AppleInsider may earn an affiliate commission on purchases made through links on our site.
Apple's professional-grade tablets now come in two distinct sizes: A 9.7-inch iPad Pro and a jumbo-sized 12.9-inch model. And while they both share a number of key features, including Apple Pencil support and the Smart Connector, both iPads are clearly geared toward different types of users. AppleInsider offers a handy guide to help you decide which model is right for you.
The gap between 9.7 and 12.9 inches may not sound like a lot, but in the case of the diagonal screen size on an iPad, it makes a world of difference. The 12.9-inch iPad Pro's display is so large that its width is equal to the full height of the 9.7-inch model.
In other words, the 12.9-inch iPad Pro display is equivalent to two 9.7-inch screens placed side by side.
And so the first and most obvious question you need to ask yourself is: How much screen real estate do you need?
If you're going to be using the Apple Pencil a lot, particularly for drawing, we feel the 12.9-inch model is a better fit.
Similarly, if you plan on using a keyboard a great deal — especially Apple's Smart Keyboard — then the larger 12.9-inch form factor is going to offer you more space to type.
If you're more of a note taker or an occasional doodler, the lower price and more portable form factor of the 9.7-inch model is a better fit. And if you don't plan to use a keyboard at all, or only want to attach the Smart Keyboard occasionally, we feel you'll be able to get by just fine with the 9.7-inch variant.
In terms of the apps themselves, we're sad to say that most major apps have not yet been updated for the larger 12.9-inch display. While there are a great number of apps optimized for the established 9.7-inch form factor, Apple's larger iPad Pro remains somewhat of a niche product, so we wouldn't recommend getting high hopes for third-party app support designed for the 12.9-inch screen.
Of course, with a larger screen size comes added weight. While the 9.7-inch iPad Pro matches the iPad Air 2 and comes in under a pound, the 12.9-inch version is much heftier at about 1.57 pounds.
This weight disparity makes a huge difference in how you use the iPad. At 0.96-pound, the 9.7-inch model is ultraportable, and can be easily held with one hand while standing or walking, allowing you to use your finger (or an Apple Pencil) while on your feet.
The more compact 9.7-inch display also allows for a split keyboard software option that users can invoke by taking their thumbs and sliding them apart on the software keyboard. This places keys to the left and right side of the screen, allowing for two-thumb typing while holding the 9.7-inch iPad Pro in portrait mode.
The 12.9-inch display on the larger iPad Pro is simply too large for split typing, however, so Apple doesn't even offer it. And forget trying to use it for extended periods of time while standing or walking — Â it's simply too heavy to hold with one hand.
Instead, the 12.9-inch iPad Pro's weight makes it better suited for using on your lap or flat on a desk. In these settings, the larger iPad Pro excels, offering more screen real estate for viewing or manipulating content, and also much more space to use the onscreen virtual keyboard.
Running the (color) gamut
For many, especially photographers and artists, the main selling point of the 9.7-inch model over the larger version is its new True Tone display.
Apple's True Tone technology uses sensors to measure brightness and ambient light temperature. The screen is automatically adjusted according to those settings, presenting users with a more accurate representation of natural colors on the screen.
Apple didn't stop there, and also reduced screen reflectivity, making the 9.7-inch iPad Pro better in outdoor settings than its 12.9-inch counterpart.
This is not to say that the 12.9-inch Retina display is not gorgeous — Â it is. And many users looking to browse the web or play games probably won't care at all about accuracy of color reproduction.
But if you do care — or if you plan to use your iPad outside a great deal — then we have to recommend the 9.7-inch model.
If you have the need for speed, go with the 12.9-inch iPad Pro. Though both models run the same A9X chip, it's clocked faster for both basic CPU horsepower as well as graphics processing on the larger model. The 12.9-inch model also has double the RAM, at 4 gigabytes.
The 12.9-inch variant also has the distinction of being the only iOS device from Apple to feature a high-speed USB 3 Lightning port. The 9.7-inch model features the same standard USB 2-speed Lightning port as all other devices.
There are a few advantages to having a USB 3-speed Lightning port on the 12.9-inch iPad Pro. The faster port can take advantage of new USB 3 accessories from Apple, including a speedy Lightning to SD card reader, as well as a USB 3 Camera Adapter.
