iPhone and iPad Product Reviews

Powerful Things, Small Packages: iPad Pro 9.7″ Review

Tim Brookes 29-04-2016

For some people, a 12.9″ screen is the main draw of Apple’s first iPad Pro. For others, size was the main barrier to entry — despite a top-quality range of first-party accessories and the sheer power of a lightweight laptop under the hood.


Now that the iPad Pro is available in the same 9.7″ form factor as the iPad Air 2 iPad Air 2 Review And Giveaway Read More , choosing between Apple’s tablets doesn’t just come down to screen size Which iPad Should You Buy? Air, Pro 9.7" and 12.9" Compared You now have four separate iPads to choose from, including the regular iPad Air, the iPad mini, and two sizes of iPad Pro. Here's how to choose between them. Read More . I’ve spent a few weeks working with the new 9.7″ iPad Pro to find out whether or not it’s time to upgrade.

Three Inches Matter

Unlike the larger model, the new iPad Pro feels just like a regular iPad. In fact, it feels positively ordinary. This isn’t a bad thing, and as a result it feels far more like a couch companion than the 12.9″ model. It’s nowhere near as unwieldy, and it doesn’t feel comically big when used anywhere other than a solid surface or your lap. This is down to the fact that the 9.7″ model matches the iPad Air 2 exactly in terms of dimensions and weight.


One of the first things you’ll notice is the brand new display, which Apple says includes a 25% wider color gamut and automatically adjusts white balance based on your surrounding. The so-called True Tone Display is easily the best screen we’ve seen from an Apple tablet yet. Images look more vivid than ever and balancing whites based on your surroundings is a subtle but ultimately welcome trick, particularly if you spend a lot of time writing on a white background.

Inside, things are pretty much identical to the larger model. There’s an A9X chip which delivers the goods as expected, though it’s clocked slightly slower than the larger 12.9″ model. In reality you won’t notice it, but one thing you might notice (in time) is the fact that the 9.7″ variant only has 2GB of RAM.



Compared to the 4GB found in the 12.9″ model, this is disappointing. Half the amount of RAM means apps and tabs are more likely to fall out of memory, though the hardware handles current demands surprisingly well. Try as I might, I couldn’t force an app refresh when juggling three tabs and six apps. I get the feeling as iOS and its apps become more demanding, the lack of RAM will begin to show though.

Just like the larger model, the 9.7″ Pro is rated at 10 hours battery life — a number it easily achieves. The tablet puts my MacBook Pro to shame — I’ll get maybe five or six hours of writing, email and web browsing done before my laptop gets critically low, but I’ll still have half a tank left after finishing for the day when I use the iPad Pro. Standby time is excellent too, at one point I left the tablet at 95% in my bag for five days and came back to 77% battery, despite being connected to Wi-Fi and receiving notifications for Mail and other apps.



That’s not to say that either iPad Pro is capable of replacing your laptop Can the iPad Pro Replace Your Laptop? The iPad Pro can do a lot, but can it do enough to completely replace the humble laptop? That depends. Read More in its entirety, and the impressive battery life is ultimately down to the restrictive nature of iOS. This is the upshot of using an optimized mobile operating system for getting work done How To Make Your iPad a Laptop Replacement In an interview, Apple CEO Tim Cook said he no plans for developing an iPad that transforms into a laptop. But that certainly doesn't keep many iPad users from using the device as a notebook... Read More .

Not Just a Smaller iPad

The 9.7″ iPad Pro is considerably more portable than its larger counterpart, particularly when paired with the Smart Keyboard accessory. Using it as a mobile workstation makes for a very flexible rig, with enough power to handle anything the App Store can throw at it. Despite smaller being generally better, you should think long and hard about how you intend to use the iPad Pro if you’re tossing up between the two.


You’re essentially making a choice between a portable couch buddy that can handle work tasks and fit in smaller spaces; and more screen real estate which makes for a better work environment and more comfortable typing experience. Using the larger iPad Pro without the Smart Keyboard takes some serious getting used to, so if you’re looking for a tablet experience first and foremost the smaller 9.7″ model makes more sense.


On the back, Apple has added another reason you might want to pick the smaller model — the camera now protrudes from the back, just like the iPhone 6s. To accompany the full set of stereo speakers, Apple has added an iPhone-quality camera which takes 12 megapixel still images, 4K video at 30 frames per second, 1080p video recording at 30 or 60 frames per second, and the slow-motion video performance of their latest smartphones.


