13-inch and 15-inch MacBook Pros. The Pro line also The basic 5K iMac comes with 8GB of RAM – the iMac Pro can be fitted with 128GB The iMac Pro’s 11TFLOPS of GPU power dwarfs the basic 5K iMac’s 3.6TFLOPS The basic iMac 5K has a quad-core Intel processor – the iMac Pro goes up to 18 cores gets a new lower-price, entry-level, 13-inch model without the Touch Bar, we think it’s a really good option.

They all get a graphics boost too, with the biggest improvement coming in the 15-inch Pros, naturally, which get new AMD Radeon GPUs. The 4K and 5K The new generation Basic 5K iMac vs iMac Pro iMac lines got similar updates, including big graphics boosts across the line, as well as tidy processor bumps. Even the venerable MacBook Air got a speed update! (We thought this could be the year Apple took it behind the woodshed at last…) Only the Mac Mini was left out – surely it’s time for this to get a reinvention.

Apple’s AR and VR future

Having kind of ignored VR for the last few years, Apple is going in for it in a big way in 2017. The new version of macOS has been optimized for VR use, and new Macs finally have GPUs capable of powering HTC Vive (which seems to be Apple’s preferred headset).

But that was all focused on desktop. On mobile, Apple is instead going deep into AR (augmented reality), even going as far as to create a super-easy framework for developers to include an extremely smart AR camera feed in their apps.

And there are similarly easy dev tools for machine learning, meaning we saw one developer knock up in just a few days an app that could detect whether a dog was visible in the shot.

Imagine what can be done in the coming months (not that we’re sure that app can be beaten, to be honest…).

We think both developments hint at possible future Apple products: a standalone VR headset made with iPhone parts seems a no-brainer (especially with Google getting into the standalone game with HTC later this year); and with the AR smarts Apple is building, a Google Glass (but good) product is possible.

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iphone 8

while we waiT for iTS offiCial reveal, here’S whaT ioS 11 TellS uS abouT apple’S nexT phone

edGe-To-edGe diSplay

everyone’s doing it, and you can expect Apple to get rid of the iphone’s bezels too. this will be great with the new focus on Ar apps (see below) – it’ll be like the

Sharper SCreen

with a change in design for an edge-to-edge screen, the iphone 8 will likely have a new display size, with a new higher resolution.

it’ll also likely switch things up to oled (which will look better edge-to-edge) or get a proMotion 120hz screen like the ipad pro – but probably not both, since it’s incredibly difficult. only one product has ever featured a screen like that – playstation vr – and sony said it was a huge technical challenge

Camera foCuS

ios 11 uses a new image format (heif) for your photos that keeps file sizes smaller. expect the iphone 8 to have a new higher-megapixel sensor (probably 19Mp), yet images to take up no extra room

video STar

the iphone 8 will take more vibrant 4k video, but also even more dramatic slo-mo video at 960fps (up from 240fps now). that’s a 32x slow-down, for seriously dramatic action shots

GoeS up To all

Apple is going big on machine learning and Ar/vr right now.

not only will the A11 be Apple’s fastest chip, it’ll also be designed with these in mind, including lots of graphics power and even better motion sensing

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ipad pro 10.5-inch

wiTh a Super SCreen and pro-level power, The aGe of The workinG TableT iS here

there’s an adage for most new tech: don’t buy the first version.

No matter how groundbreaking that first one is, the second will be even better. remember how much better the ipad 2 was than the ipad 1? and the iphone didn’t really hit its stride until it had 3G access, no matter how much people loved that first model. and so it should be no surprise that the smaller ipad pro’s second version leaves its predecessor looking like a halffinished thought.

With its eye firmly on the ‘Pro’ side of things, Apple has improved things in three key areas from the 9.7-inch iPad Pro this replaces: the amount of space to work; the quality of the display; and the performance.

