Over the past few months I’ve been able to spend some quality time with the iPad Pro and I’ve found that while the iPad Pro isn’t quite a computer replacement in the sense that you should toss your laptop out, it is the first tablet that can actually justify itself relative to a phablet. With the 9.7” iPad Pro, Apple has been able to take the elements of the iPad Pro 12.9” that differentiated it from Android tablets and previous iterations of the iPad, and fit it in a smaller form factor.

The main points of differentiation that make this device more than an iPad Air 3 include the Apple Pencil, Smart Keyboard, and speakers. The Apple Pencil behaves identically relative to the larger device, but the smaller display size makes it feel more cramped. Other than this, the feel of the tip on the glass is identical, as is the pressure sensitivity, tilt sensitivity, and latency.

The Smart Keyboard for this version of the iPad Pro is significantly smaller than the version for the 13” iPad Pro. Right away it felt like it was a lot less comfortable to type on this iteration of the iPad Pro as a result as I couldn’t just rely on sheer muscle memory to place my fingers in the right place every time. However with some practice I was able to keep a typing pace that was pretty much identical, although it was relatively easy to make mistakes relative to a laptop keyboard because the keys are smaller so there’s less tolerance for errors in finger placement. With practice, like a smartphone keyboard, I’m sure it’ll be possible to type as quickly as you would on a laptop but I wasn’t able to reach that level of practice over the course of the two or so minutes I could spend with the keyboard.

Other than the size issue, everything else feels basically identical to the larger iteration of the Smart Keyboard. Those that love mechanical keyboards for their travel and tactile feedback will probably be disappointed by the feel, but I tend to bottom out keys no matter what keyboard I’m typing on so to me the relatively shallow travel of the keys was not a problem when it came to typing at a respectable rate.

Of course, the speakers are also shared with the iPad Pro, but in this case I wasn’t really able to test them properly as the hands on environment is rather chaotic and loud. I wouldn’t be surprised to know that the same speaker protection ICs are shared with the larger version of the iPad Pro for logistics reasons, but I wasn’t able to confirm that this is the case at the event. Similarly, the camera was not properly tested at the event as it wasn’t possible to do a proper comparison in the hands on environment.

The one other notable change that the 9.7” iPad Pro brings is True Tone display, which adjusts color temperature of the display based upon ambient light conditions. It turns out that this is something that you can toggle on and off on the fly, and the result that it produces seems to be designed to make the display more consistently neutral while other Apple mobile devices tend to end up with a colder white balance in most conditions. I didn’t see a toggle for color gamut, so it’s likely that the iPad Pro 9.7” is using either color management to enable a wider gamut on the fly or just displaying a wider color gamut all the time. To figure out which way Apple went here we’ll need to try a review unit, but given just how much emphasis Apple has placed on their displays I would be surprised if Apple wasn't employing color management.

Other than these points of differentiation, the iPad Pro 9.7” pretty much feels like any other iPad. However, there are a few notable changes to the design, including a camera hump to handle the 12MP camera and replacing the large plastic RF window on the LTE variants with an external aluminum antenna and insulating plastic to separate it from the rest of the chassis. It’s appreciably lighter than the iPad Pro 13”, but feels pretty much identical to the iPad Air 2 in terms of size and weight.

Overall, if you liked the 13” iPad Pro but didn’t want to deal with the extra size or weight, it looks like this will be exactly what you’re looking for.

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  • name99 - Tuesday, March 22, 2016 - link

    Did they also up the number of microphones?
    Intel, in their never-ending (and usually fruitless) attempts to up the average quality of commodity PCs seemed last year to try to make 2016 a year of audio. They provided specs for how PCs (especially laptops) should use better speakers (essentially amp is built into the speaker and is aware of/compensates for speaker resonance, and will not drive the speaker out of compliance) AND suggested that 3 is really the minimum number of mics these devices should have for good echo/noise cancellation, with four as better.

    Apple seems to have taken to heart the idea of better speakers (it will be interesting to see if the iPhone 7/7+ comes with two speakers); but as far as I know all iOS devices still have only two mics.
  • jollypike - Tuesday, March 22, 2016 - link

    Interestingly last time I looked all iPhones since the 5 have had three mics. One top, one bottom, one back. That's what really helps with voice call quality.
  • name99 - Tuesday, March 22, 2016 - link

    Ah, that makes sense. I wondered how they did such a good job with what I thought was only two mics. (This is not just theory on my part. My iMac [late 2012] has two mics, and my brother complains about voice quality every time I call to him using it as speakerphone, but has no complaints when I switch the call to my iPhone 6.

    Do you know how many mics a modern iPad has? Ifixit claims the iPad Air 2 has two, one on the back near the camera, one of the right hand side, again near the camera; but I could imagine one also nestling at the bottom behind one of the speaker grills.
    iFixit also claims two mics for the iPad Pro 12.7, in the same locations.
    But, like I suggested, maybe this is something Apple might be moving towards improving, starting with the Pro 9.7?
  • JoshHo - Wednesday, March 23, 2016 - link

    I'm not sure about microphones, but mobile devices have had speaker protection ICs for quite some time now, as far back as the One M7.
  • solipsism - Wednesday, March 23, 2016 - link

    I'm not usually one to cry foul or claim that a business decision is inexcusable that doesn't fall into a category of being a legal or ethical violation, but no USB 3.0 in the 9.7" iPad Pro definitely has me perplexed.
  • Sliderpro93 - Thursday, March 24, 2016 - link

    I have a question - how the hell is it different from ipad air 3? Because it's a *pro*? Oh wow 32 GB internal,2016, congradulations Apple, finaly.for that talk about caring and progress.
    I guess next things in ipads and iphones would be things Android invented years ago. Like with that screen color thing I have on my 100$ for some years.
    Maybe I ll buy Apple again. When it "adds" integrated file manager "like never before and for first time".
    Seriously, they are worst. No progress whatsever and people happy to give their salary for THAT?
  • Sliderpro93 - Thursday, March 24, 2016 - link

    Oh well maybe they will allow custom launchers and call themselves "iOS Honeycomb". Would be nice

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