Combined with an aperture of f/2.2, the new iPad delivers the best iPad low-light performance we’ve seen yet, shoots Live Photos and comes with a True Tone flash for balancing skin tones. By comparison, the 12.9″ model is stuck in the past with 8 megapixel stills and grainy low light footage. Even the front-facing camera on the smaller iPad Pro now matches the 5 megapixel standard set by the iPhone 6s. It seems Apple has delivered a photographer’s iPad.

I know what you’re thinking — is Apple encouraging people to take pictures and videos on their tablets a good thing? The conclusion I’ve reached is that Apple is only pandering to the fact that people already use their iPad for these tasks. As someone who shoots a lot of video on an iPhone (the review that accompanies this write-up, for example), I can see why.



There are a lot of professional applications for this sort of thing, an iPad is a relatively flexible device that can accomplish many tasks — why not make it an effective camera too? It makes a lot of sense to put these camera improvements on the smaller model, which now also sports a better screen. Compared with a small smartphone display, you get a much better view of the action on the larger 9.7″ screen.

A New Smart Keyboard

One of the main selling points for the iPad Pro is compatibility with Apple’s first-party accessories — the Smart Keyboard, and the Pencil stylus. There’s no smaller stylus this time round (that would be silly), but the keyboard cover has been reduced in size to match the smaller tablet, at the slightly cheaper price point of $149. When I reviewed the 12.9″ iPad Pro I came to the conclusion that if you’re not interested in these accessories, you might be wasting your money investing in an iPad Pro — and the new tablet does little to change my opinion.


Compared to the larger cover, the new Smart Keyboard takes some getting used to. Despite sharing a layout with the standard Mac keyboard, I didn’t find the transition as smooth this time round. Typing is a challenge to begin with, and those with bigger hands are going to struggle and rely on autocorrect more than they’d like. After about 30 minutes of typing, I felt far more confident on the smaller keyboard and at this stage I turned autocorrect off.

In terms of feel, the smaller Smart Keyboard is identical to the larger model. The keys have the same satisfying pop, with enough feedback and travel to make typing a pleasant experience. Your hand position remains close enough to the screen that you’re still able to comfortably interact with touchscreen elements without over-stretching. Just like the larger keyboard, it doesn’t feel like it’s going to topple over when used on your lap.


Apple has been smart about reducing the size of the keyboard, maximizing the size of the main letter keys while shrinking down those found on the outer edges, like tab, apostrophe and backslash. There’s no denying that typing is a more cramped experience this time round. I couldn’t build up the same speed that I did on the larger model, but I have relatively large hands. If you have smaller digits then this might not be such an issue for you.

While protecting the glass touch screen, the Smart Keyboard adds some heft to the iPad Pro. It’s not enough to severely impact the mobility, but it seems like a bigger deal on the smaller tablet than it does the larger one. The Smart Keyboard doesn’t sit quite flat due to the way it folds, but it’s still the thinnest and most elegant portable typing solution you’ll find for your tablet. Best of all, it requires no batteries, charging or Bluetooth pairing, instead utilising the connector on the back of the unit.


The Pencil seems less useful here, though it works exactly the same way it does on the larger model. It’s probably best suited to handwriting aficionados, and for art and design purposes the 12.9″ display provides a far better digital canvas. If you’re thinking of using your iPad Pro as a graphics tablet for your Mac with the use of Astropad ($20) though, the 9.7″ model is a capable and portable solution that’ll serve you well.

Who’s It For?

The iPad Air and both models of iPad Pro can all take advantage of an iOS feature called Split View, which allows you to run two apps at the same time. By dragging from the left edge of the screen, a second app opens up occupying a third of the available display. Drag the divider to the centre of the screen and each app will take up half of the available space. On the 12.9″ iPad Pro this feature is a killer.


50-50 split screen seems a lot less useful here, and I found myself choosing the smaller 1/3 screen option for running secondary apps the majority of the time. When dividing the 9.7″ screen in two, websites revert to mobile versions, and neither app seems to get enough room to shine. If work and multitasking are your main reasons for buying an iPad Pro, you might be safer spending a little more on the larger model.

With this in mind, the 9.7″ iPad Pro feels more like an upgrade for iPad Air users who wish their tablet had a bit more oomph, and compatibility with some very nice first-party accessories. If you’re buying new today, you can pick up a 16GB iPad Air for $399, while the smaller iPad Pro will set you back $599. As the iPad Pro has a base capacity of 32GB, the pill is a little easier to swallow when you consider you’ll get double the capacity for that extra $200.


Most users will probably want a Smart Keyboard too (and if you don’t, you should seriously consider an iPad Air 2 instead), which takes the total minimum cost to $748 — still cheaper than an 11 inch MacBook air ($899). An entry-level Apple laptop may be more capable as it runs a proper desktop OS, but the iPad Pro is smaller with a better battery life to boot.

