The 9.7 inch iPad Pro concentrates almost everything that’s amazing about the 12.9 inch original into a device that is easy to carry around as the iPad Air 2. That includes not only the ludicrously powerful A9X processor but the smart keyboard and the Apple pencil and it’s got an even better camera.
The 12.9 inch iPad Pro packs 2732 by 2048 pixels. The 9.7 inch iPad by contrast packs the same resolution as the Air 2048 by 1536. It has the same custom timing control as a bigger iPad Pro but also has a few surprises under the glass. The first is a DCI-P3 color space, that’s the same as digital theatre projectors and the 2015 iMac. It allows for 25% greater saturation and that means colors especially magentas look better than ever. The display is also 25% brighter and 40% less reflective than even the iPad Air 2. What’s especially clever though is the new true tone system.
It uses two ambient light sensors with four channels each to detect the conditions around you and change your iPad’s display to match white for whatever those conditions might be. It has the same third generation 64 bit system on a chip commanding a custom dual-core processor with a monstrous 12-core graphics processor to very really redefine what it means to be mobile silicon.
It’s paired with an integrated M9 coprocessor which handles the motion sensors and even allows for Hey Siri unplugged. Touch ID is first generation like every device except for the iPhone 6s which might be a relief for some as it can unlock your device a little too quickly.
Storage still starts at 32 gigabytes like the bigger pro and 128 gigabytes for those who want to step up. If you’d rather leap up though there is now a 256 gigabyte option and that’s for both sizes.
I’m not fussy about keyboards, so they’ve all been great for me. It takes about five minutes for me to acclimatize and then I’m flying. The laser ablated fabric Apple uses which along with the MacBook style domes forms the structure of the keys holds up really well even at a smaller scale. For those who dislike the smart keyboard in general there is the exact same smart connector as the bigger Pro which means third party keyboards will be available as well.
As someone who used Wacom tablets for graphic design for decades and stylus pens on iPhone and iPads for almost that long the Apple pencil remains best in class for me. It simply outperforms in every category. That’s now also available on the 9.7 inch. Sure the canvas isn’t as big but that’s the point. It does take some getting used to but only if you’re used to the 12.9 inch version.
Responsiveness and palm rejection remain excellent as good to my eyes and hands as a 12.9 inch iPad Pro and all the apps work every bit as well. Having a 12 megapixel iSight camera in a 9.7 inch iPad Pro makes it fantastic. There’s also 1080p video at 60 frames per second and a 4K at 30 frames per second. Sure some might still make fun of the very idea of iPad photography but for others the best camera they have with them will be the one on the iPad and now Apple is making sure the best is also the best. And for professionals many of whom love shooting with iPhones but do want bigger viewfinders for certain projects, Apple is making sure the 9.7 inch iPad Pro is delivering exactly that. It does come with a price though. An iPhone 6 style camera bump on the lens.
I haven’t had any problem with it though even when resting it flat and drawing with the pencil the other corners keep everything solidly in place. There is also a 5 megapixel face time camera complete with retina flash so you can take your iPad selfie game to the next level as well. And yes you can do iPhone 6s style live photos so your every moment can animate at a touch and hold.
The 12.9 inch iPad Pro has four big booming speakers, to be honest I wasn’t expecting Apple to be able to fit the same class of audio into the 9.7 inch version but they totally did. No matter which way you hold or turn it iPad Pro delivers deep base in all four corners and mids and highs to the top two speakers. Together with the display it makes for a superlative entertainment experience even when you don’t have to or have to use earphones. The only downside is having to choose between watching Daredevil season 2 and well, finishing this review.
Wifi is 802.11ac with multiple-in, multiple-out (MIMO) that supports up to 866 Mbps. Cellular is even more exciting though unlike the bigger iPad Pro LTE has an option at every storage tier so you no longer have to go with big or go without. You also get an embedded Apple SIM, that way you can use your local carrier SIM if you’re already on an existing plan but when you travel you can choose from a variety of plans over 90 regions.
The 9.7 inch iPad Pro comes with iOS 9.3 installed. It’s the latest update to the software Apple released last fall. It includes night shift, the ability to lock notes, better personalization for news.
The 9.7 inch original iPad is once again being reinvented this time by going Pro while the 12.9 inch model felt like it was filling a really important niche and growing Apple’s addressable market. The 9.7 inch iPad Pro feels like it’s bringing everything great about that device, the power, the connectability, the pencils , the speakers and most importantly the attitude parked to that original size.
This can still be your everyday iPad and better so than ever but it can also be your ultra mobile productivity machine with little on the way of compromises. Sure you lose some display in keyboard real state but you gain portability and an excellent camera system. I’ll be getting 128 gigabyte rose gold and I might even look at going for a cellular enabled device to use when I’m on my travels.