Apple also offers a new USB 3 Lightning to USB-C cable, which makes it possible to connect any iPad or iPhone directly to the 12-inch MacBook. But exclusively on the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, users will gain access to higher transfer speeds when syncing with USB 3 computers, as well as faster charging with Apple's 29-watt USB-C wall adapter.
Our recommendation if you have the 12.9-inch iPad Pro: Buy a USB 3 Lightning to USB-C cable, and Apple's 29-watt 12-inch MacBook power supply, and drastically increase your recharge speeds from the insufficient 12-watt power adapter that ships in the box.
Remaining hardware features
Both iPad Pro models support the Apple Pencil and work as you'd expect. And they both have Smart Keyboards, though the 12.9-inch version obviously offers more size.
Both models also feature a four-speaker array that pumps out impressive sound for such a thin tablet. On these issues, it's a tie.
In terms of camera specs, the 9.7-inch easily trumps the 12.9-inch model with much more capable cameras. While we question the inclusion of some features, including a selfie flash, we cannot deny that for those who plan to shoot photos or videos with an iPad, the 9.7-inch model is the superior option (if you can stomach the accompanying camera bump).
The rear camera on the 9.7-inch model records 4K video and captures 12-megapixel photos with a rear flash. In contrast, the 12.9-inch model records at 1080p and shoots 8-megapixels without flash. The forward-facing FaceTime HD camera on the 9.7-inch model also offers superior 5-megapixel photos, compared to 1.2 megapixels on the 12.9-inch.
Here's arguably the biggest ding against the 9.7-inch iPad Pro: It starts at $599 for the 32-gigabyte model, making it the most expensive entry price for a new 9.7-inch iPad Pro to date.
The 12.9-inch iPad Pro, meanwhile, carries a starting price of $799 for 32 gigabytes. But if you're planning to use it as a desktop replacement, you're probably better off opting for the $949 128-gigabyte model (a 256-gigabyte version also sells for $1,099).
And so in terms of pricing, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro finds itself caught somewhere in the middle. As we noted above, if you're mostly interested in Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard support, and you don't mind losing some portability, the 12.9-inch iPad Pro is the better option.
Conversely, if you don't care about the Apple Pencil or Smart Connector at all, Apple still offers the iPad Air 2 at $399. Without support for the optional accessories (which cost extra), the sacrifices you'd make for that $200 price cut are the four-speaker array, the True Tone display, the faster A9X chip, and the improved cameras.
The A8X chip in the iPad Air 2 has the same 2 gigabytes of RAM, and remains a strong performer with an identical thin-and-light design. And you still have Touch ID for secure access and in-app Apple Pay support.
But if you plan to use the Apple Pencil and/or Smart Connector on occasion, and prefer the portability of the 9.7-inch Pro (especially the ability to hold it up with one hand while standing), the extra $200 over the iPad Air 2 is an easy recommendation.
Apple's most compelling iPad lineup ever makes for a difficult decision for consumers. Still, we feel like each model available presents unique use cases and should appeal to different segments of the tablet market.
In particular, keeping the iPad Air 2 around at $399 offers a great entry point for those who aren't looking for "pro" features.
And with the two iPad Pro options, there's a lot to decide between portability, performance, and just plain personal preference.
Because iOS isn't yet a suitable replacement for a traditional computer for many users, we think most will ultimately opt for the 9.7-inch iPad Pro. It's small enough to be conveniently portable, and yet its screen is still large enough to get most tasks done. Support for the Smart Connector and Apple Pencil only enhance its versatility.
If you have specific use cases for the larger 12.9-inch screen, or iOS is now capable enough to replace a Mac or PC for daily tasks, go with the bigger screen and definitely buy a keyboard. Multitasking is better, there's more horsepower to be utilized, and you'll find it better suited for extended use while sitting.
Where to buy
Before you buy a new iPad Pro, see AppleInsider's comprehensive trade-in guide to find out where you can get the most money for your previous generation model.
The 9.7-inch iPad Pro is available to purchase through Apple and its authorized reseller channel, which includes all of the leading resellers listed in our iPad Price Guide. Among them is AppleInsider partner B&H, which carries the full lineup, as well as the official Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil. Unlike Apple and virtually every other reseller, however, B&H will not collect sales tax on your new iPad Pro order if you live outside NY. It also has 90% of the lineup in stock as of press time. As such, most customers will save between $45 and $80 on their new iPad Pro order.
