Can an iPad really replace a PC and if so, is the iPad Pro 9.7 the portable machine that you’ve been searching for? Smaller than the monstrous iPad Pro with its 12-inch display, the iPad Pro 9.7 brings the functionality of its larger sibling in a form factor that’s, thankfully, much more portable.
The iPad Air 2 has been a long time favourite here at TabTimes and the iPad Pro 9.7 is designed to replace it. Combining the same size and display as previous iPads with new, more powerful and flexible internals, delivers a device with lots of potential and we think Apple has something good in this one. Should you buy it though and is it the best iPad at the moment? Join us to find out in our iPad Pro 9.7 review!
There is no point pretending here, if you have seen the iPad Air or the iPad Air 2, you’ll see few differences when you pick up the iPad Pro 9.7. This is not to say that they are the same, far from it, but design-wise you’ll find the same dimensions, almost the same ports and button layout and the same familiar metal backing that wraps around to the front glass.
What you’re seeing here then is the volume rocker on the right hand edge up near the top, the power button on the top edge over on the right side and the headphone jack on top off to the left. The bottom edge houses a centered Lightning charging port and the front bezel has the Home button with integrated fingerprint scanner at the bottom.
Dual speaker grills still live on the bottom edge of the tablet, this time around they are further spread out, to help expand the sound profile from the tablet. In the upgrade department you will now find two more speakers on the iPad, placing two matching speakers on the top edge to provide a four speaker stereo sound experience.
On the back side of the tablet is another rather brazen change, in place of the flush 5MP or 8MP camera sensor in previous iPad models is a fairly obtrusive 12MP sensor. If that’s not enough, you also get an LED flash, bringing the iPad Pro 9.7 on par with some of the best photo capable smartphones around.
Finally, there is one last design change on this tablet, as with the iPad Pro, this iPad Pro 9.7 has three little circles on the left edge of the tablet, this is your connection port to the Smart Keyboard.
iPad Air 2 vs iPad Mini 3
Aside from the design changes, a new visual option is available, in addition to the standard Space Grey, Silver and Gold color options is the newer Rose Gold color. While it will be up to your personal tastes to determine if you should get this color over another, we will say that it is a well appointed color, matching well the pastel tones of the other colors.
One extremely minor thing, but one that we did notice, the Home button depresses further than previous iPads. This, combined with my perception that the button requires less pressure to depress, makes the Home button on the iPad Pro 9.7 feel of lesser build quality. This is an opinion on our perceptions only, take it as you will.
Allow me the pleasure of teasing two numbers before we talk specs here, 25% and 40%, I’ll explain what they are later. The iPad Pro 9.7 reads down the spec sheet in familiar fashion to other iPad models, you’re looking at a 9.7-inch display with 2048 x 1536 pixels of resolution, for 264 ppi.
Now step away from the spec sheet. Apple has improved this panel fairly dramatically, promising a 25 percent boost to overall brightness is a good start. The anti-reflective coating offers up a promised 40 percent reduction in glare, always handy.
But wait, there’s more. While we struggled to identify where to talk about this, it is sensors and the software that make the difference, we’ll put it here, you’ll see why in a second.
The iPad Pro 9.7 now includes four ambient light sensors. These sensors do more than just measure and help adjust display brightness, in what Apple calls True Tone display, the actual color temperature of the screen changes to best balance against the various intensities of environmental lighting. Direct sunlight will make the tablet produce a different color temp than when you are reading in a dark room at night. Balancing between a very cool display and then reducing the blues to give that warm orange tint all automatically.
At the default settings, we think True Tone display works fairly well.
Another option is available to you, a new option called Night Shift takes that warm color tone to the next level. Seeking to reduce the blue light that keeps some people up at night, Night Shift has the ability to very dramatically shift the color of the display, forget the word tint, a fully adjusted display is downright orange.
Back to the basics, this is a good panel to look at, colors are well saturated and actually improved with a larger gamut in the Wide color display. Resolution is dense enough to avoid jagged edges and touch input is as responsive as ever. However, the combination of technologies involved leaves us feeling the auto-brightness is too aggressive, particularly in low light settings. I’ve had to manually turn the brightness back up so that I could see images more clearly. I’m getting old, maybe it’s not the tablet to blame.
Would you like to read some more familiar specs? Sure you would. Like the iPad Pro, the iPad pro 9.7 comes with the A9X 64-bit processor, backed by the new M9 motion coprocessor and 2GB of RAM. Despite this, Apple says you should expect general processing up to 2.4x faster than on an iPad Air or iPad Mini 2/3 and Graphics processing up to 4.3x faster than those older devices.
The funny part about this is that the iPad Pro is said to be 2.5x and 5x faster than those previous. One thing is for certain, both sizes of the iPad Pro are not just designated as being nearly double the speeds of the iPad Air 2 and the iPad mini 4, the speed increase is easily noticed with tablets in hand.
iPad Air 2 vs iPad Pro
Focusing on what matters, navigating the OS, loading your favorite apps and scrolling your favorite websites can be done with ease and very little delay on the iPad Pro 9.7. We know we just sad that the big iPad Pro is faster, but in practice, the smaller Pro model feels to be the fastest iPad to date.
High praise to the experience on this tablet, we really do think the bar has gone up a notch, we really look forward to competing tablets of any size matching this level of OS performance.
We want to talk about the camera later, but allow me to mention that this power translates to much improved photo and video capture as well. More on that soon.
Apple has a blanket battery life rating for all of their tablets, claiming you should be able to reach up to 10 hours while surfing the web on WiFi, watching video or listening to music. Usually we report that this is a technical possibility, but not expected results in real world testing. Today that changes, today we report that the iPad Pro 9.7 gave us over 9 hours of battery life on a charge.
