While everyone was busy talking about the tiny new iPhone SE, Apple launched another product: the iPad Pro 9.7 inch. It’s a lot like last year’s gigantic 12.9 inch iPad Pro, only smaller.
I'm not sure how I feel about this: I love the iPad Pro 12.9 inch, but mostly because of its size, which makes it the best portable device in the world for watching movies on.
The Pro 9.7 essentially replaces the iPad Air 2 as Apple’s premium, regular-sized tablet. As the “Pro” suffix suggests, it packs in most of the hardware that made the larger version such an attractive proposition. Like that tablet, it comes with a Smart Connector port on the left-hand side, allowing you to magnetically snap on a keyboard and not have to worry about fiddling with Bluetooth to make it work. It’s compatible with Apple Pencil, which will satisfy all your digital drawing needs. It has the new four speaker set-up, which can detect how you’re holding the device and adapt the audio accordingly; it blows away the iPad Air 2 in terms of volume and sound quality.
The rear-facing camera is also vastly improved over the iPad Air 2, moving the iPad into line with the iPhone 6s, with a 12mp sensor, the ability to shoot 4K video and a True Tone LED flash to stop you looking like a stupid ghost. All of this in a tablet, a category of device that's absolutely horrible to take pictures with – at least the option's there should you need it.
In several regards, the 9.7 inch version actually outclasses its larger sibling. It has a True Tone display, which uses invisible sensors to detect the ambient light and adjust the screen accordingly, so in low light it doesn’t end up looking too blue (a side-effect of your eyes adapting to the dark). It also has 25 per cent more colour saturation and noticeably less glare, making it the best iPad yet for general reading and web-browsing.
In terms of raw power, it shares the same A9X chip as the bigger version, meaning it can comfortably handle intensive tasks such as video editing and 3D design. If you plan on pushing the device to the limits, it’s worth bearing in mind that the 9.7 inch version is lighter on RAM than the bigger one, although I couldn’t detect much difference.
I’m going to gloss over the obligatory “could it replace my laptop” question. The short answer is still “probably not”, depending on what you use your laptop for. I introduced my mother to the iPad years ago and she hasn’t been in the same room as a laptop since. Personally, I still need to bring mine out of hibernation once or twice a month for tasks that would be too time-consuming to attempt without a mouse, or that require flicking back and forth between several apps, or when I need to step momentarily outside the expansive walled garden of iOS. It’s not an issue of power, though; my laptop is a few years old and the iPad Pro leaves it for dust by just about every metric.
In short, the iPad Pro 9.7 inch is the best “regular-sized” tablet on the market, high-powered enough to handle tasks that would have been unthinkable on a portable device a few years ago. Of course, this doesn’t come cheap; the lowest-spec model comes in at £499, and for the mid tier of storage – a virtual a necessity – that rises to £619. Then you have to spend another £79 on the pencil and – most painfully of all – £139 on the keyboard. £139 for the keyboard – say it and weep.
That you end up parting with upwards of £800 is the only real down-side – and it will undoubtedly prove to be a deal-breaker for many. If that doesn’t put you off, you’ll be the proud owner of an outstanding piece of hardware.