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Smaller, cheaper iPad Pro throws in a few new surprises (hands-on)

Apple's latest tablet is a smaller version of last year's iPad Pro with new features, and it comes in a pretty new shade.

Xiomara Blanco Associate Editor / Reviews - Tablets and monitors
Xiomara Blanco is an associate editor for CNET Reviews. She's a Bay Area native with a knack for tech that makes life easier and more enjoyable. So, don't expect her to review printers anytime soon.
Xiomara Blanco
3 min read

It's been a slow year for tablets, inevitably making Apple's latest iPad one of the most exciting models of 2016. Starting at $599, £499 and AU$899, the iPad Pro 9.7 will be available for preorder on March 24 and is expected to start shipping by March 31.

The 9.7 is essentially a smaller version of last year's 13-inch version. It features the same type of colorful display, which is brighter and less reflective than the iPad Air 2, and also has a wide range of colors that's, according to Apple, 25 percent more saturated than the Air 2.

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The iPad Pro 9.7 is the only one that comes in a rose gold shade.

James Martin/CNET

New to the 9.7 is the True Tone display, which dynamically adjusts color temperature based on ambient light. There are four ambient light sensors on the tablet that detect the color temperature wherever it's being used. This then helps the screen adjust to a warmer (more yellow) or cooler (more blue) hue in order for the screen to look as close to white as possible.

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Though Apple downsized the iPad Pro's form, that reduction doesn't also apply to its sound. The 9.7-inch tablet packs four speakers that make it twice as loud as the iPad Air 2.

Just like its bigger counterpart, the 9.7 features Pencil support and Smart Keyboard connectors. Additionally, Apple announced a new line of Lightning adapters that allow you to connect the tablet to a USB camera adapter, SD card reader or Ethernet cord.

Here are some of the 9.7's specs:

  • 9.7-inch screen
  • A9X processor
  • 12-megapixel camera with 4K video
  • 5-megapixel front-facing camera with Retina flash
  • $599 for 32GB, $749 for 128GB and $899 for 256GB in the US
  • £499 for 32GB, £619 for 128GB and £739 for 256GB in the UK
  • AU$899 for 32GB, AU$1,149 for 128GB and and AU$1,399 for 256GB in Australia
  • Comes in silver, space gray, gold and (for the first time on an iPad) rose gold.

Though the new model is smaller, it's just as powerful as the big iPad Pro.

James Martin/CNET

Senior Editor Scott Stein was on the scene at Cupertino for the announcement and his first impression of the iPad Pro 9.7 are fairly positive, but a bit underwhelming:

The iPad Pro feels just like you'd expect: an iPad Air 2 married an iPad Pro. Their smaller offspring, oddly, is a little more capable than the 12.9-inch Daddy. It has a better camera, a more advanced color-correcting display, and comes in a higher maximum storage capacity. The Pencil works just as well as it does on the larger Pro, based on my quick time with it. The new smaller Smart Keyboard also felt pretty finger-friendly as I rattled off a few notes on it, despite the smaller typing area. Apple promises a better display on this iPad, and while it's hard to tell in a demo room, the screen looked bright and vibrant.

The iPad still isn't everything a laptop can be. And it's not trying to be, either. But the new 9.7-inch iPad adds a lot more versatility than the previous CNET-favorite iPad Air 2...mostly, by working with an expanded set of accessories.

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Apple's iPad Pro line targets people who need to do a lot of office work, similar to the Microsoft Surface Pro 4. Both iPad Pro models offer keyboard accessories, yet thanks to their highly capable stylus, the tablets lean more towards a creative and artistic crowd. On the other hand, the Microsoft tablet features one of the best keyboard cases we've ever seen, but has a stylus that falls short of the iPad Pro's Pencil. Which you pick will largely depend on which feature you think you'll use most.

See all of the news from Apple's March 21 event.