The 9.7-inch iPad Pro comes in six models. Wi-Fi-only versions are $599 for 32GB, $749 for 128GB, and $899 for 256GB. Cellular versions cost $729 for 32GB, $879 for 128GB, and $1,029 for 256GB. The Smart Keyboard cover adds $149, and the Apple Pencil stylus is $99.
Accessories and Networking
My review unit came with Apple’s Smart Keyboard cover, which docks to a magnetic connector on the bottom of the tablet. It’s a lightweight and very usable keyboard. It’s narrower than the 12.9-inch iPad Pro keyboard£139.00 at John Lewis, but Apple kept the overall space around the letter and number keys the same by shrinking the function keys around the edges. That’s smart, and it makes for an unusually pleasurable typing experience—I had less finger fatigue than I do typing on Logitech’s Ultrathin Keyboard Cover$64.90 at Amazon, our favorite keyboard for the iPad Air.
The Pro also works with the Apple Pencil$99.00 at Apple Store, which is smoother and better than other available tablet styli. The more expensive Surface Pro 4£862.85 at Amazon, for instance, comes with a pen that clips right onto the side of the tablet, but it feels cheap and chunky, and the tablet’s screen flexes a bit when you press hard. The Apple Pencil is much more solid and well-balanced, feels more realistically grippy on the screen,and has options for tilt and shading sensitivity that other styli lack.
The iPad Pro 9.7 uses a 2.26GHz Apple A9x processor with 2GB RAM, which provides performance in between the iPad Air 2 and the 12.9-inch iPad Pro. With Geekbench scores of 3,081 single-core and 5,294 dual-core, it’s still faster than any Android tablet. The Pro 9.7 benchmarks better than Intel Atom-based Windows tablets or the 12-inch Intel Core M-based MacBook, and competitively with a two-year-old MacBook Air. Its graphics hardware is also strong, notching 32fps on the GFXBench OpenGL ES 3.0 Manhattan test, just like on the 12.9-inch iPad Pro. In other words, this is completely laptop-class hardware, able to crunch numbers and generate images as well as Macs or Windows devices.
Comparisons and Conclusions
The 9.7-inch iPad Pro is more powerful than the iPad Air 2, but I’m having trouble justifying the increased price for most buyers. For $499, you can get a 64GB iPad Air 2 with similar size, shape, and performance. The Pro’s sweet spot is the 128GB model, which costs $749 (or $879 with cellular). Add the keyboard and Pencil to take advantage of the tablet’s “pro” features, and you’re up to $997 (or $1,127 with cellular).
Were it priced like the iPad Air 2, the Pro would be a good buy. But the Pro lives in a sort of uncanny valley of the tablet market, where it’s priced like high-quality Windows 2-in-1s such as the HP Spectre X2$849.99 at Buydig.com or the Microsoft Surface Pro 4, but can’t run fully featured Windows or Mac business apps. While our reviews of the Spectre and Surface Pro 4 make them look more expensive than the iPad Pro, that’s because we reviewed higher-end models. A 128GB Spectre X2 with keyboard costs $799; a 128GB Surface Pro 4 with keyboard and pen costs $1,028. That’s pretty close to the price of a similarly equipped iPad Pro.
Business applications, in general, are still designed for a mouse-and-keyboard paradigm rather than a touch-centric approach, and I don’t think that’s going to change in the next few years. iOS applications also tend to have fewer features than their counterpart Mac OS or Windows applications. Most business and vertical iPad apps, meanwhile, don’t need the Pencil support, quad speakers, or screen tweaks you get with the Pro, and so they’ll work perfectly well on an iPad Air 2.
The big exception here is if you intend to draw or take notes with the Apple Pencil, which provides an unmatched stylus experience. I’d also suggest the price premium might be worth it if you intend to use the internal speakers frequently, as the new quad speakers are a major improvement over those in the iPad Air 2. Overall, though, while the 9.7-inch iPad Pro is a very good tablet, the iPad Air 2 and the Microsoft Surface Pro 4 remain our Editors’ Choice picks.