FROM the moment the 12-inch iPad Pro and I glanced at each other across a crowded room, we knew that we were made for each other.
Well, maybe the realisation was just one sided but the feeling was certainly strong coming from me.
Sure, it was just a bigger iPad. But it was a bigger iPad with the ability to split the screen so you can work on two apps at once, plus it had the option of a magnetically attached Apple Smart Keyboard. Those two features made the iPad Pro a more capable workhorse.
For a lot of people, an iPad is about consuming media, such as watching videos or browsing the web. For others, including me, it is the take-anywhere computing device. When I travel on the road, aside from my iPhone the iPad is the only computing gadget I take.
During last week’s launch event in the tech company’s Cupertino headquarters, Apple’ senior vice president of worldwide marketing Phil Schiller said that most people coming to the bigger iPad Pro had come from Windows PCs.
These are people who are looking for a tablet but one with a productive personality. These are people whose motivation I get.
But while I cast all other tablets aside when I ran off into the sunset with that first iPad Pro, it was a relationship that came with a catch. My iPad Air 2 and I used to go together just about everywhere but with the 12-inch (30cm) size tablet was more likely to be left at home.
What I want in a tablet is the productivity of the top-end tablet with the 9.7-inch (24.6cm) size that is still Apple’s most popular iPad size.
Now it’s time for me to have a deep and meaningful talk with the 12-inch iPad Pro because with the 9.7-inch iPad Pro I think I’ve just met my new love.
The 9.7-inch iPad Pro is as the name suggests, essentially, just a smaller version of the 12-inch model that came out last year.
The two iPad Pros are both compatible with the Apple Pencil, they both have the Smart Connector so you can attach the Apple Keyboard (and third-party keyboards) and they both have the A9X chip which put them leaps and bounds ahead of the previous generation 9.7-inch tablet, the iPad Air 2.
Both iPad Pro tablets have four speaker audio, which is clever enough to play in stereo regardless of whether you’re holding the iPad in portrait or landscape mode. If your primary use of a tablet is to watch video, the four speakers is reason alone to buy the 9.7-inch iPad Pro over the iPad Air 2, the other 9.7-inch tablet in the iPad range.
The 9.7-inch iPad Pro has a 10-hour battery life, the fastest Wi-Fi and LTE standards. The LTE model has both a slot for a SIM card and a built-in Apple SIM. For people who take their iPad overseas, the Apple SIM means you can connect to a local network when you arrive in a country just by selecting an option in settings. In theory, that’s great although until the iPad Pro is in the marketplace and a wide range of carriers commit to that solution, it’s impossible to judge that as either a good feature in practice or just a feature that should be good.
Just as many people sit at their office computers that are connected to multiple screens, being able to split the display on the iPad Pro between two apps is likely to be the most popular feature with those who want to use their iPad as a work tool. You can either have an app taking up one third of your screen, in Slide Over, or go right down the middle of your display with Split View. When Apple launched the original 12-inch iPad Pro, it highlighted how splitting the large tablet screen in two was similar to viewing two 9.7-inch tablets in portrait mode. With the smaller 9.7-inch iPad Pro, splitting the screen is more akin to viewing two iPhone 6s Plus displays side by side. We like Split View on the smaller iPad Pro but we liked it better on the bigger version.
THE SMART KEYBOARD
As someone who has used third-party keyboard cases since the iPad 2, the unwillingness for Apple to do its own tablet keyboard was always a frustration. While there are still reasons why you might prefer a third-party keyboard, the Smart Keyboard is stiff enough so you can rest it on your lap to type and not being Bluetooth means you can use it on a plane. The keyboard to fit the 9.7-inch iPad Pro is about 6cm smaller than the one to fit the original iPad Pro but the keys are still well-spaced and the design cleverly makes it compact without making it squashed.
The main complaint with the Smart Keyboard is not the way it works but its price tag of $229. It’s a good keyboard but at that price many iPad Pro users are likely to opt for a cheaper third-party solution when they come to market.
It has been a long time since anyone looked at an iPad display and thought it looked anything but good. The iPad Pro 9.7-inch has the same 2048 x 1536 resolution as the iPad Air tablets but Apple has continued to push the Retina display in this iPad, making it 25 per cent brighter than the display on the iPad Air 2 and 40 per cent less reflective, which is good news when you’re viewing your screen outside.
If you are looking for a major point of difference aside from size between the new iPad Pro and the bigger version, the camera is where you need to look. The 9.7-inch iPad Pro has a 12 megapixel camera in the rear and a 5 megapixel camera in front, compared with an 8 megapixel rear and 1.2 megapixel front in the original iPad Pro. This iPad Pro can shoot 4K video, the larger and older iPad Pro cannot. This iPad Pro can also shoot bigger panoramas and has a wider aperture. This is also the first iPad to be able to take Live Photos and the first to use True Tone flash that matches the colour of the flash light to the surrounding light. Given this has the best front facing camera you will find in any mobile Apple device, and the whole 9.7-inch display serves as a True Tone Flash, you could make an argument based on specs that this is the ultimate selfie device from Apple. That argument falls apart when you acknowledge that doing a selfie with a tablet still makes you socially awkward. Another negative about the improved camera is that it now extrudes slightly from the back, like the lens on the rear of the iPhone 6S.
ONE MORE THING
The new 9.7-inch iPad Pro comes in rose gold, the old 12-inch iPad Pro does not. For many people, that will be reason alone to prefer this model.
The 9.7-inch iPad Pro has the productivity features you want in a high-end iPad but the more compact size that makes it easier to carry everywhere. It has an optional Smart Keyboard and is compatible with the Apple Pencil. It has the best camera and the best display in any iPad ever. There are compromises made in offering the iPad Pro features in a smaller form but the result is an iPad you are more likely to want to use all the time.
12 megapixel camera and 4K video
Optional Smart Keyboard
Best display, split screen, rose gold
Extruding camera lens on the back
Split screen not as handy as with the 12-inch display
High price of the keyboard
Apple iPad Pro 9.7-Inch
5/5 stars / apple.com/au
Available in silver, space grey, gold and new rose and in 32GB, 128GB and a new 25GB.
Starting from $899 for the 32GB with Wi-Fi model form $1099 for the 32GB Wi-Fi + Cellular model. Available in stores from Thursday 31 March.