Hands-on review: Updated: iPad Pro 9.7


This is the new 9.7-inch iPad Pro. Or, if we had to guess, the future incarnation of the iPad.

Now, we’re getting our first look at the iPad Pro 12.9‘s downsized sibling. With a diagonal screen size of 9.7-inches, the new iPad Pro matches the screen size already found on the iPad Air 2 (which will remain in the lineup, by the way, but the iPad Air is sadly dead).

iPad Pro

This unit, however, gets a few niceties that were previously reserved for the Big Man on Campus, as well as one new element altogether: four speakers instead of two, a brighter True Tone display, a snazzy new connector for a snazzy new keyboard, a high-octane A9X processor, more memory, and of course, support for Apple’s Smart Pencil.

Those speakers are supposed to be twice as loud as on the previous Air 2, and with the impressive performance that comes from the larger, older iPad Pro giving us hope that the iPad Pro 9.7 will be a mean media machine indeed, especially when combined with that improved screen.

9 7 inch iPad Pro hands on

The 9.7-inch iPad Pro is a premium machine, through and through. As with the original iPad Pro, this one feels dense and rigid — almost too nice to just toss in your briefcase sans protection. The anodized aluminum body is cool and comfortable to the touch, and per usual, Apple’s attention to detail on button machining is obvious here.

Exterior vibes

If you’re thinking it looks a lot like the iPad Air 2, you aren’t crazy. Outside of a gently massaged camera element layout, it’s the same exterior. Same thickness, same materials. If you didn’t know any better, you could grab a 9.7-inch iPad Pro and assume you’d just picked up an iPad Air 2.

9 7 inch iPad Pro hands on

So, as you’d imagine, handling the new iPad Pro is a lot like handling the iPad Air 2. The only notable difference is the input mechanisms.

With the iPad Pro, you’ll be interacting a lot more – ideally, anyway – with the Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard, whereas you’d spend most of your time pinching and zooming on the iPad Air line.

9 7 inch iPad Pro hands on

The 9.7-inch iPad Pro looks great when docked in the new Smart Keyboard. Unlike the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, which actually requires a bit of forethought on where you can put it, this unit would fit quite nicely on a coach airline tray table. And if we’re honest, isn’t that the sizing measure that all slates should be judged by?

There’s the same Smart Connector that debuted on the larger Pro, which is one of the few design differences compared to the Air 2. Clipping that magnetically to the Smart Keyboard will allow the transfer of data and power to the otherwise dumb accessory, and means you’ll never need to worry about running out of charge.

True Tone Display

iPad Pro

The True Tone Display is the feature Apple’s most proud of here, and rightfully so. It’s engineered to automatically measure ambient light and tones, and adjust the screen accordingly.

The parallel is simple: white paper looks different depending on the room you’re in and depending on the light that’s above and around. If you’re inside near a lamp, it’ll ‘reflect’ that by making a warmer-looking screen, in the same way actual like refracts into your eye. Go outside, and it’ll revert to the harsher bluer look that accompanies your surroundings.

So your iPad Pro will follow those some real-world cues, which Apple claims will make everything a lot easier on your eyes. It’s no e-ink, but it’s moving in the right direction – but it’s something we’ll need to use for a few weeks to work out if it’s really a big change.

The new device also sports a brighter and less reflective screen than the iPad Air 2 – given the previous Air was already one of the best around, it’s going to be cool to test out the new improvement on that when we give the iPad Pro 9.7 a full review.

Which size is for you?

iPad Pro hands on

In our humble opinion, a 9.7-inch form factor is far more approachable for a tablet. Lest you believe Tim Cook would go back on his 2012 spiel – which saw him inform financial reporters that Apple had no interest in producing a “converged” laptop/tablet hybrid – the new 9.7-inch iPad Pro runs iOS (and iOS alone).

In other words, those praying for an iPad Pro that runs OS X should remain by their bedside, knees firmly planted.

iPad Pro

That said, it runs iOS like a champ. Performance simply wasn’t an issue as we whisked through apps, loaded up Procreate for iPad, and proceeded to get our doodle on. As you’d expect, given the A9X power plant, speed was right in line with what we saw in the original 12.9-inch iPad Pro.

iPad Pro hands on

It’s so fast, in fact, that it makes it even tougher for us to deal with the operating system of Apple’s choosing. It’s impossible not to wonder how well this thing would run OS X, and frankly, we’re yearning for a proper Surface vs iPad Pro comparison with each unit running a desktop OS.

iPad Pro hands on

A good camera… on a tablet?

iPad Pro hands on

Interestingly, Apple bolstered the optics on the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, despite the fact that we would never, ever advise anyone holding up a tablet to take a photo.

There’s a 12-megapixel iSight camera, a True Tone flash, a revamped image signal processor, 4K video support, and the ability to capture Live Photos. Around front, there’s a 5-megapixel FaceTime camera for selfies and video chats.

iPad Pro hands on

At any rate, it seems a bit silly for Apple to sell both a 9.7-inch iPad Pro and an iPad Air. There’s currently a $200 price difference between the two ($399 for the base 16GB iPad Air 2 vs $599 for the base 32GB 9.7-inch iPad Pro), but we suspect that the Pro will consume the Air in due time.

iPad Pro

It’s also worth pointing out that the $599 base unit ships with only 32GB of storage, which is far too small for the target market.

The $749 model should be considered the actual base, with 128GB of storage. That said, we’re beyond thrilled that Apple added a 256GB confirmation for both iPad Pro sizes, and we’re love to see this transfer over to the new iPhone range that’s likely on tap for this fall.

That said, in our time spent with the larger iPad Pro, hitting the 128GB storage limit for a device that’s not got the heavy media collection of a laptop isn’t as easy as you’d think.

In the UK, it starts at £499 for the 32GB Wi-Fi smaller iPad Pro, £619 for 128GB and £739 for 256GB. In Australia, its costs AU$899 for 32GB, AU$1,149 for 128GB and AU$1,399 for 256GB.

Early verdict

Curiously, Apple told us that many iPad Pro owners are coming over from Windows. Somehow, they view the iPad Pro as a legitimate Windows replacement, despite the fact that neither size ships with OS X. It’s tough to see iOS truly replacing a full-fledged copy of Windows, but it also speaks to the changing needs of a customer base.

Whether this is enough of an invigoration of the tablet market remains to be seen. It seems we all need a lot more convincing of the need for digital slates in our life at times, and that’s hampering the upgrade cycles Apple desperately wants to keep pushing.

That said, the iPad Pro 9.7 is a logical step for Apple to take, and it’s got enough upgrades to actually make it more than a re-imagining of the larger Pro.


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