WATCH: iPad drawing of Tim Cook shows the power of the Pro

Working on a Tim Cook sketch on iPad Pro 9.7, Apple's new tablet.

Noel Campion enjoys the premium features of the iPad Pro 9.7, raising the bar for graphics and audio.

IT’S HARD to review something that’s as common as the iPad because nearly everyone has one or at least, have used one.

I’ve been using the latest iPad Pro 9.7 for a few months now and although it’s very similar to its predecessor the iPad Air 2, it does have significant features and hardware improvements that make it worthy of an upgrade, for some at least.

The overall design hasn’t really changed too much over the previous model. It’s pretty much the same size, with almost the same ports and button layout and the same familiar metal backing that wraps around to the front glass. 

However, one of the big design changes are the four speaker grills which reside on the top and bottom edges. These provide incredible loud sounds that not only pack a punch but also sound great.

These four speakers provide a true stereo sound unlike any other tablet, with the exception of course of its bigger brother the iPad Pro 12.9.

The home button doubles as a finger print scanner and although it isn’t the latest generation like the iPhone 6s, so not nearly as fast, it does work reliably well. 

When you look at the back of the iPad Pro 9.7 you’ll find a raised 12mp camera that is the first of this iPad’s stand-out features. The camera uses the same sensor and lens as the iPhone 6s, which is one of the best on any mobile device.

You also get a LED flash for the first time on an iPad. To be honest, I hardly ever used a camera on any tablet but I did take lots of video and some photos with this one.

I’ve always felt that using an tablet to take photos or shoot video looked silly but I now love using it for this purpose because you get such a big viewfinder with the 9.7-inch screen and I found it easier to see my subject.

Naturally, it also makes it great for reviewing your images and captured video afterwards.

The image quality is superb, although I did find it struggled a little under low light, unless you used the flash.

Video capture is excellent and it even supports up to 4K resolution which means that you can zoom in by 4x and still have full HD video. I like the bigger size too when capturing video because it made it easier to keep the camera steady, and although there’s no optical image stabilisation, the software image stabilisation did a great job.

I used iMovie to edit the video afterwards and thanks to the incredible fast A9x chip, it was a breeze, even for editing full 4K videos. 

The front-facing camera is 5mp and is great for Skype and Facetime calls and although it doesn’t have a flash as such, the camera app can use the entire screen as a flash which works surprisingly well for selfies.

Like its bigger brother, the 9.7 also comes with two major features that separate it from previous models, the three little metal pins that support the smart keyboard and other third-party accessories and the Apple Pencil.

My review model came with the Apple Smart keyboard and this does transform the iPad into a great productivity device. It adds useful keyboard shortcuts for iOS, plus you don’t have to worry about charging it because it gets its power from the iPad itself.

You can download Microsoft Office for free, unlike the bigger iPad Pro 12.9, which will only allow you to view or edit documents created on another device. I did find the smaller keyboard a little cramped and tiring if typing for long periods but I like the key travel and overall feel. 

The iPad Pro 9.7’s display is the best of any iPad to-date, including the 12.9. It’s the same resolution of 2048 x 1535 as previous models but is now 25% brighter and 40% less reflective, making it easier to use outdoors.

The new screen also features a new True Tone technology that uses two new sensors that detect the ambient light and colours in your environment and then dynamically changes the screen’s colour tone to match, just like real paper reflects the light around it.

This makes reading books and the like more natural and easy on your eyes. The downside is it messes with the colours on the screen, so if you’re editing video or photos, you’ll want to turn it off.

It would be nice to see this feature improved in such a way that certain apps could turn the feature off when launched automatically. Plus, the new screen has a wider RGB gamut which means it can display more colours, making it more accurate.

Battery performance is your typical 10 hours on a single charge which is on par with previous models.

The single biggest reason I would buy the iPad Pro 9.7 is for the Apple Pencil.

Of course, not everyone will find a use for it so this is a feature that comes down to individual preference. I use it with software like Procreate (€6) to draw and paint digitally as can be seen here from my painting of Apple CEO, Tim Cook.

Portrait of Apple chief executive Tim Cook, drawn by Noel Campion on iPad Pro 9.7 using the Apple Pencil and software Procreate.
Portrait of Apple chief executive Tim Cook, drawn by Noel Campion on iPad Pro 9.7 using the Apple Pencil and software Procreate.

The Apple Pencil, coupled with software like Procreate make this an incredibly powerful tool for digital artists or those who just love to draw for fun. It’s so realistic and works flawlessly just like you’d expect a real pencil should.

Overall, it works just as well on the 9.7in screens as it does on the bigger 12.9in screen, but I prefer the larger display as I can create a higher resolution canvas and like the bigger size to draw on.

However, some will prefer the smaller screen because it’s more comfortable to use, thanks to its smaller size. Finally, I use the Apple Pencil a lot for taking hand written notes in GoodNotes which organises all my notes into one single place so you don’t have to be interested in just drawing to take advantage of the Apple Pencil.

The iPad Pro 9.7 is an amazing tablet but is only worth the upgrade from the Air 2 if you want all the features. Prices start at €699 for the 32GB wifi only but add an extra €149 to that if you want cellular.

There’s also 128GB and 256GB models, the latter with cellular for €1,209.

For technology news and much more see the Money & Jobs section in the Irish Examiner every Friday.


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