Flight test: new 9.7″ iPad Pro

5 min read

iPad Pro keyboardApple released a new 13″ iPad Pro model last fall, designed to be the everyday powerhouse computer for creative professionals and those that rely on the iPad’s touchscreen interface. This was Apple’s answer to the Microsoft Surface tablet, and included the option to use Apple’s new keyboard and Apple Pencil for increased productivity.

We flew with the 13″ iPad back in November, and while it was more than capable on the hardware side, we found it to be too big for most airplane cockpits. Not long after, Apple followed up with the announcement of the smaller 9.7″ iPad Pro, which is essentially the next generation iPad Air 2. We took it flying down to Sun ‘n Fun last week, and wow were we impressed.

What’s New – Tech Specs

Let’s first take a look at what’s new in the 9.7″ iPad Pro and how it compares to the previous generation iPad Air 2:

iPadPro10-Lineup_PR-PRINTDesign: At first glance the iPad Pro looks identical to the iPad Air 2, and has virtually the same dimensions and weight. If you look closer, you’ll notice the iPad Pro adds 2 additional speakers at the top of the device, a rear camera flash, a slightly larger camera lens and a new flush smart connector on the side for Apple’s keyboard.

Hardware: The iPad Pro uses Apple’s new A9X processor (same as the 13″ Pro), a nice upgrade over the A8X in the iPad Air 2. This is noticeably faster, and leads to virtually no delay when working with applications on the device. There are larger internal storage options available, though this comes with a price: you can choose between 32GB, 128GB or 256 GB. And like with all other model iPads, a WiFi+Cellular option is available, which continues to include the internal GPS.

Display: While the resolution of the device remains the same at a crisp 2048 x 1536 pixels, it’s the improved anti-reflective properties that make this model really stand out. Compared to the iPad Air 2, the iPad Pro’s Retina display is 25 percent brighter and 40 percent less reflective (more on this in a minute). Like the iPad Air 2, the iPad Pro model also supports split-screen multitasking, allowing you to run 2 compatible apps side-by-side on the screen.

Camera: The rear camera on the iPad Pro was upgraded to essentially the same specs as the iPhone 6S. It includes a 12 megapixel sensor and can record 4K videos–pretty nice when you want to take a high-quality picture or video from the cockpit.

Flight Test

Our speculation last month was that the iPad Pro would be the best iPad for pilots yet. Fortunately we were able to get our hands on one on the launch date to see if it lived up the hype. We spent most of last week flying with it on various missions, including a trip down and back to Sun n’ Fun in Lakeland, FL. One word to sum up our experience? Wow.

Given that this is really the “iPad 7” if you count each upgrade over the years, we’ve started to take for granted the upgraded processor in each new model. Yes it’s as fast as ever and makes it a joy to use with advanced features like synthetic vision and ADS-B weather in ForeFlight, but at the same time the iPad Air 2 is no dog.

The real reason you’ll want to upgrade to the new iPad Pro is for the new display technology. The iPad Air 2 was the first to employ an anti-reflective screen, and this was a big improvement over all previous-generation iPads when it came to sunlight readability. The iPad Pro steps up its game though, claiming to be 40% less reflective than the Air 2. They really nailed it this time.

2016-04-05 12.37.53-1 We tried the iPad out in 2 different low-wing airplanes last week, and found it to be very readable at just about all viewing angles in direct sunlight. Even when looking at a screen filled with fingerprint smudges and dust, we still couldn’t manage to take a “bad picture” of it to show any part of the screen washed out from the effects of the sun.

While we didn’t perform any scientific power tests, battery life appears to be comparable to the iPad Air 2. Over the course of a 3 hour flight, using ForeFlight and a Stratus 2S ADS-B receiver, the iPad Pro battery dropped down about 46%. Screen brightness was set around 75%.

ipad_pencil_bezel2The other feature some pilots will really like is the compatibility with Apple Pencil. This $100 accessory allows you to take precise and accurate notes on the screen, in the ForeFlight scratchpad for example.

