Like the iPhone SE, which has the body of an iPhone 5s and the mind of an iPhone 6s (more or less), the new 9.7-inch iPad Pro looks very much like an iPad Air 2. Their dimensions are identical. Their screen sizes are identical. The 9.7-inch iPad Pro is very much the follow-up to the iPad Air 2, but with a different name.
But beyond the basic similarities, there are some huge differences between the iPad Air 2 and the new 9.7-inch iPad Pro. Let’s start with the screen: It has the widest color gamut of any iPad, including the 12.9-inch iPad Pro. (It’s the same as the 2015 Retina iMacs.) It’s also the first Apple product to feature a “True Tone display,” though this isn’t technically a display technology.
Here’s how True Tone works: For ages, iOS devices have had built-in light sensors that detect how bright the environment is, allowing software to automatically adjust the screen brightness. The 9.7-inch iPad Pro’s sensor goes one better, also detecting the color temperature of that ambient light. (Color temperature means that if you’re in a room with harsh fluorescent lighting, what your eye sees as white will be very different than in a room lit by warm incandescent bulbs, for instance.) The iPad’s onboard software can then adjust the color temperature of its display, so that it matches the ambient light in the room.
This is a very clever feature. (And yes, it’s one you can turn off with one switch in the Settings app if you don’t want to partake.) If you’ve ever sat in a dim, warmly lit room in the evening and flipped open your iPad, only to be taken back with how glaring and blue the white background of an app like Mail is, you’re a candidate for True Tone. If you used the 9.7-inch iPad Pro in that same room with True Tone turned on, Mail’s white backgrounds would be a warmer tone, and much less jarring.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to test True Tone in an easy chair by a fireplace. Instead, I got to see it in the Piano Bar at 4 Infinite Loop, on a demonstration table after Apple’s media event on Monday. But still, the demonstration I saw was impressive: Setting the white point of the display to make it a little warmer really did make the iPad feel like it fit better into my field of view.
The other new features of the 9.7-inch iPad Pro are ones that will seem familiar, because they were the highlight features of the iPad Pro when it launched last fall. First up is support for the Apple Pencil, and I think this is going to be an enormous hit. Yes, it’s amazing to draw on a 12.9-inch iPad Pro screen, but it’s also a very large object that can be hard to hold. The 9.7-inch model is six-tenths of a pound lighter and much more comfortable to hold in one hand. I was able to stand and doodle on an 9.7-inch iPad Pro easily, holding the iPad in my left hand while I drew on it with my right.
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