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The 9.7-inch iPad Pro: Our Complete Overview

The 9.7-inch iPad Pro.

The 9.7-inch iPad Pro.

At a media event held earlier today at its campus in Cupertino, Apple took the wraps off the highly anticipated smaller iPad Pro. With a 9.7-inch display (same size of the iPad Air 2) and carrying (mostly) the same features of its 12.9-inch counterpart, the smaller iPad Pro brings all the power of the bigger iPad Pro in a more compact package with some new additions as well.

“iPad Pro is a new generation of iPad that is indispensable and immersive, enabling people to be more productive and more creative. It’s incredibly fast, extremely portable, and completely natural to use with your fingers, Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard. And now it comes in two sizes,” said Philip Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing.

Hardware

For the most part, the new iPad Pro is a smaller version of the device we reviewed back in November. The 9.7-inch iPad Pro comes with an extra color compared to the 12.9-inch iPad Pro (Rose Gold) and it weighs less than one pound for both the WiFi and WiFi + Cellular models (0.96 and 0.98 pound, respectively). The 9.7-inch iPad Pro weighs and measures exactly the same as the iPad Air 2 at 9.4 inches (height) by 6.6 inches (width).

The 9.7-inch iPad Pro runs on Apple's A9X chip, first introduced with the iPad Pro last year. The A9X is based on a 64-bit architecture that is 1.8 times more powerful than the iPad Air 2 and a 22x increase in CPU performance over the original iPad released in 2010. The A9X's storage controller, also first seen last year, helps deliver advanced 3D graphics and fast performance for tasks such as editing 4K video streams, or opening RAW files imported from an HD camera.

The A9X drives the iPad Pro's Retina Display, which is where Apple brought the most changes compared to the 12.9-inch iPad Pro. The display still has a resolution of 2048x1536 pixels at 264 ppi, like the iPad Air 2, but, unlike the bigger iPad Pro, the 9.7-inch model has a "wide color display" with a wider color gamut that grants the device a 25 percent greater color saturation.

According to Apple, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro uses the same color space as the digital cinema industry – it's also 40 percent less reflective than the iPad Air 2 and 25 percent brighter at 500 nits of light.

But that's not all. On the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, Apple added a new True Tone display that uses new four-channel sensors to adjust the white balance of the display to match the light around you.

The True Tone display in action.

The True Tone display in action.

Apple demoed this feature with an iPad app using a white background that, thanks to the True Tone display, was able to adjust the colors of the UI across the white spectrum depending on where the iPad was being used. The True Tone display is not available on the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, with Apple hinting on its website that the portability of the smaller model justifies the addition:

People love using iPad everywhere. That’s why the new 9.7‑inch iPad Pro has a True Tone display. It uses advanced four-channel ambient light sensors to automatically adapt the color and intensity of the display to match the light in your environment. Which means reading is more natural and comfortable — almost like looking at a sheet of paper.

Like the bigger model, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro comes with a four-speaker audio system that offers twice the volume output of the iPad Air 2. The four-speaker system is also tightly integrated with iOS, so volume output will adjust depending on the orientation of the device.

In terms of wireless connectivity, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro supports roughly the same LTE bands of the 12.9-inch model (some minor differences can be seen on the Tech Specs page), and, more notably, it offers an embedded Apple SIM. Apple explains:

Embedded Apple SIM in iPad Pro (9.7-inch) may be disabled when purchased from some carriers. See your carrier for details. Apple SIM and embedded Apple SIM not available in China.

And:

Now with Apple SIM embedded directly in the new iPad Pro, it’s even easier to connect to wireless data plans right from your device when traveling in more than 100 countries and territories.

Camera

The biggest change from the 12.9-inch iPad Pro is the camera.

On the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, Apple included a 12 MP iSight camera that can capture 4K video, 240 fps slow-motion videos (1080p at 120 fps, unlike the 12.9-inch Pro's 720p at 120 fps), and Live Photos. It's the first iPad camera with True Tone flash for more accurate skin tones, and the front-facing camera has been upgraded too: on the smaller iPad Pro, it's a 5 MP FaceTime HD camera with support for Retina Flash with True Tone.

iPad Pro has an advanced 12-megapixel iSight camera sensor featuring Focus Pixels for fast focusing, an Apple-designed image signal processor, advanced noise reduction, third-generation local tone mapping and better face detection, all resulting in sharp, detailed images, 63-megapixel panoramas and Live Photos.

Sadly, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro also inherited the infamous camera bump from the iPhone 6/6s line, which is already generating some criticism on Twitter and tech blogs.

Well, it's a bump.

Well, it's a bump.