Because the Pencil is built specifically for the Pro, there is virtually no lag when jotting down notes, and allows you to rest your hand on the screen without affecting your writing ability. We found this very useful for writing down clearances, and making annotations on approach charts and taxi diagrams in the Plates section of the app.

Final Considerations

Because the dimensions are nearly identical and all the buttons are in the same location, most iPad Air kneeboards and mounts will work just fine with the iPad Pro. We tried it out in the form-fitting Ram Mount iPad Air cradle, and observed just a small bit of play in the fit. It works just fine, but something to be aware of.

So now the ultimate question–should you upgrade? Based on our experience, pilots flying with an iPad Air or older should definitely give this some consideration, especially if sunlight readability in the cockpit has been an issue. Pilots flying with an iPad 4 or older will also notice a remarkable speed improvement, thanks to the under-the-hood upgrades in the processor over the years.

From a storage size standpoint, we recommend the 128GB model at this time. You could get by with 32GB, but we’re finding that the apps you’re most likely using outside of your main aviation app continue to get larger and need room to grow. We also maintain our recommendation to stick with the WiFi only model (unless you plan to use the Verizon or AT&T cellular data), and purchase a GPS or ADS-B receiver for position data.

Finally we’ll point out that Apple also dropped the price of the iPad Air 2 down to $499 for the 64GB model. This is an excellent value for those on a budget who are looking to upgrade from one of the original iPads, to benefit from a much faster processor and lots of storage space for charts and apps.

37 replies
  1. Andrew Morris
    Andrew Morris says:

    Nice review y’all. I figured y’all would be super impressed with this puppy as the display just impressed Dr. Raymond Soneira, the king of display technology. Look at what he had to say about this new LCD display on the Pro! Pretty high praise and to say it’s the best performing LCD mobile display is something else. http://www.displaymate.com/iPad_Pro9_ShootOut_1.htm

  2. Pedro
    Pedro says:

    I’m a student pilot currently and planning a cross country from AZ to Washington this summer after I get my ppl. I was planning on getting the iPad Pro because I currently have the original iPad mini and it’s just too outdated at this point. Does it make sense to get the one with built in GPS, or am I better off getting an external receiver?

    • Ross Clarke
      Ross Clarke says:

      Pedro, all the Ipads have internal GPS but its unreliable in the Air, and I recommend you get an external Receiver.
      Sportys have published an excellent Article on this which you will find in their earlier IPAD Pilot publications.

      • BUddy Hoffman
        BUddy Hoffman says:

        Sorry, this is not accurate, only the iPad models with LTE have a GPS radio.
        Either way, if you can afford a Stratus 2, it is a very, very nice thing to have.
        Finally, take care if you are flying to Western Washington with your new license, IMC is very frequent.

        • Ross Clarke
          Ross Clarke says:

          Apologies, Buddy yes you are correct.
          I live in Australia and am not able to use Stratus here, but i just use the original DUAL External Receiver which works perfectly with our equivalent of your Foreflight program.
          Best regards

      • Jake
        Jake says:

        Yes if you get the iPad with the LTE you’re able to get GPS on your iPad but the best way is to get a stratus one or stratus to stress one is like $550 or 750 if you want Stratus two if you gonna fly that far you want to have weather on board the Stratus has that from Sportys

    • Richard
      Richard says:

      Hi Pedro, I was flying with a 3rd gen iPad and no external GPS. I did have issues once in a while with the GPS losing signal when it was on my lap but no issues when it was yoke mounted. Since I’m a renter and the planes I rent have panel mounted Garmins, I don’t worry too much about GPS going out for a minute or so. I’m fine with the iPad internal GPS only. What I DO want is to be able to get information and file flight plans via foreflight, etc without trying to connect to someone’s WiFi so I got the cellular data model.

      I just got an iPad Pro 9.7 but have not flown with it yet. I do know it’s a lot faster than my creaky 3rd gen and the screen viz in sun is excellent. I will need to buy a new mount for it.

