First look: Apple's 9.7-inch iPad Pro

Last fall Apple took the iPad Pro by introducing a new 12.9-inch model with a smart keyboard and connector, pressure sensitive pencil, and four big, booming speakers. This spring, Apple is condensing as much of that as possible down to the original 9.7-inch size.

So, how does the 9.7-inch size handle going Pro? Here are some hands-on first impressions!

The "baby" pro

What goes up in size must come down, at least if you want to make it to the mainstream. And while small compared to the 12.9-inch display, 9.7-inches was still big enough for the original iPad. That's because it was, and still remains, a great balance between productivity and portability.

In other words, while there's less screen to work and play on, there's also less weight to lug around. So, for some it might be a baby Pro, for others it'll be Pro made perfect.

Display magic

The 9.7-inch iPad Pro has a few features new and unique, even compared to its bigger sibling. First is the DCI-P3 color gamut. That's the wider space used by digital cinema projection and the new Retina 5K iMac. Think of it as higher dynamic range on the display.

There's also a new True Tone feature that uses two sensors to detect the ambient color temperature and adjust the display so that white looks white. Not yellow white. Not blue white. But white white. The artist in me loves it so much.

First class camera

The original iPad size also leap-frogs the bigger's camera. The iSight here is the same 12-megapixel marvel found in iPhone 6s, and that includes 4K video.

Some people still make fun of those who take video with iPad, but professionals know a bigger viewfinder can come in incredibly handy, especially for production work. This camera elevates iPad to a first class photographic and video citizen. About time.

Smart Keyboard

I'm pretty resilient when it comes to keyboards. I'm perfectly fine on a MacBook Pro, MacBook, or iPad Pro, and I've used iPad Air and even iPad mini keyboards for years without much trouble.

Apple's first sub-10-inch keyboard — the Smart Keyboard condensed — has the same laser ablated fabric spring and MacBook-style domes, and works almost as well as the full sized version for me. Perhaps surprisingly so.

It goes right to the edge now, and like any new keyboard, it takes some getting used to. But even at the smaller size, I was able to get going fast — and stay going.

Your milage may vary, of course, which is why the Smart Connector should allow for bevy of third-party alternatives.

Apple Pencil

If the 12.9-inch iPad Pro with Apple Pencil was a spacious sketchbook, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro with Apple Pencil is a more like a handy workbook. When I first tried it, I was worried about running out of canvas, but only for a moment. If you've never gotten used to the bigger iPad Pro, you'll likely never worry about 9.7-inch version.

Responsiveness, accuracy, palm rejection — all remain phenomenal. After a decade using Wacom as a designer, I'm still blown away by how hard Apple nailed the Pencil right out of the gate.

Pricing and availability

You can get the 9.7-inch iPad Pro in your choice of silver, space gray, gold, and rose gold. With greater power, though, comes greater price points.

The 9.7-inch iPad Pro comes in 32, 128, and 256 GB versions, starting at $599. LTE Advanced is an option for all of them.

You can order it starting on the 24th and it'll be in-store starting March 31.

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.