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9.7-inch iPad Pro first look: A worthy successor to the iPad Air 2

Jason Snell | March 22, 2016
It looks like an iPad Air. It feels like an iPad Air. But spend some time with the new 9.7-inch iPad, and you'll know it's a Pro.

There are plenty of reasons to love the 12.9-inch iPad Pro and its big, beautiful screen, but it’s no longer the only device that’s capable of using the Apple Pencil, and that’s a good thing. As Tim Cook said on Monday, the 9.7-inch iPad has always been the best-selling product in the line, and now the most mainstream of iPads works with the Apple Pencil. I hope Apple has gotten its Pencil manufacturing process up to speed, because artists and students alike will be rushing to buy a Pencil to go with this new iPad. 

The other major iPad Pro feature coming to this smaller model is the Smart Connector and support for the new $149 Smart Keyboard designed just for the 9.7-inch iPad Pro. The size of the 12.9-inch iPad Pro means that its smart Keyboard sports full-sized keys, but that’s not possible with this new Smart Keyboard. Instead, Apple has shrunken down all the keycaps and especially squished the width of the Tab, Caps Lock, Shift, Return, and Delete keys.

I found typing on the new Smart Keyboard to be perfectly pleasant—it’s very much the same typing experience as the larger Smart Keyboard. However, if you’ve internalized the location of keys on a standard keyboard, you will probably be vexed by the shrunken-down layout of this keyboard. (And every time you switch back to a standard-sized keyboard, you will notice, too.) For some people, the reduced layout will not be a problem, but you should try typing on it in an Apple Store before buying just in case you can’t adapt to it. On the positive side, because the iPad is smaller, the Smart Keyboard is similarly smaller and lighter, so it adds less bulk to the 9.7-inch iPad Pro than its larger counterpart does to its iPad Pro. Still, give me an external Bluetooth keyboard any day.

There are a few other things I noticed about the 9.7-inch iPad Pro’s exterior. The impressively updated camera appears to have more or less matched the iPhone 6s, meaning that this is the first iPad that can take pictures just as impressive as their iPhone counterparts. It’s been a long time coming. I know a lot of us think it’s ridiculous that people take photos with their iPads, but more of us are busy taking photos with our iPads! This new 12-megapixel camera (with support for 4K video) should make those pictures a whole lot better. (The front-facing camera has also been upgraded to a 5-megapixel model.) The wireless cut-out on the back of the cellular models has been redesigned, too. It’s more of a stripe now. 

Unfortunately, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro has also inherited the iPhone 6 family’s “camera bump.” In other words, the camera actually sticks out a little bit from the back of the case. It’s subtle but undeniably there. I’m not sure if it’s a big deal, but I know a bunch of people who are scared that the entire iPad will rock when you place it on a flat surface and try to draw on it with the Apple Pencil. I didn’t get a chance to try this particular disaster scenario, so I can’t say whether the bump is a big problem or not.

 

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