If you’re looking for an ultra-portable workstation and you’re confident the iPad Pro can do everything you want it to Should You Buy an iPad Pro? 6 Things to Consider Feeling tempted by the pull of Apple's newest tablet, but not sure if you should bite? You're in good company. Read More , sacrificing screen real estate in favour of a thinner and more mobile device may be the way to go. Apple has even introduced 256GB storage capacities (starting at $899 for the 9.7″ model), when previously 128GB was your limit.


The smaller iPad Pro feels like less of a laptop replacement than the larger model, but it could still do the job just as well depending on your demands. I still think the tablet exists as a supplementary device, to be used alongside your main machine; and for this purpose the cheaper 9.7″ iPad Pro seems easier to justify.

The Best iPad Yet?

In terms of hardware and form factor, the 9.7″ iPad Pro is the best iPad yet. Not only does it make a great touch screen companion for browsing Facebook and sitting on the sofa; new display technology, internal hardware, and camera improvements make it a force to be reckoned with. First-party accessories like the Smart Keyboard and Pencil make it possible to get real work done, even if you do have to get used to the restrictive nature of iOS first.


If you have a main machine like an iMac or ageing MacBook Pro, and you’re looking for something portable to add to the setup; you’re probably better off with one of these — which ticks both work and pleasure boxes — than a new MacBook Air. You might not be able to get rid of your main machine, but you’ll have an iPad that works great on the couch, and an ultra-portable workhorse to get real work done.

Your success here may be limited to how well you get on with iOS, however. For office tasks, blogging, communicating with workmates, responding to email, typing essays, and many of the uses for which people currently buy laptops, a 9.7″ iPad Pro with a Smart Keyboard is a surprisingly capable and versatile tool at a price point which won’t make your eyes water. Of course, you might not need to spend an extra $200 on an iPad Pro Use Your Regular iPad Like an iPad Pro and Get More Done Just like regular MacBooks, regular iPads are capable of getting serious work done too. Read More if the Air will do.


One last thing: Microsoft currently allows tablets with a screen size smaller than 10.1″ use Office for free, which means you’ll need to cough up for an Office 365 subscription if you want to use Word or Excel on the larger iPad Pro, but not on this. If you’re thinking of buying the tablet for school or small business use The 10 Best Word Processing Apps for Your iPad You can use your iPad to edit documents, compile notes, or even crack out a novel. Here are the best word processors for the iPad. Read More , and you want to save some more money, this may factor into your decision.

Our verdict of the iPad Pro 9.7-inch:
The best iPad yet, if you can justify the additional expense.
9 10

iPad Pro 9.7″ Giveaway

Related topics: iPad Pro, MakeUseOf Giveaway.

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  1. Leese
    May 20, 2017 at 11:56 pm

    Though it looks like I didn't make it in time for the competition—by the way, CONGRATS! Mark Johnstone—I still would like to say "Thank You Very Much" for the wonderful detailed, and informative review that you wrote Tim Brookes. I can truthfully say—before reading this review—I was clueless about the new APPLE 9.7" PRO IPad. I just knew I wanted one but didn't know much about them. I currently own an IPad3 with 64GB, but after reading this review I've decided to wait until probably the end of the year, or the beginning of next year, before purchasing a new 9.7" PRO IPad, with 128GB. I'm also waiting to purchase because I read in another of the Make Use Of articles—in fact, the one that linked me to your review—that APPLE may be making other, even better changes to their iPads later in the year, without changing the prices of the models. I just love getting access to very useful time, and money-saving information! I've lost track of the number of articles from this site that are bookmarked to my desktop. Please keep it up.

  2. Mark Johnstone
    June 2, 2016 at 11:56 pm

    Big thank you MakeUseOf it is a great prize! I will be eagerly looking forward for it's arrival next week. :) Just what I need as my ancient PC (duo core) needs to be retired. Thank you for the competition and great review of the Ipad Pro 9.7".

  3. Carrie Talbot-Ashby
    May 21, 2016 at 8:14 pm

    This would be a dream prize for my lot, thanks for the chance x

  4. Gacem Bekhira
    May 21, 2016 at 1:22 pm

    I would really like to win an ipad

  5. Jane Gorton
    May 20, 2016 at 11:00 pm

    I would really like to win an ipad. I have been trying for so long perhaps this will be my lucky day!!! x

  6. Saana
    May 18, 2016 at 7:05 am

    and thank you for the giveaway, don't have an insta account so couldn't get you there also i don't have a smartphone yet to download the apps

  7. Saana
    May 18, 2016 at 7:03 am

    nearly in every giveaway. I enter with a hope to win this time but always end up by just increase in my knowledge of tech world. such a helpful device for students hope to win it

  8. siham oussalem
    May 17, 2016 at 2:26 pm

    best ipad so far i hope it will be mine

    May 15, 2016 at 5:57 pm

    hello, Thanks for this lovely giveaway good luck

  10. Robert F
    May 14, 2016 at 3:17 am

    Best iPad so far

  11. Anonymous
    May 12, 2016 at 3:17 am

    Really want this one!

