The iPad Pro was ambitiously touted as Apple's tablet that had the guts to replace your laptop, and it now comes in an ideal size that perfectly demonstrates bigger isn't always better for everyone.
Even though I was thoroughly impressed with the grunt behind the powerful original iPad Pro 12.9 and iPad Pro 12.9 (2017), I longed for that standard 9.7-inch display and form factor with the same pro-level features.
It took Apple a year and a half to launch a proper iPad Air 2 successor and, in that time, it fit almost everything from the giant iPad into a smaller frame. It's way more than an 'iPad Air 3' upgrade.
I can now listen to amped up music through its four loud stereo speakers, doodle away with the Apple Pencil and seamlessly attach a keyboard without fumbling with Bluetooth. Its Smart Connector port may be my favorite new feature inherited from the original 12.9-inch iPad Pro.
It's not all hand-me-downs. The iPad Pro 9.7 actually strikes out on its own with a few advancements. It was the first to tout True Tone display technology that adapts to my environment by subtly adjusting the white balance, and there's a much wider color gamut behind its anti-reflective coated glass.
Its camera is 12MP and shoots 4K video, taking cues from the iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Plus cameras. While the new iPhone XS and iPad Pro 11 have better cameras, the iPad Pro 9.7 still has the snappers on most slates beat, and with the option for 256GB of storage it's got more space too.
What we have ended up with is a tablet juggernaut - but without looking like a juggernaut. On the other hand it also has a serious asking price to match its power, and several easy-to-spot software limitations, even with the iOS 12 software now available for the tablet.
iPad Pro 9.7 price
The iPad Pro 9.7 price at launch was $599 (£499, AU$899), which made it the most expensive 9.7-inch iPad that Apple had ever released. That was higher than the iPad Air 2 launch price of $499, (£399, $699), and even higher than the iPad 9.7 price of $329 (£319, AU$469).
A couple of things have happened since launch though: the price has dropped and more expensive iPads have arrived.
Apple has actually stopped selling the iPad Pro 9.7, but some other stores do have it and you can get it for over $100/£100 off, though it's becoming increasingly hard to find. Try your luck at our iPad Pro deals guide though.
Amazon Prime Day and Black Friday are just around the corner, and we expect to see a variety of iPad deals then. The iPad Pro 9.7 is old enough now that it is one likely to get a discount so check out our best Black Friday iPad deals.
As for the newer models - Apple is charging a starting price of $799 / £769 / AU$1,229 for the iPad Pro 11, so even at full price the iPad Pro 9.7 looks like a bargain compared to that.
That's important because you'll still have to pay for the keyboard cover and Apple Pencil separately. Is there enough here for the iPad Pro 9.7 to still make our list of the best tablets? Let's explore the 9.7-inch iPad that wants to be your laptop-replacement.
From across the room, I couldn't tell the difference between this iPad Pro 9.7 and my iPad Air 2 when I was charging both during my battery life tests. They're nearly identical on the outside, and that's a good thing.
The 'Pro' label doesn't mean bigger, it just means bolder.
The iPad Pro 9.7 has the same sub-pencil-thin dimensions of 240 x 168 x 6.1mm, making it a natural fit for two hands and easy to stow in a backpack. Surprisingly, its weight matches, too, despite the specs upgrade: 437g for Wi-Fi and 444g for Wi-Fi + Cellular again. The new "Pro" label doesn't mean bigger, it just means bolder.
You get the same polished aluminum frame, fast Touch ID fingerprint scanning home button and a 9.7-inch Retina display. The lightning port hasn't moved from the bottom, the headphone jack and sleep/wake button are still on the top, and the volume rocker remains on the right side.
In fact, the only surefire way to tell the difference from afar is to opt for the new finish. There are now four colors instead of three: Silver, Gold, Space Gray and the iPad 9.7-exclusive Rose Gold. This isn't the only way the tablet matches the iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Plus, though.
There's a slight camera bump on the back that no one likes, but it's a fair trade off. It makes way for a 12MP rear-facing iSight camera, just like its smartphone counterpart, and now there's a True Tone LED flash. Yes, that's right, your tablet camera is as every bit as good as your phone camera. Still, please don't awkwardly take photos with it in public.
