Is the new iPad Pro the best pilot tablet yet?

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iPad Pro 10 inch
The new iPad Pro comes in four colors.

In Apple’s latest update, a relatively modest event, the company introduced a number of product revisions. While there was a lot of talk about a lower cost iPhone and some Apple Watch changes, the biggest news for pilots is the new 9.7″ iPad model. It might be the best tablet yet for flying.

Plenty of pilots fly with the 7″ iPad Mini, and we’ve found find its compact size is quite handy in the cockpits of smaller general aviation airplanes. But in spite of the Mini (and the larger 12.9″ iPad Pro) being available, the traditional 9.7″ size has remained the most popular iPad version over the years. Apple says over 200 million of these iPads have been sold in total. The most recent version, the iPad Air 2, is a great example – it’s simply the right tradeoff between screen size and portability. Given that, an update to this model is a big deal.

iPad with screen glare
Will the new screen make glare a thing of the past?

The new iPad can be thought of as the iPad Air 3 but in fact it’s called the iPad Pro (9.7″), reflecting the similar performance and architecture of the 12.9″ model released last fall. That is a powerful tablet, but it’s simply too big for most cockpits. Of particular interest for pilots, the new 9.7″ screen has been improved significantly. Apple claims it has 40% less reflectivity than the iPad Air 2, which was already quite a bit better than the previous models. It’s also 25% brighter than the iPad Air 2, with a brightness of 500 nits. Both of those could mean ForeFlight or Garmin Pilot is a lot easier to read in full sun, especially for pilots in low wing airplanes. If you’re using an older iPad 4 or iPad Air 1, the change could be significant.

As usual, the new model also includes a faster processor, more memory and better graphics processing. Some of the other features don’t mean much for pilots, like an upgrade to four speakers, a higher resolution camera, and an optional snap-on keyboard. The new iPad Pro does work with Apple’s stylus (called Pencil), which we’ve found marginally useful in the cockpit for copying clearances. It’s also compatible with all the new split-screen features of iOS 9, which is really nice for multi-tasking.

Apple Pencil and iPad
Apple Pencil is compatible with the latest model, which makes it easier to write and draw.

The new iPad Pro is the same exact size and weight of the previous Air 2, so it should fit in most mounts and kneeboards that exist today. We’ll need to check that when our order arrives to be sure, but so far it looks like that kneeboard you just bought isn’t worthless.

Apple’s latest is available with 32GB of storage for $599 and 128GB for $749 (without LTE cellular built in). For power users, and those who want to completely replace their laptops, there’s also a 256GB model for $899. Any of these options should be fine for pilots, although we think 128GB is worth the money if you plan to use the tablet for more than just flying. The iPad Air 2 will also remain available, starting at a reduced price of $399. This is a good value, since it’s still a very capable tablet with a proven track record.

Apple claims the new iPad Pro offers the lowest reflectivity and the highest brightness of any tablet on the market. It’s an impressive claim, and we’re anxious to fly with one and see what it looks like in the cockpit. We’ll report back when we’ve had a chance to test it out.

27 COMMENTS

  1. Just because the regular size iPad is the most popular in total iPad sales for Apple, that doesn’t translate to it being the most popular with pilots. I tried and failed window, dash, and yoke mounts with the regular iPad. It’s just too big. Granted I am talking about small GA cockpits here. But my unsophisticated internet research pointed to the mini being far and away the most popular option for pilots.

    While this article doesn’t make an explicit recommendation, I’m still concerned that it could lead quite a few people towards purchasing the regular-size iPad, only to realize they can no longer see half their instruments.

  2. Even in a business jet the mini is a better option. It is similar in size to a Jeppessen chart. If something is too small to read easily it can be expanded, unlike a chart. The full size is a good back up for flight planning and document storage. I would recommend using the new Pro as a computer replacement and back up with full charts installed and. Using a mini, even an older used one as a primary EFB display.

  3. I use the iPhone 6 plus on my yoke. It is backed up by my iPad mini. I fly a Mooney 20E.
    My neighbor flys a Grumman Yankee Trainer and swears by the Air, but he only flys VFR and it stays on the passengers lap or in the seat.

  4. Interesting. I’m a student pilot and very tech friendly. These eyes are 67 years old and was leaning toward the 9.7″ version. The Mini just seemed like it would be too small. Now I’m not so sure. I expect to be flying nothing bigger than a 172, and am even dreaming about owning a 150/152. Any additional thought would be appreciated.

    • Philip,
      I have 3 words for you: Yoke mounted mini.

