PROS / The iPad's A9X processor is fast and performed excellently in benchmark testing.
CONS / Apple only offers the Smart Keyboard cover as a separate accessory for the iPad.
VERDICT / As a de facto iPad Air 3, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro features stellar build quality and specifications and is a great fit for business and home users alike.
For better or worse, the first generation iPad Pro was defined by its sheer bigness. The tablet computer was much bigger than you'd expect for a non-enterprise tablet, and with a 12.7-inch frame, it looked comically large when used like a standard tablet computer. Although the Pro's specifications were phenomenal, the tablet's price tag and scale generally made it impractical for home and mainstream users. The 9.7-inch iPad Pro solves many of these missteps, as the newest iPad Pro offers more features meant to appeal to a general audience. Thanks to its phenomenal design and performance, the iPad Pro earns the Top Ten Reviews Gold Award.
Internally, the Pro is built with the updated Apple A9X processor, and in tests from our colleagues at Laptop Mag, the A9X put up superb marks for a tablet computer. The Pro scored 5,151 points in processor test Geekbench 3 and 32,413 points in graphics test 3DMark. Appropriately, these marks place the Pro's performance ceiling closer to standard laptops than mainstream tablets. For enterprise or business users, the Pro is fast enough for tasks like multimedia editing. Home applications like gaming are similarly easy for the Pro.
You can purchase the optional Apple Pencil stylus with the Pro to make tasks like writing notes and drawing easier. The 9.7-inch Pro has the same 2048 x 1536-pixel resolution of past iPads, but it benefits from hardware improvements like ambient light color correction and an improved brightness mark of 432 nits.
The Pro was also a strong performer in Laptop Mag's battery testing, in which a tablet loops through webpages until it powers down. With a mark of 10 hours and 53 minutes, the 9.7-inch Pro was in line with the average nine-hour mark for mainstream tablets. Considering that the Pro is more power intensive than standard tablets, its battery life is especially impressive.
For home users, the 9.7-inch Pro's physical appearance is familiar. With dimensions of 9.4 x 6.6 x 0.24 inches and a weight of 0.96 pounds, it's virtually identical to the iPad Air 2. The 9.7-inch Pro is portable and easy to carry around outside of the house.
During the checkout process, you can also purchase Apple's Smart Keyboard cover, which is a combo keyboard-cover peripheral. The keyboard cover isn't an essential accessory for the 9.7-inch Pro, since the onscreen touch keyboard is manageable to type on. But considering how heavily the Pro is touted as a laptop replacement, the fact that a physical keyboard remains a separate accessory is a nuisance. Elsewhere, the Pro includes a standard suite of hardware features. You can configure iPad Pros with up to 256GB of internal storage, and 4G connectivity can be added for an additional subscription fee through your cellular provider.
The 9.7-inch Pro features a strong pair of cameras for multimedia users. The front-facing camera clocks in at 5 megapixels, while the rear has a 12-megapixel camera. It's an upgrade over the previous generation Pro, which had 1.2-megapixel and 8-megapixel units. The 9.7-inch iPad benefits from Apple's standard suite of photo and video features.
Help & Support
Apple offers a standard one-year base warranty on the iPad Pro. The company also offers support through standard channels like phone agents, a Twitter social media account dedicated to troubleshooting issues, and Apple Store retail locations that offer basic troubleshooting and hardware assistance. In our research, we found Apple's site to be relatively easy to navigate. Apple's main iPad online support hub covers many common setup questions, and a page search draws from troubleshooting forum posts for additional help.
With the age of Apple's iPad series, the 9.7-inch Pro's place in the company's hierarchy is mostly clear. From the inside and outside, it improves on its predecessor's shortcomings thanks to a focus on performance and specifications. With its top-in-class processor and stellar build quality, the iPad Pro earns its mark as the best tablet on the market, and it is equally capable of handling the needs of home and business users.
If you are looking for something a little bigger, consider the new 12.9-inch iPad Pro. The larger iPad Pro runs slightly faster than the 9.7-inch model and features a stellar 2732 x 2048 display that displayed text and photos perfectly in our hands-on testing. However, the 12.9-inch Pro's extra size makes for some awkward stumbles. While the 12.9-inch iPad still bears many of Apple's design trademarks – for example, it still has a thickness of only 0.27 inches – it's a hefty 1.6 pounds and is clunky to hold. In addition, the tablet's potential to be a laptop replacement is a work in progress. It has some strong features like split screen viewing. On the other hand, the Pro is essentially stretching out Apple's iPhone or iPad user interface onto a larger screen, so homepages and menu pages are filled with ample unused space. Still, the 12.9-inch Pro offers features that appeal to designers and other business or enterprise users.