Gadget Review: iPad Pro 9.7 inch model

The below review is written from the perspective of a regular person who bought the iPad Pro 9.7 inch model for common, practical usage (i.e. I’m not a professional photographer, artist, or tablet expert). For detailed technical spec information, tablet comparisons, performance benchmarking, etc. please check out the reviews listed at the bottom of this post. 

Updated recently to include the Smart Keyboard updates, as well as the experience while in-flight.

(Apple stock photo)

Confession: for those who don’t know me, I’m somewhat of an Apple junkie. Back in the height of the iPod days, I purchased my very first Apple product and have been expanding my collection ever since.

My Android friends always tease me about my choice and no matter how many times I explain all the reasons why I believe Apple products are superior, I’m unable to sway their judgment. So the Apple v. Android war continues…

To prove that I’m somewhat of a junkie, here are the various Apple gadgets that I’ve owned over the years, although I don’t have a few of these items anymore:

  • IPod Mini (pink)
  • IPhone 3S (black)
  • IPod Shuffle (silver)
  • IPad v2 (black)
  • MacBook Pro 15″ (silver)
  • IPad v3 (black)
  • IPhone 4S (black)
  • IPhone 5S (champagne)
  • MacBook Air 13″ (silver)
  • Apple Watch v1 (steel)

As a celebratory gift to myself, I recently picked up an iPad Pro 9.7 inch model in the color rose gold (of course! if pink is available, I generally buy it). What’s funny about this is that I made a proclamation years ago that I would never buy a tablet again. Given where iPads were at the time and my experiences with Kindle Fire tablets, I just didn’t see the point of them. Why spend the money on a tablet when you can own a full-fledged computer? Laptops are so thin and lightweight now that I can almost drop one in my purse without adding crazy weight. In addition, they come with full-sized keyboards and many laptops have touchscreen capabilities, which blur the line between tablets and computers.

Enter the iPad Pro 9.7 inch model with Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil. Released on March 31, 2016 – so new that the Smart Keyboard for this model isn’t even available in stores yet (and, therefore, has been backordered until May – argh) – this little baby completely turned me. I wasn’t even prepared – I made the decision to buy it 48 hours before I actually did.

Side note: I’m an Apple fanwoman, but I don’t salivate over every new product, nor wait in line for them to be released. I assumed this product was released with the 12.9 inch model last year…and, in retrospect, am shocked that I could get my hands on one in my preferred storage and color choice just by walking into the store.

This device has a lot of power in a small machine. It’s perfectly sized for a medium-to-large size purse, weighs ~1 pound, has the same 10-hour battery life that iPads are known for, and has enough enhancements over my past iPad v2 model to make me feel like I need it. I’m surprised to discover that this version has more features than the previously released 12.9 inch iPad Pro model.

So the first question people ask is, can this device replace a computer? Uh…no. And I was under no illusions that it could prior to purchasing it. My use cases for buying this were simple. I needed a setup that would allow me to:

  • Port my writing craft to a higher level of travel convenience
  • Vent creatively through robust drawing options
  • Be productive in my blurred work/volunteer/home life
  • Fully accomplish all digital hobbies in one place (reading, writing, drawing, surfing the Internet, watching movies & TV, etc.)

And it needed to be small enough to carry around, but large enough to use. In addition, it had to be as slim and lightweight as possible.

After playing with it this first week, here are the traits that I enjoy the most:

