iPad Pro 9.7-inch Review: Is it really Pro material?

To fully understand my review, must explain a few things. I come to owning the iPad Pro 9.7″ via a long lineage of Macs, iPods, iPhones and iPads. I’ve owned five MacBooks since 2006, the iPhone, iPhone 3G, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPhone 5, iPhone 6 and iPhone 6S. I’ve also owned the iPad Mini 2, iPad 4, iPad Air 2, and for a brief time, the iPad Pro 12.9″.

iPad Pro

The minority of upgrades along this ownership have been truly revolutionary. Moving to the Retina MacBook Pro from a regular 13″ MacBook pro was a huge one. The iPhone 4 over the iPhone 3G was pretty huge.

After thinking about the iPad Pro 9.7″, it’s hard to say whether it’s a revolutionary upgrade. I’m leaning toward “no,” but I could be swayed over time. The reason I got rid of the 12.9″ model was that it was way too big to fly with (I’m a private pilot who uses it for navigation/charts) and I was unable to procure an Apple Pencil due to low stock. Now that I have a true iPad Pro *and* the Apple Pencil, I’m more qualified to talk about what kind of upgrade this is.

Some things I like:

4 speakers: Apple has finally caught up with other manufacturers who give you stereo sound by default, even on cheap tablets. Heck, my old Nexus 7 2nd generation even had stereo speakers. So, when I upgraded from that to an iPad Mini 2, it was a downgrade speaker-wise. Now I feel like I’m back where I should be. The speakers on the Pro 9.7″ are not *quite* as mind-blowing as the speakers on the 12.9″, but they’re still better than any other iPad that came before. For their size, they’re truly fantastic.

Pencil: Wow, this is progress. It doesn’t sample quite as fast as the Pro 12.9″, but it’s still very much as close to a pen-and-paper writing experience as you can get. The quality of the experience depends highly on the quality of app you’re using, and I can say I really like Adobe Sketch and Procreate. For taking note and annotating PDFs – the primary reason for this purchase over keeping an iPad Air 2 – I really like Notability. The pencil support in Notability is good, about 80% there, but makes annotating PDFs a real joy compared to the hassle of dealing with print. My handwriting is terrible, and Notability does a good job replicating it to a T. I write small, and much to my surprise, the Apple Notes app is much poorer at recording my small bad handwriting than is Notability. Interesting how a native app does worse than a 3rd party app on what is supposed to be a killer feature.

Battery life: Great!

Speed: Lightning fast for everything. I can’t tell how much faster it really is than the iPad Air 2, but benchmarks seem to be putting it ahead favorably. Multitasking is very very fast.


Battery charge time: Still slow! Apple needs to up their charging game if they want to remain competitive. I’m used to my Apple products taking a significant charge in a short period of time, but it’s just not the case with the iPad Pro.

Screen space: I know I intentionally got rid of the iPad Pro 12.9″ in favor of this one, but I feel like I run out of palm space a lot when I’m writing with the Pencil. I’m a southpaw, so sometimes I’ll just write on the right side of the screen and/or keep another app open on the left side where my palm can rest.

Multitasking: Apple really needs to find a way for any two apps to multitask. What about having two instances of Safari open side-by-side? Ability to instantly swap sides? All missing.

TouchID speed: Still a first-gen sensor (think iPhone 5S… old, right?), which is much much slower and less accurate compared to the sensor on my iPhone 6S.

Overall, I like the iPad for what it is. I think that for $820 after tax for the iPad, Pencil, and magnetic screen cover, I have a right to expect a bit more progress on certain items. iPads were already expensive enough at $500, but they need to do a little bit better of a job justifying the “Pro” part of the “iPad Pro.”

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