Apple iPad Pro 9.7-inch full review
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iPad Pro 9.7in review: Design & build quality
If you've seen the iPad Air 2 then you've pretty much seen the iPad Pro 9.7in too. They're virtually identical; the physical dimensions match up, down to the nearest gram or tenth of a millimetre, and the positioning of almost all the buttons, slots, apertures and so on is the same.
Spot the difference: iPad Pro 9.7in (left) and iPad Air 2 (right)
Yet some minor and a couple of significant differences can be discerned by the eagle-eyed.
Minor: the cellular antenna section at the top of the back of the (cellular-capable) iPad is now mostly the same metallic finish as the rest of the back, with just its edge picked out in white or black plastic, and therefore looks nicer than the entirely plastic section on the iPad Air 2 (and on the cellular 12.9in Pro, for that matter); the word 'iPad' on the back is now picked out in the thinner and to our eye better-looking San Francisco font; the SIM card slot has migrated fractionally higher up on the side of the device; and there's a pink (sorry, Rose Gold) colour option.
Significant: the speakers at the bottom of the iPad are now spaced further apart (which is sensible; they used to be crammed so close to the Lightning port that you had no chance of making out a stereo effect) and a third and fourth speaker sit on the top edge, giving an altogether more formidable audio setup; there's a discreet Smart Connector on the lefthand edge, for attaching and powering a keyboard case; and the rear-facing camera is now accompanied by a flash (and sticks out a bit, like the camera on the iPhone 6 and 6s generations).
The protuberant camera lens is quite annoying: if you lay the iPad flat on its back, particularly on a hard surface, then one corner is raised up awkwardly, and it scratches against the desk if you push it around. If you equip your iPad with a case or cover, however, this will be far less of a problem: we habitually use the Smart Cover, which means the iPad almost always has the cover tucked underneath when it lies on a table.
For those who don't know the iPad range in general, it's worth stating for the record that the iPad Pro 9.7in, like all of its stablemates, is beautifully designed and engineered.
There are many lovely touches, from the charming contrast between the brushed-metal sides and the narrow gloss chamfer (which we think looks particularly nice in the new pink finish) to the subtle rounding on the back edges, toned down from the original iPad but still present all these years later, which makes the iPad easier and more inviting to pick up. But Apple has been turning out such delights for many years, so we had better move on and look at the new features.
Read next: iPad Pro vs Samsung Galaxy Book
iPad Pro 9.7in review: Screen
The Pro 9.7in comes, as the name makes clear, with a 9.7-inch touchscreen Retina-class display: one that matches in size, resolution and (mostly) functionality the screen on its predecessor.
The 2048 x 1536 resolution produces a pixel density of 264 pixels per inch (ppi), which is standard issue for Apple's tablets, and pleasingly sharp to the eye - but given that Apple routinely sells iPhones with a pixel density of over 400ppi, it can scarcely argue any more that Retina resolutions are the best that the human eye can discern. You can get a tablet with a pixel density above 350ppi if you're willing to go over to the Dark Side and buy from Samsung.
Our subjective experience of the screen is that it is merely excellent, and we weren't immediately struck by any differences from the iPad Air 2. But Dr Raymond M Soneira, from DisplayMate, has run detailed specialist tests on the two screens' performance and concludes that the Pro is a measurable step forward in a number of areas: colour output, reflectivity, brightness. The Pro's display, he goes on to conclude, "is visually indistinguishable from perfect, and very likely considerably better than any mobile display, monitor, TV or UHD TV that you have."
After reading the expert's rave reviews on the iPad Pro's reduced screen reflectivity, we looked again at its performance in bright sunshine, next to windows, under electric lights and so on. Several members of the Macworld team were convinced that reflections were indeed less of an issue than with the Air 2, and that screen legibility would be better outdoors. But this was subjective: others struggled to spot the difference. Your mileage may vary.
The most intriguing difference between the screens on this iPad and the Air 2 is a new feature called True Tone. (A feature so new that it is denied to those who buy the 12.9in Pro.) This is designed to subtly adjust the screen's colour output to account for environmental light conditions.
Having only recently got used to the shocking colour adjustment imposed by Night Shift on default settings (we'd strongly recommend toning it down), we struggled to notice True Tone's far more subtle changes at first. But sitting at a desk under electric light in late afternoon with the iPad Pro 9.7 and the iPad Air 2, it's fairly clear that True Tone is gently warming things up - a kind of watered-down version of Night Shift. This should carry on doing its thing in the background throughout your day, and the nice thing is that you don't need to worry about it, just getting a slightly better and more context-appropriate screen performance.
Again, we turn to the expertise of Dr Soneira for a technical examination of this feature. He points out first of all that while True Tone automatically changes both the White Point and colour balance of the display, Night Shift changes colour balance only. But he also sounds an alarm about True Tone's affect on colour fidelity in some circumstances:
"When we turned on True Tone under incandescent lighting with a Colour Temperature of about 3,000K, the Colour Temperature of the iPad Pro 9.7 White Point shifted from 6,945K to 5,500K, which is quite noticeable and visually significant, but it doesn't come close to matching the colour of reflected light from white paper. The colour change with ambient light may be better for reading text on the screen's white background.
"And most users might not want such a drastic colour change with ambient light anyway, which would affect and significantly reduce the Absolute Colour Accuracy of all image content (including photos and videos), one of the iPad Pro's strongest features. My recommendation is that True Tone needs a Slider adjustment so that each person can vary the magnitude of the effect, from very little to a lot."
There isn't yet a slider - as there is for Night Shift - but if you don't like the effect, you can turn off True Tone completely: which is also good for evaluating the effect you're getting if you haven't got a non-True Tone iPad to compare it to.
Next page: The iPad Pro 9.7in faces our rigorous speed and battery-life testing >>
- iPad Pro 9.7in review: Intro and summary
- iPad Pro 9.7in review: Design & build quality
- iPad Pro 9.7in review: Screen
- iPad Pro 9.7in review: Speed benchmark testing
- iPad Pro 9.7in review: Battery life testing
- iPad Pro 9.7in review: Camera performance
- iPad Pro 9.7in review: Speakers and audio quality
- iPad Pro 9.7in review: Apple Pencil & Smart Keyboard
- iPad Pro 9.7in review: Tech specs
- iPad Pro 9.7in review: UK pricing & verdict