Apple iPad Pro (9.7-inch): The best iPad ever

Apple iPad Pro 9.7-inch.
Apple iPad Pro 9.7-inch.PHOTO: APPLE
Apple iPad Pro 9.7-inch.
Apple iPad Pro 9.7-inch.PHOTO: APPLE
Apple iPad Pro 9.7-inch.
Apple iPad Pro 9.7-inch.PHOTO: APPLE

The Apple iPad Pro won Editor’s Choice and Readers’ Choice for Best Tablet in this year’s ST Digital Awards with its impressive 12.9-inch display and speedy performance. Last week, Apple announced a smaller 9.7-inch model. I tested the 256GB rose gold version. 

DESIGN

The 9.7-inch iPad Pro is essentially a downsized version of last year’s iPad Pro. 

It has the same smooth aluminium solid unibody chassis and chamfered edges, and exudes a similar premium feel.

Like its bigger cousin, it has four speakers at four corners of its chassis. During audio playback, the balance adjusts automatically to provide a consistent audio output whenever you change the orientation of the device. 

It measures 6.1mm thick, same as the iPad Air 2 and iPad mini 4, and 0.8mm thinner than the 12.9-inch iPad Pro. At 444g (for the Wi-Fi + 4G model), it weighs the same as the iPad Air 2, and is 279g lighter than its 12.9-inch sibling. 

Its svelteness makes it so much easier to handle compared with the bigger iPad Pro. Not to mention, it can be easily slotted into the tablet compartment of your laptop bags.

While I love big screens, I find the 9.7-inch screen a good size for a tablet. 

PERFORMANCE

The 9.7-inch iPad Pro uses the same A9X chip as its bigger sibling. However, the Geekbench 3 benchmark software shows some differences: the 9.7-inch’s A9X chip is a 2.26GHz unit with 1.92GB of system memory, while the 12.9-inch Pro has a 2.16GHz processor and 3.89GB of system memory.

In terms of Geekbench 3 scores, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro achieved 3,076 in the single-core test and 5,291 in the multi-core test, losing out to the 12.9-inch’s scores of 3,236 (single-core) and 5,491 (multi-core). But it is way ahead of iPad Air 2’s scores of 1,812 (single-core) and 4,544 (multi-core).

But in real-life tests, I found no lag when editing 4K videos using iMovie, and editing photos using Photoshop Express and Lightroom. 

Graphics-intensive games, such as Infinity Blade III and Warhammer 40,000: Freeblade, played smoothly and without lag as well. And graphics looked sharp and gorgeous. 

DISPLAY

This iPad’s 9.7-inch (2,048 x 1,536 pixels) screen is Apple’s first True Tone display. It uses four-channel sensors to automatically adjust the display’s white balance to match the ambient light around you, so you can get a more natural and accurate view.

When inside a room lit by an incandescent bulb, the display automatically turns to a more yellowish hue with True Tone activated. When True Tone is turned off, the screen turns more bluish. 

The display is further aided by the new Night Shift feature in iOS 9.3, which uses the tablet’s digital clock to automatically adjust the display’s colours to reduce blue light, which is known to hamper sleep. 

The display is supposed to be 25 per cent brighter and 40 per cent less reflective than the iPad Air 2. The difference in brightness was apparent when I compared both side by side. However, you can still see yourself on the screen. 

It has the same wide colour gamut as the iMac with Retina 5K display. This makes it easier for photographers or graphic designers to get their colours right when they are editing their works on the iPad. 

The only downer is that the display has no 3D Touch found in the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus.

CAMERA

The 9.7-inch iPad Pro has the same rear 12-megapixel camera and 5-megapixel front-facing camera found in the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus. So, it shoots 4K videos and Live Photos. Image quality is on a par with its iPhone 6s cousins.

The rear camera protrudes slightly though, so the tablet does not lie flat, unless you use a case.

While I am not a fan of using a tablet to take photos, I have found it useful to take photos during meetings and briefings to capture presentation slides. The new better camera will certainly help in this respect.

The front-facing camera has finally been upgraded. Friends and family would be able to see you in full high-definition glory during FaceTime chats. Selfie fans would love the quality of the shots too. 

BATTERY

In our intensive battery test (looping a 720p video with Wi-Fi on and the display at full brightness), it held on for 8hr 10min before the battery went flat. The bigger Pro lasted 9hr 15min. 

With my daily routine, which involves the occasional checking of e-mails and browsing articles with News or FlipBoard apps, as well as reading a digital book or magazine before bedtime, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro needed to be charged only once every two days. 

ACCESSORIES

With the smaller iPad Pro, you need a smaller Smart Keyboard ($228). 

The keyboard’s magnetic strip has three metallic contacts that connect to the Smart Connector on the side of the Pro. As it is a direct connection and draws power from the iPad, you do not need to charge it or pair it using Bluetooth. Simply connect and type away.

It has the same key layout as the bigger Smart Keyboard for the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, as well as the same water- and stain-resistant woven fabric on top. But there is still no backlight and you can dock the iPad at only one angle - 45 degrees. 

The keys are smaller and not as well spaced out as the bigger keyboard. But typing on it is still relatively typo-free for me. It also passes the “lapability” test with flying colours. In other words, you can put the keyboard on your lap and type without difficulty.

The 9.7-inch iPad Pro also supports the Apple Pencil stylus ($148). And it works exactly - and as fluidly - as it did on the bigger Pro. 

Verdict

With its superb display, great performance and better portable portability, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro is the best iPad Apple has ever made.

TECH SPECS

PRICE: $898 (32GB Wi-Fi) to $1,618 (256GB Wi-Fi + 4G, version tested), available March 31

OPERATING SYSTEM: iOS 9.3

PROCESSOR: A9X chip with 64-bit architecture, M9 motion co-processor

DISPLAY: 9.7 inches, 2,048 x 1,536 pixels

CAMERA: 12-megapixel rear camera, 5-megapixel front-facing camera

WEIGHT: 437g (Wi-Fi), 444g (Wi-Fi + 4G)

Rating

FEATURES 5/5

DESIGN 5/5

PERFORMANCE 5/5

BATTERY LIFE 4/5

VALUE FOR MONEY 4/5

OVERALL 5/5 [ST DIGITAL EDITOR'S CHOICE]