Earlier this year the 9.7″ iPad Pro replaced the iPad Air 2 as Apple’s top 9.7″ iPad. The 9.7″ form factor has always been a staple in Apple’s iPad lineup. I find the size to be a good blend of portability and usability. The iPad Mini doesn’t provide enough screen real estate to comfortably consume content while the 12.9″ iPad Pro is too much of a beast. The iPad Pro 9.7 starts at $599 for the 32GB WiFi only model and goes up to $1029 for the 256GB LTE model. I’ve used the device for four months; here are my thoughts.
I want to begin by talking about the display. Nearly every interaction you have with your tablet is through the display, so it’s got to be good. Apple’s retina displays — although not industry leading with respect to pixel density — are always strong. Text is crisp and colors pop. Most critically, the touch screen is very responsive.
The iPad Pro’s display actually includes two updates that make it significantly better than previous models. Number one, the display is much less reflective than other iPads. Not only does this translate to better out-door usage, it also makes watching movies a lot nicer. We’ve all missed dimly lit movie or tv scenes because of glare on the display, but I can happily report that this iPad is much better at handling the glare problem.
Number two, the iPad Pro features a True Tone display. According to Apple, a True Tune display, “uses advanced four-channel ambient light sensors to automatically adapt the color and intensity of the display to match the light in your environment. Which means reading is more natural and comfortable — almost like looking at a sheet of paper.” In practice, I love this True Tone technology. True Tone is one example of Apple adding a feature you didn’t think you needed or wanted, but after using it, you wonder why it didn’t always exist.
Next I want to touch on the speaker system on this device. For me, good speakers are important on a tablet. I consume a lot of video — Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Prime Video — so having strong sound quality is important for me. And yes, I know I can wear headphones, but that just isn’t as comfortable when in bed or laying on the couch. The iPad Pro has four speakers that allow for stereo sound. When I first got my iPad Pro I was blown away by the speakers, they were just so loud. After using the device for an extended period of time, I’m still very impressed. I’ve realized they aren’t quite as full sounding as an external speaker, but for a slender mobile device, Apple did a good job in this department.
I’ll end by simply saying that build quality is fantastic. Nothing feels cheap about the iPad Pro. Say what you want about Apple price points, but Apple devices almost always feel premium.
This device sports the A9x chip and 2gb of ram. I’m not concerned with boring you to death with numbers. What I will say is that this iPad is fast. I’m coming from a third generation iPad, which in 2016 was too dated to do anything more than load Netflix, but I’ve been impressed with this device. Everything I’ve thrown at the iPad Pro has gone off without a hitch. I’m not a big gamer, but browsing, completing mobile purchases (especially with support for Apple Pay in safari in iOS 10), social media, basic photo editing, and media consumption run smoothly on the Pro.
I want to talk about multitasking for a minute. Although iOS is still limited with respect to multitasking, iOS 9 (and 10) are better than ever. Most notably, picture in picture is incredibly smooth on the iPad Pro. While not an exclusive feature of the Pro, the improved processing power and ram on this device make watching videos while browsing the web easy and pleasant. Each app needs to build in support this feature, but it works very well when it is implemented. I also frequently use Apple’s other multitasking features, slide over and split view, to send messages while watching videos or browsing the web. The Pro handles this like a champ.
This is not the best iPad with respect to battery life. Although all full sized iPads are rated for ten hours of battery life, in reality each iPad model deviates from this number (usually for the better). However, I’ve noticed this iPad gets less battery life than both my iPad third generation (back when it was new) and the iPad Air I bought my mother for christmas a few years ago. Apple had to sacrifice battery life to keep this device slender.
To be slightly more specific, when Engadget conducted battery tests they found that the iPad Pro 9.7 lasted 9 hours and 21 minutes. Perhaps a battery test consisting of looping HD video isn’t how you will be using the iPad, but the comparison to other iPads is relevant regardless. Both the iPad Air 2 and 12.9″ iPad Pro lasted longer, the former lasting 11 hours and 15 minutes while the later lasted 10 hours and 47 minutes. In case you missed it, the iPad Air 2 lasts nearly 2 hours longer than the iPad Pro 9.7. That is a significant difference.
I’ll end this section by saying the iPad Pro 9.7 isn’t awful in regard to battery life. It’s certainly serviceable. In fact, it’s basically in line with Apple’s estimates. However, it’s critical to note the battery life comparison to the Air 2 when deciding which iPad to snag.
Although I don’t really use my iPad to take pictures and videos, it’s certainly nice to have the option. The iPad Pro has the same camera system as the iPhone 6s. To recap, that means the rear camera captures 12MP photos and up to 4k video. Click here for a sample of the video quality. Overall, I’ve been impressed with the camera. There is still a lot of room for improvement with respect to low light performance, but for an iPad that I sparingly use to take pictures, quality is more than good enough.
More important to me than the rear camera is the front facing camera. I use my iPad a lot to communicate, particularly for video chatting. This device features a 5MP HD camera, so FaceTime calls look and sound great. Video chatting depends on network quality as well, but I’ve been impressed thus far. If you are into selfies, the iPad Pro won’t disappoint.
I will note that the rear camera protrudes out of the iPad body. This camera hump is irritating to me. Apple wanted to make the iPad thin and had to include the hump in order to include the new camera system. Frankly, I would prefer a slightly thicker iPad with better battery life and no camera hump. But alas, no one asked me.
When I created my initial video review of the iPad Pro 9.7, I said it was the best iPad ever made. I stand by that statement. It’s incredibly quick, the display is fantastic, the build quality is great, and the camera system is solid. However, since my original video review, I’ve had a few realizations.
Number 1, I don’t need the power of the iPad Pro. I originally wanted the iPad Pro to replace my laptop for note-taking and video editing. However, I still find it much easier to use my laptop for these workflows. It’s just much easier to record a video and edit it with a trackpad on my MacBook Air than it is for me to use iMovie on iOS. I’ve also realized that iMovie on iOS is quite limited compared to the desktop version.
Number 2, this is not the best iPad with respect to battery life. In fact, the battery life is significantly less than previous models. As I previously mentioned, the Air 2 lasts nearly 2 hours longer than the 9.7″ iPad Pro (in certain comparisons). This is huge. I find myself charging my iPad Pro much more than weekly and I’m still using my laptop and phone throughout the day. I think the way I use an iPad is better suited for long battery life.
With these two notes in mind, the iPad Air 2 would probably have been a fine purchase for me. It’s powerful enough to support all the same multitasking features, while also providing better battery life, but it is less expensive [iPad Air 2 starts at $399 for the 16gb model, $499 for the 64gb model]. If I’m not going to edit videos nor take advantage of drawing with the Apple Pencil [not really mentioned in this review because I don’t use one], the iPad Pro is probably overkill. However, I do appreciate having future proofed devices, so it’s a close call.
Overall, the iPad Pro is great. If you plan on really taxing your tablet, definitely opt for the Pro. If you want to use the Apple Pencil for precise input, obviously spring for the Pro. If you really crave the best camera you can get, certainly go for the Pro. But if you mostly use your tablet to watch videos, stream music, or browse the web you can save some money and have a great time using the Air 2.
If you want more iPad Pro coverage, I highly recommend checking out these videos.