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Review: Apple’s 9.7-inch iPad Pro Is the Best of Both Worlds

April 18, 2016, 6:59 PM UTC

A year ago, if you asked me what capabilities and features I wanted to see in the then non-existent iPad Pro, I would have described the new 9.7-inch iPad Pro detail.

My requests would have been modest: better speakers, an improved screen, more robust multitasking capabilities, and native support for a physical keyboard without sacrificing battery life.

Apple checked off every single box on that list with the new iPad Pro, but as I’ve been testing the new iPad Pro for the past two weeks, the problem I’ve found myself struggling with is that the bigger iPad Pro (12.9-inch) also checks off all of those boxes.

There are slight differences between the two iPad Pro models, covered in detail shortly after the smaller Pro was announced in March. The biggest difference, obviously, is screen size.

Instead of opting to completely replace my computer with the new iPad Pro as I did with its bigger brother last year, this time I opted to use the new iPad Pro as my only tablet, replacing my personal iPad Air 2 and, at times, my MacBook Air.

During the course of any given day, I would go from answering emails with Apple’s Smart Keyboard Cover attached to trudging through Minecraft in a desperate attempt to learn about various facets of the game and, in turn, teach my kids.

Naturally, I wrote this very review on Apple’s latest tablet.

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It’s Still an iPad

The new iPad Pro doesn’t look all that different from its predecessor, the iPad Air 2. The measurements are identical: 9.4-inches tall, 6.6-inches wide, and 0.24-inches thick. Weight is also the same, coming in at just under a pound for both the Wi-Fi and LTE versions.

At first glance, it would be easy to confuse the two devices. A closer look will find two speakers on the top and another two on the bottom, compared to the iPad Air 2’s two speakers on the bottom. On the left side of the new iPad Pro is Apple’s Smart Connector, currently used to connect to and power Apple’s $150 Smart Keyboard Cover.

An upgraded 12-megapixel has pushed the camera lens out on the back of the tablet, similar to the protruding camera lens found on the iPhone 6 and 6S. The front-facing camera received a modest update, going from 1.2-megapixels to five megapixels. For the first time, an iPad is capable of capturing 4K video.

Inside the iPad Pro is Apple’s latest A9X processor and M9 coprocessor. Apple’s Touch ID home button is present, making it easy to unlock the tablet or make purchases in the App Store with a fingerprint.

Color options are silver, space grey, gold, and rose gold. Storage options start at 32 gigabytes, with 128 gigabytes and 256 gigabytes options also available. Pricing starts at $599 for the 32GB Wi-Fi version, with each increase in storage adding $150 to the total. You can expect to pay Apple’s standard $130 premium to add LTE capabilities to the new iPad Pro, with the 32GB model starting at $729.

Review: Is Apple’s iPad Pro a PC Replacement?

It All Comes Down to the Screen (Size)

The biggest differentiator between the smaller iPad Pro and all other Apple devices is the screen. It’s the same 9.7-inch size screen, but Apple has added a capability dubbed “True Tone.” Essentially, using a series of ambient light sensors, the iPad Pro is constantly monitoring the intensity and color of surrounding light sources, adjusting the iPad’s display to mimic that lighting. The end result is a display much easier to look at for longer periods of time while also displaying colors more accurately.

Yet the changes are subtle, and you’ll likely never realize the screen’s hue has changed. That is until you look at the screen of your iPhone or another electronic device that doesn’t have True Tone, and then the impact of this quality is apparent.

When using iOS 9’s split view or slide-over features, allowing users to run two apps side-by-side, I missed having more information at my fingertips as I did on the bigger iPad Pro. I felt as if I was constantly pinching and zooming within apps to increase the font size. At the same time, that limited the amount of information capable of being displayed within each respective app’s window.

That’s not to say multi-tasking is a horrible experience on the new iPad Pro. As I’ve wrote about before, I thoroughly enjoy the features Apple added to the iPad through iOS 9. I just think split view is more beneficial on the larger iPad Pro.

Apple Pencil Is Impressive, But I Don’t Know What to Do With It

Apple extended support for its Pencil stylus to the new iPad Pro, making it only the second Apple device equipped with such capabilities. Initial setup for the Apple Pencil is simple. Remove the end cap from the Pencil to reveal a Lightning connector, then plug it in to the bottom of the iPad Pro. A couple of seconds later, you’re asked if you want to pair the Pencil to the iPad Pro, and once approved, the two devices are linked together.

With the Pencil, you can jot down notes in the Notes app, or use it to draw sketches in more professional applications such as Procreate. My best drawings consist of stick figures and smiley faces, but I do appreciate the ease with which the Apple Pencil glides over the iPad Pro’s screen when I use it.

As with the larger iPad Pro, the Apple Pencil experience of writing and drawing on a digital screen very closely mimics writing on a piece of paper. It’s an experience I’ve yet to find with competing styli on the iPad as well as on other devices, such as Microsoft’s Surface lineup.

That said, I’m struggling to find a use case for employing the Apple Pencil in my day-to-day routine. Right now at least, it’s still just a neat tool I have the option of using but rarely do.

Best iPad Ever?

All things considered, the new iPad Pro is the best iPad that Apple has ever made. The larger iPad Pro is appealing to people like myself who want to use it as more than just a tablet.

The smaller iPad Pro is the best of both worlds. It’s portable, yet powerful. It’s capable of carrying out computing tasks, such as editing Excel spreadsheets in a pinch, watching a movie, browsing Facebook, and replying to email.

Until now, the iPad line has essentially been a one-size-fits-all product. In many ways, the current iPad lineup reminds me a lot of the MacBook lineup. There are different tiers, with each product having its benefits and drawbacks. The process of purchasing a computer has long consisted of weighing those pros and cons, resulting in going with the device that’s best for you, not necessarily the best device overall.

At the end of the day, I’ve decided the best iPad for me is the larger version. In fact, I ordered one last Friday after a lengthy internal debate.

However, I would have no problem recommending either iPad Pro to those in the market for tablet. It really comes down to how much you want to spend and how important portability is to you.