Last November Apple launched a big-screen iPad. The improved features across the board, compatibility with the super-precise Pencil and a comfy-to-use keyboard offered a whole new way to use an Apple tablet.
But the 12.9-inch screened machine was heavy (though still lighter than the smaller original iPad released six years ago) and so felt less conveniently portable.
Also, it wasn't cheap, starting at £679. Add in cellular connectivity, a keyboard (£139) and Apple Pencil (£79) and you'd racked up quite a bill even with an entry-level 32GB storage capacity.
So the prospect of a Pro version of the iPad Air 2 – the 9.7-inch screened iPad that was noticeably not updated last autumn – was intriguing.
I've been using the new tablet for a week and it’s a pretty unqualified success, offering all the extra functionality of the 12.9-inch iPad Pro but at a lower weight and price point.
It's not as cheap as a regular iPad: since the iPad 2 arrived in 2011, this has consistently cost £399 for the entry-level model at each release, but at £499 the extra capabilities seem reasonably priced. And the previous flagship, the Air 2, is now just £349, something of a bargain and ideal if you don't need the Pro's extras.
The new 9.7-inch iPad Pro has some new features the bigger Pro model lacks. The screen, for instance, has a wider colour gamut than previous iPads meaning, Apple says, up to 25 per cent more colour saturation so that everything looks more vivid. I’m not able to measure that percentage myself but it certainly looks great.
It also includes a new technology called True Tone display. The idea is that two four-channel ambient light sensors monitor the temperature of the surroundings and adjust the output onscreen. This means when you’re reading something on screen it looks more natural. I’ve been trying it in different situations and the effect ranges from subtle to garish.
In every case, though, turning True Tone off revealed that it looked more natural with it turned on again. Switch it off and you see, as if for the first time, that the tablet screen looks surprisingly blue in most lighting situations. True Tone is a quiet, but revelatory, effect.
It's a hardware addition, separate from Night Shift, the feature introduced across multiple Apple devices with the latest update, iOS 9.3. Night Shift can be scheduled to activate in the evening and warms the onscreen colour temperature. You can adjust the warmth to suit. Some say the colder, bluer light from most smartphones can make it harder for you to get to sleep after you've been buried in your phone or tablet screen before turning in.
Whatever, I like the warmer glow it gives and think it should be mandatory in chic underlit restaurants where the standard blue light gives people a zombie-like effect. Night Shift is like free sunlight from your iPhone or iPad. Though be warned, setting it too far to the warm end of the spectrum, which Apple unaccountably calls “More Warm” rather than “Warmer”, can put you in mind of David Dickinson.
The display on the iPad Pro 9.7 inch uses the same faster refresh rate that makes the super-precise input from the Apple Pencil possible. The Pencil, which Tim Cook recently described to the Independent as “not a stylus” is indeed a world away from the squidgy-tipped, imprecise devices available for other tablets.
It is impeccably crafted and feels great in the hand. The iPad’s Touch Rejection technology is especially good on the Pro tablets: lean on the screen with the heel of your hand or your fingers and it’s wise enough to ignore these inputs and concentrate on what the Pencil is doing.
And because it recognises the pressure you're using and the tilt you’re holding it at, the Pencil is capable of doing a lot. More than anything, it’s the Pencil which makes the Pro iPads feel like the most creative tablets Apple has made.
Of course, it’s also still there for consumption of media from video to podcasts to games and more. Like the bigger iPad Pro, there are four speakers on board so you get louder, more effective audio than from the non-Pro models which have just one mono speaker.
And they’re smart enough to know which way up you're using the iPad Pro, automatically re-configuring the audio so it always sounds right.
The new Pro also has a keyboard to go with it, attached by the Smart Connector buttons on the tablet's edge. This is a better system than Bluetooth, the main system used by many other keyboards because the connection is persistent – Bluetooth keyboards need a second or two to wake up which can be frustrating. Plus, of course, this keyboard won’t run out of charge at the worst possible moment; it doesn’t have a battery. It also means that as soon as you detach the keyboard the iPad knows to bring up the onscreen version instead.
This new keyboard has the same cloth finish as on the one for the bigger Pro. It sounds rubbish but it actually feels great. There's less room here than on the bigger model, obviously, but while this one doesn't feel cramped, it does take a little getting used to. Within 15 minutes, and I’m typing this review on it, I was completely at ease with it, typing accurately and at speed. There’s plenty of travel in the keys and the gently scooped surfaces make it easy to hit the key you want. If it lacks anything, it’s that the keys aren’t backlit.
Gadgets and tech news in pictures
Gadgets and tech news in pictures
1/23 Bring broken smartphone back to life - as a robot
Do you have an old broken smartphone lying around the house somewhere? Then why not turn it into a robot? That's exactly what YouTuber Mehdi Sadaghdar did in a recent video, after his efforts to bring a destroyed phone back to life disastrously failed. Using the phone's vibrator, a coin battery, a simple switch, a few wires and the bristly part of a toothbrush, he managed to make a simple little toy that can skitter around a tabletop as long as the battery last
2/23 Detachable plane cabin
A Ukrainian inventor has proposed building airliners with detachable passenger cabins that could separate from the rest of the plane and parachute safely to the ground in the event of an emergency
3/23 FA announces it will host the Emirates FA Cup video game tournament
The FA has announced that for the first time ever it will host the inaugural Emirates FA Cup gaming tournament, with video game fans from across the world invited to compete for glory at Wembley Stadium connected by EE. Early rounds will take place in iconic locations in the stadium such as The Royal Box, the changing rooms and the players’ tunnel, with the two finalists set to play the virtual final using Wembley Stadium’s 82 foot screens as they sit in the centre circle. Gamers of varying ability will descend upon Wembley Stadium as the home of football transforms into an epic gaming colosseum set to turn heads and sweat palms in equal measure
4/23 Oculus Rift release date
Oculus has said that it is about to open pre-orders for its Rift virtual reality headset. Some have claimed that the hardware will be the device that will bring virtual reality into the mainstream. And it will start being available from 6 January 2016, the company has said. The company hasn’t said when the headsets will actually start arriving, or how much they will cost. It isn’t clear whether the company intends to announce more details before pre-orders begin
5/23 iPhone stock apps can be removed by just putting them into special folder
A new trick shows a quick way of getting rid of the stock apps that might be cluttering up your iPhone screen — at least for a while. The iPhone comes with a range of apps that are stuck on the phone, and can't be deleted like others. While some are key to the phone — like the Phone app itself — others like Stocks are less well-regarded. But the new trick shows how you can hide those unused stock apps with just a quick trick using some folders
6/23 CES 2016: Four big things set to be revealed
The CES 2016 gadget show is about to kick off, and nearly the entire technology industry has descended on Las Vegas to try and show off the future. Every year, companies and technologists attempt to show that they have seen what’s coming and that they will be there to offer it. Every year, a lot of people get it wrong. This year’s expectations are as big as ever. Every year, CES unofficially gets a big theme that everything’s supposed to be about — this year that’s virtual reality. There is also future for cars, smart home and wearables
7/23 Terrorists could use drones to attack planes and spread propaganda
A government counter-terrorism adviser has warned that terrorists could use commercially available drones to attack passenger planes. