Apple iPad 9.7in (2018) full review
Back in June 2017 Apple introduced a new 10.5in iPad Pro and updated the 12.9in iPad Pro. Prior to the introduction of the 10.5in model, there had been a 9.7in iPad Pro model. Apple was able to squeeze in a bigger screen by reducing the borders. This meant that the bigger screen came with an incredibly compact package that still weighs just one pound.
Back when this new iPad Pro was introduced we looked at it in comparison with the 9.7in iPad that had been introduced a few months before. The smaller iPad Pro and the 9.7in iPad were similar in size, but the Pro model offered a lot more, not just in terms of screen, but it had a better processor and was compatible with the Apple Pencil.
Since the new iPad arrived in March 2018, the difference between these two iPads has become less pronounced. The processor in the new iPad is almost equal to the one in the Pro, and crucially, the 2018 iPad also supports Apple Pencil.
So, is there still a good reason to spend the extra money to buy an iPad Pro? We will investigate below.
Find out just how much difference there is between these iPads, and which is the best option for you.
If you're convinced one way or the other, you can buy the tablets here: iPad 9.7in and iPad Pro. You can also check out our iPad buying guide for more general advice.
If the question of which iPad to buy is all down to the price, then the answer is pretty clear-cut.
The 2018 iPad starts at £319 for the 32GB model, while a 128GB model costs £90 more at £409.
It’s the best value iPad you can get right now.
However, the iPad Pro shouldn’t be ruled out straight away as there may be some valid reasons why it might be worth spending more to get that model.
That said, you would be spending quite a lot more.
The entry price of the 10.5in iPad Pro is £619. That’s very nearly double what you pay for the 32GB iPad. Sure it’s twice as much storage, but £300 for an extra 32GB of space seems rather steep to us.
And, when you consider that the 128GB iPad costs £409, compared to £619 for a 64GB iPad Pro, you’ll be wondering just what else the iPad Pro offers to justify the price hike.
The iPad and iPad Pro pricing is as follows, click on the links to go to Apple's site and other retailers where you can buy that particular iPad model.
9.7in iPad prices
- iPad (WiFi, 32GB): £319/$329; (also available from BestBuy, Walmart, John Lewis, Argos, Currys PC World and Very.co.uk)
- iPad (WiFi, 128GB): £409/$429; (also available from BestBuy Argos, Currys PC World and Very.co.uk)
- iPad (cellular, 32GB): £449/$459; (also available from BestBuy and Argos, pre-order from Very.co.uk)
- iPad (cellular, 128GB): £539/$559; (also available from BestBuy and Very.co.uk)
10.5in iPad Pro prices
- iPad Pro 10.5in (WiFi, 64GB): £619/$649
- iPad Pro 10.5in (WiFi, 256GB): £769/$799
- iPad Pro 10.5in (WiFi, 512GB): £969/$999
- iPad Pro 10.5in (cellular, 64GB): £749/$779
- iPad Pro 10.5in (cellular, 256GB): £899/$929
- iPad Pro 10.5in (cellular, 512GB): £1,099/$1,129
12.9in iPad Pro prices
- iPad Pro 12.9in (WiFi, 64GB): £769/$799
- iPad Pro 12.9in (WiFi, 256GB): £919/$949
- iPad Pro 12.9in (WiFi, 512GB): £1,119/$1149
- iPad Pro 12.9in (cellular, 64GB): £899/$929
- iPad Pro 12.9in (cellular, 256GB): £1,049/$1,079
- iPad Pro 12.9in (cellular, 512GB): £1,249/$1,279
Let’s look at what the iPad Pro offers that the iPad doesn’t to see if it is worthy of the higher price.
Design & build quality
The 9.7in iPad looks just like any other iPad from the past few years. The design hasn’t changed much since the iPad Air launched back in November 2013 - in fact its dimensions and weight are similar to the original iPad Air.
However, in comparison with the iPad Pro - specifically the 10.5in iPad Pro since that is closest in terms of dimensions - there are some key differences.
The 10.5in iPad Pro is longer and wider, but not by as much as you might expect given the fact that it has a larger screen, offering by our calculations around 18.3 percent more display area. The larger screen is squeezed into a similarly shaped chassis because Apple has slimmed down the bezels on either side.
Despite the extra 1.5cm of height and the extra 0.5cm of width, because the Pro is a fraction skinnier (a tiny 1.4mm skinnier), the 10.5in iPad Pro actually weighs the same as the smaller 9.7in model.
