9.7-inch iPad Pro Review: Smaller and Better Looking

by Reads (14,439)
  • Editor's Rating

    Ratings Breakdown (1-10)

      • Software & Support
      • 10
      • Upgrade Capabilities
      • 7
      • Usability
      • 9
      • Design
      • 9
      • Performance
      • 9
      • Features
      • 8
      • Price/Value Rating
      • 8
      • Total Score:
      • 8.57
      • Rating 1 to 10, top score 10
  • Pros

    • Best display of any iOS device
    • Outstanding performance
    • Long battery life
  • Cons

    • 2GB of RAM not enough
    • No microSD card slot
    • Higher price compared with other iPads at launch

Quick Take

World-class performance and a beautiful display are highlights of the first 9.7-inch iPad Pro. But the cost has gone up and its expansion options remain limited.

After introducing the large and powerful iPad Pro last fall, Apple decided good things should come in smaller packages. The new 9.7-inch iPad Pro is either a smaller version of the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, or it’s a more powerful version of its direct predecessor, the iPad Air 2 from 2014. Of course, with power comes price, and starting at $599 it’s more expensive at launch than the iPad Air 2. To be fair, it ships with 32GB capacity, while the Air 2 started at 16GB.

This 9.7-inch iPad Pro review will evaluate the device’s design, display, performance and other specs.

Build and Design

Steve Jobs chose a 9.7-inch screen as his ideal tablet size, and for good reason. It’s large enough for both productivity and entertainment, but also easily portable. It’s simply not too bulky. Those that want the power of the original iPad Pro in a smaller package now have an option.

The iPad Pro is now available in traditional iPad size.

The iPad Pro is now available in traditional iPad size.

The new iPad Pro looks very much like a traditional iPad.

The 9.7-inch iPad Pro looks very much like a traditional iPad.

This new model certainly doesn’t break new ground. It has the exact same dimensions as the tablet it’s replacing, the iPad Air 2. Both are 9.4 x 6.6 x 0.24 inches and 0.96 pounds. In fact, many cases and keyboards designed for the previous model will work with this one. Overall, it’s a tried and true design. Apple is known for creating simple but elegant designs, and the iPad Pro is no exception, with most of the improvements going to its display and the processor.

It comes in light grey, dark grey, gold, and rose gold. We recommend the dark grey version, as it’s the only one that has a black bezel around the display, which we prefer to a white bezel.

The tablet is solidly built, strongly resisting our attempts to bend or flex it, despite its slim shape. That said, a carrying case of some kind is a wise investment when taking this iPad on the go. Its aluminum build can dent, and a few drops can shatter the display.

This computer is positioned as a potential 2-in-1, as the Apple Smart Keyboard for 9.7-inch iPad Pro is available as an optional add-on for $149.


The 9.7-inch iPad Pro screen has a 2048 x 1536 pixel resolution, resulting in a density of 264 pixels per inch (ppi). This resolution is near the top of what’s available in any tablet no matter the operating system, and the same ppi count as in the iPad Pro 12.9 and the Air 2.

Although it has the same size and resolution as the display in the Air 2, this doesn’t mean Apple neglected to improve it. The most notable improvement is a feature called True Tone: the screen will slightly change color to match the ambient light. This is a subtle effect, but it makes the smaller iPad Pro display just a bit more pleasant. Compared with a 12.9-inch iPad Pro, the larger model’s display often looks slightly too blue.

In addition, the new LCD has a wider DCI P3 color gamut. In non-technical terms, it can display more colors than earlier iPad or iPhone models.

All this adds up to what is the best looking display of any iOS device yet. We even tested the iPad Pro 9.7 outdoors and found that it’s easy to use in the shade or on a cloudy day, aided by decreased reflectivity, but isn’t up to significant use in direct sunlight.

iOS 9 brought side-by-side multitasking to Apple’s tablets, so users can work with two applications at the same time, while also streaming video in a floating window. This can be very convenient on the iPad Pro 9.7, though not as nice as on its 12.9-inch sister model.

One of the highlights of the Pro series is support for the Apple Pencil, a pressure sensitive stylus/pen that’s an optional $99 add-on. This accessory works well, and some may prefer this tablet’s 9.7-inch screen for taking handwritten notes over a 12.9-inch one.

Ports, Buttons, and Speakers

The iPad Pro has a traditional Apple Lightning connector.

The 9.7-inch iPad Pro has a traditional Apple Lightning connector.

Apple continues to stick with the Lightning connector, its proprietary charging and data port, although USB Type C is the standard an increasing number of its competitors are utilizing for tablets. At least there are a wide array of add-on accessories designed to work with this port, including flash drives and microSD card readers.

That latter options are important because Apple didn’t include a way to directly add storage capacity to this tablet. This isn’t surprising, as Apple has eschewed a microSD card slot in every iOS device going back to 2007, but it’s still disappointing.

The 9.7-inch iPad Pro is the second tablet with Apple’s Smart Connector, which is located on the left edge. This is used to communicate with accessories outside of Bluetooth. At the time of this review, the only option is the Apple Smart Keyboard designed specifically for this model, but additional options are likely to come along later.

The iPad Pro's Smart Connector pairs with a new Apple Smart Keyboard.

The iPad Pro’s Smart Connector pairs with a new Apple Smart Keyboard.