Yes, that's right. Your tablet camera is now every bit as good as your phone camera. But please don't take photos with a tablet in public. It's unseemly.
Of course, upon even closer inspection, you'll see two more changes from the iPad Air 2 by way of new speakers at the top and bottom and a Smart Connector port on the left side. They're flush with the aluminum frame and almost hidden, but make no mistake, they've have acted as game changers for the iPad Pro series design.
Four speakers, two at the top and two at the bottom, give the new iPad Pro 9.7 a proper stereo setup, and they're loud enough to drown out the bottom-firing, twin-speakers of the iPad Air 2 at full volume. Best of all, they're not blasting music and Netflix movie dialogue out just one side.
I no longer felt the need to cup my hand around the speaker to get a decent volume for myself without bothering other people around me by cranking it up all of the way. Turning the tablet in landscape mode to watch a movie, I found everything sounded natural. Part of that balance is due to the fact that the upper top speakers always handle mid and high frequencies and they'll change depending on how you hold the iPad Pro, rotating the sound as the screen orientation does.
Apple smartly refined the iPad Pro 9.7 design, and that's not the only clever way it changed up its traditional tablet look and feel in its push to the professional leagues.
It's easy to say that the iPad Pro 9.7 has the same display as the iPad Air 2. It's technically true, but not wholly accurate. It has the same size, resolution and pixel density as the Air 2.
There's more to this version of the Retina display, however, and the screen specs literally outshine what you will find on the bigger and seemingly more powerful iPad Pro 12.9 (2015).
Apple has introduced True Tone display technology, which dynamically adjusts the white balance of the screen to adapt its color and intensity to my environment. Just like the brightness slider, it's also handled automatically using four-channel ambient light sensors.
It's sort of like the Night Shift mode that made its debut in iOS 9.3. True Tone is easier on the eyes, making the screen look more natural and, more often than not, less blue.
It's sort of like the Night Shift mode that made its debut in iOS 9.3. True Tone is easier on the eyes, making the screen look more natural and, more often than not, less blue.
I really enjoy the adaptive True Tone display setting and can't turn it off now.
Apple's goal isn't sleep here, but to ever-so-slightly nudge the iPad Pro 9.7 glow so that it looks like a piece of paper. It's odd-looking at first, but you get used to it over the course of a few days. I really can't turn it off now that it's on.
It's bright enough in sunlight for me to keep working, even if I'm likely to be sunburned.
With a 2048 x 1536 resolution and 264 pixels per inch, it's hard to pack in more pixels into a display of this side and having it matter. However, Apple decided to crank up the color gamut to give its new iPad Pro 25% greater color saturation than the iPad Air 2.
It touts the fact that this tablet uses the same color space as the digital cinema industry, and it's true, the screen uses a wider array of colors and look more vivid. That said, the average user I've shown this to sees this as a minor addition to an already excellent-looking display. This is really meant for digital artists and photo editors who are putting the Pro-level display to work.
Everyone can get behind the return of the iPad's fully laminated display that presses the screen up against the glass without gaps and its even more important anti-reflective coating. Outdoors, I found the iPad Pro 9.7 to be bright enough in sunlight for me to keep working, uncomfortable and likely sunburned.
Of course, since launch the display on the iPad Pro 9.7 has been beaten by newer iPads, like the iPad Pro 11, iPad Pro 12.9 (2018) and iPad Pro 10.5, but it's still got a good screen.
The iPad is slowly transforming into a computer before our eyes, and the latest move by Apple is the most striking: developing a keyboard for the iPad Pro line. This one, I must point out right away, is different than the third-party keyboards that are always Bluetooth-connected and often unreliable. Don't shrug it off as an optional accessory you should never consider.
Apple's Smart Keyboard for the iPad Pro 9.7, in fact, isn't Bluetooth at all. It uses the new Smart Connector that magnetically fastens the new keyboard to the bottom (in landscape) of the tablet. It combines the tri-fold Smart Cover design with an extra fourth flap for the ultra-slim keyboard. It loudly snaps into place, but that just means it's secure enough to carry this iPad-keyboard combo by the tablet screen (the opposite of how you grab a laptop, unless you're under the age of 5).
