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Apple iPad Pro 9.7 review: The best just got better

By James Lu - 14 Apr 2016

Benchmark Performance, Imaging, Battery Life and Conclusion

Benchmark Performance

The iPad Pro 9.7 runs on the same 64-bit A9X SoC that you'll find inside the iPad Pro 12.9. Its bigger brother is marginally faster with a 2.26GHz clockspeed, compared to 2.16GHz on the 9.7, but the 12.9 also has to work harder to drive its larger display.

The A9X also comes with the same M9 motion co-processor and 12-core PowerVR Series 7 GPU. One pretty big difference is that the 9.7 only has 2GB RAM, compared to 4GB on the 12.9.

In terms of storage, Apple has doubled all of the previous configurations available on the iPad Air 2. Like the iPad Pro 12.9, your new options are: 32, 128, and 256GB.

Tablets compared
  Apple iPad Pro 9.7 Apple iPad Pro Apple iPad Air 2 Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 9.7 LTE Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet
  Apple iPad Pro 9.7 Apple iPad Pro Apple iPad Air 2 Samsung Galaxy Tab S2 9.7 LTE Sony Xperia Z4 Tablet
Network
  • 4G LTE (optional)
  • 4G LTE (optional)
  • 4G LTE (optional)
  • 4G LTE (optional)
Operating system
  • iOS 9.3
  • iOS 9
  • iOS 8
  • Android 5.0.2
  • Android 5.0 Lollipop
Processor
  • Apple A9X chip with M9 co-processor
  • Apple A9X with M9 motion co-processor
  • Triple-core A8X with M8 co-processor
  • Exynos 5433 (1.9GHz A57 quad-core + four 1.3GHz A53 quad-core)
  • Qualcomm Snapdragon 810 Octa-core (Quad-core 1.5 GHz Cortex-A53 & Quad-core 2 GHz Cortex-A57)
Memory
  • 2GB
  • 4GB
  • 2GB
  • 3GB
  • 3GB RAM
Display
  • 9.7-inch
  • 2048 x 1536 pixels resolution (264ppi)
  • IPS
  • 12.9-inch display
  • 2732 x 2048 pixels resolution
  • 9.7-inch
  • 2048 x 1536 pixels resolution
  • IPS
  • 9.7-inch
  • 2048 x 1536 pixels resolution
  • Super AMOLED
  • 10.1-inch / 2560 x 1600 / 299ppi / IPS LCD
Camera
  • Rear: 12-megapixel, f/2.2, 29mm, phase detection autofocus, dual-LED (dual tone) flash
  • Front: 5-megapixel, f/2.2, 31mm
  • Rear-facing: 8-megapixel, f 2.4 aperture, Full-HD video recording
  • Front-facing: 1.2-megapixel, f.2.2 aperture, 720p video recording
  • Front: 1.2MP FaceTime HD camera (720p video)
  • Rear: 8MP iSight camera, f/2.4 aperture, backside illumination and five-element lens
  • Front: 2.1 MP camera
  • Rear: 8MP camera, f/1.9 aperture, no flash
  • 8.1-megapixel with Exmor R for mobile
  • Secondary: 2.2-megapixel HD camera with Exmor for mobile
I/O Ports
  • Headphone jack
  • Lightning port
  • Headphone jack
  • Lightning connector
  • Headphone jack, Lightning connector
  • Headphone jack, microUSB connector
  • micro-USB port, 3.5mm audio output jack
Connectivity
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, HT80 with MIMO Bluetooth v4.2, A2DP, EDR, A-GPS, NFC, GLONASS (4G LTE version only)
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, HT80 with MIMO Bluetooth v4.2, A2DP, EDR, A-GPS, NFC, GLONASS (4G LTE version only)
  • 802.11ac/a/b/g/n Wi‑Fi
  • Bluetooth v4.0
  • 802.11ac/a/b/g/n Wi‑Fi
  • Bluetooth v4.1
  • Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.0, GPS, NFC
Storage
  • 32GB, 128GB, and 256GB
  • 32GB, 128GB, and 256GB
  • 16GB, 64GB and 128GB
  • 32GB
  • 32GB internal storage
  • microSD support up to 128GB
Other Features
  • Touch ID sensor
  • Touch ID sensor
  • Touch ID sensor
  • Fingerprint sensor
  • IP68 certified - dust proof and water resistant up to 1.5 meter and 30 minutes
Battery
  • 7,306mAh
  • 10,307mAh
  • 7340mAh
  • 5,870mAh
  • 6,000mAh
Dimensions
  • 240 x 169.5 x 6.1mm
  • 305.7 x 220.6 x 6.9mm
  • 240 x 169.5 x 6.1mm
  • 237.3 x 169 x 5.6 mm
  • 254 x 167 x 6.1mm
Weight
  • 437 (Wi-Fi) / 444g (WiFi + Cellular)
  • 713g (WiFi) / 723g (WiFi + Cellular)
  • Up to 444g
  • 392g
  • 393g

 

Sunspider

SunSpider JavaScript measures the browsing performance of a device. It not only takes into consideration the underlying hardware performance, but also assesses how optimized a particular platform is at delivering a high-speed web browsing experience.

