Laptop Mag Verdict
The 9.7-inch iPad Pro is the best tablet in its class.
Long battery life
Keyboard is on the small side
No expandable memory option
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The original iPad Pro helped tablets evolve beyond mere consumption devices, thanks to its desktop-grade A9X processor and powerful Apple Pencil for creative professionals. But not everyone wants a huge 12.9-inch screen. The iPad Pro 9.7 inch (starting at $599) delivers the same speedy CPU, Apple Pencil capability and an optional keyboard in a much more manageable size. You also get a much sharper camera and a new True Tone display that automatically changes the screen color based on your environment. This tablet also nearly lasted nearly 11 hours on a charge, which puts Windows 2-in-1s such as the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 to shame.
This iPad Pro is not as ideal as a laptop replacement, but it is the best tablet money can buy.
When it comes to portability, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro definitely leads the field. At 9.4 x 6.6 x 0.24 inches, this slate is smaller than all of its professional-level tablet competitors, including the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 (11.5 x 7.9 x 0.33 inches) and the Samsung Galaxy TabPro S (11.43 x 7.83 x 0.25 inches). At 0.98 pounds, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro is about a half pound lighter than the competition, too.
You could choose the silver, space gray or gold versions, but then how would everyone know you have the new iPad Pro 9.7 inch?
It's as if Queen Midas touched the 9.7-inch iPad Air -- the new Pro in rose gold looks and feels familiar yet luxurious. The 9.7-inch display is surrounded by a slim, white bezel. The Touch ID home button is rimmed in the same rose gold that covers the back.
The power button sits along the top edge, just above the volume buttons on the top right. Farther down the right side, you'll find a nano-SIM-card slot that supports Apple SIM. The Lightning connector sits on the bottom. On each corner of the top and bottom, you'll find the four speakers. The 12-megapixel iSight camera protrudes slightly from the top of the backside, while the 5-MP selfie shooter hovers on top of the screen.
The Retina display on the iPad Pro 9.7-inch, with its 2048 x 1536 pixels, is stunning and colorful. Apple covered the glass in an anti-reflective and fingerprint-resistant coating, both of which work well. This new True Tone display actively measures the brightness and ambient light temperature to adjust colors on the fly so that whites always look white, regardless of where you are. In my experience with the tablet, this proved true.
The yellow lighting in my living room didn't affect the colors I saw on the screen. In the trailer for X-Men: Apocalypse, Jennifer Lawrence's blue skin popped, and Olivia Munn's violet sword even managed to make her look intimidating. And I was so engrossed in the smoky trailer for Tarzan that I could almost feel the thunder of wildebeests as they charged across the screen, or reach out and touch the abs on Alexander Skarsgard.
In comparison, the larger, 12.9-inch iPad Pro sports a higher resolution of 2732 x 2048 pixels, but both tablets have the same 264 dpi. Both the 12-inch Galaxy TabPro S and the 12.3-inch Microsoft Surface Pro 4 have screens with 2160 x 1400 pixels, for a lower 216 ppi.
The 9.7-inch iPad Pro's display held up well in our lab tests. Using our colorimeter, the screen registered 432.8 nits of brightness, displayed 121.9 percent of the sRGB color gamut and achieved a Delta-E color accuracy rating of 1 (zero is perfect). That's brighter and more colorful than the 12.9-inch iPad Pro (374 nits and 111 percent sRGB). But the larger iPad Pro displays more accurate colors, with a Delta-E score of 0.19.
The 9.7-inch iPad Pro is also brighter than the 341 nits on the Galaxy TabPro S, which is less accurate (4.7 Delta-E) but more colorful (180 percent sRGB). The Surface Pro 4 was dimmer (382 nits), less colorful (99.7 percent) and more accurate (0.35 Delta-E).
Thanks to its four speakers, two on each side, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro produces booming audio. It more than filled my small living room with sound, even drowning out the TV. Regardless of how you hold it or how often you flip it, the two grilles at the top always handle the mid and high frequencies, and all four deliver bass.
During "Take Me Out" by Franz Ferdinand, the driving guitars and thumping drum line had me contentedly bopping my head. And the breathy subtlety of Bebe Rexha in "I Can't Stop Drinking About You" definitely inspired me to pop open a bottle of wine. Sadly, some of the drum line was lost.