The company boasts "No plugs. No switches. No pairing." To translate that into more iconic Apple words, "It just works." I've never had to charge this keyboard or set it up through a menu, since both power and data flow through the Smart Connector. But that's just where it gets started. How does the keyboard perform?
This is definitely a low-pile keyboard, and while not everyone will take a liking to it at first, I'm used to that given my everyday use of the New MacBook and new Magic Keyboard that's connected to my Mac Pro. It may be a challenge for others, but it's all a learning process. The good news is that while the keys are naturally smaller on the iPad Pro, they're made of fabric.
A fabric keyboard sounds like an odd choice, but it's been comfortable and resilient against my thousands of my mostly accurate keystrokes so far. In fact, I feel more confident with this iPad keyboard than my New MacBook keyboard, which uses plastic keys and has a more delicate butterfly mechanism. I've already had to get its entire top case replaced once.
I feel more confident with this iPad keyboard than my New MacBook keyboard.
I won't have an issue of getting crumbs, sand or grass in between these springy keys. Gone are the days when I blow debris off the keyboard only to have it lodge underneath the keys every single time. This keyboard is also water and stain resistant. How? Apple says it's made from a single sheet of custom-woven fabric and, of course, etched out the keys using lasers. Because - the future.
The future sure is wildly expensive, though. It costs $149 (£129, AU$229) for this fabric case, which is only slightly cheaper than the larger 12.9-inch Smart Keyboard. There are also a few compromises compared to a traditional laptop keyboard.
You won't find function keys along the top or an escape key. That's okay. Control Center (swipe up from the bottom on the touchscreen) handles most of the fn key workload: display brightness, volume slider, music playback controls, etc.
Keyboard shortcuts are also here: exiting to the home screen, switching apps and initiating a system-wide search. So are the usual bold, italics, underline and select all, and every app can have its own shortcuts.
Naturally, the shortcut list for non-Apple apps is extremely limited right now and there are no modifier keys letting me switch control and command like on my Mac.
I'm also hurting for a backlit Smart Keyboard. iPad Pro 9.7 is meant to be used in all sort of situations, and it's a bummer to have to shine an iPhone 6S Plus on the keyboard when it's lights out and I think of one more thing to add to this review before bed. I'm less confident we'll ever see backlighting from a fabric keyboard.
Finally, I can't use this keyboard case in every situation, as much as I like the fabric design. It just won't sit on my laptop unless I'm sitting flat. It's the exact problem I have with the Microsoft Surface Pro. In fact, Apple's tablet is like the Surface Mini that Microsoft never launched.
Thankfully - as of August 2016 - one of the big flaws was finally fixed as regional versions of the Smart Keyboard were released, meaning the currency keys will finally be in the right place for your territory.
I spent a lot of time toying around with the Apple Pencil and, thankfully, there are a more key apps today than when the original 12.9-inch iPad Pro launched alongside the accessory. There are a variety of blank canvas apps out there encouraging freehand art for this pressure and angle-sensitive stylus. But they're not all the same. It's the toolset on the sides and along the bottom that really matters.
I found FiftyThree's Paper to be one of the easiest drawing apps within the App Store followed by very customizable Procreate. What's surprising is that Apple didn't bother to make much use of its lag-free Pencil accessory with its own Notes app at first.
It wasn't until iOS 11 that Apple Notes expanded to include Instant Markup on PDF files and photos, Instant Notes on the lockscreen and Document Scanner to capture (and later markup) real-world documents. iOS 10 introduced real-time sharing capabilities.
However, at first, I was shocked to learn that I couldn't annotate on screenshots through the Photos app. iOS 10 fixes that problem, too, but it should really be among the editing tools from the beginning. Annotation is a key feature of the Microsoft Surface Pen, but here, I initially had to download an app called Skitch to circle some lines of text and show people the very important information.