This new iPad leaves the speakers on the sides of the device like its predecessors, and the designers doubled the number from two to four. These are capable of putting out a lot of sound, more than is necessary to watch a video on a 9.7-inch screen in a moderately busy area.

A minimal number of physical buttons is an Apple hallmark, and so this version of the iPad Pro has just a large Home button on the front, a volume rocker on the right side, and a power button on the top, near the headset jack.

The Home button also functions as fingerprint scanner, thanks to Apple’s Touch ID. In our tests, we found that this biometric security system is quite reliable, always recognizing the set fingertips and rejecting the rest.


The 9.7-inch iPad Pro is built around an Apple A9X dual-core 64-bit processor, running at 2.16GHz. This is a slightly slower version of the chip that’s powering the 12.9-inch version of this tablet, but it’s still fast enough to give this tablet outstanding performance. In our tests, there were no hot or even warm areas on the casing, even when gaming or playing video for long periods.

In the Geekbench 3 benchmarking test, Apple’s latest tablet did almost as well as the larger version and solidly outperformed the iPad Air 2.

iPad Pro Geekbench 3 test

A possible reason the 9.7-inch version didn’t do as well as the 12.9-inch one is because Apple didn’t put as much RAM into the newer iPad: it has 2GB instead of 4GB. More RAM is almost always better, so this is a disappointment.

There are versions of this iOS device with 32GB, 128GB, and 256GB of built-in storage. The highest capacity iPad cost almost twice as much as the base version.


The 9.7-inch iPad Pro debuted running iOS 9.3, and will surely receive a number of operating system upgrades over its lifespan, as Apple is committed to keeping its mobile devices running the latest iOS version for as long as possible

It comes bundled with the iWork and iLife software suites, which includes the the Pages word processor, Numbers spreadsheet, and Keynote presentation application, as well as GarageBand, iPhoto, and iMovie.


The 9.7-inch iPad Pro supports Wi-Fi 802.11a/b/g/n/ac. This is dual channel (2.4GHz and 5GHz) with MIMO. This is the latest technologies for high speed wireless networking, whether at work or at home.

The iOS tablet also comes with Bluetooth 4.2 for connecting to accessories like the Apple Pencil, as well as keyboards made by other companies.

Those who want nearly ubiquitous access to the Internet can purchase one of the versions of this iPad with built-in cellular wireless data connectivity. This can handle a wide range of 3G and 4G technologies for all the top U.S. carriers, as well as ones around the world. This adds $130 to the cost of the device, as well as very slight amount to the weight.


The new iPad Pro has a 12-megapixel rear camera.

The new iPad Pro has a 12-megapixel rear camera.

Apple continues to improve the rear-facing cameras it puts in its tablets, even though most consumers don’t use devices with large screens to take pictures. Still, there are some business uses (home inspectors and insurance investigators, for example), presumably why the newest iPad Pro includes a 12-megapixel rear camera. Not surprisingly, this performed beautifully in our tests, and the flash results in natural flesh tones.

This camera supports Live Photos, which is Apple’s system for combining still images with short videos. It can also record 4K (3840 x 2160) video, with slo-mo and time-lapse modes.

Apple upgraded the front-facing camera to 5 megapixels, which might be more than is really necessary for making FaceTime or Skype calls.


Apple’s latest tablet has a 7,306 mAh battery, which its maker claims is good for “up to 10 hours of surfing the web on Wi‑Fi, watching video, or listening to music.”

In the Geekbench 3 Battery Test, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro lasted 15 hours and 2 minutes. This test is done with the screen on low and all wireless functions turned off, so it represents about the longest a user can reasonably expect the tablet to last given common usage.

iPad Pro Geekbench battery test

Prior to writing this 9.7-inch iPad Pro review, we performed our own torture test, in which we had the device play Netflix over a Wi-Fi connection with the backlight set to 100% to see how long the battery lasted. In this case, it was 5 hours and 20 minutes, which is likely the shortest someone can reasonably expect this tablet to go on a single charge. By comparison, Microsoft Surface Pro 4 lasted for lasted 3 hours and 58 minutes in this test, and the Samsung Galaxy TabPro S lasted 6 hours and 14 minutes.


The new iPad Pro looks very much like a traditional iPad.

The 9.7-inch iPad Pro is a compelling upgrade for users of earlier iOS tablets, especially those with a first-generation iPad Air and before. World-class performance and beautiful a display are highlights.

On the other side of the coin, Apple missed some opportunities to make this an even better device, most notably by skimping on the RAM.


The 32GB 9.7-inch iPad Pro costs $599, the 128GB model is $749, and the 256GB version is $899. As mentioned earlier, adding cellular data to any of these increases the cost by $130.

Those who want an iOS device with the same size screen but a lower price tag can choose the iPad Air 2, which now starts at $399 for a version with 2GB of RAM and 16GB of storage. The larger option is the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, which starts at $799 for a 4GB/32GB version.

Anyone looking for a similar computer running Windows 10 should consider the Microsoft Surface 3, which has a 10.8-inch screen. The base model has 2GB of RAM and 64GB of storage, and sells for $499.


  • Best display of any iOS device
  • Outstanding performance
  • Long battery life


  • 2GB of RAM not enough
  • No microSD card slot
  • Higher price compared with other iPads at launch



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