Hands on iPad Pro 9.7 review: can it really replace your laptop?

Apple's super-tablet has been shrunk

What is a hands on review?
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For

  • Super display
  • Very powerful
  • Superb on-the-move device

Against

  • iPad Air 2 better for many
  • Pencil extra
  • Won't replace your laptop

Apple's super-tablet has been shrunk - to the same proportions as the older iPad Air 2. So why has Apple decided to go up against its own market leader - a tablet we described as "a masterpiece".

Well there are a couple of reasons. The reaction to the iPad Pro has been excellent, with people loving the power of the device and the super high-resolution display with 25 percent greater colour saturation than previous iPads. But it's whopping great screen is too big for many.

This tablet is very much the second iPad Pro rather than an iPad Air 3 as we'll explain. But the iPad Pro line also provides Apple with another way to produce a top-line tablet to sit above the standard iPad. Tablet sales as a whole aren't doing brilliantly, so any mileage Apple can get out of the market is going to be handy for it.

The Wi-Fi models of the 9.7-inch iPad Pro sell for £499 (US$599/AU$899) for the 32GB edition, £619 (US$749/AU$1,149) for the 128GB edition and £739 (US$899/AU$1,399) for the 256GB edition. If you want cellular connectivity too, then you need to add £100 (US$130/AU$200) on top of all those prices. The 32GB option for the Wi-Fi and cellular tablet isn't available with the 12.9-inch iPad Pro but it is available with the 9.7-inch version. Clearly Apple thinks that if you've got enough cash to buy a full-size iPad Pro, you'll want more storage.

As for its looks, there's a definite iPad Pro aesthetic here, though the smaller model is about 40 percent lighter to hold than its larger sibling.

The 9.7-inch model gets a resolution of 2048 x 1536 pixels rather than the 2732 x 2048 pixel screen of the 12.9-inch version, but the pixels-per-inch rating is the same on both.

The newer, smaller iPad Pro does get a new feature in the form of its True Tone display: Apple says this is designed to mimic the look of paper under natural light.

It uses ambient light sensors to detect the level of light in the environment and adjust the screen accordingly - this all works separately to the new Night Shift mode arriving with iOS 9.3. Also The Split View and Slide Over tricks introduced by Apple in iOS 9 are both present and correct on the new 9.7-inch iPad Pro, and as usual there's support for Touch ID and Apple Pay.

Night Shift (which adjusts the amount of blue light emitted by the display late at night) is the most significant new feature turning up with iOS 9.3, but it's not the only improvement - Notes can now be protected by a password or Touch ID, and basic multi-user support has been added so students can share iPads easily.

This being a Pro-level tablet, it has support for the Apple Pencil stylus, as you would probably expect - a bonus for all the creative artist types out there.

The slate also comes with support for the clip-on smart keyboards (and covers) that were ushered in with the first iPad Pro: Apple is making no secret of the fact that it wants to get Windows users to ditch their old laptops and desktops and get an iPad Pro with a keyboard... and now those potential buyers have got one more size to choose from.

The camera has been given a big upgrade over the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, with the newer model sporting a 12-megapixel camera that's as good as the one inside the iPhone 6S and the iPhone 6S Plus - if taking a photo with your tablet is considered a social faux pas, then no one told Apple.

Live Photos are supported, something you don't get with the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, but there's no 3D Touch capability on either of these iPads. 3D Touch is perhaps the biggest omission as far as software goes, but as we've said this affects the whole of the iPad line for the time being.

If you want to shoot 4K video on an iPad, then the new 9.7-inch iPad Pro can take care of that too.

Early verdict

For a lot of people, the 9.7-inch model is going to be the most compelling iPad Pro, and it's easier to see why Apple has come out with it - the tablet is smaller, more portable and less expensive than last year's iPad Pro, while keeping (and in some cases improving) all of the best features that make it a more premium product.

We'll bring you a full iPad Pro 9.7 review on T3.com soon.

What is a hands on review?

'Hands on reviews' are a journalist's first impressions of a piece of kit based on spending some time with it. It may be just a few moments, or a few hours. The important thing is we have been able to play with it ourselves and can give you some sense of what it's like to use, even if it's only an embryonic view.

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