I didn't expect to like the new 9.7-inch iPad Pro.
I wasn't that into its big brother, the 12.9-inch model that launched last fall, and I expected the 9.7-incher to be more of the same.
But this one is different. It feels as if Apple took the already excellent iPad Air 2 and supercharged it with a better screen, more power, and the option to connect it to a keyboard or use it with the well-received Apple Pencil.
You can preorder the iPad Pro now, and it goes on sale March 31. It starts at $599.
I've been using the iPad Pro for only a few days, but my gut tells me this is the iPad to buy if you're ready to upgrade or get one for the first time. (Should you upgrade? That's a whole other issue, but I'd say "no way" unless you're using an iPad that's at least three years old.)
For now, here are a few first impressions of the 9.7-inch iPad Pro. I'll have a full review next week.
I think my real problem with the first iPad Pro was that it was just too dang big. I don't think the iPad does enough to justify using it as a full-on laptop replacement, so it seems silly to buy one with a 13-inch screen.
But the 9.7-inch screen is the perfect size. The Pro model feels just as light and thin as the iPad Air 2, which is impressive considering how much more powerful and capable it is.
On Monday, Apple made the argument again that the iPad Pro could replace your laptop. That might be true for some people. (My mother's primary computer is a five-year-old iPad 2, for example.)
But what really kills Apple's argument is the optional keyboard cover, which costs an extra $149. It's simply not that great to type on compared with a standard laptop keyboard. And the keyboard for the 9.7-inch model is slightly smaller than a full-size keyboard, which feels even more awkward. Luckily, Apple lets third parties make keyboards for the iPad Pro, so hopefully someone comes up with something better.
Power and value
The iPad Air 2 is already 1 1/2 years old, and it probably won't get another update until this fall at the earliest. It's a pretty good value at $399, but the iPad Pro blows it away by every performance measure. Spend the extra $200 on the iPad Pro now, and it'll last you several years.
Even though the iPad Pro line is just a few months old, the 9.7-inch model has some tricks the 12.9-inch one doesn't. The best one: The display can adapt to the color temperature in the room thanks to sensors hidden in the bezel around the screen. Apple calls this a "True Tone" display. I didn't notice it at first, but when you toggle the feature on, you can see the display become warmer as it adapts to indoor lighting. It's a subtle but significant improvement.
(I wish I could show it to you, but it doesn't photograph that well. You have to see it in person.)
Camera bump 🙁
A significantly improved camera that shoots 4K video also means there's an unsightly bump protruding from the back of the iPad Pro. Bummer!
Stay tuned next week for the full iPad Pro review.