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The new iPad Pro 9.7 – can Apple provide a true alternative to laptops?

by on 11/05/2016
 

Here we are in 2016, and Apple has launched a little sister to their bigger iPad Pro tablet, using the same product name.

The first thing this new release make us think about is an old interview during the iOS release event, with Ol’ Jobs himself.

Q: How do you close applications when multitasking?

A: (Scott Forstall) You don’t have to. The user just uses things and doesn’t ever have to worry about it.

A: (Steve Jobs) It’s like we said on the iPad, if you see a stylus, they blew it. In multitasking, if you see a task manager… they blew it. Users shouldn’t ever have to think about it.

Regarding the convergence between laptops and tablets, Tim Cook also shared a rather conservative attitude.

Anything can be forced to converge, but the problem is that products are about trade-offs, and you begin to make trade-offs to the point where what you have left at the end of the day doesn’t please anyone. You can converge a toaster and a refrigerator, but those things are probably not going to be pleasing to the user. We’re not going to that party… others might from a defensive point of view.

The above statements just highlight the irony of the iPad Pro offering a „Smart” Keyboard for only 149$, or a 99$ „Pencil”.

iPad Pro 9.7 cu tastatura atasata

At the time the first iPad was released in 2010, major review outlets often used slogans such as The laptop killer. Six years and a bunch of product cycles later, not much has changed.

We’re not saying these things to be nitpicky – the purpose of marketing isn’t truthfulness and education, just promotion.

And the statements of such industry-defining characters, whether they represent Apple or other companies, still count as marketing. But they’re amusing. Besides, we’re not childish enough to not realize the context.

Jobs made his statements regarding styluses in a time when the first iPhone’s capacitive touchscreen was a revolution in the industry – when low-quality resistive touchscreens were the norm, and they couldn’t even be really used without a stylus. To that end, the iPhone, with it’s finger-only controls, gestures and amazing navigation was a truly revolutionary product, which signaled the end of PDA’s or phones using hardware keyboards.

Review iPad Pro 9.7

Stylus technology has evolved a long way since then, and it’s not like the iPad Pro is the same kind of device as the iPhone – there are good reasons to be using a high-quality stylus these days.

As for multitasking, well… let’s face it, back then, real multi-tasking did not – and could not – exist. The advancements in computer power since last decade are enormous – no other technological field has shown such exponential growth in the history of human civilization.

Anyway, all that being said, let’s take a look at this little iPad Pro of 2016 as we should… it’s a product catering to a wide market, with lots of fans and even more haters.

iPad Pro 9.7 - Carcasa spate

What does the iPad Pro 9.7 offer, and who is it aimed at?

Apple revealed this tablet at the press event in March, however the Pro inclusion in the name was surprising. If in march we would have expected the tablet to be called iPad Air, based on design cues and common sense, Apple chose to promote it as a smaller version of their 12.9″ tablet, positioning it as a device oriented at the professional market, capable of replacing a laptop and intended to be used by designers and graphic artists on the move.

The question is whether it succeeds – in view of the fact that the accessories which would enhance its functionality are optional, costly and must be purchased separately.

We will answer this question later. Right now, let’s look at the design.

In terms of build, the iPad Pro 9.7 is very similar to the iPad Air 2 – it has the same weight, the same dimensions and general design. However, it does feature four speakers – two above and two below – which make tremendous impact on the audio quality.

The cellular antenna on the upper back is now very nicely tied into the tablet’s design as a whole, and looks far more pleasant to the eye.

The SIM slot climbed a little higher, and – good news for hipsters – there is now a pink color option (sorry, Rose Gold). The bottom speakers are further apart, with a better chance of providing a stereo effect, and two additional speakers are available on the upper side.

A so-called Smart Connector – in case you wonder what those three circles represent – is positioned on the left edge, designed to connect with the optional keyboard.

iPad Pro 9.7 - interfata Smart Connector pentru tastatura

The rear camera now protrudes like the one on the iPhone 6 and 6S, and is accompanied by a flash. The new question is „What would we rather scratch?” – the iPad’s screen or the surface we place it on? A $69 Case or 49$ Smart Cover mitigate this problem somewhat.

Smart Cover iPad Pro

Yes, we’re nitpicking – and we do it because a product in this class demands perfection. The design is otherwise phenomenal – from the beveled edges to the smoothly textured metal case. Anyway, enough about design.

I briefly mentioned the rear camera, but let’s discuss both cameras in a little more detail.

Starting with the rear camera, the flash option is new, and welcome, no matter how late it shows up.

Compared to the iPad Air 2 or iPad Pro 12.9, the rear camera now offers a sensor resolution of 12 Megapixels vs. 8, alongside a bunch of improvements.

The camera has an aperture of f/2.2 (compared to f/2.4 on the other models). It includes the Live Photos function which shoots snippets of video before and after a shot, allowing photos to be animated – a feature seen only on iPhones until now. The video recording resolution was increased to 4K.

Slow-motion sequences can now be recorded at 240 fps in 720p or 120 fps in 1080p. Panoramas are wider, offering 63 Megapixels instead of 43. The iPad Pro also includes an auto-HDR function, as well as a Focus Pixels function. The front camera received a dramatic upgrade, climbing from 1.2 to 5 megapixels, coupled with the Retina Flash feature (offering better selfies by increasing the screen’s brightness over standard). There’s also an auto-HDR function.

