Tablets haven’t had a great time lately. In the last two years, sales have plummeted and production has slowed to a crawl. While a lot of that is due to the fact they don’t have the manic upgrade calendar of traditional computers or smartphones, it’s also because they’re really all about consuming the internet. You don’t need the latest processor or most whiz bang GPU to do that. You need something that’s good enough. And for most consumers the tablet they already own is “good enough.”
The iPad Pro, and its competitors, the Surface and Galaxy TabPro S, are trying to be more than just something you flick at on your couch before bed. They are trying to prove you can indeed pull on your Star Trek pajamas and write an opus on a giant slab of glass and aluminum. The original 12.9-inch iPad Pro felt like a failure in this respect, but the much smaller 9.7-inch iPad Pro proves that you really can have an Apple device that straddles the tablet/laptop divide. You’re just going to pay out the nose for it.
This iPad Pro is tiny compared to the rest of the current 2-in-1 devices. The screen is three inches smaller than the ones found in its competitors, and its got a 4:3 ratio instead of the much coveted 16:9 found in most tablets and laptops. That’s fullscreen compared to the generally desired widescreen. But like the iPad Air 2 before it, the iPad Pro’s stubby display ratio is not a problem. This particular tablet form factor really is ideal for both one and two-handed operation.
The iPad Mini has always been too small for anything more than reading a book and the 12.9-inch iPad Pro always made me feel like I was in a sequel to Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. The app icons were too spaced out and holding the tablet, in one or both hands, looked and felt ridiculous. That’s been the same issue with the Surface and Galaxy TabPro S. They’re all fantastic devices if you’re using them primarily as laptops, but comfort collapses the minute you slip into tablet mode.
The 9.7-inch iPad Pro has the same screen size as the most popular tablet of all time (you know, the iPad) so it is naturally going to feel great in tablet mode. When it comes to production mode—using it with a keyboard—it’s clearly the first 9.7-inch iPad built with typing in mind.
It shares the same Smart Connector as the larger iPad Pro and that, as well as an upgraded processor, sets it apart from the iPad Air 2 (which hasn’t been updated since 2014). That’s what you’re paying for if you pick one up, and if you’re an early iPad adopter the Smart Connector is likely the primary reason you’re thinking about upgrading. The Smart Connector infuses the iPad Pro with flexibility—you just have to pay $149 bucks to buy the keyboard.
When I removed the Smart Keyboard from its packaging I wasn’t just unimpressed by the small size, I was disgusted. The textured fabric the keys are wrapped in, the tiny buttons, the cramped layout, even the lack of backlighting left me wanting to lose the thing as quickly as possible.
Then I did my job and actually used the damn thing, and by the end of the weekend I wasn’t in love, but I was pretty dang close to it. The Smart Keyboard makes an odd “splort” noise when typing, but compounded with the surprisingly deep travel of the keys, it ended up turning the keyboard into a winner. It’s not quite the pleasurable “click” of a set of mechanical key switches, but it was more fun to type on than my laptop. To the point that I wrote not one, but three reviews on it this weekend, as well as a whole chapter of a novel. The fact that iPads have limited multitasking compared to other devices also helped. I’m much less likely to flip between apps and browser tabs on the iPad than on my laptop.
As satisfying as the Smart Keyboard is to type on, it’s far from perfect. Besides being cramped it’s a little floppy on your lap, requiring the use of a book or unused laptop as a desk. It’s also outrageously, obnoxiously, expensive. In fact, if you aren’t a little angry at that price tag then please donate more money to charity because you have too much. The absolute best mechanical keyboards on the market, with backlit keys that can be individually customized in a 128 million different colors and macros and USB ports, cost the same or less than this little piece of splorty fabric.
Shame Apple. SHAME.
It also lacks a trackpad like the Surface and Galaxy TabPro S. iOS, unlike Windows, is built from the ground up with touch as the primary input, so lacking a trackpad isn’t the end of the world, but even the most graceful of digits lack the precision of a trackpad or the $99 Apple Pencil. If you expect to edit all your photos or hack and slash a giant text document or put the finishing touches on your cinematic masterpiece, you’re going to be disappointed by the iPad Pro. As good as its keyboard is, this is only just barely a content creation machine.
What really proves that isn’t the $250 you need to sink into the device to really turn it into a 2-in-1 device, but the iPad Pro’s most advertised feature: True Tone.
True Tone changes the white point of the display based on the lighting conditions of your environment. This makes it a lot easier on the eyes when you’re browsing sites or working in big black and white documents.
But an altered white point is complete bunk if you want to watch a movie in accurately rendered colors or edit a photo. Filmmakers, photographers and graphic designers all rely on their displays being set to a very specific white point, D65. The minute you drift from that point your device is no longer optimal for creating content. So the iPad’s best publicized feature is just an irritant for the content creators.
When you combined with the lack of precision control and the woefully underpowered “power” user apps in the App Store, you’re left with a 2-in-1 that doesn’t quite bridge the gap between content consumption and content creation. It’s fantastic at the former, but pretty damn lousy at the latter.
Unless you’re a writer, of course. I know it’s completely eradicated my need and desire for a smaller laptop for travel. Too bad it’s so god damned expensive.
- Perfect size to use as a tablet
- Actually great for writing on
- Keyboard makes a splort sound that starts off stupid but grows on you
- True Tone is a great gimmick, but awful for photographers
- You will need to sell a body part to comfortably purchase this thing
Stay tuned to Facebook Live today at 1:00pm ET to ask Alex any and all questions about the iPhone SE and 9.7-inch iPad Pro.