9.7-inch iPad Pro Hands-on: Same tablet, smaller build

iPad Pro

Today’s theme at Apple is clear: Users want smaller iOS devices, and the company has delivered.

At Apple’s press conference this morning, the Cupertino, California-based company revealed a 9.7-inch iPad Pro, a device that seems to be a direct response to criticism that the original 12.9-inch iPad Pro is too large, as well as a beefed up iPad Air 2.

The tablet’s dimensions (9.7-inches) and screen resolution (2048 x 1536 pixels) are identical to the iPad Air 2, though Apple’s new device does feature an 64-bit A9X processor that runs 1.8 times faster than the Air 2’s A8X.

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During my brief hands-on time with the iPad Pro mini, an Apple representative showed off a high-end game as well as graphically intensive visual editing software running on the tablet, and the device performed impressively, all while multi-tasking between apps. The smaller version of the Pro also comes equipped with the same 2GB of RAM instead of 4GB like its larger brother, which could result in issues related to split screen multi-tasking, though further testing is definitely required.

Where the “Pro” portion of this new iPad comes into play is its new speaker system and smart connector, allowing a new, smaller iPad Pro keyboard to be connected to the tablet. In terms of the keyboard, the keys and canvas covering feel identical, though the size difference will likely mean full-sized Pro users switching to the smaller device will require an adjustment period.

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Apple’s proprietary stylus, the Apple Pencil, is also supported by the iPad Pro and seems to perform just as it did with its larger brother, though I found it easier to jot down quick notes when holding the device in my hand due to the mini’s smaller display. It’s also worth noting that the palm rejection, tilt support and pressure sensitivity all operate the same way with the 9.7-inch iPad as they did with the full-sized iPad Pro.

Other changes include a camera equipped with hardware that’s identical to what’s featured in the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, a first for Apple when it comes to the iPad. This means that the 9.7-inch iPad Pro’s main 12 megapixel shooter is capable of recording 4k video. It’s unclear, however, how many people are actually interested in taking photographs with their iPad (although I did see some journalists doing this at Apple’s event).

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Other interesting upgrades include a new feature Apple is calling “True Tone,” that allows four ambient sensors to measure the light present in a room and then adjust the brightness and colour temperature of its 9.7-inch display. Since the lighting in Apple’s demo room was already superb, it was difficult to test this feature out during my brief hands-on time with the tablet, though at the outset, this functionality is appealing.

The main question surrounding Apple’s new iPad Pro is whether or not owners of the current iPad Air 2 will be interested in upgrading to Apple’s latest hardware, or, whether PC owners will opt into Apple’s eco-system, something the company’s CEO Tim Cook repeatedly stated as a goal for the 9.7-inch iPad during this morning’s press conference.

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On the PC side of things, it’s more likely Windows’ faithful would prefer Microsoft’s Surface Pro 4 over a hybrid device like the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, if only because the Surface supports the full version of Windows. From my perspective, the iPad Pro line needs to support OS X to completely replace my iPad Air. The functionality a mobile OS-based tablet is capable of, whether Android or iOS-based, still isn’t able to match the functionality of a standard OS X Mac or PC.

Air 2 users, however, will likely find a lot to like about Apple’s latest tablet offering, especially those who found the significantly larger iPad Pro too hefty. The 9.7-inch iPad Pro is smaller and more portable, as well as a clear upgrade over the Air in almost every way. I’m less enthusiastic, however, about Cook’s ambitions for the Pro to attract PC users: I just don’t see this happening.

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The 9.7-inch iPad Pro will be available to pre-order in Canada on March 24th and then will be available at retail stores across the country on March 31st. Pricing for the new 9.7-inch tablet is as follows:  $799 CAD for 32GB WiFi; $999 CAD for 128GB WiFi; $1,199 CAD for 256GB WiFi; $979 CAD for 32GB WiFi + cellular connectivity; $1,179 CAD for 128GB WiFi + cellular connectivity; $1,379 CAD for 256GB WiFi + cellular connectivity.

This story will also be updated with video hands-on impressions shortly.

Note: The original hands-on has been edited to reflect that the 9.7-inch iPad Pro has 2GB of RAM and not 4GB like the 12.3-inch iPad Pro.

Related reading: 9.7-inch iPad Pro specs, Canadians pricing and availability, iPhone SE hands-on: Power in a 4-inch package