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iPad Pro 9.7-inch specs review – big guns, small form


The iPad's next frontier is the iPad Pro, downsized in dimensions, specs (more about that below), and price for mass acceptance. According to Apple, it is also a look towars the possibilities for personal computing in the modern world, where desktop-class processing muscle has become the norm for premium tablets. And with its ever-evolving ability to let you pull off moderately complex productivity-related or creative tasks with intuitive touch-screen controls – touching, swiping, and even writing and drawing with a one of a kind digital stylus – the iPad is beginning to put all this power into good use. Let's take a dive into the 9.7-inch iPad Pro's imposing spec sheet, for we can already tell there are going to be interesting findings!

Design

Being stuffed full of technology didn't pose a challenge for the iPad's traditionally good looks.

Apple hasn't tampered much with the original iPad Pro's recipe. The tablet has that svelte, 0.24-inch (6.1mm)-thin aluminum unibody that slopes outwards where it meets the front glass panel with a chamfered, beveled edge. For what it is – the most powerful 9.7-inch ARM tablet out there – the iPad Pro 9.7-inch is also remarkably lightweight at only 0.96 pounds (437 grams). That's all the more impressive, considering there are no less than four speakers present along the tablet's edges – two above the display, and two below it.

Another design addition is a three-pin connector along the iPad's left side – that's the Smart Connector, used to connect the iPad Pro to the optional Smart Keyboard dock. Also, the tablet is now available in a Rose Gold color. Otherwise, this is the iPad as we know and love it – sleek, solid, aluminum-made and expensive-looking.

Display

Cinematic colors, dynamic color adjustment, and photo aligned pixels for maximum viewing pleasure.

Apple calls the 9.7-inch iPad Pro's display its "most advanced — the brightest and least reflective in the world." It uses the same color space as the digital cinema industry, resulting in a wider color gamut and up to 25% greater color saturation than previous iPad models. Moreover, Apple employed True Tone technology that uses a four-channel ambient light sensors to automatically match the display's color and intensity to the room's ambient light. This makes the screen much easier on the eyes. Its peak luminance stands at 500 nits, which is great, but not exceptional. It will let you comfortably use the display under intense light, but there are still brighter mobile screens out there.

The iPad Pro 9.7-inch's display has the same 2048x1536 resolution as the iPad Air 2's. This makes for a pixel density of 264ppi, which makes individual pixels practically indistinguishable from a normal viewing distance. However, unlike the iPad Air 2, the new iPad Pro benefits from improved contrast as a result of subjecting the liquid crystal layer to photo alignment, creating more consistent orientation between the liquid crystals. Likewise, the touch digitizer maintains the iPad Air 2's 120Hz refresh rate, which gets dialed up to 240Hz when using the Apple Pencil.

Processor and Memory

Apple chipped off some MHz and 2GB of RAM to fit the original iPad Pro's internals into a smaller shell.

There's hardly any doubt that the new iPad Pro is a very powerful tablet. Apple jumped from the iPad Air 2's A8X SoC straight to the A9X SoC that debuted with the 12.9" iPad Pro. It has double the memory bandwidth and is 1.8 times faster than the A8X. Although the chipset's maximum CPU frequency hasn't been revealed, it is typical for Apple to downlock chips as it places them inside smaller devices in order to maintain battery life and control the device's thermal profile. That appears to be the case, for the iPad Pro 9.7-inch is presented as just a little bit slower than the 12.9-inch iPad Pro in CPU and graphics performance. In regards to the latter, Apple uses the same 12-cluster PowerVR Series7XT custom implementation, likely tuned to a lower peak clock frequency.

Unlike the bigger iPad Pro, which features 4GB of LPDDR4 RAM, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro comes with 2GB of the stuff. While a 9.7" iPad doesn't have to run two full-sized applications in side-by-side mode, due to its screen's constraints, the decision is only excusable if the tablet is able to deliver the same level of smooth everyday performance. Whether that's the case, it remains to be seen.

Storage and connectivity-wise, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro comes in 32GB, 128GB, and 256GB storage (non-expandable) options, complete with LTE versions of each, unlike the 12.9-inch iPad Pro. All tablets have 2x2 802.11ac Wi-Fi antennas (you can read all you want about that here), along with the latest Bluetooth 4.2, a Lighting port, and Apple's Smart Connector for connecting keyboard accessories (including ones made by third-party vendors like Logitech). There's also Touch ID fingerprint security to let users unlock the iPad, secure their personal data, and authorize payments through the iTunes Store, App Store, and iBooks Store.

The iPad Pro (9.7-inch) is powered by a 27.5-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery which Apple estimates is good for up to 10 hours of web surfing, watching videos, or listening to music.

Camera

The 12MP PDAF camera can spar with the iPhone 6s and other big boys in the mobile photography league.

Upgrading from the 12.9" iPad Pro, which uses the same camera setup as the iPad Air 2 – an 8MP sensor with 1.1-micron pixels and f/2.4 aperture – the 9.7" iPad Pro has a 12MP Phase Detection Auto Focus (PDAF) camera with True Tone Flash, wider f/2.2 aperture, five-element lens, hybrid IR filter, backside illumination, and software image stabilization. It's probably the same camera used on the iPhone 6s and iPhone SE, but even if it isn't, it probably achieves photos in the same ballpark of quality. The 12MP sensor boasts improved local tone mapping and noise reduction, as well as enabling 4K video recording, slow-motion videos at up to 240fps, and panorama shots of up to 63MP in size. Meanwhile, the front camera is a 5MP unit with f/2.2 aperture, 720p video recording, Retina Flash (the screen is used to illuminate your face in the dark), and Auto HDR.

Expectations


Shipping March 31, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro starts at $599 for the base 32GB Wi-Fi model. Considering the iPad Air 2's 16GB base model sells for $399, a $200 difference for a storage increase, accessory compatibility, display and sound improvements, and incredibly fast hardware seems justified. But that depends on whether you can really utilize the hardware to its full extent, and for that, you will need to shell out additional cash for the Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil, which pushes the price tag into the territory of a sub-$999 PC. Then again, no PC will let you do the exact same stuff an iPad with its touchscreen, stylus, and unique apps would.

On the other hand, Apple showcases strong engineering once again, for fitting the original iPad Pro's hardware in mostly authentic form inside a thinner and smaller chassis is commendable. With its combination of hardware and software functionality, thew 9.7-inch iPad Pro looks like the most advanced consumer tablet on the market. We must admit we're not quite sure about Apple's decision to ship the device with 2GB of RAM less than the bigger iPad Pro, but at this point it is too early to tell whether this is actually meaningful to end users, or not. It could present a problem from a future-proofing perspective, but given that the tablet is poised to run the latest iOS version in the next four to five years (at least), and it would take truly demanding games or heavy-duty software – the kind that's not really suited to tablets at present – to max out 4GB of RAM. So it seems like a safe decision, for the most part.

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