The move to a 10.5-inch screen with a higher resolution of 2224 x 1668 adds around 20 per cent more area, while keeping the same sharp pixel

SpeCifiCaTionS

SCreen 10.5-inch lcd
reSoluTion 2224 × 1668 Size 174.1 x 250.6 x 6.1mm
SToraGe 64gb (up to 512gb) proCeSSor Apple A10X
Camera 12Mp rear, 7Mp front ConneCTiviTy 802.11ac
wi-fi, bluetooth 4.2, lightning, smart connector

density (and barely any extra size to the chassis, thanks to the new design). Items on the screen generally stay the same size as they were on the 9.7-inch model, but you have more space to play with, and it allows for bonuses, such as the on-screen keyboard (and attachable Smart Keyboard) being just about full-size, which does help for typing speed. The size difference is subtle overall, but it’s instantly obvious if you work in Split View a lot. Before, it was a little cramped on the smaller Pro – usable, but you tended not to stay long in Split View if you could help it. Now, we found we could happily do all kinds of work with our email app locked permanently into the right-hand quarter of the screen.

above Size matters: the 10.5-inch screen is 20 per cent larger than the 9.7-inch ipad pro screen

above Size matters: the 10.5-inch screen is 20 per cent larger than the 9.7-inch ipad pro screen

That little bit of space tipped it over the threshold from awkward to totally comfortable. Obviously, the 12.9-inch model is even more comfortable for Split View work, and will be the best platform if you’re considering using the option of four apps simultaneously that iOS 11 will enable (see below), but this screen is now a really strong balance between space and portability.

Whether you go for it or the big Pro comes down to preference, and the kind of work you’ll use it for – they’re essentially identical otherwise.

But the new 10.5-inch size isn’t the only update to the screen. The marquee feature is 120Hz support, which doubles the number of frames per second the screen shows compared to all of Apple’s previous displays. It makes animations look super-smooth, and scrolling text more readable, which is lovely, but is largely ultimately fluff (though it does make all other screens look old-fashioned in comparison).

But it also makes the screen twice as responsive, effectively, because it shows the result of any interactions twice as fast. This is huge in the case of the Apple Pencil, since apps can now show what you’re drawing pretty much exactly as you draw, rather than a noticeable fraction of a second after.

But the point of the ProMotion screens is that they don’t always operate at 120Hz. If you’re watching a movie at 30 frames per second, the screen only runs at that rate, saving power. If you’re reading a book, it keeps the frame rate low, since the image on the screen rarely changes. And if you start drawing, it ramps the frame rate back up instantly, to give you the best feedback. Of course, this is all essentially unnoticeable, but the Pros do have excellent battery life, so it seems to do its job.

We spent a couple of hours writing this review, then another hour browsing the web, and viewing and editing photos.

iOS 11: the iPad gets serious
Last year, the iPhone got the lion’s share of new iOS features, with the iPad looking a little unloved, considering it now had a Pro version. In iOS 11, it’s the iPad on the receiving end of all the juiciest new features in September.

First up are shiny new multitasking features, including the ability to create a movable floating window of an app, which sits above any other apps you have open – and can even be combined with Split View and Picture-inPicture to show four apps on-screen at once.

You also get a new way to pick apps to view, with a Dock akin to macOS’, and a much easier way to switch between your recent apps.

That works beautifully in combination with the new cross-app drag and drop feature, where you can just grab pictures, highlighted text or even files, and pull them from one app to another – in fact, you can move up to 10 things across at once, since you have up to 10 fingers.

The final piece is a new Files app, which finally gives a true central place to browse the files on your iPad, as well as in whatever cloud services you use.

You can organise them from there, and even tag them for easy reference.

Files is also coming to iPhone, but it’s with these features on the iPad that it looks really exciting. On the iPad Pros especially, the flexibility for working with multiple apps really moves these into laptop replacement territory for many people – as long as the apps you need are there.

Then left it on standby overnight. In the morning, we still had 80 per cent battery left.

Different tasks use up more battery, but in light work use, 12 hours (or more) is no problem for this machine, or its big-screen brother.