Not a freehand drawing prodigy? That's okay. The Apple Pencil can still be a fun accessory thanks to apps like Pigment. It turned my 9.7-inch iPad Pro into a coloring book. I've never owned a coloring book this expensive before, but some things never change: I did get mad when drawing outside the lines.
As much as everyone joked that Apple's Pencil doesn't include an eraser on the other end, there's some truth to that cliched observational humor - especially when the Surface Pro's Pen does.
The biggest problem with the Apple Pencil is that it's expensive at $99 (£79, AU$165). I mean, people are buying inexpensive 8-inch Lenovo tablets running Android for that price, not a plastic tablet accessory. This Pencil doesn't have mainstream appeal for that reason, but it will tempt creative types who gravitate toward Apple products already.
A smaller issues is in the way it charges. There's a very loseable cap on the end of this plastic input device and it reveals a Lighting connector - a male end of Lightning. This means in order to charge the Pencil, I had to either plug it into my iPad in an awkward looking, very breakable setup, or remember to bring the equally loseable Lightning-to-Lightning adapter (both sides female) with me in my backpack.
I chose to cautiously charge it via the iPad and endure strange looks. The good news is that the Pencil doesn't take long to charge and lasts 12 hours when at 100%. When I was down to 0%, I didn't have to panic, either. Apple built its stylus to regain 30 minutes of juice with just 15 seconds of charging. I can pretend I'm not with my iPad Pro 9.7 for 15 seconds.
This is where the iPad Pro 9.7 earns its "pro" label, even though it's smaller in stature and the processor and RAM inside are slightly different than that of the original iPad Pro 12.9.
At the heart of the iPad Pro 9.7's specs is Apple's A9X System-on-a-Chip, which includes the the embedded M9 motion co-processor and a 12-core PowerVR Series 7 graphics chip. It sits right next to 2GB of RAM.
All of that means this tablet can pretend to be a computer, handling opening as many apps as you want, scrolling through menus without hiccups, summoning Siri at a moment's notice and watching video while multitasking in Mail and Twitter. I experienced no slowdown whatsoever.
Backing that up are a series of GeekBench 3 scores that average out to 5,227. That's slightly inferior to the iPad Pro 12.9 (2015), at least on paper, because it scored an average of 5,472 in the same tests. It shares the same Apple A9X chip, so what's the difference?
Apple's clock speed for the 9.7-inch model is 2.16 GHz and it has 2GB of RAM. The larger 12.9 tablet can run at 2.26 GHz with 4GB of RAM. But they're marginally different speeds for different tablet sizes (and more pixels), so I didn't notice a change between the two and you won't either.
While the iPad Air 2 is by no means a slow tablet, it scored an inferior 4506 and I did notice apps and menus loading more quickly on the new Pro.
The more important thing to pay attention to is the internal storage configurations. The iPad Pro 9.7, like its bigger counterpart from 2015, comes in 32GB, 128GB and now 256GB. There's no 16GB option any more, like on the iPad Air 2. That's for good reason - everyone was running out of space and couldn't upgrade to iOS 9.
Of course, there are now 1TB tablets like the iPad Pro 11 if you need even more space.
What's frustrating is the 32GB iPad Pro 9.7 price remains the same as the iPad Air 2 32GB launch price. That sets the entry-level fee for the new iPad much higher for consumers shopping for the best tablet. $599 is harder to justify, no matter the upgrade compared to the $499 price point the iPad Air 2 16GB option was offered at.
The excuse of "Well, it's technically under $500" is no longer a small lie if you still think that while waving your phone around to trigger Apple Pay.
The iPad Pro 9.7 ran iOS 9.3 out of the box and can be upgraded to iOS 12 right now, and what's here is a brilliant interface and app ecosystem that gets tablet software right... for a powerful tablet.
However coming in mid 2019 is iPad OS, Apple's new operating system designed for its iPad tablets, which promises to significantly change the interface of the iPad Pro 9.7. Until then, you're using iOS 12 though.