9.7" iPad Pro
32GB 9.7" iPad Pro Silver WiFi Only for $599.00
32GB 9.7" iPad Pro Space Gray WiFi Only for $599.00
32GB 9.7" iPad Pro Gold WiFi Only for $599.00
32GB 9.7" iPad Pro Rose Gold WiFi Only for $599.00
32GB 9.7" iPad Pro Silver WiFi + Cellular for $729.00
32GB 9.7" iPad Pro Space Gray WiFi + Cellular for $729.00
32GB 9.7" iPad Pro Gold WiFi + Cellular for $729.00
32GB 9.7" iPad Pro Rose Gold WiFi + Cellular for $729.00
128GB 9.7" iPad Pro Silver WiFi Only for $749.00
128GB 9.7" iPad Pro Space Gray WiFi Only for $749.00
128GB 9.7" iPad Pro Gold WiFi Only for $749.00
128GB 9.7" iPad Pro Rose Gold WiFi Only for $749.00
128GB 9.7" iPad Pro Silver WiFi + Cellular for $879.00
128GB 9.7" iPad Pro Space Gray WiFi + Cellular for $879.00
128GB 9.7" iPad Pro Gold WiFi + Cellular for $879.00
128GB 9.7" iPad Pro Rose Gold WiFi + Cellular for $879.00
256GB 9.7" iPad Pro Silver WiFi Only for $899.00
256GB 9.7" iPad Pro Space Gray WiFi Only for $899.00
256GB 9.7" iPad Pro Gold WiFi Only for $899.00
256GB 9.7" iPad Pro Rose Gold WiFi Only for $899.00
256GB 9.7" iPad Pro Silver WiFi + Cellular for $1,029.00
256GB 9.7" iPad Pro Space Gray WiFi + Cellular for $1,029.00
256GB 9.7" iPad Pro Gold WiFi + Cellular for $1,029.00
256GB 9.7" iPad Pro Rose Gold WiFi + Cellular for $1,029.00
If you're a customer on the fence between a 9.7" iPad Pro and a 12.9" iPad Pro, B&H this week is also offering between $20-$100 off all 32GB and 128GB 12.9" iPad Pros with no sales tax outside NY, which are also the lowest prices anywhere by a wide margin, according to our iPad Price Guide.
12.9" iPad Pro
32GB 12.9" iPad Pro (Wi-Fi Only, Silver) for $749.00 ($50 discount)
32GB 12.9" iPad Pro (Wi-Fi Only, Space Gray) for $779.00 ($20 discount)
32GB 12.9" iPad Pro (Wi-Fi Only, Gold) for $749.00 ($50 discount)
128GB 12.9" iPad Pro (Wi-Fi Only, Silver) for $849.00 ($100 discount)
128GB 12.9" iPad Pro (Wi-Fi Only, Space Gray) for $879.00 ($80 discount)
128GB 12.9" iPad Pro (Wi-Fi Only, Gold) for $849.00 ($100 discount)
128GB 12.9" iPad Pro (Wi-Fi + 4G LTE, Silver) for $999.00 ($80 discount)
128GB 12.9" iPad Pro (Wi-Fi + 4G LTE, Space Gray) for $999.00 ($80 discount)
128GB 12.9" iPad Pro (Wi-Fi + 4G LTE, Gold) for $909.00 ($89 discount)
256GB 12.9" iPad Pro (Wi-Fi Only, Silver) for $1,099.00 (pre order)
256GB 12.9" iPad Pro (Wi-Fi Only, Space Gray) for $1,099.00 (in stock)
256GB 12.9" iPad Pro (Wi-Fi Only, Gold) for $1,099.00 (in stock)
256GB 12.9" iPad Pro (Wi-Fi + 4G LTE, Silver) for $1,229.00 (in stock)
256GB 12.9" iPad Pro (Wi-Fi + 4G LTE, Space Gray) for $1,229.00 (in stock)
256GB 12.9" iPad Pro (Wi-Fi + 4G LTE, Gold) for $1,229.00 (in stock)