The screen has one more improvement too: the brightness has been amped up. Combined with the wide colour gamut, it makes photos look astoundingly vibrant, and helps with viewing in bright light (along with an improved anti-reflective coating). And it’s even good enough to display HDR video, but support for this won’t arrive until iOS 11, so mark that down as potential for the future. Even before that arrives, these are still surely the best screens Apple has made yet, and they make everything else look dull after just a few minutes with them. (The 12.9-inch iPad Pro has also gained the brilliant True Tone feature that changes the colour temperature to match the ambient light – the smaller Pro already had this.) a10X-treme The screen is the big change that everyone benefits from in the new iPad Pro, but there’s another huge boost that’s less immediately obvious: the sheer, raw computing power. That the new A10X chip is based on last year’s tech is a testament to how far ahead of its competitors Apple is, because the processor in this thing is a barely caged beast. It’s a triple-core chip (up from dual cores in the A9X), with 4GB of RAM (an improvement in this 10.5-inch model, but is the same for the 12.9-inch), with a new, more powerful graphics unit to match.

When you just switch between apps, you’ll notice that it’s very fast, but then other iPads don’t tend to feel slow. It’s in intense testing you see its power: in Geekbench 4, it scores 81 per cent higher than its predecessor for processing power, and 42 per cent higher than the latest generation of 12-inch MacBook. In fact, its score beats most 13-inch MacBook Pro models… In real-world tests against its predecessors, you see less dramatic results, but still big. To test the processor, we used WinZip to compress a 1.2GB folder of files, and the new Pro performed the task in 25.16 seconds, which is 30 per cent faster than the 39.93 seconds of the 9.7-inch Pro.

The thing is, apps on iOS tend to work fairly differently to desktop, with even creative ones accelerating tasks using the graphics chip, making pure CPU power not that important – but then, the GPU computing power is also around 80 per cent higher in benchmarks.

It all makes this machine hugely future-proof as more and more powerful apps appear. Take Affinity Photo, which is basically full-fat Photoshop on the iPad. On the old Pro, it works great, but with some pausing after you apply certain brushes. No such thing on the new Pro – it has acres of headroom for more desktop-level apps.

the LittLe thiNGS

There are improvements for pros in other areas too, such as the option for up to 512GB of storage (for a price), and USB 3 support over the Lightning connection (previously restricted to the 12.9-inch model only). The speakers are still great, too, and while the Smart Connector hasn’t been changed, it’s handy for accessories like the Smart Keyboard, which is arguably essential if you’re to use this as a laptop replacement, but is still eye-wateringly expensive – we’d wait to see if third-parties beat Apple at this game with an option that has backlighting and media features, if you can wait.

So should you get this iPad? Absolutely – if you’re looking for a portable work machine. For just an entertainment tablet, its HDR support is great, but it’s very much overkill – the fifth-generation 9.7-inch iPad is almost half the price, and fantastic for non-pro stuff.

But with its gorgeous screen, oodles of power and amazing drawing prowess, this really can be a laptop replacement for a lot of people.

In fact, it might be our favorite portable computer in years.

Verdict

T3 raTeS great new screen; pro-level power; ios 11 adds great multitasking; still really portable with top battery life.

T3 SlaTeS very expensive to add Apple pencil and smart keyboard.

T3 SayS Apple has absolutely knocked it out of the park here.
this is the best tablet we’ve ever used, for work or play.

Rating 5/5

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the alternatives

ipad pro 12.9

The 10.5-inch iPad Pro gives you a nice space for side-byside apps, but the big Pro is where the real multitasking action is. Everything but the screen is the same, so it’s just as good as this.

SamSunG Galaxy Tab S3

Matching the 9.7-inch size Apple has just moved away from, this has an HDR screen, and includes a stylus in the price, but lacks the Pro’s app support and computing power.

 ipad (5Th-Gen)

A smaller, less vivid screen and no Pencil support, but for half the price of the Pro, you still get 90 per cent of the tablet, including a fast A9 processor and great battery life.

We will be happy to see your reviews

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