Hands on with 9.7-inch iPad Pro with Apple Smart Keyboard

Over the years I have owned and reviewed almost every iPad model. The lone exception was the latest iPad, the 9.7-inch iPad Pro. That changes now as I have one and wish to share my thoughts of the best iPad ever made.

iPad Pro

I have shared how this iPad Pro got into my hands, so if you want the heartwarming account check out my Facebook post. Knowing how I work, my wonderful friends included the Apple Smart Keyboard with the iPad Pro, so I’ll include thoughts on it here.

The iPad Pro

The packaging is like that for other iPads and very minimal. Besides the iPad Pro, charger, and bare documentation, I was extremely annoyed to find a too short 3 foot charging cable. It seems Apple thinks only the larger iPad Pro deserves the more useful 6 foot cable.

My gold iPad Pro is a top-of-the-line model — 256GB of storage and LTE. Physically this is much like the iPad Air, very thin and light. The primary difference has to do with a feature only found on the Pro model, four speakers. These are on the top and bottom of the iPad Pro.

The audio system plays decent sound but it won’t replace your home audio system. Like the larger iPad Pro, the volume level is much higher than other iPads. It’s loud enough I regularly play music in the background when I’m working.

Another new feature in the iPad Pro is the display. Apple calls it True Tone and it has a bigger impact than I thought it would. Basically, True Tone slightly adjusts the color tone, of the screen based on the ambient light in the room. The result is the display always looks its best, and you can see the difference clearly. You can turn True Tone off in settings but I’m not sure why you might do that.

The display is vivid, even when displaying two apps at the same time using Split View in iOS. Both apps are legible, and I work in Split View regularly.

The main difference between the iPad Pro and the older iPad Air is speed. The beefier hardware in the Pro is much faster than I thought it would be. Everything happens instantly, even when running heavy apps. Hit a button and the iPad Pro is off to the races.

Because of the display and great performance this is by far the best iPad ever made, and for many is worth the premium price.

Smart Keyboard

I was reluctant to first try the Smart Keyboard for the smaller iPad Pro based on my frustration using the larger model with the 12.9-inch iPad Pro. I find the larger keyboard so bad I once proclaimed it the worst product Apple has ever made. I still feel that way, but I’m glad to report the smaller version is much better.

iPad Pro in Smart Keyboard

It is basically an iPad cover with a very thin keyboard tucked inside. It attaches to the Pro via a magnet hinge and puts the Pro to sleep when closed and wakes it up when the cover is opened.

The weird origami operation is like that on the hated large model, but in practice it works better. That is because the smaller size makes it easier to configure for typing. The magnets used in the Smart Keyboard feel stronger than the big model and that may contribute to the better operation.

The keyboard is the size of others for the iPad. It has a full complement of keys as on Macs and supports fast typing. The keys feel good and are easy to adjust to when moving from other keyboards. The only problem I have is that I regularly hit the CAPS LOCK key when I go to hit the A key. Hopefully I’ll get better over time.

All is not perfect with the keyboard due to design choices made by Apple. There is no backlighting due to the sealed keyboard. Worse, it’s missing the top row of iPad control keys (Home, media controls, volume control, etc.) typically found on other keyboards. I wish Apple had built a slightly larger keyboard to accommodate this top row of keys..

The Smart Keyboard can be folded into two congurations in addition to using it as a standard Smart Cover. Typing mode is the one I use all the time. The keyboard has a slot with a smart connector as debuted in the larger iPad Pro. It uses it to communicate with the Pro and draws its power from the iPad. Simply set the Pro in the smart connector slot and you’re ready to type away.

This keyboard is barely much thicker than a standard cover when closed. It will fit in the undersized cross body bag I use every day, and that’s a good thing. The iPad Pro in the Smart Keyboard cover is so thin and light that in addition to the outstanding performance of the Pro I find this is easily the best mobile system I’ve used for writing. That includes the dozens of systems I’ve tested.

The skinny

The 9.7-inch iPad Pro is significantly better than the iPad Air. The improved audio system, performance, and better display make a marked difference over previous versions of iPads.

I expect the LTE to be as fast as with my other devices but I haven’t been able to test it yet. The iPad Pro had no SIM in the device and my friends weren’t given one when they bought the Pro in the Apple Store. I should receive one from Verizon shortly to give a thorough look.

Paired with the Apple Smart Keyboard, this system is thinner and lighter than every other system available. The premium price ($1,029) is significant but worth the money for those needing the best.

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