Both iOS 9 and iOS 11 were very tablet-focused refreshes of Apple's mobile operating system with new features like split screen multitasking and, with iOS 11, an app dock and redesigned Control Center menu.
iOS 12 wasn't quite as much of a game-changer for tablets, but what it added was still useful, with things like gesture controls and grouped notifications being added to the mix, along with performance improvements.
With more finger waggling than a Beyonce video, I can transition from typing up my work on Pages while editing photos in Lightroom; uploading the resulting media in Transmit FTP while entering everything into our content management system in Safari; and reading it all through on techradar via Safari while blasting it out to our followers on Twitter.
Multitasking isn't as easy as using a laptop's mouse and keyboard. Sometimes swiping the split screen view into place doesn't compute like, you know, on a computer. Sliding my finger across the screen from the right edge leftward reveals a small window that takes up just a third of the display. I can make the same left-swiping gesture to initiate the half-and-half split screen mode. Videos on YouTube and played through Safari and be minimized to any corner in a picture-on-picture mode, which rounds out the multitasking feature-set.
The other problem is only about two dozen of my apps currently support this split screen view and a lot are Apple-made apps; some I care about and some I do not, like the generic and new TV app. I watch video on YouTube, movies on Netflix and television on HBO Go. Home videos are all in the Photos app.
It feels as if iOS stops short of really testing those powerful internal specs with this helpful, but ultimately limited split screen interface. As slick as it is to navigate via a touchscreen, I'm much better off on a machine running macOS 10.14 Mojave where I can daringly run three or more apps at once and the full Safari browser with extensions.
I can get far more research and reporting done on a laptop thanks to a dock at the bottom of my screen at all times and a seemingly unlimited number of windows and tabs open at once. But for focus-driven writing days, I can almost as capably use this iPad Pro 9.7. The Smart Keyboard attachment and fast processor make for a fluid day outside of the office with the right work.
Apple's tablet software has always been considered better than what you'll find on an Android tablet. This is partly because several app developers don't properly scale tablet apps on Google's mobile operating system.
Most apps here run happily on the large screen and work cohesively with my iPhone. I get iMessages and SMS texts right on my tablet, while my Android tablets stay silent - unless I plead with my friends to use Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp or another similar non-SMS service.
I can also easily transition from a text message to a FaceTime video chat with other iOS users, or make a ridiculous-looking phone call on the tablet. This app-to-app linking feels seamless and about the person I'm talking to rather than siloed apps and multiple home screen visits in between.
My Samsung Galaxy S8 has an HD video call button now, but the person I'm trying to reach also has to have a Samsung phone (not just an Android) and belong to the same carrier (one of four in the US). Really. Who knows if that'll ever come to a Samsung tablet, either.
Apple's software is starting to get a lot of big stuff right. Siri is smarter in iOS 11 and Apple News has been tweaked to look a little better and more personalized. It's pre-loaded software has otherwise not made big changes in several years, but it's the small stuff that the company always brings together better than anyone.
A great example of this is walking into a local cafe I hadn't been since last year, opening up my brand new iPad Pro 9.7 and immediately being connected to the Wi-Fi. What's the password? I don't know, but I entered it into my New MacBook almost a year ago one time and now it's on the week-old tablet. That just saved me a critical step.
Apple boasted that its wider color gamut matches what major Hollywood studios use, and while I could see more vivid colors when editing photos, the new display is best experienced watching an action-packed flick like Mad Max: Fury Road or an animated movie like Bling. Both really popped on the 9.7-inch screen.
The speakers didn't just pop, they boomed. There are four on the frame of this iPad, and despite being at opposite corners, they sound balanced no matter how you hold the tablet. The fact that this tablet changes audio orientation the same way it changes screen orientation is clever.
Picture-and-Picture mode goes hand-in-hand with watching bite-sized videos in which the quality and color don't matter. This feature, launched by Apple in iOS 9 last year, allowed me to minimize the screen to any corner I wanted while getting work done.
Playing music had the same positive effects as watching a movie on the iPad Pro 9.7 – it sounded louder and crisper on this tablet's four speakers as opposed what I heard (or didn't hear) from the twin speakers of the iPad Air 2. I'm no longer always running to wirelessly connect a Bluetooth speaker accessory every time I blast playlist in my apartment. That's an incredible satisfying upgrade only the Pro tablets are capable of right now.