Here are the iPad dimensions:
- Screen: 9.7in diagonal
- Dimensions: 240mm x 169.5mm x 7.5mm
- Weight: 469g/478g (Wi-Fi/cellular
iPad Pro 10.5in (2017):
- Screen: 10.5in diagonal
- Dimensions: 250.6mm x 174.1mm x 6.1mm
- Weight: 469g/477g (Wi-Fi/cellular models)
iPad Pro 12.9in (2017):
- Screen: 12.9 diagonal
- Dimensions: 305.7mm x 220.6mm x 6.9mm
- Weight: 677g/692g (Wi-Fi/cellular models)
Another design difference is the colour choices available.
The 12.9in iPad Pro model comes in silver, gold and Space Grey; the 10.5 iPad Pro adds a Rose Gold edition to the mix.
The 2018 iPad comes in a choice of silver, Space Grey or a newly introduced shade of gold that could be described as a more muted version of the pinkish shade of Rose Gold offered with the 10.5 iPad Pro. It’s the same new shade of gold introduced with the iPhone 8.
If you are a fan of the Rose Gold shade, then the 10.5in iPad Pro is the only iPad that offers it - and we don’t expect to see it in the next generation of that model as it’s clear that Apple is fazing it out with the introduction of this new gold shade.
We rather like the new gold shade of the iPad and iPhone 8. It brings the best of Rose Gold without being quite so pink, and tones down the gold so it’s less bling.
While it has a smaller screen than the Pro models, and it’s not a lot smaller than the 10.5in model, we don’t feel that the marginally larger 10.5in screen of the Pro justifies the £300 piece hike. Plus, the 2018 iPad does come in the rather snazzy new gold shade.
However, size isn’t the only difference between the two screens, as we will explain in the next section.
This is one area where the iPad suffers. All other iPads, even the iPad mini, have laminated screens. The 2018 iPad, like the 2017 iPad, has an unlamented screen, which 'gives' slightly when you press it. We’ve always felt that this kind of screen makes the device feel a bit cheaper (of course, it is cheaper, so fair enough). It also lacks the anti-reflective coating offered by the other iPads.
Here’s how the screens compare:
- 9.7in (diagonal) LED-backlit Multi-Touch display with IPS technology.
- 2048x1536-pixel resolution at 264ppi.
- Unlaminated display.
10.5in iPad Pro:
- 10.5in (diagonal) LED-backlit Multi-Touch display.
- 2224x1668 resolution at 264ppi.
- Anti-reflective coating.
- Laminated display.
- ProMotion technology.
- Wide colour display (P3).
- True Tone display
12.9in iPad Pro:
- 12.9in (diagonal) LED-backlit Multi-Touch display.
- 2732x2048 resolution at 264ppi.
- Anti-reflective coating.
- Laminated display.
- ProMotion technology.
- Wide colour display (P3).
- True Tone display
Incidentally, the iPad mini actually has a more dense resolution than all the other iPads, at 326ppi. Read about how the iPad mini compares to the 2018 iPad here.
The big difference here is the fact that the iPad Pro models offer wide colour (P3), True Tone displays. This is likely to matter to you if you intend to use your iPad for creative pursuits, or for watching movies and playing games, or any other graphically intense operation. According to Apple, the True Tone technology dynamically adjusts the white balance of the iPad display to match the light around you for a more natural and accurate viewing experience. While the wide colour gamut enables the iPad Pro to deliver digital cinema-standard colours. It’s also Apple’s brightest iPad display yet, according to the company.
There’s also ProMotion, which Apple says “delivers refresh rates of up to 120Hz for fluid scrolling, greater responsiveness and smoother motion content.” ProMotion also improves display quality and reduces power consumption by automatically adjusting the display refresh rate to match the movement of the content, according to Apple.
In the real world, all this marketing speak translates to faster refresh rates for smoother drawing with an essentially imperceptible lag, as well as a brighter, less reflective, screen with a wider colour gamut. Those colours are more consistent in different lighting conditions, thanks to the True Tone technology.
Those screen features go a long way to justifying the price increase compared to the standard iPad. But if none of those things matters to you, the screen of the 2018 iPad - which is still Retina quality with the same pixel density, will likely be more than good enough for your needs.
In terms of features, the iPad Pro and the iPad used to have one big difference - only the iPad Pro models were compatible with the Apple Pencil. However, in 2018 iPad gained compatibility with the Apple Pencil, erasing one of the main factors in favour of the iPad Pro.
The Apple Pencil costs an extra £89/$99 though (you can buy an Apple Pencil here), so it’s not strictly speaking a feature of either iPad. But it does add to the functionality, whether you intend to use it for drawing, annotating or note-taking.