Safari has always been well optimized for Apple's processors and the A9X was no exception, with the iPad Pro 9.7 running circles around everyone except its bigger brother. In actual usage, web browsing and interface navigation on the Pro 9.7 is fast and fluid. Apps open effortlessly and transition animations are as smooth as can be, even with Split View mode showing two apps at the same time.

 

3DMark Ice Storm Unlimited

3DMark (2013) is a synthetic benchmark consisting of two graphics tests packed with high quality textures and post-processing effects designed to stress the GPU performance of the device and a physics test to stress its CPU performance. With all of our devices easily maxing out the Normal and Extreme versions of this test, we'll just be looking at Ice Storm Unlimited, which is used to make chip-to-chip comparisons of different chipsets, CPUs and GPUs, without vertical sync, display resolution scaling and other operating system factors affecting the result.

The A9X continues to impress, with the iPad Pro 9.7 only slightly trailing the iPad Pro 12.9. For reference, in 3DMark's new Sling Shot Extreme benchmark, the iPad Pro 9.7 scored 3150. For reference, that score is much higher than what the Snapdragon 820 toting LG G5 managed to obtain.

 

Camera Performance

Taking photos in public with your tablet is a major faux pas, but if you don't care about looking a little foolish, the tablet to do it with is the iPad Pro 9.7. Both front and rear cameras have gotten a major upgrade. The rear now sports the same 12-megapixel iSight camera found on the iPhone 6s, with a True Tone LED dual flash - but unfortunately no optical image stabilization, that remains exclusive to the iPhone 6s Plus.

Like Apple's latest smartphones, the iPad Pro 9.7 is capable of taking Live Photos, which capture 1.5 seconds of video, complete with sound, before and after you press the shutter button. To activate a Live Photo later, just press and hold down on the screen. The rear camera also is capable of shooting 4K video at 30fps now and Slo-mo video mode has been upgraded to 1080p at 120fps and 720p at 240fps. Previously, you were limited to 720p at 120fps.

Picture quality, as expected, is excellent, with great color reproduction, contrast and lots of detail. The rear camera is by far the best available on any tablet, besting even the iPad Pro 12.9. Honestly, no other tablet even comes close.

Click for full-size image.

 

Battery Life

Our standard battery test for tablets includes the following parameters:

  • Looping a 720p video with screen brightness and volume at 100%
  • Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity turned on
  • Constant data streaming through email and Twitter

The iPad Pro 9.7's 7,306mAh battery is marginally smaller than the 7,340MAh battery found inside the iPad Air 2. Nevertheless, the new A9X processor proved its power efficiency by lasting longer in our video looping benchmark, lasting just under six hours in total. While this certainly isn't amazing (Samsung's AMOLED tablets both managed to last over seven hours), it's still a decent upgrade from both the iPad Air 2 and the iPad Pro 12.9. 

 

Conclusion

The iPad Pro 9.7 is easily the best tablet Apple has ever made, even besting its bigger brother, the iPad Pro 12.9.

The 9.7-inch form factor is more manageable, lighter, thinner, and easier to pack in your backpack or handbag. It also fits nicely onto airplane seat back trays and those tiny desks you find attached to classroom chairs. With its four speakers and gorgeous display, it's without a doubt a fantastic media consumption device. 

But will it replace your laptop? Honestly, probably not. The Smart Keyboard is a fantastic accessory, and iOS doesn't need a trackpad for navigation. But iOS itself isn't the best OS for productivity. Yes, you can technically multitask with it, but Split View will only get you so far. It's nothing compared to the true desktop experience and multiple tabs you can run simultaneously with OS X or even Windows 10. As a result, the iPad Pro 9.7 feels like a media consumption device first, with some added crossover laptop functionality thrown in. It's great for sending emails on the go, or Internet surfing, and I even use it for typing up notes at press conferences and interviews, but at the end of the day, I come home and fire up my laptop and the real work gets done there.

Then there's the price. The iPad Pro 9.7 starts at S$898 (32GB, Wi-Fi only), which is S$210 more than what the iPad Air 2 launched for. In fact, the most expensive iPad Air 2 you can currently buy (64GB, 4G LTE) is only S$888, making it $10 cheaper than the cheapest iPad Pro! On the other end of the scale, the most expensive iPad Pro (256GB, 4G LTE) costs a whopping S$1,618. For S$70 more you can get yourself a 13-inch MacBook Pro Retina.

Does the iPad Pro 9.7's 'Pro' features really justify its much higher price? I suspect for many people the answer will be no. The stereo speakers are amazing, but on a plane, or any public area, you're going to be using headphones anyway. The performance is unrivaled, but if you're mainly watching videos and surfing the Internet, you just don't need that kind of performance. The camera is fantastic, but when was the last time you actually wanted to use your tablet to take a picture? It's not any lighter or thinner than the iPad Air 2, and the battery life is only slightly better. The most compelling reason to purchase a new iPad Pro is the much larger storage space (assuming you buy a 128 or 256GB version - which you should).

If you can afford it, the iPad Pro 9.7 is in a class of its own; if not, the iPad Air 2 is still a great iPad. And a lot cheaper too.

8.5
  • Design 8
  • Features 9
  • User-Friendliness 9
  • Performance 8.5
  • Value 7
The Good
Class-leading performance
Great stereo sound
Excellent rear and front cameras
Gorgeous display
Thin and light build
The Bad
Pretty expensive
Battery life could be better
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