Downloading Pandora or Spotify is still the easiest free option to play music besides tapping into your own local music, but the new iPad comes with the company's fee-based Apple Music service, too. This is meant for anyone who wants a more "pro" level of song curation on their Pro-level tablet.
This productivity-enhanced tablet isn't all about churning out work with the Smart Keyboard. I've been easily distracted by the casual game Agar.io (Frank Underwood's favorite new game in House of Cards: Season 4). It works better on the tablet than the iPhone due to the expanded screen, and playing it on an iPad Pro 12.9 is just too big.
The iPad Pro 9.7 also felt "just right" in my hands when I was able to set new records on Real Racing 3, a serious test for 3D graphics on any iOS or Android device. That said, I didn't find too much difference regarding the game app performance other than reduced load times when compared to playing the same game on an iPad Air 2.
The iPad Pro 9.7 cameras have gotten a pro-level upgrade, even though taking photos with a tablet is considered a major tech faux pas, at least in public. Its still-photo specs are 12MP on the back and 5MP on the front, which, amazingly for a tablet, matches the iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Plus.
I see tablet cameras being useful for simple reference shots and work situations. Realtors and store managers take photos on devices all of the time where I live. For them, snapping photos on a more capable phone only to transfer them to a tablet to show a client is an extra step. Airdrop and iCloud Photo don't always work 100% of the time. The iPad Pro 9.7 solves this problem, something the last-generation iPad Pro 12.9 camera can't even claim to do.
If you're going to violate your contract with society to by taking pictures with an iPad, you might as well make it worth your while. I risked being shunned from the world forever many times over by wielding four tablets at once, simultaneously testing out the cameras of the iPad Pro 9.7, iPad Air 2, Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 and Google Nexus 9 and I found vast differences.
The 12MP iSight camera shows markedly better photo quality over the 8MP camera that's in the iPad Air 2 and also the iPad Pro 12.9. There's less noise in low light photos, giving every subject a brighter, yet cleaner look than every other tablet I have tested. The Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 trailed, and the HTC-made Google Nexus 9 finished last.
There's really no comparison on a tablet, and everything I photographed on the newest iPhone turned out exactly the same, as unheard of as that is. Only the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge I was also carrying around offered photos that looked better. That's no surprise, given the fact that Samsung has the best camera phone that takes brilliant pictures, even in low light settings.
The 5MP front-facing camera is also a considerable upgrade over the 1.2MP sensor found in recent iPads. This FaceTime Camera, as it's officially called, has a Retina Flash, meaning it shines the display three times brighter than normal to achieve the proper True Tone lighting.
All photos comes with Apple's Live Photos feature, which captures a snippet of video and sound 1.5 seconds before and 1.5 seconds after you press the shutter button. This is a neat, though not groundbreaking feature when scrolling back through vacation pictures. Seeing a little bit of life as you thumb through your photo gallery to people makes it seem less like you've trapped them into looking at the 21st century version of endless family vacation slides.
Both front and back cameras also stitch together Panorama photos, with the main rear-facing camera able to shoot 63MP, topping the 43MP pieced together by the iPad Air 2 and iPad Pro.
The rear camera also is capable of shooting 4K video at 30fps now and Slo-mo video mode has been upgraded to 1080p at 120 fps and 720p at 240 fps. Before, we were limited to 720p at 120 fps. You won't find any of these video features on its tablet competitors. Not even the 12.9-inch iPad Pro can do all of this.
Battery life is of key importance for any tablet because the it's designed for work and multimedia experiences. It needs to run all day for me to use it more than my laptop.
The good news is that the iPad Pro 9.7 has excellent battery life that has lasted me 24 hours with steady use. Apple says constant battering will give out 10 hours of power and that check out.
It contains a 27.5Wh battery, but I found it to last longer than the iPad Air 2, which has a 27.6Wh battery. Clearly that newer A9X processor now only works overtime when it has to, but is also generally more efficient.