      • Ted from Houston
        Ted from Houston says:

        Richard, I just went from an iPad 2 (yes, two) to an iPad Pro 9.7. What a major difference 🙂 The ram mount that I used with the old ipad still works with the new ipad. Before you go off and buy a new mount double check your old one.

    • Ted from Houston
      Ted from Houston says:

      get one with the built in GPS. You will find that you use the iPad for all sorts of things (besides flying) that need/want location information. If you don’t want to pay for a data plan (and I don’t blame you they are expensive) don’t sign up for one. the system will run just fine without a connection to the cell system. the new 9.7 has a SIM card built in and you can buy dataplans by the yard. I have been flying with an iPad for a while and have found that the internal GPS signal is lost only rarely (I fly a highwing C182) so you might save some money by not getting an external source.

    • John Harris, MD FACS
      John Harris, MD FACS says:

      Just got one, and WOW!
      Please, get the one with the built in GPS, life will be much simpler!
      I had an earlier I used for IFR, and … NO comparison!

  3. Paul Yedinak
    Paul Yedinak says:

    Thanks for this timely report. One thing that you didn’t address was the problem of iPad’s over heating and turning off while in use. Was there any improvement along this front?

  4. Jim Bagley
    Jim Bagley says:

    Thank you for this very useful review. You answered the essential questions I wanted to know about the aviation application in the cockpit. The information about the use of Apple Pencil and anti-reflective technology are key questions for current iPad owners looking to upgrade. This review is a valuable service for pilots.

  5. Fred
    Fred says:

    You didn’t address the biggest issue with the loads – overheating in direct sunlight. I fly a low wing full canopy aircraft. 15 minored in direct sunlight and my iPad overhats and shuts down. It will not work again until it cools down, which can take quite a while. If you are flying an RV you can pretty much forget using the iPad on a mount. I wish you had tested this one for direct sunlight overheating.

    • Mike
      Mike says:

      I’ve been using the iPad for 6 yrs in my RV-9A, with a RAM mount on the right side of the cockpit. I’ve seen no over heating issues because the air vent on that side provides plenty of cooling. Only time it’s overheated is when I left it in the cockpit on the ground with the canopy closed.

    • Gary Schmidt
      Gary Schmidt says:

      I too fly a low wing with a canopy and have experienced the overheating problem. Lately I have been sticking several pencils between the iPad Air and the kneeboard to allow circulation and also using stick on sun shields on the canopy, which I love for sun in the eyes and can easily move them to shade the iPad when the sun is coming from the side. That helps with visibility and cooling. Have not experienced overheating since. I agree that buying one with the internal gps is very helpful for other uses, like automobile navigation which I prefer over the systems in both my vehicles. I sometimes use the suction cup mount from the plane in one of my vehicles and it works out great. I do use an external gps in the plane for weather, traffic and synthetic vision though.

  6. Ken Stec
    Ken Stec says:

    I thought the IPad Mini was the best for small GA planes. I use a suction mount in a 172 and SR20 to a the side windscreen for plate guidance, etc. Will I be able to do the same with this version?

    • Ross Clarke
      Ross Clarke says:

      Ken I was thinking exactly the same thing. Previous Reviews have said that the Mini is the best size for the Cockpit of a typical GA airplane, so I too would be interested in Sportys comments on this and the overheating issue that others have mentioned above.
      Best regards

  7. Doug
    Doug says:

    I just upgraded from an old iPad 2 to the 9.7 Pro and the difference is incredible. The anti glare screen makes fore flight viewing clear and easy, and also allows less brightness to be used. This helps save battery life. Wish I could comment on direct sunlight heating up but I have a high wing so it is not much of an issue. I do tend to sleep the screen while enroute and turn back on intermittently to check things out. This does keep it cooler. With the new processer, it fires right back up as well. I bought the cellular model. We pay so much for redundancy in our airplanes, I figured another GPS is worth the extra money. The Pencil works great. I used yesterday to copy clearance. I like to use the 70/30 split screen feature and keep notes open on the 30% side. This way you can keep for flight open and not have to toggle within the app. Not sure if I am going to let go of my pen and paper just yet though. Blue sky’s and tailwinds.

