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Apple 9.7-inch iPad Pro review – the best tablet ever, at a price


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The iPad Pro was something of a revelation when Apple released it last year, successfully proving that tablets could be used for creating, rather than just consuming. With its excellent Pencil, the iPad Pro was more than just a laptop replacement, too, taking over as a way for artists to draw and for everyone else to take notes in a more natural way.

However, as good as the iPad Pro is, it’s not the ultimate device for portability, which is why Apple has decided to revamp the iPad Air 2 into Pro status, creating the 9.7-inch iPad Pro. Again, the tablet’s reason for being is about more than just consuming data (although it’s perfectly good at that, too). Instead, Apple wants you to use this as an alternative to a laptop, using a combination of touch, keyboard and Pencil to write documents, create art and take notes. It’s these big changes that turn the 9.7-inch iPad Pro into a major departure from previous years, rather than just being another incremental update. 

Build quality

Taking the much-loved iPad Air 2 as a starting point has given Apple many advantages. First, the metal case is absolutely gorgeous and it’s this iPad, more than any other, that stands out as the premium tablet. Apple has made some cosmetic changes here, though, the most noticeable being that the rear of the Cellular version now only has a small plastic antenna band running round the back. In previous models, a large plastic wedge broke up the lines.

Other than that, it’s business as usual, with the 9.7-inch iPad Pro measuring the same as the iPad Air 2. However, Apple has clearly done some strengthening work. Whereas tapping the back of the iPad Air 2 sent ripples through the LCD screen, the new iPad Pro doesn’t suffer from that problem at all. This time around, Apple’s also boosted the range of colours available, adding Rose Gold into the mix alongside Space Grey, Silver and Gold. It’s fair to say there’s definitely a choice for everyone. 

Display

On the face of things, the display hasn’t changed that much. It’s the same size and resolution (2,048×1,536) as before, with the high pixel density of 264ppi still proving to be a real winner, as text and images look super sharp. Thankfully, Apple has boosted image quality for the 9.7-inch Pro, as it has a new low-reflective surface to make it easier to work on under any lighting condition.

Picture quality has improved, too. I measured the 9.7-inch iPad Pro at a maximum brightness of 495cd/m2, giving colours plenty of punch, and its contrast ratio of 1,122:1 provides lots of fine detail. Likewise, with the screen able to cover 97.4% of the sRGB colour spectrum, it’s easily one of the most accurate LCD displays I’ve seen on a tablet.

In fact, it actually goes way past that when it comes to supporting the DCI-P3 wide colour depth, which was introduced with the 5K Retina iMac. This produces more colours than before, which means that images can be encoded with subtler details. In comparison, the iPad Air 2 managed a brightness of 390cd/m2 and only 90.1% of the sRGB colour gamut, proving that the new iPad is a definite step up in terms of quality.

That’s not all, as Apple has also done something rather remarkable behind the scenes. For the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, it’s introduced an ambient light sensor for its new True Tone mode. This measures the ambient light and adjusts the colour temperature of the screen to match so that white always looks pure.

For example, look at a screen under harsh fluorescent office lighting and most screens look cool (bluer). Outside, a screen can appear too warm (yellow). With the light sensor and automatic adjustment, the screen naturally adjusts on the fly, making for a more pleasant and natural viewing experience. I haven’t seen a screen like this before, but after using it for a few days, I have to say that I want this technology everywhere. If you don’t like it, don’t worry, as there’s a setting to turn it off.

Pencil

Of course, Apple has upgraded the screen so that it works with the Pencil – an optional £79 extra. As with the previous iPad Pro, the Pencil charges via Lightning, either from the port in the bottom of the iPad or through a USB charger and supplied adaptor. Not that you have to charge it for long: 30 seconds plugged in gives you around 15 minutes of use.

Apple iPad Pro Pencil

The Pencil remains the most advanced stylus available, as its multiple sensors can detect the angle you hold it at. Together with its pressure sensitivity, you can write and draw in a way that’s as close to paper as you can get. Our resident artist found that the Pencil and original iPad Pro were the best for drawing with, and that holds true with the 9.7-inch model. If anything, the smaller size of this iPad makes it better for writing notes on, as it’s closer to a notepad in size, but it’s not quite as handy for drawing or painting on.

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