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Hands-on review: Apple 9.7 inch iPad Pro
Wed, 27th Apr 2016
FYI, this story is more than a year old

When the new 9.7 inch iPad Pro was placed down on my desk, it felt like Christmas. I didn't even care that its alluring metal finish was a distinctive shade of pink (or ‘Rose Gold', according to Apple).

My previous experience with tablets had consisted of cheap Korean bricks and older (at the time revolutionary) iPads that I would pilfer from my father.

I have, however, had a number of MacBook Pros, which made this review even more interesting as the iPad Pro has been seen by many as a viable alternative to the notebook.

This model takes almost all of the power of the larger 12.9 inch iPad Pro that was released last year (of which my colleague, Catherine devoted her love to, vowing to marry Apple in a hot air balloon while slurping whisky and slow-dancing in the confined space of the wicker basket) and crams it all into a smaller, more manageable body.

Furthermore, there is an improved display and a camera that leaves all other tablet cameras before it completely out of the picture.

The physical

The iPad Pro is a very attractive tablet, there is no doubt about that - I can somewhat understand my colleague's love affair with the maker.

It is a much more manageable size than its older sibling at 9.4 inches high, 6.6 inches wide and a very thin 0.24 inches thick. Similar to the iPhone 6, the body is encased in a beautiful matte metal finish.

It's built like an Apple product should be, with machined speaker grilles and a general aura of quality.

The visual

One of the really cool things about the new iPad Pro is the screen tech. Apple has introduced something they've called a True Tone display, which completely blows all previous tablet incarnations out of the water. Essentially, the clever little iPad takes notice of your surroundings and then dynamically adjusts the display depending on the lighting.

For example, when I took the iPad to bed with me (nothing dodgy here Catherine), the screen would automatically tone everything down and remove blue hues to make the whole display a warmer and friendlier screen – great for being easy on your peepers while engaging in bedtime reading and web browsing.

I picked up my father's older iPad the other day to test the difference between the two and it was startling – his seemed very blue in comparison. The new tech also proved itself when I went outside in direct sunlight, as it was far more visible.

The sound

R.I.P my Bluetooth speaker. There are four speakers on this tablet, and they sound incredible. So incredible in fact, that my Bluetooth speaker has been sitting forlorn on the desk, reluctantly accepting its new job as a dust collector.

I could crank these speakers to the max, belting out bangers from all kinds of genres and not once did I hear any hint of distortion - impressive. Similar to the smart screen, the speakers produce sound that adjusts according to the position in which the tablet is held.

The camera

The camera is essentially the same as what you get in the iPhone 6S. It has the same 4K-capability, 12-megapixel camera on the back and the same 5-megapixel FaceTime HD sensor on the front for your selfies.

It takes very good pictures, capturing sharp details and accurate colours. However, people were looking at me strangely as I was traipsing around the city snapping shots with a device that isn't that unwieldy - but is a behemoth when compared to a phone.

In terms of taking the odd pic, I think I'd rather use my phone. But in terms of people working on the go, I think this would be perfect. I can imagine a fashion designer taking a quick snap of a dress to then upload into an app to draw some quick changes, or an architect taking pictures of a project to see how some virtual additions would suit it.

I also took some quality 4K videos of my road trip to the beach recently with friends, before uploading them into iMovie to create an absolute masterpiece. The whole process was seamless, smooth and virtually without delay.

The hardware

While I'm no expert on what all the hardware actually means, I can tell you that it works, and it works well. Inside this tablet is Apple's high-end A9X SoC, which includes the M9 co-processor. It also has a 12-core PowerVR graphics chip and 2GB of RAM.

What this means is that opening games, scrolling through websites, using two demanding apps at the same time with Apple's Split View and so on never caused me any lag or slowdown.

Fortunately, the iPad has a large, 29.7Wh battery that Apple claims will last for 10 hours and, based on my experiences, is pretty much spot on. With my usage of around a couple of hours a day, this meant I would only have to charge it once every five days or so.

Can it replace my Macbook Pro?

While Apple does provide the Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard as accessories to the iPad Pro (I didn't test these, but have heard great things about them), my answer would be no – it would instead be something that is used in harmony. The one thing my Macbook has that the iPad doesn't is ports. The iPad only has two ports, one for the Lightning port and the other for the headphone jack.

This means if you want to connect a device via USB or retrieve some data from an SD card for instance, you would have to use one of Apple's dongles to provide an outlet that connects to the Lightning port.

However, the iPad Pro represents a tremendous advance in technology and is an amazing device, being much more agile than my Macbook. I'm sure once technology does eventually catch up and we do away with USB devices, SD cards and the like, the iPad Pro will present a significant challenge to the notebook market.

For now though, the iPad Pro can rest happy being the best in the tablet market.