  • *SELLING POINT FOR MEProduct dimensions. With the slim 0.24″ thickness (thinner than the iPhone 6S), the 0.96lb weight, and 9.4″ x 6.6″ size, it’s perfect for my on-the-go lifestyle. I can easily store this in my laptop bag or in a purse.
  • *SELLING POINT FOR ME – Multitasking. This feature allows you to open up more than one app at a time. With “split view” you can use a slide bar to pull in a second app and define how much of the screen each app takes up. Both apps will stay open on the screen at the same time and fully function. In addition, there is a feature called “slide over” that allows you to temporarily slide in an app on the right edge of your screen to quickly perform a task while leaving your other app open in full-screen mode. When you’re done using it, the app slides back off.
  • Picture in picture. Like, whoa. This is technically one of the multitasking features, but not one that was a major selling point for me. I can watch a video PIP while using other apps (even two apps). Since I take my multi-tasking seriously, this was a nice surprise. To demonstrate how powerful this feature is, I currently have both WordPress and Safari up, as well as a movie that I’m watching on Amazon Video. I’m not suffering any performance degradation.
  • True Tone. This feature uses sensors to change the color and intensity of the screen to match the amount of light around you to give you an optimal display. It works well and required no time for me to adjust to it – I can see why people enjoy it. When you turn it off, the differences are obvious.
  • *SELLING POINT FOR ME – MUCH louder audio. There are now four speakers and they are located at all four corners of the iPad for a better listening experience. Apparently, the audio adjusts according to whether your iPad is in portrait or landscape mode. I hated how I couldn’t hear the audio in my headphones on maximum volume on my old iPad v2 while on a plane. I used to have to turn on captions. I can’t wait to test drive this in a couple of weeks when I take my next business trip – I think it’s going to pass the test! Update 4/25: I can safely say that the audio is waaaaay louder on this model than my previous iPad v2. While on a plane, I have my headphones in and the volume is set to 2/3 max. I can hear everything just fine. Finally!
  • Live videos. Since I haven’t upgraded to the iPhone 6 product line yet, this feature came as a surprise to me. When I first saw it debuted on the iPhone 6, the Harry Potter fan in me became insanely jealous. At this point it’s “cute”, but I can’t imagine using it all that much on on an iPad. I mostly take pictures with my iPhone and on a formal camera.
  • *SELLING POINT FOR ME Smart Keyboard cover. So yeah, I don’t have this in my possession yet. But I did play with it extensively in the Apple store prior to making my decision. One of the most important attributes for me about this purchase was having the slimmest, lightest weight setup that included a computer, all necessary covers, and a keyboard. Although the keyboard will take some time getting used to and is a $149 add-on, I can’t find a more compact nor lighter weight option online yet. With all components added together, this entire setup will weigh in at an estimated total of 2 pounds. Update 4/25: in a surprise delivery, I received my Smart Keyboard today. It’s 1-2 weeks ahead of schedule. I actually like it more than I did when I played with it in store. I love that I don’t have to charge it – that’s one less charger to carry around. In addition, the typing on it is smoother than I originally thought. It’s also strong enough to balance the iPad on a landscape tilt on my lap while typing – I tried this while in-flight.
  • Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint apps are free for iPad Pros. They are not the full versions, but I like that these are there in case I need to switch over to something work-related.
  • The screen resolution is amazing. I’ve read that this specific screen on the Pro 9.7 inch model is the best LCD display out on the market now. It inarguably has the best display out of all current Apple products with a 2048 x 1536 resolution and the brightest and least reflective picture.
  • The camera picture quality is also amazing. The front facing camera boasts 12MP and can capture 4K video. The selfie camera is 5MP and has retina flash (when the screen flashes to assist with lighting). The pictures are super clear and reminiscent of the quality that Apple products are known for. They even look more amazing on the iPad Pro 9.7 inch model’s screen.
  • Apple Pencil. I wasn’t sold on this device at first. It is a $99 add-on and it requires regular charging. However, when I saw the fine detail capability of this device (and played with it myself in the store), I became sold. I was frustrated with past styluses on my old iPad v2. The lines were always too thick so I couldn’t take hand written notes the way I wanted to. I can write in my normal size handwriting now with no issues. Drawing is also fun and leaps and bounds more accurate.
  • Touch ID. I loved this feature when it debuted on the iPhone 5S. I love that it’s on my iPad Pro. It works well and makes security resolution very convenient.
  • So far, I’ve had no issues with performance. I’m multi-tasking with two apps and PIP and there is absolutely no slowdown.

I generally do a lot of research prior to making a big purchase like this one. The Smart Keyboard is not for everyone, for instance. This is why I had to “try before buying”. My small hands and fingers are able to type quickly with the Smart Keyboard and the sound and touch don’t bother me. For those looking for a more realistic experience, check out this review article by Digital Trends, which covers an alternate keyboard option and other non-keyboard cover options.

Some of my go-to iPad apps for drawing:

  • Paper. (Free) Lordy – I fell in love with this app back on my iPad v2. It’s nice to be able to play with it again, and it’s come so far. It’s simple, intuitive, and helps me zen out when I need to destress. Take a look at their marketing video (and yes, this stuff actually works just like it’s demoed).
  • Sketches II. (Free) This is the drawing app that Apple shows off in store. It does require in-app purchases to use some of the more advanced features. One of the major differences between this app and Paper is that this one has way more drawing tool options. In addition, Paper has other features (list taking) that have nothing to do with drawing.