The 9.7-inch iPad Pro supports the $99 Apple Pencil. First introduced for use with the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, this smart stylus pairs with the tablet via Bluetooth. The Pro then actively scans for the Pencil's tip 240 times per second. That means there's no lag between what you draw and when it appears on the screen.
Sensors in the Pencil measure the amount of pressure you're using. Then, it creates thicker or thinner lines accordingly. It picked up my palm by mistake only once. These same sensors also calculate the orientation of your hand.
But I do wish there were a place to hold the Pencil. With the Microsoft Surface Pro 4, the active stylus magnetically attaches to the edge of the tablet. I can see this getting lost in my purse, and likely snapped in half.
While drawing with Adobe Photoshop Sketch and taking notes with GoodNotes 4, the Pencil and tablet worked seamlessly. My marks instantly appeared. I do wish the Pencil were a bit shorter, though, as it felt a bit unbalanced and back-heavy to my untrained hand.
While the Pencil is a great tool for creative professionals, it's not just for drawing. It can be used with apps such as Microsoft Office, Complete Anatomy and Autodesk FormIt 360. You can use the Pencil to mark up an image, sign a PDF or design your own website. The App Store includes an entire selection of Apple Pencil-ready apps, including Scanbot, Houzz and Hudl.
The fabric-covered Smart Keyboard is on the pricey side, at $149. It's not backlit, and it has no touchpad and no dedicated keys for adjusting brightness and volume. But at least it's water resistant. The origami of unfolding and refolding to set it up felt like an IQ test, which I eventually passed but was annoyed by.
The typing is just OK. It's more cramped than on the similar keyboard for the iPad Pro 12.9-inch, which made typing more of a chore than it should be. Because of the muscle memory in my fingers, I often found myself missing the smaller Chiclet-style keys. I also missed having a touchpad. But it felt fairly sturdy when I was typing on my lap. All things considered, this is a keyboard to use in a pinch, not as a replacement for your laptop.
Apple has included its A9X and M9 co-processor inside the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, promising notebook-grade power. Apple says this CPU offers enough oomph to let you edit multiple 4K videos at a time -- which is good, because the camera can shoot at that resolution. I combined two streams that I shot, and added sound effects and transitions in iMovie without experiencing a single hiccup.
During my time with the tablet, I saw no lag in switching between many open apps or open Safari tabs. The camera app opened and focused within a second, and the Amazon Video app took just 3 seconds.
On the Geekbench 3 test, which measures overall performance, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro scored 5,151, which was better than most of the competition. The 12.9-inch iPad Pro came in at a higher 5,296, which may be due to the fact that it has 4GB instead of the 2GB in the 9.7-inch model. The Core m3-powered Galaxy TabPro S' 4,675 score was lower, and the tablet average is a mere 2,764. The Surface Pro 4 notched a much higher 6,811, thanks to its 6th-generation Core i5 chip.
In an attempt to tax the smaller amount of RAM on the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, I created identical iMovies on the 12.9-inch and 9.7-inch models. I used AirDrop to transfer two 4K videos shot on the smaller Pro, which caused the tablet to crash and restart. Using iMovie to add a transition, filter, theme music, text overlay and two sound effects, I saw no difference in processing time. Once finished with both creations, tapping Done instantly saved both clips and made them available for playback. Playback was seamless on both.
On the 3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited test, which measures graphics performance, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro hit 32,413. That's lower than the 12.9-inch iPad Pro (32,920), the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 (60,424) and the Galaxy TabPro S (51,305) but better than the average tablet (18,061).
The Pro 9.7 inch runs iOS 9.3. The newest version of Apple's operating system offers some upgrades. Night Shift mode changes the light coming from the screen during the evening hours to remove the blue. The resulting yellowish light is easier on the eyes and won't keep you up at night.
You can also now password-protect your notes, and you can sort your notes by date and title.
For the education market, students now can share an iPad by logging in with different accounts. Apple is also introducing Apple IDs for education that are created and managed by school administrators.
iOS 9.3 still has all of the multitasking features from iOS 9, which help make this iPad Pro better at productivity. You can slide over to add a second app in a sidebar. Split View lets you use two apps simultaneously. And Picture-in-Picture can put a small window running a video inside other apps.
I did find it odd that the on-screen keyboard for the 9.7-inch iPad Pro doesn't include a dedicated number row like you'll find on the 12.9-inch version. Sure there's less screen real estate, but still feels like an omission.
