The iPad Pro 'Mini' Review
On Thursday March 31st, AAPL shipped its 2nd iPad Pro - a mini version of its 12.9" older 'brother' in the traditional 9.7" form factor - the same size display that the original iPad and every iPad since (with the exception of the Mini & Pro) have had. Here's my take on the 9.7" iPad Pro.
- Weight & Size: The 12.9" iPad Pro is a great machine, but frankly, it's like carrying around a 13.3" MacBook Air once you add on a silicon case and the AAPL Keyboard. The 9.7" iPad Pro maintains basically the exact same profile (dimensions - including weight) as the iPad Air 2. It is definitely a feeling of "welcome back" when you pick up the new iPad Pro and remember how light and thin AAPL has achieved with these devices without compromising battery life. There is a time-and-a-place for the 12.9" iPad Pro, but for many things, the 9.7" form factor is "just right".
- Performance: The 9.7" iPad Pro carries the same silicon as its bigger brother - a 3rd-gen 64-bit A9X CPU with an embedded 3rd gen M9 motion co-processor. It should be noted, however, that the 9.7" CPU is clocked slightly lower (2.16 GHz) compared with the 12.9" (2.24 GHz), which produces slightly lower single-core and multi-core scores on all of those benchmark scoring apps. It should be noted that I am not a gamer and have not noticed.
- Screen: So AAPL's big feature on the 9.7" iPad Pro was the "True-Tone" Display, which automatically adjusts the color gamut based on the lighting conditions. Essentially, I see it as a much more powerful and precise version of the "Auto Brightness" feature. However, instead of adjusting brightness, it adjusts the actual color. I have tried this out in the sun and then back in darker light and it is pretty amazing. It definitely cuts down on reflectivity and also produces much more accurate colors in different lighting situations. This technology should be the standard on AAPL displays going forward as it really does make a difference.
- The Speakers: Like its 12.9" counterpart, the 9.7" Pro has 4 speakers and they put out ample sound, or rather, as much as you could ever expect from a device that is 6.1mm thick and weighs less than a pound. The fact that you have sound coming from all 4 corners is a huge bonus.
- AAPL Pencil support: I have praised the AAPL Pencil as likely the best AAPL iOS accessory of all-time and it works exactly the same on the 9.7" Pro as it does with its larger counterpart.
- "Antenna-Hide": On every previous iPad that has ever shipped with cellular connectivity (including the 12.9" iPad Pro), AAPL has this plastic antenna bar at the top that is either white or black - it never matches the color of the chassis and is just ugly. The 9.7" iPad Pro no longer has that plastic discolored cutout, it merely has an antenna line that is nearly identical to the lines that people have complained about on the iPhone 6 models. However, I will take the lines over the ugly plastic cutout any day - it's not perfect, but it is a step forward.
- Does not Support USB 3.0: So I just got introduced to the 29W USB-C power charger, which I am using with the 12.9" iPad Pro and it is amazing. It basically charges the 12.9" iPad Pro 3x faster than the 12W power adapter that it ships with. The 9.7" iPad Pro does not support any USB 3.0 accessories (including the 29W power adapter) and mysteriously ships with a 10W power adapter as compared with the 12W standard. It's one of those choices that you wish AAPL would have thought a bit more about when it comes to standardizing certain features for the "Pro" moniker - USB 3.0 support SHOULD BE one of those standards.
- 2GB of RAM? Once again, I am mystified by the 2GB of RAM, as compared to the 4GB that ships in the 12.9" version. Like USB 3.0 support, I think 4GB of RAM (or at least parity) across the "Pro" lineup should be the standard. The fact that the 9.7" iPad Pro ships with the same amount of RAM that is in the new 4" iPhone SE makes me wonder. The only thing I can think of is that the A9 / A9X chips require a minimum of 2GB of RAM, which would justify the 2GB that is shipping inside the iPhone SE (which also runs the A9 SoC). It seems that the amount of RAM needed has nothing to do with screen size because the iPad Pro 9.7" display (3.1M pixels) has 4.3x the number of pixels as the 4" iPhone SE (727K pixels). So I question what functionality or specs of the 12.9" iPad Pro necessitate twice the amount of RAM as the 9.7" version -or put another way- what lack of functionality in the 9.7" version allows for it to get by with just 2GB of RAM?
- The Camera Hump: So as AAPL increased the iSight Camera, they also increased the thickness of the sapphire cover glass so it does not sit flush with the chassis - same as with the iPhones 6, 6+, 6S, and 6S+. It is just annoying.
- Improved Cameras: I have never been an iPad camera user and I don't think I ever will be. Sure, the new 12.0MP iSight camera on the 9.7" iPad Pro with true tone flash is a welcome addition for many. For me, I don't think it's going to make me want to use the iPad Pro as a camera anymore than it has with any other iPad. But, you never know...
The Things That Make You Say "Hmmm":
- 256GB Storage Support: While I think it is great that AAPL has made its first iOS device with a 256GB storage option, I question why it wasn't made available on the 12.9" version. Now, there may be a very legitimate reason for this. Samsung announced in late-February that it had produced the first 256GB Universal Flash Storage chip for high-end mobile devices. My guess is that this is the chip that is in the 256GB versions of the 9.7" iPad Pro that simply were not available in mass quantities at the time the 12.9" went into production. My guess is that all future iPad Pros and perhaps all future flagship iPhones will include a 256GB storage configuration. And yes, AAPL will make a killing on selling you that additional storage capacity.
The greatest part of the 9.7" iPad Pro is that there are no surprises. It brings me back to the "Air-like" size & weight of iPad's from the past, yet packs a powerful punch with the A9X processor. The new display technology is pretty amazing that really can't be described until you have used the device in an array of lighting conditions. I am disappointed by the lack of USB 3.0 support, which would have enabled use of the 29W power adapter for super fast charging. I have not seen any negative effects of the 2GB of RAM (as compared to the 4GB on the 12.9" version), but perhaps I am the very user that AAPL thought of when making that decision. The AAPL Pencil is as amazing with the 9.7" Pro as it is with the 12.9" Pro. Both iPad's are keepers for me. If I was using the iPad Air 2, I'm not sure I would make the jump to the 9.7" Pro unless you do heavy graphic design or other precision work that things like "AAPL Pencil support" will really make a difference -or- if you happen to be one of those people that loves using your iPad to take pictures it may also be a worthy upgrade. If I was running anything prior to the iPad Air, it is a great upgrade that will provide a host of power and benefits that 2.5-year old devices in today's world simply cannot.
Random prediction: The iPad Mini will stay in the lineup, but I think it will essentially become the iPhone SE for iPads. It will get updated, but those updates will be far less frequent and it will be sold in limited configurations. The good news is that I could see AAPL phasing out the iPod Touch in favor of the iPad Mini and with that, we should continue to see its entry-price move down to access more markets overseas. The reality is that AAPL wants to sell more iPhone 5.5" phablets, not more iPad Mini's - that is a business decision focused on margins and upgrade cycle that the iPhone simply kills the iPad at.