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Apple iPad Pro 9.7 review: The best just got better

By James Lu - 14 Apr 2016

Key features

Display and Audio

The iPad Pro 9.7's display has the same 9.7-inch size, 2,048 x 1,536 pixels resolution and 264ppi as the iPad Air 2. But don't make the mistake of assuming it's the same display. Apple has cranked up the color gamut to give the new iPad Pro 25 percent better color reproduction than the iPad Air 2 and the tablet also boasts a new True Tone display technology that dynamically adjusts the white balance of the screen to adapt its color and intensity to your environment. It does this through four-channel ambient light sensors, which also control the auto-brightness function.

True Tone is somewhat similar to iOS 9.3's Night Shift feature, and makes the screen less blue in warm light. Apple's intention here is to make the iPad Pro 9.7's display look more like a piece of paper, which makes it less glaring and easier on the eyes. Honestly, I found it a bit odd-looking at first, giving the screen a noticeably yellowish tinge under most conditions, but it soon became less and less conspicuous and after a few days of getting used to it, you actually don't notice it all. Now if I turn it off I wonder why the screen looks so cold and glaring. Even if you don't want it on all the time, I highly recommend turning it on if you're reading an e-book. Your eyes will thank you.

 I've joined two images together here. True Tone enabled on the right-side of the screen, and off on the left-side. This is under warm lighting.

Like all of Apple tablets, the iPad Pro display is fully laminated with zero gaps between the display and glass. It also has a new anti-reflective coating, which makes it more usable under bright lights and sunlight. 

The iPad Pro 9.7 has two speakers at the top and two at the bottom. This finally lets you watch movies and shows on the iPad in landscape orientation without suffering from one-sided audio. Like the Pro 12.9, the top speakers will always handle mid and high frequencies, and the bottom pair will handle bass duties. The tablet is smart enough to let the 'top' speakers change, depending on how you hold the iPad, rotating to match your screen orientation. The audio is much louder than the iPad Air 2, with a surprisingly decent amount of bass frequency, but isn't quite as powerful as the iPad Pro 12.9. It's still better than anything else out there though.

 

Smart Keyboard & Apple Pencil

The iPad Pro 9.7 is equipped to run the same types of accessories as its bigger brother. Its screen works with the Apple Pencil, and there's a Smart Connector port on the left edge for attaching a Smart Keyboard cover.

The Smart Keyboard is a keyboard cover available for the iPad Pro 9.7, sold separately for S$228. With the smaller display, the Smart Keyboard has also been shrunk down. It's not too hard to type on, but with everything so small, it's pretty easy to make mistakes. The Return and Tab keys are much smaller than on the Pro 12.9's keyboard, which can make it frustrating to navigate and format documents. With enough practice you get used to it though.

The keys themselves are covered in a custom fabric that is both liquid-repellant and gives the keys their shape. There's minimal travel, and the keys have a subdued clicking sound when pushed. Since iOS doesn't support mice, there's no trackpad, so you'll frequently be reaching to tap the screen.

While Apple is pushing the iPad Pro as a laptop replacement, actually using it on your lap isn't a great experience. The Smart Keyboard only sits at one angle, and it doesn't feel particularly sturdy. The display wobbles when you type too. This is an area where Microsoft's Surface tablet has Apple beat, thanks to its hinge design and adjustable angles. The Smart Keyboard does much better when you can put it on a flat surface like a table.

The Apple Pencil (S$148) is also compatible with the iPad Pro 9.7. It can do everything the original could do, and is pretty much essential for anyone that enjoys drawing and sketching. Like the original iPad Pro, the iPad Pro 9.7 and the Apple Pencil both have sensors to detect the pressure you're using and the angle you're holding the stylus at, making it effortless to create lines of different thicknesses.

One minor annoyance I encountered is that the Pencil isn't able to do everything your finger can do - such as swiping up from the edge of the display to bring up Split View mode - so you have to momentarily juggle the Pencil to use a finger, or use your other hand. This is also a problem the iPad Pro 12.9 had though. I also wish there was a slot on the iPad Pro or even the Smart Keyboard case to holster the Pencil. I constantly feel like I'm going to lose it. Like the original iPad Pro, you charge the Apple Pencil by plugging it into the Lightning port at the bottom of the iPad.

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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