9.7-inch iPad Pro hands-on: Apple's best tablet yet?

Smaller but equally powerful

Apple’s March 2016 keynote saw the American tech giant showing off two new products directly inspired by previous designs and going small(er) without making big compromises where the user experience suffers.

For fans of compact smartphones, there’s the iPhone SE, a much improved iPhone 5S, that like the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus, also comes in rose gold.


We’ve already covered the iPhone SE in a separate post, so today we’re shining the spotlight on the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, which is essentially the legitimate offspring of the first iPad Pro and iPad Air 2. It is perhaps the best iPad ever built by Apple, having the most power the company has ever crammed into a consumer-friendly device, alongside basic productivity features like split-screen multitasking.

And while the new iPad Pro lacks the ability to run legacy desktop apps — it’s limited to what’s on offer from the App Store — thereby diminishing its appeal as a proper PC replacement, it is nevertheless a fantastic tablet that does tablet stuff as good as anything on the market.

9.7-inch iPad Pro hands-on GadgetMatch (13)

Oh, and let’s not forget about the Apple accessories you can pair with the smaller iPad Pro for smaller sums: the $US99 Apple Pencil stylus is a must for those who love to sketch; the $US149 Smart Keyboard cover may come in handy for pecking out emails and lengthy status updates and editing documents. Even if you don’t give a rat’s posterior about either of those items, it’s nice to think that first-party options are available should they be needed.

Before we get to the hardware, let’s briefly go over the contents of the retail box, which includes the standard Lightning-to-USB cable, a power adapter, some documentation, and Apple stickers. No surprises here, really.

Another non-shocking revelation? The new Pro sports much of the same handsome all-aluminum aesthetics as the original, except in a smaller and markedly lighter package, prompting the inevitable comparison to another 9.7-inch slate Apple still makes. The Pro also meets the company’s superlative standard of refinement and build quality, which are unparalleled in the industry.

The power button, headphone jack, and two of the four built-in stereo speakers are located on the top edge of the device. The right-hand side features the volume up and down buttons, as well as dual microphones, while the left edge houses the Smart Connector for use with a compatible accessory. Along the bottom is where the Lightning port and second pair of speakers can be found.

The rectangular unibody shell is smooth and has rounded edges, making holding the tablet for extended periods of time more pleasant than we anticipated. It also has a slightly protruding camera assembly around the back, but thankfully the lump isn’t big enough to make the Pro wobble when it’s resting on a flat surface.

9.7-inch iPad Pro hands-on GadgetMatch (16)

Speaking of which, the 12- and 5-megapixel rear and selfie cameras are the same modules the iPhone 6S has, meaning, yes, they’re great and the rear-facer can shoot 4K video, and, no, this still isn’t a solid enough excuse to hold a tablet up vertically during a concert.

The 9.7-inch, LED-backlit display supports a resolution of 2,048 x 1,536 and works out to 264 pixels per inch, so it isn’t any sharper than the Air 2’s. It is, however, well-saturated and impressively bright — possibly brighter than those of earlier iPads — which is to say the panel is more than good enough to take outdoors and view in direct sunlight.

The size of the screen also lends well to running two different apps side-by-side; we’d like it to be bigger, sure, but that would mean stretching the hardware to accommodate a larger display, not to mention stealing the thunder from the original Pro.

As for the new Pro’s True Tone display that uses ambient-light sensors to measure the light in a room and autocorrect the screen’s color temperature, we found it to be a great addition to the iPad’s feature set. In fact, we liked it so much we decided to leave it turned on.

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Now, about the A9X chipset with 2GB of RAM tucked away in that metal chassis: It’s deserving of the praise it’s earned so far; the smaller iPad Pro is in the same league as Apple’s top-of-the-line slate, despite a slower CPU clock speed and half the RAM. We half-expected it to struggle with intensive apps and heavy multitasking, but it didn’t happen. This machine just keeps chugging along regardless of what’s in front of it.

So, Pro distinction aside, is this the standard-sized iOS tablet to get? If you can afford spending $US200 more than what you’d pay if you purchased the iPad Air 2, then yes. Even without the accessories, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro is an excellent product that offers plenty of power and portability for more demanding users. Just don’t expect it to replace your laptop.

9.7-inch iPad Pro hands-on GadgetMatch (12)

The new iPad Pro comes in silver, space gray, gold, and rose gold and starts at $US599 for the base configuration with 32GB of storage and WiFi-only connectivity. Adding 4G LTE support generally adds $US130 to the retail price.

Watch our unboxing below.

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