I’ve already written a little about the smaller iPad Pro, but I had an interesting discussion about it this past week. My sister’s 13–inch MacBook Air has been on its last breath for quite a while now, and it’s finally just about to give up the ghost. It no longer really holds a charge and is so slow she can’t even load her pictures into Lightroom any more. This will leave her crucially — for the first time in her adult life — without a computer of her own to use.
We had a talk about what her next purchase might be, and I thought it would be about the type of MacBook she should buy. However, her first question was actually about the iPad Pro: which one should she get? The larger 12.9–inch iPad Pro that I own, or the smaller 9.7–inch iPad Pro?
As an owner of the larger iPad and a regular writer on this site, you’d think I’d have told her about the merits of going iPad-only and the amazing comfort of the larger screen. My iPad Pro really is the most comfortable iPad I’ve ever used when it comes to long stretches of time at a desk. However, as I started to think about what other selling points (4 GB of RAM, USB 3 transfer speeds, high-res display), none of them really felt like they’d really change her experience. The RAM is useful for Split View, but aside from Graphic and Safari, the apps I run really aren’t very memory intensive. The USB 3 transfer speeds have yet to mean anything to me because I can’t transfer my camera’s video to the iPad.
I then realized that there are very few people I’d actually recommend the larger iPad Pro to. At least not at this stage of iOS. Even though iOS is developing at a more rapid pace than ever and more tablet-specific power features are starting to appear, I do think that this large iPad Pro is still far too much money when you consider the limits of iOS as a computing platform. Yes, iOS 10 is just on the verge of being discussed at WWDC and will likely see a release this Fall, but what’s the best iPad to buy right now?
I’ll tell you what I told my sister: the 9.7–inch iPad Pro with 128 GB of storage. I think you get the most important features introduced with my iPad: four speakers that sound great, and Pencil support. These two things change the iPad quite a lot and make it a lot more fun to spend time on when you have the space to use the device.
The 9.7–inch form factor is also just far more versatile for the things that the iPad excels at right now: web browsing, easy reading, and writing on the go. The smaller screen isn’t as good for Split View usage, but it’s still great to have that feature for quick info checking and copying and pasting. 128 GB makes sense to me because you’re investing enough money in the iPad Pro that you’ll likely want to keep it a few years. 128 GB of storage will make sure you’re not struggling to free up space all the time.
That said, the smaller iPad Pro is still cheap enough to be a flexible purchase. It’s less than $1000 for a package that can effectively replace a laptop for my sister right now, but it’s also a size that can easily compliment a laptop if she chooses to buy one later. On trips the smaller iPad Pro could tag along as the entertainment system (thanks to its speakers and display), without adding any real weight to her bag. It’s also not so expensive that my sister will regret not using it full-time if she decides to buy a laptop in the next year.
The iPad has always been about flexibility, and this smaller iPad Pro strikes the best balance of any iPad to date. I don’t regret my decision to purchase this larger iPad Pro, but I still feel hard-pressed to recommending this size class to anyone else (and that actually comes as a bit of a surprise to me).