iPad Pro 9.7 (2016) review

Apple's best tablet all grown up again

iPad Pro 9.7 review
iPad Pro 9.7 review

Why you can trust TechRadar We spend hours testing every product or service we review, so you can be sure you’re buying the best. Find out more about how we test.

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.

iPad Pro 9.7 review

Lots of finger waving

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.

iPad Pro 9.7 review

A limited number of app support this mode

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.

iPad Pro 9.7 review

The App Store still has the best tablet-centric apps compared to Android's many blown-up phone apps

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.

iPad Pro 9.7 review

Safari AND Notes at the same time

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.

iPad Pro 9.7 review

Movies with a lot of dramatic color look great on the iPad Pro 9.7

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.

iPad Pro 9.7 review

No need for a Bluetooth speaker. This is a big selling point for average consumers who aren't into the Pencil

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.

iPad Pro 9.7 review

Not too big, not too small

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.

Matt Swider