I’ve been using the new 9.7-inch iPad Pro for a little more than a week now – switching and comparing Apple’s latest addition to the iPad family unveiled last week with my personal iPad Air 2 and the largest 12.9-inch iPad Pro – and I’ve come to the conclusion this is the best iPad Apple ever for consumption and creative purposes.
Besides the new lovely Rose Gold finish gracing our loaner provided by Apple, it would be understandable to mistake this new 9.7-inch device for my personal iPad Air 2 I’ve used nearing two years now. And that’s because for all intents and purposes, the new Apple 9.7-inch iPad Pro looks and feels the same as its predecessor, a physical doppelganger only differentiated externally by the shape and position of its newly updated iSight camera.
Thus, switching over from my personal device to this latest iPad Pro model proved anticlimactic, its familiarity in the looks and feel department clouding first impressions. It didn’t help that I’ve been using the larger 12.9-inch iPad Pro as a desktop sidekick to my iMac, so even the utility of Apple Pencil compatibility was admittedly greeted with jaded attitude.
Back in November I called the then new iPad Pro “a game changer“, specifically for designers and artists seeking a professional portable drawing stylus/surface solution. And indeed, in everyday use the larger iPad Pro – with a screen sharing nearly the same screen dimensions with a 13″ MacBook Pro – continued to prove adept for photo editing, painting, and retouching, playing especially nice across Adobe’s iPad-optimized workflow. The 12.9-inch iPad Pro has also become an unexpected replacement secondary Retina display as my older Thunderbolt display begins to dim and wane with age, excellent for keeping tabs on messaging, Slack communication, and other notification-based interruptions.
But I also noticed I used and cared for the 12.9 iPad Pro differently than my trusted iPad Air 2. Where I’d casually toss the Air 2 onto the bed, I would gently carry and place the heavier and larger iPad Pro carefully onto surfaces. I’d always carefully cover the Pro while not in use; the Air 2 is often left uncovered with the casualness of a mobile phone. In time, the iPad Pro became a deskbound laptop replacement more suitable for only necessary movement, while the older Air 2 continued as an agile and lightweight device comfortable for use in and outside the home/office.
In time I realized what I desired was a Goldilocks’ solution: all the technologies inside the larger iPad Pro inside the form factor of the iPad Air 2. Wishes granted.
Fast 64-bit A9X chip: check. Loud four speaker audio with adjustable orientation output: check. Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard compatibility: check. 2048×1536 Retina display resolution: check. Split View multi-tasking mode: check. It all seemed a bit disappointingly familiar at first glance, and in fact, a great deal of what I wrote about the original and larger iPad Pro applies to this smaller edition again.
Then one notices improvements unique to this 9.7-inch iPad Pro, like a brighter screen (500 nits vs. the previous 400 nits rating), 25% greater color saturation and wider gamut than the iPad Air 2, combined with 40% less reflectability. A new four-channel ambient light sensors automatically change the screen’s color temperature and intensity according to the environmental lighting, designed to reduce eye strain. And with iOS 9.3, this new iPad Pro offers the nocturnal screen adjustment feature known as Night Shift. The effect is subtle…until you disable it, then the difference becomes much more evident. Designers used to working by the midnight oil and who already use a display temperature shifting utility like f.lux will feel right at home.
Wi-fi is rated for the latest 802.11ac standard with MIMO (multiple-input multiple-output), in theory faster, but the difference seemed negligible while browsing, downloading and uploading. YMMV according to the layout of your home and home networking equipment.
Like recent iPads, Apple offers the option for pricier Wi-Fi + Cellular models, now equipped to handle a wider spectrum of LTE. With up to 10 hours of use before charging, there’s sufficient battery life to get through a typical day without hunting out a Lightning cable.
Though I’ve never been one to much care for shooting video with such a large device, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro can shoot 4K video with a 12-megapixel iSight camera as good as the one on the latest iPhones. And with up to 256GB internal storage, storage worries can be placated. Personally, I find the iPad Pro preferable as an editing and preview/playback tool, though the inclusion of Live Photos and gigantic 63-megapixel panoramas adds a few tool options if you have no qualms about being “that guy” holding up an iPad out and about like an iLloyd Dobler.
Each time I’ve opened an iPad Pro optimized app, listened to audio emanating from the four speaker system, or noticed less glare bouncing off a brighter and more vibrant screen, I recognize this 9.7-inch iPad Pro as a refinement occupying a happy medium between its larger cousin and older predecessor. Ultimately whether you’re best served by the iPad Pro – in either iteration – is best by considering daily use and needs. Emails and browsing? Do yourself a favor, save some money and consider the iPad Air 2.
But if your work or creative endeavors rely upon color and resolution accuracy, the new 9.7-inch iPad Pro presents a compelling argument to upgrade from the Air 2. Same goes for mobile CAD and BIM workflow projects where the new CPU and graphics combination inside the iPad Pro comes into play. Apple may be criticized for leaning on evolutionary upgrades rather than revolutionary updates this product cycle, but it’s hard to argue when they’ve put together the best iPad ever.