Deep-dive review: For the iPad Pro, smaller is big

Over the last few years, Apple’s mobile product cycle has revolved around “bigger and thinner.” Now that mantra has been flipped on its head by Apple’s latest releases — the 9.7-in. iPad Pro and the 4-in. iPhone SE — that emphasize the notion that smaller might just be better.

First up is the new iPad Pro, which Apple unveiled on March 21st. This iPad Pro starts at $599 (vendor price), $200 less than its larger 12.9-in. sibling.

I’ve been an iPad user from 2010, when it first shipped; the 9.7-in. screen has been a hallmark of the iPad since it was introduced by then-CEO Steve Jobs. Since then, the screen has undergone numerous revisions and improvements, most notably, adopting the Retina display technology that first appeared on the iPhone.

This latest model not only gets many of the architecture advances from the larger iPad Pro — such as an updated processor and a new, much-improved speaker design — but also a better camera and what may be the most advanced display Apple has shipped. That’s no small feat considering how advanced the larger iPad Pro was when it was announced last fall.
Second verse, almost the same as the first

This particular model is officially known as the 9.7-in. iPad Pro. Built around a 2048 x 1536-pixel Retina display, it weighs just 0.96 lbs. and is 6.1mm thick. It borrows some features (such as the camera system) from the iPhone 6S, and comes with all of the advances that made the 12.9-in model so compelling: a custom 64-bit A9X processor with an M9 coprocessor, as well as a graphics system that’s twice as fast as the iPad Air 2 it replaced; a four-speaker setup that automatically shifts higher frequencies to the top speakers and lower frequencies to those at the bottom, no matter which way you orient the tablet; a Smart Connector for attaching accessories and for providing power and data without physically plugging anything in; and Apple Pencil support. (This last involves dynamically switching to 240 scans per second for low-latency onscreen drawing with the Pencil, along with palm- and finger-rejection technology to avoid inadvertent input while sketching or taking notes.)

The particular model I’ve been testing is a 256GB version in silver and white with Wi-Fi and cellular/GPS capabilities, priced at $1,029 (without the cellular/GPS, it costs $899). I’m glad 256GB of storage is now an option — I like to have with me my entire library of music as well as all of the video projects I have worked on; it’s like a digital life resume. (A similarly configured 12.9-in. iPad Pro is now also available for $1,229.)

While, on the whole, the iPad looks pretty much like the iPad Air 2, the cellular model sports a new look. The back side now has antenna lines like the iPhone instead of the black plastic patch Apple used on previous models of its tablet. This gives the rear of the iPad a much cleaner look.

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