Apple Pencil and Smart Connector

The small iPad Pro, like the bigger model, supports the Apple Pencil to draw, take notes, and interact with apps.

According to Apple, there's no difference between using an Apple Pencil on the 12.9-inch iPad Pro and the new 9.7-inch model: the accessory is the same, it can be easily paired via Bluetooth by plugging it into the device once, and developers can take advantage of the same APIs they've already added for Apple Pencil integration in their apps.

Smart Keyboards for the two iPad Pro models.

Smart Keyboards for the two iPad Pro models.

The same applies to the Smart Connector, which is available on the bottom edge of the 9.7-inch iPad Pro (when in landscape) and which can be used to connect to and power accessories. One of these accessories is the Smart Keyboard, of which Apple has created a smaller version for the new iPad Pro. The Smart Keyboard for the 9.7-inch iPad Pro starts at $149 (it's still $169 for the 12.9-inch model).

Once again, you can take a look at our original review of the Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard for a deeper overview and impressions.

Accessories

Like the iPad Air and bigger iPad Pro before, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro offers a range of accessories made by Apple (and, we assume, more coming soon from third-party manufacturers).

First up, the Polyurethane iPad Pro Smart Cover and Silicone Cases for the 9.7-inch iPad Pro will be available for $49 (US) and $69 (US), respectively, in what Apple calls "a range of new vibrant colors".

The Smart Cover for the 9.7-inch iPad Pro starts at $49 and comes in 12 colors; the Silicone Case for 9.7-inch iPad Pro also comes in 12 colors and starts at $69.

Today Apple has also dropped some interesting updates for cables and adapters in the iPad Pro family. A Lightning to USB 3 Camera Adapter, available for $39, will allow to import photos and videos from digital cameras, as well as connect to additional USB peripherals with a USB Power Adapter. However, while the 12.9-inch iPad Pro will transfer at USB 3 speeds (as previously reported), the 9.7-inch iPad Pro will only transfer at USB 2 speeds.

In a similar vein, the company's new Lightning to USB-C cables ($35 for 2 meters and $25 for 1 meter) will only support fast charging with an Apple 29W USB-C Power Adapter on the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, not the 9.7-inch one. This is likely related to the 12.9-inch iPad Pro having a 38.5-watt-hour battery, while the new 9.7-inch iPad Pro has a 27.5-watt-hour battery (the iPad Air 2 has a 27.3-watt-hour one).

Pricing and Release Date

The new iPad Pro starts at $599 for the 32 GB WiFi version; the 32 GB WiFi + Cellular model will set you back $729, and it's exclusive to the 9.7-inch model (there is no 32 GB Cellular version of the 12.9-inch iPad Pro).

Apple did add a new size configuration to both iPad Pro models today, though: a 256 GB model available for both WiFi and WiFi + Cellular versions of the iPad Pro line. The 256 GB 9.7-inch iPad Pro starts at $899 for the WiFi model and $1029 for the Cellular one.

With today's updates and price drops across the line, the iPad product matrix is priced as follows:

The 9.7-inch iPad Pro will be available to order beginning Thursday, March 24, and it'll launch on Thursday, March 31, in 13 countries – Australia, Canada, China (Wi-Fi models only), France, Germany, Hong Kong, Japan, New Zealand, Puerto Rico, Singapore, the UK, US Virgin Islands and the US. It'll then be available in an additional 47 countries in early April.

Quick Takeaway

Apple is positioning the 9.7-inch iPad Pro as a smaller version of the bigger iPad Pro that comes with some unique benefits because of its higher portability. The improved display, for instance, with True Tone capabilities directly relates to the fact that more people carry around a 9.7-inch iPad than they do with a 12.9-inch device.

That said, as someone who uses a bigger iPad Pro as his only computer every day, the changes to the display brought by the 9.7-inch model don't sound as compelling as fast charging, USB 3 transfer speeds, and the additional screen real estate of the 12.9-inch iPad Pro.

As I've written before, using iOS on a larger display – especially with Split View multitasking – feels dramatically superior than a 9.7-inch iPad, and I don't see myself going back to the smaller form factor.

However, I would like to see the same display technology and 32 GB WiFi + Cellular variant of the small iPad Pro come to the bigger model in the future. Hopefully next year.

Hands-On Videos and Everything Else

Below, we've compiled a collection of hands-on videos and miscellaneous tidbits about the new iPad Pro.



The 9.7-inch iPad Pro comes with redesigned antenna lines for the Cellular model.

The iPad Air 2 price drop is indeed a big deal if you're not in the market for a Pro version.

The Rose Gold iPad Pro looks nice:

Today's event, as viewed through emoji:

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