The 9.7 inch iPad Pro Review

I consider myself a long-time iPad user, despite enduring long stretches of time without owning one. I preordered the very first iPad back when everyone was making fun of the name ‘iPad.’ It arrived on launch day at 10PM by a UPS delivery man who clearly had been working way too many hours that day.

The large multi-touch display immediately blew me away. More than any other device I’d used up until that moment, it made me feel like I was living in the future. Movies and TV shows depicted a future where doing everything on a tablet was a reality – and it felt feasible when I first scrolled through the web with the swipe of my finger.

Slowly but surely, I fell out of love with the iPad.  After the gold rush of the first few weeks, the iPad App Store became a barren wasteland filled with simple games and poor iPhone app ports – with a few exceptions. It was clear most developers worked on creating apps for the iPhone, and over time it seemed like the iPad had become a stale ecosystem.

The last iPad I owned was the iPad Air. I sold it after realizing how the iPhone 6 Plus was close enough to the size of an iPad to not need one anymore – and frankly, I didn’t miss it. Every now and then the odd iPad app would be released and I’d feel the urge to pick one up again, but I held off.

Since the last time I owned an iPad, a lot has changed. Many tech bloggers and enthusiasts have found ways to make the iPad their primary computing device through apps and clever workflows. None of this appealed to me, though, because I’ve been a long-time Mac user and have no intentions on ever not being one.

With iOS 9, Apple added new software features to the iPad including picture-in-picture mode and split-screen views, both of which I had been hoping to see on the iPad since it was first introduced.

Late last year, Apple introduced the 12.9 inch iPad Pro, the Apple Pencil and the Smart Keyboard. As I’ve mentioned before, I was close to buying one but found the 12.9 inch model too close to that of my 13-inch Macbook Pro Retina. Buying two computing devices with similar screen sizes seemed like overkill.

Then last week, Apple revealed the 9.7 inch iPad Pro. It’s the size I’ve always liked with support for the accessories I’ve always wanted. It has desktop-level power, a stereo audio system and a brighter, more accurate display.

So I bought one.

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The Hardware

Let me get this out of the way – besides a few design changes and a grotesque camera bump, the iPad Pro 9.7 inch looks just like the iPad Air. On the inside, however, is a powerful A9X chip which, in my testing, was incredibly fast.

I was blown away by the sound produced with the new four speaker audio system (literally, as the iPad came with the volume on blast). For watching movies or TV shows, I (as with most people) will be able to get away without having to buy an external speaker.

The camera has also improved and probably takes great photos, but to be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if I don’t take a single one with this iPad.

It didn’t get a ton of fanfare when announced last week, but the True Tone display is revolutionary. Here’s how Apple describes it:

People love using iPad everywhere. That’s why the new 9.7‑inch iPad Pro has a True Tone display. It uses advanced four-channel ambient light sensors to automatically adapt the colour 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.

It’s a subtle change, but one that is easy to spot when you turn it off. Asides from photo editing (when you’ll need to manipulate accurate colours), I plan to keep it enabled.

The Software

Since the last time I owned an iPad, iOS has changed in many positive ways. The iPad can now multi-task with split screen apps, use keyboard shortcuts and supports picture-in-picture video.

In practice, these are all fantastic features that definitely make the iPad more powerful in day-to-day use. Unfortunately, not every app (or most, for that matter) supports these features. I was disappointed when I tried to use the picture-in-picture feature with Netflix, only to find out it isn’t supported. Time will tell if more developers start taking advantage of these features, but whether or not they do is crucial to the iPad’s success.

The Accessories

The Smart Keyboard

Almost identical to the Smart Keyboard for the larger iPad Pro, this version is shrunk down to fit the size of the smaller iPad Pro – which isn’t a bad thing. Despite all the keys being shrunken down in size, I was able to easily adapt and type quickly on the keyboard. In fact, this review was written on the Smart Keyboard and I could easily see myself doing it again.

It isn’t perfect, though. The Smart Keyboard sorely needs a backlight since it’s nearly unusable in dark rooms. It’s also missing shortcut keys. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found myself wishing it had a home button key so I didn’t have to reach up to press the physical button.

The Apple Pencil

The Apple Pencil has gotten a lot of praise since its reveal, and I must say it’s all warranted. Its beautifully designed and feels great in the hand. Both my wife and I were able to pick up the Pencil and easily create works of art. Ok, maybe they weren’t works of art, but they looked equally as good as if we drew on paper.

The Apple Pencil is – in my opinion and Apple’s – the best accessory they’ve ever made. If you’ve ever wanted to draw or write on a tablet, the Apple Pencil alone is a good enough reason to buy the iPad. It’s that good.

Back To iPad

After my short time with the iPad Pro 9.7 inch, I can confidently say this is the right iPad for the majority of iPad buyers. It’s fast, supports the latest accessories, and is likely the most flexible size for a tablet compared to the iPad Mini and the gargantuan iPad Pro 12.9 inch.

Does it change how I feel about the iPad? Will it become a daily tool for me? That remains to be seen. The lack of developer support and a few iOS drawbacks have me questioning whether the iPad can do everything I need it to. But one thing is for sure – this is the best iPad Apple has ever made. Let’s just hope the software and apps can catch up.