Apple’s smaller iPad Pro is an excellent tablet, although the case for it as a full "productivity" device isn't quite as strong as Apple thinks it is.
Apple didn’t invent the tablet computer, but it’s undeniably responsible for making the concept widely popular all the way back to the original iPad. That’s only dating back to 2010, but in that time Apple’s released smaller and larger iPads while trying to focus ever more strongly on the productivity rather than entertainment/information markets. Last year’s 12.9 inch iPad Pro was the strongest pitch from Apple in that direction, and the 9.7 inch version continues that idea -- at least if you buy Apple’s positioning anyway.
|Device||Apple iPad Pro 9.7 inch|
|Pricing||$899/$1149/$1399 (Wi-Fi) $1,099/$1349/$1599 (LTE)|
Upsides: Why you’d want the iPad Pro 9.7
- Good camera: Taking photos with a tablet is still a very clunky thing to do, but if it’s the only camera you’ve got on you, it may as well be a good one. The iPad Pro 9.7in’s 12MP camera matches that in the iPhone 6s, which means it’s very solid indeed.
- iOS Tablet ecosystem still the one to beat: There’s stiff competition in the tablet space from numerous Android tablets, but in terms of fully tablet-aware apps, iOS is still well ahead. Matching those apps up to the power of the iPad Pro 9.7 works superbly well. Android has made some strides in this respect, but way too many apps behave strangely in a tablet form factor, while this is rarely an issue on iOS.
- Great update to the iPad Air family: If all you want is a more powerful 9.7 inch tablet running iOS, the iPad Pro has you very nicely covered, incorporating the A9X processor found in its larger sibling. That gives it plenty of headroom for applications of all types, as well as iOS’ full suite of multitasking possibilities.In benchmarking terms, compared using Geekbench 3 against the larger iPad Pro, the 9.7 inch model acquits itself well.
Handset Geekbench 3 Single Core (higher is better) Geekbench 3 Multi Core (higher is better) Apple iPad Pro 12.9in 3234 5499 Apple iPad Pro 9.7in 3240 5493
- Excellent battery life: Apple can’t seem to get it right with its smaller iPhone range, as evidenced with the iPhone SE for example, but the extra size of an iPad gives it a lot more breathing room for all day operation. The larger iPad Pro 12.7in managed an astonishing 16:45:40 using Geekbench 3’s battery test with screen dimming enabled, and while that’s a handset more than tablet test, the smaller iPad Pro still did well, notching up 11:42:00 before going flat. As a straight productivity device there’s no doubt you could use this throughout the working day without issues.
- Pencil works really well: The iPad Pro 9.7 supports the $165 Apple Pencil accessory in the same way its bigger sibling does. The advantage that it has is that app developers have had more time to develop apps that make full use of its capabilities, making it a better purchase option alongside the iPad Pro itself.
Downsides: Why you might not want the iPad Pro 9.7
- Smart keyboard is acceptable but not great: Apple’s Smart Keyboard for the 12.7in iPad Pro had plenty of room to move, but with a 9.7in display they’ve had to squeeze keys in markedly. It’s a problem for every iPad keyboard to date, and while the Smart Keyboard (which you’ll have to pay an extra $229 for) is better than most, many full laptop keyboards are better again.
- Smaller screen means worse multitasking: On the larger iPad Pro, stretching out apps made a lot of sense, because there was a lot of screen real estate to play with. The iPad Pro 9.7 does support the full range of iOS multitasking gestures, but on the smaller screen they’re much less impressive.
- Still better for consumption than creation: The iPad Pro 9.7 is a great update for iPad Air (or older iPad) owners looking for a powerful device for video, music, games or general apps. On the productivity front, having tested it we can’t quite buy Apple’s contention that it’s a full laptop replacement. That’s partly down to the apps and partly down to how the operating system underneath works. There are apps for light productivity and that's fine, but pushing the iPad Pro 9.7 hard against what you could do on a laptop and it comes off a distinct second best. Combine that with the iPad Pro 9.7’s asking price against what you could get in a comparable laptop, and it’s a very hard sell indeed, because ultimately it's fine for light productivity work, but outclassed by Apple's own MacBooks or many Windows laptops you could buy for similar prices.
- No expandable storage: It’s the perennial Apple problem; you can’t easily add any additional storage beyond that which you bought your iPad Pro 9.7 with.
Who is it best suited for? What are my other options?
Those with light productivity needs, or those looking to update a much older iPad, or buy their first would be well served to consider the iPad Pro 9.7. It’s not quite the productivity supercomputer that Apple seems to want to sell it as, but as a tablet against the other mobile alternatives at this size and price range, it can’t be beat.
The obvious in-house competitor would be Apple’s own 12.7in iPad Pro. You can read our full review of that device here. If you’re more interested in a Windows-based productivity tablet/hybrid, consider Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4 or Surface Book, or possibly Samsung’s Galaxy TabPro S if you want something with similarly excellent battery life to the iPad Pro 9.7.
Where can I get it?
Apple sells the iPad Pro 9.7 through its online store as well as in its retail stores, alongside a number of physical retail locations.