iPad Pro 9.7 (2016) review

Apple's best tablet all grown up again

iPad Pro 9.7 review
iPad Pro 9.7 review

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I put down the iPad Pro 12.9 way too quickly because it didn't fit into my life. It didn't even fit in my small backpack. The iPad Pro 9.7 is the proper size for most people without giving up too much horsepower and adding a little extra to the front (screen) and (back) camera.

Does it have enough "grunt" to be a laptop replacement and sway defecting Windows users, like Apple hopes? Not exactly. Even with the iOS 12 update, software is its biggest limitation – it's more than what's under the hardware hood. It ends up being a really great iPad tablet with some crossover laptop appeal.

We liked

The iPad Pro 9.7 looks, sounds and performs better than the iPad Air 2 in every way, though you have to look a little closer to realize any of these changes on the outside. Its color-rich display impresses with white-balance adapting screen technology and its four speakers drown out the audio of other tablets I have used.

iPad Pro 9.7 review

The True Tone smartly adapts to the lighting in your room

The faster specs keep this tablet running smoothly, while 4K video and the choice of a 256GB iPad make for an excellent combination. I'm also impressed with the 12MP camera for a tablet. It keeps me from always having to reach for my phone when I want to take a simple photo to send to someone in iMessages. I still refuse to be seen doing this in public on a tablet. It's unseemly.

That's just what's in the box. Accessories like the Smart Keyboard hooked me with durable fabric keys that beat the New MacBook's plastic keys. I won't be getting any crumbs logged between the keys due to its innovative one-piece design.

The Apple Pencil was fun to doodle with and I know designers and artists are going to appreciate the pressure-sensitive stylus - though the likes of the newer iPad 9.7 support that too without the 'Pro' price tag.

We disliked

This could be a more convincing laptop replacement if iOS took some more cues from OS X El Capitan. I can't work nearly as quickly or efficiently as I can on a MacBook in which I can open multiple programs, windows and tabs. Split screen on an iPad, with limited apps supporting it in full, can only get me so far. And as much as I became an expert as swiping through the interface to make use of two apps at once, I couldn't properly multi-task throughout my entire day.

iPad Pro 9.7 review

It's still not a great multitasking experience - it's still a tablet

It's technically slower than the iPad Pro 12.9 and missing out on its faster-charging capabilities with an optional USB-C-to-Lightning cable. A bigger issue, however, is the price. It's not cheap, even in 2018.

Final verdict

There's a question over whether or not the iPad Pro 9.7 is "innovative," and I think the question should be posed differently. If the niche-focused iPad Pro 12.9 didn't come out six months earlier, would this newer iPad be "innovative?" I think there's enough here to justify that label.

It has the looks with its True Tone display and wider color gamut technology, the sound with its four booming speakers, and the feel with its pressure-sensitive Pencil and its Smart Keyboard via the Smart Connector. It's also faster performing, there are more storage options and the 12MP camera is phone-worthy.

iPad Pro 9.7 review

Apple gave up its own surprise for the masses

Apple ruined its own best surprises for everyday tablet-using consumers by launching most of this in the unreasonably sized (for most people) iPad Pro 12.9. Six months later, it's old news, but exactly the leap I wanted from an iPad Air 3.

The iPad Pro 9.7 ends up being more than a simple specs bump a year and a half after the iPad Air 2, but it's not quite the laptop replacement that Apple poses it to be. Its software is simplified, while its high price makes it a complicated purchase compared to the iPad 9.7.

It's no longer the newest Pro-level iPad option, but it's now the cheapest out there if you want a tablet that can multitask, but don't want to opt for a full-on MacBook experience.

  • Fancy treating yourself? Then be sure to check out our roundup of the best iPad Pro deals. Or if you want to spend less, how about a regular iPad deal?
Matt Swider