Apple’s latest iPad Pro packs the internals of the 13-inch model in the same space as the 9.7-inch iPad Air.
Prices start at NZ$1050. The 9.7-inch iPad Air is more expensive than many laptops, but then Apple says it’s more powerful.
After a week of using it as my main, but not only, computer, it’s clear some people will find it more useful than a laptop.
iPad Pro in an iPad Air skin
At first sight there’s not much difference between the 9.7-inch iPad Pro and the iPad Air 2.
They are the same size. Both are 6mm thick. They weigh the same: about 445g for the cellular model.
The most obvious external difference is the bump on the back for the camera lens. On paper that sounds like an awful, backward step. In practice you never notice it.
While both iPads have the same 2048‑by‑1536 pixel resolution, the iPad Pro displays a wider colour range. Its screen is also brighter than the iPad Air 2.
Put the two side-by-side and you can see the displays are not the same. Unless both models show the same photograph, it is hard to describe what separates them.
If you do show the same image, you’ll notice it looks better on the iPad Pro with the wider color range. The display is brighter and more vibrant.
A wider colour range also means better colour accuracy. This is important if you use your iPad for work phototography or video. In the past iPads weren’t powerful enough for serious editing work. Both iPad Pro models handle these tasks with ease.
The second new screen feature of the 9.7-inch iPad Pro is more subtle.
Colour temperature 
True Tone detects the colour temperature of your surroundings using two four-channel light sensors. The iPad’s software then adjusts the display colour temperature to match.
This is noticeable if you fire up the iPad at night when the room lights are low. In the past bright blue-tinged iPad screen lights could spoil your relaxed night-time mood. There’s some evidence it can stop you from sleeping.
True Tone is clever and nice, but it is not going to excite anyone and won’t set the world on fire. On its own, True Tone is not a good enough reason to upgrade from an earlier iPad.
Like the 13-inch iPad Pro, the 9.7-inch model has beefed-up audio with louder, clearer speakers. It doesn’t match the sound quality of the bigger Pro, there’s not enough speaker room for that, but the sound is crisp. Music sounds better than you’d expect and FaceTime calls can be as clear as a bell.
Apple has woken up to the idea that people use the iPad to take photographs. In the past iPad cameras were a long way behind iPhone cameras in terms of specification and performance.
That’s changed. The 9.7-inch iPad Pro has the same camera as the iPhone 6. On the back is a 12 megapixel with flash. You can use it to shoot 4K video, although you’d need steady hands to hold an iPad still.
The front camera is also the same as on the iPhone 6S. It has five megapixels. The higher quality is immediately obvious if you use, say, Facetime for video conferencing.
iPad Pro Performance
Technical-minded reviewers often wax lyrical about the processors, graphics chips and Ram inside phones and tablets. Most of the time discussions about these components are meaningless, either the device runs fast and smoothly or it doesn’t. What matters is can the device do all the work a user is likely to throw at it.
If anything the 9.7-inch iPad Pro is overpowered. It uses the same A9X processor with M9 motion coprocessor that you’ll find on the larger 13-inch iPad Prod. Apple says its almost twice as fast as the iPad Air 2 and more powerful than most laptops.
In practice, you’ll notice the processor is more than fast enough for everyday tablet applications. If you come from an earlier iPad you’ll notice everything happens faster. Media plays more smoothly.
More tablet than laptop
Although it is an iOS device, the 13-inch iPad Pro has a laptop feel. Since I’ve had it, the keyboard has stayed attached for most of the time. I use it as I would use my 13-inch MacBook Air. It travelled to Europe with me as my main computer on a reporting trip.
In comparison, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro has more of a tablet. While I have used it with my Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover, it mainly gets used without a keyboard.
The Logitech Ultrathin keyboard works well with the iPad Pro. I used it to type part of this review. Apple Smart Keyboard wasn’t available in New Zealand at the time this review was written.
The 9.7-inch iPad Pro’s small size gives it an extra level of portability when compare to the larger iPad Pro. You can work with either iPad on an airplane tray-table, but the smaller one is even less of a problem in tight space like economy class seats.
Apple’s Pencil works with the smaller iPad Pro. The Pencil is a great input tool for artists and others who draw. You can use it to annotate images or even write notes, but the files are stored as images.
If you could combine the Pencil with system-wide handwriting-recognition software — something the Microsoft Surface Pro manages — you’d have a powerful tool for taking notes while standing. As a journalist who sometimes finds himself in media scrums, I would find this useful. It would be even more useful if it could read Teeline shorthand.
Microsoft Office bonus
Microsoft did a fine job with the iOS version of Office. The software run on iPhones, but it shines more with the increased room on an iPad display. If anything I find Microsoft Word performs smoother, better and is easier to use on a 13-inch iPad Pro than on my MacBook Air.
I used Word on the 9.7-inch iPad Pro to write a couple of features. The Logitech Ultrathin keyboard is cramped compared with a full-size keyboard, but the experience was far better than writing on an iPhone or even on the iPad’s screen keyboard.
You need a full Office 365 subscription to use the full version of the software on a laptop or 13-inch iPad Pro. However, Microsoft gives a free Office licence to anyone using the software on a device with a screen smaller than 10 inches. So, a bonus of the 9.7-inch iPad Pro is that, in effect, it comes with free Microsoft Office.
Office works great on iPads. Word, Excel, OneNote and PowerPoint all come in well-maintained iOS versions with frequent updates. It’s not the full software you’ll find on laptops or desktops, but everything most people need is there. If you don’t like Office, Apple’s iWorks software is included as standard on all iPad models.
Is the 9.7-inch iPad Pro worth buying?
If you only use an iPad to browse material, view photos, read PDFs and so on, then you may not need to upgrade to the 9.7-inch iPad Pro. It isn’t worth the expense to move from, say, the iPad Air 2 to a 9.7-inch iPad Pro.
On the other hand, if you already do, or intend to do most or all of your work on your iPad, an iPad Pro is a logical choice. While it won’t do everything a laptop can do, the things that are missing may or may not be important to you.
By the time you’ve added a keyboard, the 9.7-inch model still costs less than a MacBook Air or an equivalent Windows 10 Ultrabook. The 13-inch model is a more direct laptop replacement, the giant screen is worth the extra $350.
If you have an older iPad that’s getting a little tired, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro would be a good next step. You’ll notice the extra power and improved screen.
- There’s a lot of confusion about the term colour temperature. It is sometimes used as a way of talking about white balance. And it can mean something quite subjective. When Apple uses the term it relates to making the screen bluer or more orange depending on the colour of the light shining on and around the iPad. This makes for a less jarring screen viewing experience. ↩