      • Doug
        Doug says:

        Hi Ross, yes it is the same size screen, however the new iPad is a little smaller and thinner than the iPad 2. They did this by making the bezel smaller.

  8. David Fredericks
    David Fredericks says:

    Regarding over heating, I use an iPad mini on a RAM mount in my Skipper. I just put my hat over it if it is in direct sun. It still gets hot, however, as the processor is working hard. Recommend using a mobile charger while in flight to keep the battery topped off. No complaints with the mini using Foreflight and Stratus 2. Any reason to upgrade?

    • Ross Clarke
      Ross Clarke says:

      I have no complaints either using my Ipad Mini in a RAM Mount in my Jabiru.
      Previous posts have said that the Mini is the ideal size.

  9. JHS
    JHS says:

    Just a thought – these Ipads are too large for a kneeboard, even the old regular one is in my yokes way during flaring or steep turns in a 172. Would it be possible for a company such as Rosen to see if they could be hinged overhead? Possibly a terrible idea, but mounting these huge screens on a yoke isn’t a great idea either.

    • Pete Nancoz
      Pete Nancoz says:

      I have the iPad pro 9.7 mounted on a Ram, yoke mount in a Skyhawk. The mount passes on the left side of the yoke hub. This is as out of the way as possible and does not hinder any control movement. The only view that is obscured is the electrical switches.

  10. Roy Hickok
    Roy Hickok says:

    If you want to connect to XPlane/ForeFlight and use the moving map feature you need the GPS version.

    • Billy Bob
      Billy Bob says:

      Not if you have 1 of about 9 million other external GPS options with bluetooth or wif – just sayin….i

  11. Joe Hopwood
    Joe Hopwood says:

    I followed the advice to get the Wi-Fi only when I upgraded from the iPad 1 to a Mini 3. I discovered that I missed not having web connectivity when no Wi-Fi available and my Dual went out in flight once. I mean quit working completely. The day after warranty was up but they did replace it. Didn’t help that I was without GPS during shipping time in and out. I will not “save” money buying a Wi-Fi only again. The iPad GPS, in my opinion, is every bit as reliable as any other GPS if it can see the sky. Of course that is true of any GPS.

  12. John Worsley
    John Worsley says:

    First, I have found that, since I don’t need to be looking at the iPad all the time, I just roll it to the side of my leg (won’t help with yoke mounts) until I need to see it again. If I forget and it overheats, a few minutes on the floor next to the vent in my Cherokee 6 takes care of it.
    Second, doe you lose the anti-reflectivity if you use a screen protector?
    Third, I have an iPad 4. Will an iPad Pro 9.7 require replacement of my kneeboard and Logitech keyboard?

  13. Steve Atkinson
    Steve Atkinson says:

    Personally really like the size of the standard iPad (same I guess as this new 9.7), but find it to ungainly in most GA cockpits. It definitely was in my personal T-210, and it is also too large in the Citation Bravo I fly. In our Bravo we use two pad mini’s and they fit perfectly with a yoke mount or the RAM side window mount I use.
    Now if I could talk the Boss into a Boeing or Gulfstream there would be room for the larger size…, but IMHO the mini is still the best in a small cockpit.

    • Ross Clarke
      Ross Clarke says:

      So it seems most of us agree that the IPad Mini is the ideal size for the average GA Cockpit.

      • Peter Nancoz
        Peter Nancoz says:

        In my opinion the iPad mini is too small to view approach plates. For VFR flying, the mini would be sufficient.

  14. Petie
    Petie says:

    I just upgraded from an iPad Mini 4 to the Pro 9,7 and my major reason was Apple Pencil. Usually I fly C172 and yes, had the Mini on a yoke mount. But, after several hundred hours upgraded myself to IR and found the yoke moving moving map annoying and distracting in IMC. Pencil use is magnificent and now I am really paperless, with iPhone backup. No regrets, it is a gorgeous device.

  15. Gerald Cosey
    Gerald Cosey says:

    Does anyone know which yoke mount will work best with an iPad 4? I want to order the correct mount the first time.

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