Unlike the iPad Pro, the iPad doesn’t offer Smart Keyboard compatibility (although you can link it to a Bluetooth keyboard). Again, the Smart Keyboard is an additional expense (from £150 in the UK, you can buy one here, or $159 in the US, buy one here). But in terms of keyboards there is still one big benefit: thanks to the iPad Pro’s 10.5in display it can accommodate what Apple calls a ‘full-sized’ keyboard on-screen. In other words, if you will be typing on the iPad you might benefit from the bigger screen simply because the placement of your fingers will be more familiar. The keyboard on the 9.7in iPad would feel more cramped by comparison.
The optical capabilities are one area where the two categories of iPads really differ.
The iPad 9.7in offers an 8-megapixel, f/2.4 aperture main camera with 1080p HD video capabilities.
The Pro boasts a 12-megapixel f/1.8 aperture camera, with a wider colour gamut, focus pixels, True Tone flash, Auto HDR, 4K video recording with superior stabilisation, and advanced levels of Slo-Mo.
The front-facing, FaceTime cameras are also different, with the Pro offering a 7Mp selfie snapper, while the iPad 9.7in offers a 1.2Mp alternative.
If you plan to use your iPad for photography then these specs will matter to you. You’ll also be glad of the 4GB RAM in the Pro models, which will come into play when you are dealing with large image files.
However, if you are thinking of using an iPad Pro for video and photography you will no doubt benefit from as much storage as you can comfortably afford, so you’ll probably be inclined towards the larger capacity 256GB or 512GB models, with prices starting at £769.
Another benefit of the iPad Pro models in terms of photography is that the Pro models support fast USB 3 transfer speeds through the Lightning port. This will make a big difference if you are importing images directly from an SD card to the iPad (or vice versa).
The A10X processor in the iPad Pro means that device is better equipped to deal with RAW images too.
Moving onto the internals. The iPad 2018 has a faster processor chip and a larger battery than the 2017 model, bringing it closer to the iPad Pro, but it is held back in other areas, especially in terms of RAM and the cameras.
While there's no doubt that the Pro is a powerful device thanks to its A10X Fusion chip, the 2018 iPad 9.7in is now catching up, thanks to the addition of an A10 Fusion processor.
How does the A10 compare to the A10X? The A10 has four 64 Bit cores divided in two clusters and two of those cores are clocked at up to 2.34 GHz. The A10X has six 64 Bit cores divided in two clusters, and three of those cores are clocked at up to 2.39 GHz.
That might sound like an impressive difference, but actually the speed improvements are only minor. Apple claims that the A10 is 2x faster than the A8 chip in the iPad mini, and the A10X is 2.5x faster than the A8.
However, the difference in graphic prowess is much more pronounced. The A10 graphics is 2.7x faster than the A8, but the A10X graphics is 4.3x faster, according to Apple. This suggests that there will be a reasonable difference in graphics capabilities between the iPad Pro and the 2018 iPad.
Unless the apps you use are particularly graphically intense, it might not matter to you though. The 2018 iPad will be more than capable of running current apps, even if the Pro's capabilities will become more apparent in the future.
The fact that the iPad Pro packs 4GB of RAM, to the iPad 9.7in's 2GB, will also make a big difference.
The extra RAM is a good reason to consider the iPad Pro if you will be using graphically intense apps, or using the iPad for video and photography and photo and video editing.
The iPad 2018 (like the iPad 2017) is available with 32GB storage or 128GB storage, while the iPad Pro comes with 64GB, 256GB or 512GB storage options.
32GB might not sound like a lot of storage, but it means that the starting price can be lower, and you may find that you don’t require as much physical storage if you choose to pay for iCloud storage instead (you can get 50GB for 79p a month, 200GB for £2.49 a month and 2TB for £6.99 a month.
However, if you are likely to fill your iPad full of photos, videos, movies and more, then you may well find that even the 128GB option of the iPad is too restrictive. Only the iPad Pro offers 256GB or more storage, but it doesn’t come cheap.
Here’s another area where the iPad falls back slightly. The iPad Pro offers quad-speaker audio, while the iPad only has two-speaker audio.
If you are more likely to listen to your iPad via headphones, plug it into a speaker, or sync with a HomePod, then it’s unlikely to matter to you how many speakers it has.
Incidentally, the iFixIt teardown shows that these speakers take up a lot of space inside the iPad Pro, space that could have been given over to a larger battery, but hey ho.
Apple claims that all three units will deliver up to 10 hours of browsing, watching videos, or listening to music (a figure that drops by an hour if you're using a mobile network).
The battery in the 2018 iPad is said to be bigger than that in the 2017 model, but it appears that this makes no real difference.