Hands on with the iPhone SE, 9.7-inch iPad Pro, and new Apple Watch bands

iMore's own Rene Ritchie and Daniel Bader attended Apple's 2016 March event and had a chance to take a look at the new 4-inch iPhone SE, 9.7-inch iPad Pro, and new Apple Watch bands. Here are their initial reactions and hands-on photographs of the new devices!

The last town hall event

Today's event was a happy conclusion to a place with storied history: Apple's Town Hall has been an announcement location for decades, for such classic products as the iPod, but this March event may well be its last. Apple plans to be in its Spaceship campus next year, which sports a much larger auditorium for the company to hold launches. (Town Hall, in contrast, holds around 350.)

The iPhone SE is for Super Excellent

The iPhone SE is "terrific," according to editor-in-chief Rene Ritchie: It's almost everything that's great about the iPhone 6s in a 4-inch body. It sports the same beautiful chamfered-bezel body as the 5s, and feels great in your hand.

Inside, iPhone SE has the screaming fast Apple A9 processor that, with fewer pixels to push around, is screaming louder than ever. Seriously, it feels like an F1 race car.

Thanks to the A9 and M9 co-processor, you get "Hey Siri" voice control — and Touch ID-enabled Apple Pay, as well. And if you're in a market that supports it, the SE supports 150Mbps LTE Advanced.

The camera is (mostly) impressive

iPhone SE

While the iPhone SE's rear camera got a huge improvement in the form of the 6s's 12-megapixel sensor, 4K video, and Live Photos, its front camera wasn't so lucky.

The iPhone SE's FaceTime HD camera actually borrows its sensor from 5s: Just 1.2 megapixels and 720p video — a far cry from the iPhone 6s's 5 megapixel sensor. But if you love four-inch phones and selfies, don't despair: The iPhone SE does take advantage of the iPhone 6s's image signal processor. What does that mean in real life? Basically, the sensor itself isn't great, but you'll still get the intelligence of the 6s — which means better tone matching for front-facing pictures, and facial recognition.

Still, the iPhone SE will probably have the best camera in the $400 range, and will force Android OEMs to step up their game in the only segment of the market that is still growing by double-digit percent every year.

Nope, no 3D Touch

iPhone SE

Sadly, 4-inch phone converts who also want 3D Touch are out of luck: Apple didn't see fit to include the high-end iPhone feature on its 4-inch model. Does it hurt the iPhone SE? Not really: 3D Touch hasn't yet seen wide adoption, and most feature-specific features you might want it for (Live Photos, for instance) can be triggered with a tap-and-hold. If you really like 3D Touch shortcuts, however, the SE isn't going to be the phone for your daily use.

A Rose Gold flavor

iPhone SE

Yes, the iPhone SE comes in glorious Rose Gold, just like its high-end predecessors. It looks just as nice on the SE as the 6s and 6s Plus — possibly even more so, due to the slightly boxier design of the smaller smartphone.

iPhone SE bottom line

iPhone SE

The people who have been waiting for a new 4-inch iPhone have, at long last, gotten their wish, and then some. The SE is not only a great 4-inch device, it's a great iPhone, period. Sure, many of us are used to 4.7- or even 5.5-inch iPhones and iPhones Plus by now, but others have steadfastly refused to move up. That's why Apple is giving them almost everything great about the latest iPhones 6s but crammed down into the iPhone 5s case.

That includes the ability to fit iPhone SE into almost any pocket or purse, and to reach all the way across the display, from corner to corner, with just one hand, and without any juggling or workarounds like Reachability.

We'll have a full review up of the iPhone SE soon, but for now: It's an awfully promising re-entry into the 4-inch market from Apple.

The badass baby Pro

12.9-inch iPad Pro owners, Surface buyers, and older iPad users all might be just a wee bit envious of Apple's newest tablet: The 9.7-inch iPad Pro may look like an iPad Air, but it has all the guts of the iPad Pro and then some.

Size does matter

iPad Pro 9.7

While it's small potatoes compared to the iPad Pro's massive 12.9-inch display, 9.7-inches was big enough for the original iPad, and it's big enough for this new, smaller Pro entry.