Apple packed a 27.5-watt-hour rechargeable lithium-polymer battery into the 9.7-inch iPad Pro. The company claims this battery should lead to an endurance of up to 10 hours of surfing the Web on Wi-Fi, watching video or listening to music. On the Laptop Mag Battery Test (continuous Wi-Fi Web surfing), the Pro went above and beyond, lasting 10 hours and 53 minutes.
That's nearly an hour longer than the 12.9-inch iPad Pro and several hours longer than the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 (6:05) and the Galaxy TabPro S (6:46). It's also longer than the tablet average of 9:11.
With the release of the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, Apple announced that there are now more than 1 million iPad-specific apps. Many of those are integrated with the Apple Pencil for unique functionality. The iOS App Store is still the first place where many apps appear, and some never make it to other platforms. For instance, you won't find Clear or Papers, Please on Android.
Drawing apps such as Adobe Photoshop Sketch seem to have been designed with the iPad Pro in mind. The app takes advantage of the Pencil, allowing artists to subtly shade and paint with watercolors.
But it's not just about artwork. With apps such as Autodesk FormIt 360, architects and designers can build on their ideas by adding shapes and even looking at the effects of the sun on a building location.
Complete Anatomy brings to life the human form in 3D, letting you tap and swipe to see every angle.
The Houzz app lets you take notes directly on images that inspire you and then lets you share them with your home professional or spouse. Hudl lets coaches and analysts quickly draw and show corrections to team formations.
Apple loaded the 9.7-inch iPad Pro with the most sophisticated cameras (front and back) of any iPad. The 12-MP rear shooter sports autofocus with Focus Pixels, auto HDR, a sapphire crystal lens cover, improved noise reduction and an f/2.2 aperture. It supports Apple's new Live Photos feature.
My calico cat looked sharp and well defined, making me want to reach out and scratch her behind the ears.
For video, that same camera can shoot in slo-mo and comes with what Apple calls Cinematic Video Stabilization. It can shoot in 4K (3840 x 2160 at 30 frames per second). A video of people and cars in New York City was steadier than I would have thought possible for this size slate.
However, I wish a slo-mo video of me shooting pool had come out sharper.
[sc:video id="FoZmZmMjE6qPDVJF6o1WviyAqpBaDvQw" width="575" height="398"]
A 5-MP camera with Retina Flash sits on the front. When in low light, the whole display becomes the flash.
A selfie shot in a dark room came out remarkably well.
The 9.7-inch iPad Pro starts at $599 for the 32GB, Wi-Fi-only model. If you add storage space by going with the 128GB or 256GB models, you're looking at a base cost of $749 or $899, respectively. Adding LTE coverage will also cost you more at each storage size: $729 for 32GB, $879 for 128GB and $1,029 for 256GB.
Then, if you add the $99 Pencil and the $149 Smart Keyboard, you're looking at $847 minimum and $1,277 maximum. While the keyboard is definitely high-quality, cheaper third-party options from companies such as Logitech are available.
For professionals looking for a grab-and-go tablet that can handle their workload -- and plenty of fun on the side -- the 9.7-inch iPad Pro is the tablet to buy.
At a relatively affordable $599 ($847 if you get the keyboard and Apple Pencil), you get a sleek design, a stunning display, strong multitasking abilities and stellar battery life. Plus, Apple offers tons of tablet-specific apps. Just don't expect a great typing experience or the ability to control the cursor with a touchpad.
If you want something that can run desktop apps and a more laptoplike keyboard, the 12.3-inch Microsoft Surface Pro 4 (starting at $999 for Core i5; $1,128 with keyboard) is a better option. Or, if you want a device about as thin and light as the iPad Pro but don't mind sacrificing some performance, consider the Samsung Galaxy TabPro S, which starts at $897.99. However, no Windows-powered detachable's battery life even comes close to the iPad Pro's.
If you're willing to sacrifice a little screen size in favor of a more portable 9.7-inch size, the more affordable, 32GB iPad Pro is the way to go. Even if you add the $149 Smart Keyboard and the $99 Pencil, you'll still be paying less than you would for competing devices.
Apple iPad Pro 9.7-inch Specs
|Display Resolution||2048 x 1536|
|Front-Facing Camera Resolution||5MP|
|Ports||Proprietary, Headphone, microSIM|
|Size||9.4 x 6.6 x 0.24 inches|
|Storage Drive Size||256GB|