Should you buy the 9.7-inch or 12.9-inch iPad Pro?

Apple's launch of the 9.7-inch version of the iPad Pro has left some folks wondering if they should buy it or get the larger 12.9-inch iPad Pro instead. Don't worry, I'll walk you through what each model has to offer to help you make the right buying decision.

Apple finally revealed the new 9.7-inch iPad Pro yesterday, and it looks like the best iPad ever created in that size. However, the launch of the smaller iPad Pro also has some folks wondering if they should buy it or opt for the larger 12.9-inch iPad Pro.

In this post I'll walk you through some of the differences and similarities of the two different sized iPad Pros, and hopefully it will make your buying decision much easier.

Hardware features exclusive to the 9.7-inch iPad Pro

Let’s start with the hardware features that the 9.7-inch iPad Pro has that the larger iPad doesn’t offer:

1. True Tone display

2. Wider color gamut

3. 12-megapixel camera (with True Tone flash, 4K video capture, 240-fps slo-mo videos and Live Photos)

4. 5-megapixel front facing camera

If any or all of these features are important enough to you, then you’ll want to buy the 9.7-inch iPad Pro. The 12.9-inch version does not have them right now, though I’m sure Apple will add them at some point in a hardware refresh of the larger iPad. But, as I write this post, only the smaller 9.7-inch iPad Pro offers them.

Common hardware in both sizes of the iPad Pro

Now let's move on to the hardware features that both iPad Pros share.

Both versions of the iPad Pro offer the same fast 64-bit A9X chip and M9 coprocessor. So there’s no disadvantage in picking either model when it comes to sheer processing power. The smaller iPad Pro is every bit as powerful as the larger version.

And both versions offer the same great four speaker audio. So your music, TV shows, movies and games will sound just as good on either version of the iPad Pro.

The 9.7-inch iPad Pro and 12.9-inch iPad Pro also both come with 4GB of RAM.

Update: I was apparently wrong about the 9.7-inch iPad Pro’s RAM and processor. MacRumors is reporting that the 9.7-inch iPad Pro only has 2GB of RAM, and it has an under clocked A9X processor.

Apple never announces the RAM in its iOS devices, so that metric often remains a mystery until a device teardown or benchmarking tests. TechCrunch’s Matthew Panzarino has an iPhone SE and a new iPad Pro on hand, and was able to use a memory checking app to determine the RAM in both devices.

Based on his testing, it appears that both the iPhone SE and the 9.7-inch iPad Pro include 2GB of RAM.

2GB RAM puts the iPhone SE on par with the iPhone 6s and the iPhone 6s Plus, both of which also include 2GB of RAM. As for the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, 2GB RAM means its performance isn’t going to measure up to the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, which is equipped with 4GB RAM.

As was recently discovered, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro also features a slightly underclocked A9X processor, another factor that will impact its performance compared to the larger tablet.

More at MacRumors

So it seems clear now that the 12.9-inch iPad Pro is a bit more powerful than the 9.7-inch version. A TechCrunch editor's Geekbench testing had the A9X in the 12.9-inch iPad Pro running at 2.24Ghz, and the one in the 9.7-inch iPad Pro running at 2.16Ghz.

Whether or not the differences will really matter definitely depends on what you use your iPad for, if productivity is your bottom line then I'd recommend taking a serious look at the 12.9-inch iPad Pro instead of the smaller one. Gamers might also want to opt for the larger tablet too, given the extra RAM and slight performance edge. 

Slightly different storage options

As far as storage capacity goes, you can get the smaller or larger iPad Pro in a Wi-Fi only version at 32GB, 128GB and the new 256GB option.

The 9.7-inch iPad Pro offers a Wi-Fi plus cellular version in 32GB, 128GB and 256GB storage increments. But the 12.9-inch iPad Pro only offers 128GB and 256GB options in its Wi-Fi plus cellular models.

You currently cannot buy a 32GB Wi-Fi plus cellular version of the 12.9-inch iPad Pro. It remains to be seen if Apple will release one later on, but I wouldn’t hold my breath for it.

Weight and portability

The 9.7-inch iPad Pro weighs .96 pounds and the 12.9-inch version weighs 1.57 pounds. So if you need to tote around an iPad and less weight is really important to you then you might want to consider opting for the 9.7-inch iPad Pro.

It’s not that the 12.9-inch iPad Pro is particularly heavy, it’s just over a pound and a half. But some folks might prefer an iPad Pro that is just a tad bit lighter. That’s not an issue for me since I don’t take my 12.9-inch iPad Pro out of the house very often, and I haven't found the larger iPad Pro to be heavy at all.

The bigger screen matters: Why I’m sticking with the 12.9-inch iPad Pro

I bought a 12.9-inch iPad Pro shortly before the 9.7-inch version came out, and I’ll be sticking with my larger iPad Pro. All other considerations aside, I find the larger screen of the 12.9-inch iPad Pro to be the best experience possible on the iPad.

I use my iPad Pro primarily for web browsing, ebooks, comics and graphic novels, movies and TV shows, and games. And each of these functions looks so much better on the 12.9-inch screen than they ever did when I had a smaller iPad with a 9.7-inch screen.

And if you plan on using Split View multitasking much, you should know that it works a lot better on the 12.9-inch screen than it does on the 9.7-inch screen. The bigger screen of the larger iPad gives you much more room for side by side apps, and it makes working in Split View much more comfortable than on the smaller iPad.

Your mileage may vary in this, of course. But I just could not go back to the smaller screen iPad after getting used to the larger one. It would be like trying to go back to the 4-inch iPhone after having my iPhone 6 Plus. I just couldn’t do it.

If you still aren’t sure, visit the Apple Store

While the information I listed above might be helpful, sometimes the best thing to do is visit your local Apple Store. Head over to the iPad section and then pick up each version of the iPad Pro.

See how each model feels in your hands while holding it, and then start using them. Note how easy it is to use the larger or smaller screen, and then think about what you’d be using the iPad Pro for each day. Go with the one that matches your needs.

Spending a few minutes doing a hands-on test of the 12.9-inch iPad Pro and its smaller sibling might help you avoid getting the wrong model.

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