Go-to iPad apps for productivity:

  • Evernote. This is my notes app of choice. Although the app and the Basic service are free, I do upgrade to Premium every year and this app is installed to every device I own or work on so that my notes are synchronized everywhere.
  • Social media essentials: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, WordPress, Slack, Google Hangouts, etc. All free. There are better apps out there than some of these vendor defaults but these do what I need at this time.
  • Office-type essentials: Microsoft Word (free), Microsoft Excel (free), Microsoft PowerPoint (free), Keynote (free and comes with), Numbers (free and comes with), Pages (free and comes with), and Sheets (free).

Go-to apps for reading:

  • Kindle. (Free) I actually have several Kindle devices. My iPad Pro is not intended to replace any of them, but to provide a consolidated digital device while traveling.
  • Feedly. (Free) My personal RSS feed of choice. All of the major blogs I follow are organized on here.
  • Goodreads. (Free) My reading organizer. I keep track of all of the books I read on this app. I install it wherever I install the Kindle app.

Improvements still needed to the iPad Pro 9.7 inch model:

  • Sometimes I do miss having a computer – I wish this could replace one. For instance, adding hyperlinks to WordPress blog posts is a pain. This is partly due to how Apple handles copy and paste on mobile devices, in conjunction with not having a mouse. I’ve been trying out a methodology where I write up the first draft on my iPad Pro and then go back and add in the hyperlinks on a computer afterward.
  • The camera protrudes out of the iPad. At first this bothered me, but it hasn’t been a practical issue. I’m surprised that this didn’t bother Apple.
  • I wish I could make the PIP screen a bit larger. It’s about 2″ x 1″ large. I’d like to see a 3″ x 2″ option. I do like that I can move it to different areas of the screen – it needs to anchor to one of the four corners. It floats on top of your other apps. One thing to note is that apps have to be configured to work with this feature. Ones that I have tested successfully so far: HBO Now, Amazon Video, and the Videos native app. I’m disappointed to say that Sling TV, YouTube, and Netflix do not work with this yet. I bet they will follow suit in due time.
  • There is no place to store the Apple Pencil on most iPad Pro 9.7 inch model smart covers. This is super annoying. I’m eventually going to break down and buy a 3rd party elastic band that I can attach to my Smart Keyboard cover so I don’t lose sight of this thing. I’ve noticed that some people online are ripping off pen cap clips from other pens and putting them on their Apple Pencil. This allows the Pencil to attach to portfolios and notepads. (Side note: some people are annoyed that the Apple Pencil requires charging. This is necessary because it’s a Bluetooth device. For those of you not in the drawing world, the Pencil is actually on par with many other “smart” drawing devices. Never fear – only 15 seconds of charging provides enough power for 30 minutes. A full charge is completed in 22 minutes. It’s fast.)
  • The cap on the Apple Pencil also has no place to go if it’s removed (which is necessary for charging the pencil). I bet I lose the cap in the first month.
  • It’s too early to test this (especially since the Smart Keyboard hasn’t arrived yet), but I am concerned about battery life when: multi-tasking, using the Smart Keyboard (it’s charged by the iPad through the new smart connector), and charging the Apple Pencil (although I could charge this device by other means). I’ll test this when I have all of the components together. Update 4/25: I did a simple test while on a plane to see what the battery life would look like when multi-tasking. Normally, 10% of an iPad battery drains in an hour with “regular” usage. In my test, I typed an article into Evernote, with keyboard attached (which drains a miniscule amount of the iPad battery), while also watching a movie PIP. My brightness was set to 1/3. 10% of the battery drained in 50 minutes. This may not be reality when you’re down to the last 10% of your battery, but I’m super impressed with even half of that result.
  • Drop test results. I watched a video online where a guy dropped the iPad Pro 9.7 inch model 5ft with the screen down. At that height, the screen shatters. This is why a cover is critical to the purchase.
  • Bend test results (same video listed above). Apparently, the new smart connector creates a weak link in the iPad Pro 9.7 inch model. With not much effort this device can be bent, rendering it useless.

So that’s my review of the Apple iPad Pro 9.7 inch model. So far I’m happy with my purchase and I can’t wait to use the apps more over time. It’s clear to me that the worthiness of this device will be determined by each individual’s needs and wants. For me, this gadget will be a great traveling companion that I can use to be productive and entertained.

If you’re looking for some great in-depth iPad Pro 9.7 inch model reviews with way more detail, try these:

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