      Trust me on this. I tried every possible solution in my 172 and it is the most ergonomic solution. Just be sure to put a glare shield on it and dont use the mygoflight glass shield. It will crack the first time you snap the pad into the ram cradle. Get the flexible plastic protector.

      • Having said that – this new low reflectivity tablet would work on a gizmo panel mount if you had the space and the reach. However, the pilot would still be all thumbs trying to punch letters and numbers on it while in turbulence.

    • It really depends on where you’ll mount/store it. I’ve flown with a 10″ iPad (and even the 13″ Pro) in Cessna 172s, 182s and Citabrias. For yoke mounting, the Mini is a great size. But on a kneeboard or just laying on the passenger seat, the Air is perfectly usable and the larger screen is nice. Think about your particular airplane, where you’ll mount it and also what you’ll use the iPad for outside of aviation.

    • I had the iPad Air in a 172 cockpit – too big for a yoke mount, and really too big for even a knee mount – just gets in the way. I was going to get an iPad Mini but then the iPhone 6+ came out. I yoke mounted that and was quite happy with it. Plenty of real-estate on the screen, at least for VFR flying. If I was going IFR, I would go with the Mini.

    • I suggest you think very hard about the 9.7″ device. I’ve flown with the ’4′ since it was introduced. I don’t like the tiny screen on the iphone, and the ‘mini’ is only marginally better. If I want to use several apps concurrently the smaller screens just don’t provide the clarity I need in a high workload envirnment. My 65+ eyes and multi focuse lenses find it much, MUCH easier to use the 9.7 screen under all light conditions and in all of the aircraft I fly (Cessna 152, 172, 182, 206). The bottom line to this raging debate is what works best for you.

      • Also, in each case (except for the C152 which is too small for any yoke or lap device) I have a Ram yoke mount. My iPad is inside an Otterbox armour case. I’m no giant so I fly with the seat far forward. The iPad, with Foreflight and wx is easy to see, and I have full yoke motion (which I check befor taxi and during my pre-take off checks). Maybe you’ve got a buddy or two who fly with different macines? Can’t hurt to ask their opinion, and maybe even to borrow the for ‘real time’ experience.

  5. I’ve found the 9.7 to be a decent size for a yoke mount in a C172. I don’t believe the mini is the same size as an approach plate. As a matter of fact, when I put a NACO plate up against my 9.7″ ipad, the height of the plate is a little taller than the screen itself in vertical orientation.

    I’m 47 and had 20/20 up until about 4 years ago. Now something needs to be about 12″ away for it to be clear so a mini won’t be great for me as far as reading an approach plate. If I were 25 I might like a mini. 🙂

  6. I use the Ipad Mini with a RAM Mount on the Pilot side window of my Jabiru. Size is about right. I cant use a Yoke Mount due to the Center Fork type Yoke, so this setup works best for me.

  7. Before my panel upgrade in my Cessna 172, I tried using a yoke mount. Didn’t like the picture turning side to side in turns. I then went to a suction RAM mount mounted just forward of the door post. That worked great. I went through a complete panel rebuild that is mostly glass. It left a lot of room on each side of the panel. During the rebuild I had RAM mounting balls mounted on the outsides of the panel. I use a iPad mini on the left side and my wife has an iPad Air on the right, both running Foreflight. Both are easy to read from my side of the cabin. I’ve even been thinking of upgrading to a new iPad Air for my side.

  8. I currently fly with an iPad 3, so I’m really due for an upgrade (At least that’s what I keep convincing myself of!). I do like the size of a full-size iPad, in the cockpit and out. I’ve got an Arrow and with a RAM yoke mount which works perfectly; well almost: it does block the manifold pressure gauge, but I can easily peer over it to see it when I need to.

    Also, when you guys test the new iPad Pro, I hope you’ll try flying with it in a hot environment. I’m from Southern California where it’s frequently hot in the spring and summer. The iPad 3 which I currently fly with, was notorious for overheating and quitting. I hope this latest iteration has solved the problem.

    • Dan I had the same issue with my third gen iPad in low wings when I first got it. I would set it on my lap and the sun would shine right on it & shut it down even on a spring morning. I haven’t had that problem since I bought a yoke mount for it. I should have my 9.7″ iPad pro today or tomorrow. And yes, my 3rd gen is REALLY slow now…

  9. Phillip, Thomas is correct. A mini on the yoke works for me in our C182. The 9 inch size obscures my instruments. I am 78 years old. I usually keep the 9 inch iPad in the passenger seat or have the passenger jold it for me. I may try mounting the larger iPad on the left side of the windscreen if I can get it low enough to be seen well and not block my outside view.!