Running our battery life test that plays a HD video for 90 minutes at full brightness, I found that a full battery diminished only by 22%. It was at 78% by the end of the looped video. That edges out the iPad Air 2, which dropped 26%, leaving me with 76%. The iPad Pro 12.9, with its bigger screen but bigger battery trade-off, sank 28% to 72%.
However, the newer iPad Pro 10.5 has it beat with just an 18% drop, despite the larger screen.
When it came to charging the batteries, the iPad Pro 9.7 took 3 hours and 50 minutes to recharge, while the iPad Air 2 was at full capacity in 3 hours and 30 minutes. Both were at about 17% after 30 minutes before the iPad Air 2 started pulling away with the victory.
The iPad Pro 9.7 isn't slow to charge, but it could have used Apple's new fast-charging feature that is so far exclusive to the bigger iPad Pro 12.9. The company sells a Lightning-to-USB C cable that provides a quick charging boost for its big 38.5Wh battery.
I put down the iPad Pro 12.9 way too quickly because it didn't fit into my life. It didn't even fit in my small backpack. The iPad Pro 9.7 is the proper size for most people without giving up too much horsepower and adding a little extra to the front (screen) and (back) camera.
Does it have enough "grunt" to be a laptop replacement and sway defecting Windows users, like Apple hopes? Not exactly. Even with the iOS 12 update, software is its biggest limitation – it's more than what's under the hardware hood. It ends up being a really great iPad tablet with some crossover laptop appeal.
The iPad Pro 9.7 looks, sounds and performs better than the iPad Air 2 in every way, though you have to look a little closer to realize any of these changes on the outside. Its color-rich display impresses with white-balance adapting screen technology and its four speakers drown out the audio of other tablets I have used.
The faster specs keep this tablet running smoothly, while 4K video and the choice of a 256GB iPad make for an excellent combination. I'm also impressed with the 12MP camera for a tablet. It keeps me from always having to reach for my phone when I want to take a simple photo to send to someone in iMessages. I still refuse to be seen doing this in public on a tablet. It's unseemly.
That's just what's in the box. Accessories like the Smart Keyboard hooked me with durable fabric keys that beat the New MacBook's plastic keys. I won't be getting any crumbs logged between the keys due to its innovative one-piece design.
The Apple Pencil was fun to doodle with and I know designers and artists are going to appreciate the pressure-sensitive stylus - though the likes of the newer iPad 9.7 support that too without the 'Pro' price tag.
This could be a more convincing laptop replacement if iOS took some more cues from OS X El Capitan. I can't work nearly as quickly or efficiently as I can on a MacBook in which I can open multiple programs, windows and tabs. Split screen on an iPad, with limited apps supporting it in full, can only get me so far. And as much as I became an expert as swiping through the interface to make use of two apps at once, I couldn't properly multi-task throughout my entire day.
It's technically slower than the iPad Pro 12.9 and missing out on its faster-charging capabilities with an optional USB-C-to-Lightning cable. A bigger issue, however, is the price. It's not cheap, even in 2018.
There's a question over whether or not the iPad Pro 9.7 is "innovative," and I think the question should be posed differently. If the niche-focused iPad Pro 12.9 didn't come out six months earlier, would this newer iPad be "innovative?" I think there's enough here to justify that label.
It has the looks with its True Tone display and wider color gamut technology, the sound with its four booming speakers, and the feel with its pressure-sensitive Pencil and its Smart Keyboard via the Smart Connector. It's also faster performing, there are more storage options and the 12MP camera is phone-worthy.
Apple ruined its own best surprises for everyday tablet-using consumers by launching most of this in the unreasonably sized (for most people) iPad Pro 12.9. Six months later, it's old news, but exactly the leap I wanted from an iPad Air 3.
The iPad Pro 9.7 ends up being more than a simple specs bump a year and a half after the iPad Air 2, but it's not quite the laptop replacement that Apple poses it to be. Its software is simplified, while its high price makes it a complicated purchase compared to the iPad 9.7.
It's no longer the newest Pro-level iPad option, but it's now the cheapest out there if you want a tablet that can multitask, but don't want to opt for a full-on MacBook experience.