  12. Anonymous
    May 11, 2016 at 1:27 am

    Hope to winner this

  13. Surinder gurm
    May 8, 2016 at 1:13 pm

    It would be nice to try a different phone

  14. Teni SinLa
    May 6, 2016 at 11:34 pm

    Hi,... thanks for great giveaway! But why i cannot follow you on instagram,... please help! thanks!

  15. Wanda
    May 3, 2016 at 8:26 pm

    Thank you so much for the chance to win an i-Pad pro!! All my
    fingers are crossed tight.It would be so exciting to win!! :)

  16. David Sanford
    May 3, 2016 at 4:56 pm

    How do you spell upgrade? i-P-a-d P-r-o!

  17. wallygetsit
    May 3, 2016 at 3:45 pm

    I'd like to give this bad boy a try.

    May 3, 2016 at 11:55 am

    All I can do is just wish that I will win this beast!!

  19. Karthi
    May 3, 2016 at 4:41 am

    Honestly never owned an Ipad before cause my life. Would like to own one if i had enough money. Please pick me if i really deserve. Haha !! IF not thanks anyway. Loved your review

  20. sulaimahn
    May 2, 2016 at 11:52 pm

    Wouldn't it be nice if Apple one day decided to actually give us what we want, rather than what they've decided before-hand what it is that we want?

    • Tim Brookes
      May 4, 2016 at 2:55 am

      You mean like a smaller iPad Pro with its own smaller keyboard accessory rather than just a larger 12.9" one?

      One of the main criticisms of the larger iPad Pro was that the size simply isn't necessary for everyone, so whether or not this was Apple's plan all along (and it probably was), this certainly has the outward appearance of a company listening to (or pre-empting) what its customers want.

      • Anonymous
        June 3, 2016 at 12:11 am

        Big thank you Tim for the competition and prize.

        I will be eagerly looking forward for it's arrival next week. :It's just what I need as my ancient PC (duo core) needs to be retired. Thank you for the competition and great review of the Ipad Pro 9.7". What are the specifications for the giveaway prize? The 32 GB or greater.

        It will be interesting to see how I cope with my large hands. Any recommendations for accessories to pair with the Ipad Pro 9.7". Also any chance to throw in a screen protector :)

  21. Edmond
    May 2, 2016 at 10:23 pm

    Re: Goodness gracious great balls of fire . Pick me, pick me! Your next winner!!! Show me the money!!! It would be a dream come true and means more to me than anyone else to win. Starving artist here desperately needs the ipad to work and eat. Winner, winnner. Chicken dinner. A life changing experience. Top of my bucket list. Thank you for the awesomeness, the contest, and generosity. Dear Santa: I’ve been nice. My X-Mas wish this year is to win this contest. :)

  22. Suzanne Kittell
    May 2, 2016 at 6:31 pm

    Would love to win one to learn about them, never had one

  23. Frane
    May 2, 2016 at 12:41 pm

    Never had iPad :)

  24. Jeremy
    May 2, 2016 at 2:31 am

    That would be a nice replacement for my iPad 2.

  25. Anonymous
    May 1, 2016 at 10:31 pm

    Looking good! Would be very handy for work!

  26. Darth Vader
    May 1, 2016 at 3:27 pm

    Hope To Win One To Design and Reading! Good Luck everyone!

  27. Andy
    May 1, 2016 at 5:52 am

    Never use any IOS device before but the Ipad look good than my galaxy...

  28. Hussam
    April 30, 2016 at 9:45 pm

    I'm here by chance , was reading some information about arduino ;
    awesome review for the IPAD pro 9.7 , good luck every one

  29. Linda Finn
    April 30, 2016 at 5:58 pm

    Awesome, would make a good Birthday Present for my Business ! Me..
    Faithful Acres Body Soul Spirit

  30. Marilyn Rowe
    April 30, 2016 at 1:59 pm

    Would love to win this!!

  31. Siobhan Davis
    April 29, 2016 at 8:02 pm

    This would be amazing, Thank you so much for the chance x

  32. Anonymous
    April 29, 2016 at 5:03 pm

    Awesome giveaway! Good luck everyone.