  10. IIRC, Apple claim the latest iPad Mini 4 has a “antireflective” screen. In the showroom it did not reflect as much as my iPad2, but it wasn’t as “antireflective” as I prefer. I believe there are films that can be applied to further reduce reflections.

    The iPad2 is now quite slow (iOS 9.2) and is unmanageable in a CTLS cockpit carrying a passenger.

  11. I have foreflight on my mini and ipad3(full size iPad). I am still deciding on what mounts to use. I find the ipad3 much easier to read, especially on the airport page when reading the whether reports, because you can’t pinch zoom here like you can on the map page. So far I have used the ipad3 on my lap, with my mini as the back up. I am considering buying a yoke mount for the mini and a knee board for my ipad3. This way, I should have good choice on using either when flying…. I’d like any feedback possible.

    • For yoke mounts, I’ve had the Ram and MyGoFlight.

      The Ram is good. Nothing wrong with it. But it is bulky in your flight bag and limiting in terms of adjusting the position of the iPad.

      The MyGoFlight mounts are very compact and strong. One knob tightens all the articulation points at the same time. You have a ton more flexibility about the exact positioning.

      The only downside is that their manufacturing process is slow and I experienced a wait of 3 months for a backorder to be filled. Also, their customer service doesn’t always follow through on things. I had a defective product and it took a couple of email reminders before it was straightened out. But, in the end, they came through.

  12. Sadly many apps are still for iPad Air and not optimized for any other version of iPad. Mini is the only one that makes sense for GA. There is no mention in thus article that it dies the matter the technology behind the glass the app won’t make use of that technology anyway.

  13. I’d say to the commenters that the mini is the only choice for GA – YMMV.
    I have been flying with an IPad for over two years in, primarily in 172 and 182, plus the odd Archer here and there. I’ve tried all the mounts and both the mini and regular IPad.

    Ironically, the 172’s have provided more flexibility in mounting than the other aircraft, but that is another story.

    I ultimately found the regular Ioad to be the best for me. The mini is “nice”, but the screen size is not as friendly to my eyes as the normal Ipad. I have alternated between a suction mount to the side windshield and the Ram mount on the yoke. The iPad in landscape position on the yoke doesn’t block anything and is readily viewable. My only caveat to that position is it requires me to look down / away from a normal panel scan, which is why I sometimes go back to the suction mount to the side. However that position requires me to look around the edge of the iPad for my engine instruments and I have to be careful I don’t block my yoke movement if mounted too low – it also obscures visibility slightly to the left if looking for traffic.

    In short I understand the appeal of the mini and certainly it may be easier to ‘fit in’ dependent on your particular cockpit configuration and how you personally fit/setup in your particular aircraft. For me, the regular Ipad works best. YMMV

  14. I fly a light sport with a stick. I have used both the iPad air and mini on kneeboard mounts. I can get full travel of controls with both but my eyes prefer the larger. When flying solo I have used a suction cup mount on the opposite side of the canopy with the iPad air. Neither position interferes with vision of my panel nor require significant distractions from looking outside the cockpit, although I do find the iPad air’s larger screen better for quickly locating the info that I want at the moment. I may try the mini on the left side of the canopy with a shorter mount, but refuse to sacrifice outside vision if that proves to be a problem. I use anti-glare protectors on both and will be interested to see or hear how much improvement the new Pro provides in that area.
    A plus for the suction cup mount is that I can also use it for GPS in my older car. It allows for the mini to be just below the windshield and gives me better mapping than my old windshield mount unit with a larger screen.

  15. I use a mini on a suction cup mount on the side window in our Diamond DA40XLS. Sometimes wish it was larger so am interested in trying the Pro, and also sounds if it will be better in the sunlight. I ruined the first glass glare shield as a previous writer mentioned. To assure that does not happen again I ground away a small portion of the bottom brackets to make the opening larger and have not had a problem since.

  16. I used an iPad from day one, started with the 9.7 and is was only kind of ok. I switched to iPad2 and yes, it was still ok. I switched to iPad Mini Retina and it was fine for a couple of years flying VFR on sunny days, but shit on marginal days. I tried fix mount – kind of ok – and yoke mount – only nice in VMC – and finally back, after IR ticket to the 9.7 inch Pro. Yoke mount is ok for VFR sunny summer flights, marginal at marginal wetger, but real bad in IMC. So, if you fly Sunday evening CAVOK, you can go iPad Mini yoke mounted, but if you start marginal VFR to IFR in IMC, forget yoke mount and abandon iPad Mini – just my personal experience.

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