I could go on, I could tell you this is a 7306mAh battery that runs at 3.82V. I could even tell you that we’ve seen reports of some getting upwards of 24 hours of screen-on time with their iPad Pro 9.7, but instead I’ll just drop my mic and leave this topic on two words, “it’s good.”
A first in its class, the previous leader in iPad camera tech was the 8MP iSight sensor in the big iPad Pro. Laughing at the puniness of such a sensor, the 12MP iSight sensor in the newer iPad Pro is a significant advancement in abilities.
Let’s shelve the debate over tablet photography being ‘a thing,’ with a sensor like this, an accompanying LED flash and enough processing power to capture 4K video, it’s hard to ignore this tablet as a viable camera.
Starting with a weakness, we were a tad underwhelmed with the low light photo quality, at least when compare to the Nexus 6P Android smartphone. I know, why compare to a phone? Well, our team on Android Authority last December determined that the Nexus 6P had the best overall camera for smartphones at that time. Assuming it is still a leader, particularly in low light photos, there is no point comparing to anything less.
Let’s step away from low light photos and the out of segment comparisons, there is a bright LED flash to compensate for low light, after all. Overall photo capture is more than adequate to get you through. We found our best results to be in natural light, with bright studio lighting causing similar noise as in low light shots.
The new Live mode photo is a fun addition. Hold the iPad Pro 9.7 steady for a moment before and after each shot, Live mode will capture a short video clip of the scene. Bringing life to an otherwise static image.
Burst mode, panorama, square and HDR photos are still on board, and don’t forget try that flash, it’s a little harsh in close proximity, but it lights a larger scene nicely.
Video capture offers up an entirely new category for iPad photography. Gone are the 720p limits to Slo-mo capture, you may now double that up to 240FPS at 720p, or stick with the 120FPS on 1080p capture.
Slo-mo is one thing, regular video capture is now done as high as 4K resolution at 30 frames per second. Fairly standard for current gen flagship smartphones, almost unexpected but very welcome on a tablet.
iOS 9 was a great move for Apple. Adding multi-tasking capabilities including split screen usage and a floating picture-in-picture video window, iOS become a strong contender for productivity in a mobile device. A great effort, but not enough to overthrow the our top pic for productive tablet, the Surface Pro 4.
Related: Surface Pro 4 review
iOS 9.3 was announced and began rolling out the same day that the iPad Pro 9.7 was announced. By the time the tablet actually shipped to consumers a minor update to iOS 9.3.1 was made available.
Without diving too deep, the main updates in the new version of Apple’s mobile operating system are support for the True Tone display and Night Shift color shifters. Critical software for the iPad Pro 9.7.
Optimizations to the OS may be to thank in part for the stellar battery life on this new iPad, all of which is behind the scenes. What you care to know now rolls back to performance, the OS is blazing fast to navigate, apps load in record time and you’ll find yourself held up by animations more than loading times as you flick screens side to side and rotate the device orientation.
iOS 9.3 has not addressed our concerns with iOS as a whole, but this implementation on the iPad Pro 9.7 is really quite a pleasure to use.
Android vs iOS
|iPad Pro 9.7|
|Display||9.7-inch, 2048x1536 resolution, 264ppi|
|Internal Storage||32GB, 128GB and 256GB|
|Operating system||iOS 9.3|
|Camera||12MP iSight rear
|Connectivity options||WiFi a/b/g/n/ac, dual channel
Home button with integrated fingerprint scanner
|I/O ports||Lightning port
|Stylus||Optional - Apple Pencil|
Optional magnetically connected keyboard - no touchpad
|Battery life||Up to 10 hours|
|Sensors||4x Ambient light
|Dimensions & weight||9.4 x 6.6 x 0.24 inches (240 x 169.5 x 6.1 mm)
0.96 - 0.98 lbs (437 - 444 g)
Note: Camera protrudes approx. 1.5mm, overall thickness is about 7.6mm
Please let me say that again, there is a monster 256GB option for this tablet, and for the original iPad Pro now as well.
Pricing and final thoughts
Our first impressions of the tablet were a tad lackluster, not that we ere unimpressed, but we certainly proved to ourselves why we should take some time with a device before issuing a true review.
We first took the iPad Pro 9.7 to be an iterative update from the iPad Air 2. Not to discount the “pro” features that had been pulled over from the big iPad Pro, but somehow we did not expect this new Pro tablet to be so great.
Stay tuned for our comparison with the iPad Pro and the iPad Air 2, but or now, please allow me to say, with confidence, this is the best iPad I have ever used. I dare say that it is my current nomination for tablet of the year. We’ve got a lot of year left, but still, it’s pretty darn good.
|Internal storage||iPad Pro 9.7|
|Apple Pencil smart stylus||$99|
|Smart Keyboard detachable keyboard||$149|
Apple has never been a budget device manufacturer, and the iPad Pro 9.7 is no exception. Starting price is at $599 for the 32GB WiFi only model. The top end 256GB model with LTE connectivity will set you back a cool $1029. Don’t forget to add on that Smart Keyboard for $149 and the Apple Pencil smart stylus for another $99.
Thankfully, the introduction of this new tablet means a price drop for the older devices. While we would hesitate to recommend the iPad Air at this point, the iPad Air 2 is still a solid tablet for your basic coffee table companion.
Now it’s your turn, head on down to the comments below and let us know what you think of Apple’s latest tablet. We think the iPad Pro 9.7 is the best iPad to date, do you agree?
Did you know – we’re giving away the iPad Pro 9.7 in our TabTimes Monthly giveaway for July 2016. If you’re reading this soon enough, head on over to the giveaway page for your chance to win. Best of luck.