But how do these improvements translate into real life? Well, under good lighting and short distances, the difference is negligible – or rather I could not see it. However, under low light conditions or under cloud cover, the sensor on the iPad Pro 9.7 really shines – more details, better contrast.

Regarding the front camera, all we can say is that the differences are dramatic – somewhat inevitable when quadrupling the sensor resolution – especially when it wasn’t impressive to begin with.

As for the screen, the iPad Pro 9.7 offers almost nothing over the iPad Air 2.

Tame 2048 × 1536 resolution, the same size and pixel density (264ppi), the same multi-touch functionality. Almost nothing however means there is some change, and that’s the optional True Tone feature, which aims to subtly adjust the colors displayed on-screen in order to adapt to ambient light conditions.

This feature is less aggressive than Night Shift, but uses similar principles to produce a warmer color under artificial light and cooler under natural light.

The iPad Pro 9.7’s performance is an interesting topic.

On the one hand, the A9X processor is significantly faster than the A8X… on paper. Because of the way apps are optimized in the iOS ecosystem, it’s hard to notice significant performance improvements at the time of release, when compared to previous generation devices, but the extra performance will start to show more and more as time passes and apps start taking advantage of the extra power.

Performance benchmarks are a little under the bigger iPad Pro in most tests, although not by much – less than 5% in Geekbench, under 3% in Javascript – at least on the CPU tests. GFXBench however shows a significant performance difference between this small iPad Pro and its bigger sister – a performance difference between 20% and 25%, which we attribute to the lower amount of memory, of just 2GB versus 4GB.

Anything else to be said? Ah yes, the battery.

Though the battery capacity is nearly identical to the iPad Air 2, (with a difference of only 0.004%), the actual battery lifespan of the iPad Pro is significantly higher. Geekbench reported a battery lifespan of over 11 hours, more impressive than the iPad Air 2, and only 15 minutes under the iPad Pro 12.9. Geekbench is also a pretty intensive test, so we can expect Apple’s „up to 11 hours of use” are pretty accurate.

I mentioned Steve Jobs and his opinion about multitasking.

We do not know if Steve would turn in his grave, but iOS 9 features multitasking since September 2015 for all the latest iPads and we wanted to see how the tablet handles.

First of all, I can say it’s not an intuitive feature. Had I not searched the net figured out how it’s done, I would be left with the impression that multitasking did not exist. A system notification of the feature on initial activation would have been welcome – if it did exist, I managed to miss it three times in one day.

Once that’s all said and done, however all I have to say is this: iOS 9 for tablets currently offers an exceptional multitasking experience, better than any Android device at the moment, and very close to the kind of experience we’ve wanted to see on tablets ever since the release of the first iPad.

iPad Pro 9.7 - Multitasking - Picture in Picture

There are three kinds of multi-tasking – one focused on videos, which is basically a movable and re-sizeable Picture-in-Picture window. In all honesty, I’m not too hyped about this feature, because I like to focus my attention on one thing when consuming content, whether it’s music, books or video. However, others will surely make use of it, so I’m glad it exists.

iPad Pro 9.7 - Multitasking - Slide-over

The second mode is Slide-over Multitasking, and it’s a cute way of keeping one app in the foreground and sometimes checking a background app such as a mail or chat client without leaving the main one.

iPad Pro 9.7 - Multitasking - Side-by-side

From the slide-over to the Split-screen Multitasking mode, the transition is as simple as it gets – all you need to do is pull the edge of the background app to the middle of the screen and voila!

Finally, you can promote the background app to the foreground by pulling it completely to the left, and removing the first app off the screen.

Once the essentials are learned, it’s a very easy way to navigate and a huge boon over the way multitasking is currently handled in Android, or even Windows 10 – though I greatly appreciate the freedom Windows 10 offers in terms of software selection, I have to admit that after spending 2 months with various Windows 10-equipped tablets and touch-enabled laptops, I kept using Alt-Tab whenever I had the option, especially due to the annoying way in which Windows sometimes handles window edges.

On iOS 9, however, it’s a treat. I’d like to see whether Apple can make a three-way split in the future, though I’m not sure it would be for the better.

So what’s the conclusion on this new mini-iPad Pro?

Let me say this honestly. I’m a pretty big Apple hater in general. We use Macs and iPads in our work, but I personally hate iDevices in general.

I like the freedom of an open system, i like using any app I want on my Windows PC and I like running a VM for anything else. I like choosing my hardware components and building my own PC. I like phones which have more than one button (and no, volume and power buttons don’t count).

I generally like PC’s over Macs and this hasn’t changed. I prefer Android phones over iPhones and this also hasn’t changed.

But after testing this little iPad Pro, it’s the first time I can honestly say i’d rather use an iPad over ANY other competing tablet. It’s a bit funny to me, that what clinched it for me was the multitasking implementation, which I only searched for at the end of the review, and had I not found these new features, the review would have ended quite differently.

Anyway, if I get the chance to purchase a tablet, as far as the current market is concerned, as much as I hate Apple, I’ll get an iPad.

Would I choose it over a laptop though?

Heh, no way.

Peace.

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