The 9.7-inch option is a great balance between productivity and portability: There's less screen to work and play on, but at less than a pound, there's also less weight to lug around.

A 9.7-inch keyboard made smart

iPad Pro 9.7

Apple's first sub-10-inch keyboard, the 9.7-inch Smart Keyboard, has the same laser-ablated fabric and MacBook-style domes as its big sibling — and it works almost as well, perhaps surprisingly so.

The individual keys are slightly smaller all around, and they go edge-to-edge — there's no side-bezel. Typing on the tinier Smart Keyboard was an initial challenge, but we quickly got used to the experience, and imagine others who prefer the 9.7-inch screen size will too.

Your mileage may vary, of course. But from our initial impressions, there's no reason why you shouldn't.

In praise of the Pencil

iPad Pro

The 9.7-inch iPad Pro

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.

There are the initial fears about running out of canvas when you first draw on it, coming from a 12.9-inch Pro — but only for a moment. If you've never gotten used to the bigger iPad Pro, you'll likely never worry about a 9.7-inch version.

Responsiveness, accuracy, palm rejection — on the 9.7-inch iPad, these are all just as phenomenal as their 12.9-inch sibling. After a decade of using Wacom, we're still blown away by how well Apple nailed the Pencil right out of the gate.

True Tone in true life

If there's one big thing that makes the small iPad Pro stand out, it's the iPad's True Tone technology. Two sensors built into the display measure ambient light, reading information on color temperature and brightness, then dynamically adjust your iPad's screen to match. Like Night Shift, this helps reduce eye strain, and it has an incredible effect in reality.

We turned it on from the Settings app and the display dynamically shifted within seconds to accurately represent the lighting and coloration inside the hall. It's an incredible effect, and we were told it should have little to no effect on battery life.

iPad Pro bottom line

If you're looking for a device with neither the screen size or price of the bigger iPad Pro, we expect you'll be thrilled with the baby Pro. It may even make a few 12.9-inch users eyeing the bigger 256GB storage, rose gold color, True Tone screen, and camera improvements green with envy. (But hey, if you're going to be replaced, you might as well be the company doing the replacing.)

Yes, for some the might be a baby Pro, for others it'll be Pro made perfect.

The wonderful world of Watch

It may disappoint some Apple Watch fans that we didn't see new Apple Watch hardware this cycle, but Apple certainly didn't ignore its smallest product: There are a truly absurd number of new bands available, including a Sport alternative, coated-black Milanese, and many new colors across the Watch line.

Sports, meet woven nylon

If Sport bands make you itch, the new Woven Nylon bands should provide express relief: We found it to be light, airy, and feel better than traditional NATO bands. For many people, the $49 band may replace their Sports option — and the seven options, all sporting a dual-tone design and colored lugs, won't hurt, either.

Spring colors, spring fashions

Both the Classic Buckle and Modern Buckle got some new color love as part of the 2016 spring event: Colors like Marigold, Blue Jay, Marine Blue, and Red have come to both lines, and are available for a la carte purchase. The Marigold yellow and Blue Jay blue both are vibrant pastels, and look gorgeous in person.

This event also saw a long-awaited Space Black version of the Milanese Loop: The band uses the same DLC process as the Space Black Link Bracelet, and it looks fabulous.

Apple Watch bands bottom line

If you own an Apple Watch, the new assortment of bands make it easy to dress up your model — and we predict quite a few users are going to be happy with the new Woven Nylon bands, especially those whose wrists don't play well with rubber-style bands.

And if you don't have a watch yet, the $50 reduction in price for the Sport model means getting into the Apple Watch ecosystem is easier than ever.

Stay tuned!

We'll have much more about the iPhone SE, 9.7-inch iPad Pro, and Apple Watch bands coming soon to iMore.com, including hands on videos. In the meantime, let us know what — if any — of these products you're planning on purchasing!

Daniel Bader

Daniel Bader is a Senior Editor at iMore, offering his Canadian analysis on Apple and its awesome products. In addition to writing and producing, Daniel regularly appears on Canadian networks CBC and CTV as a technology analyst.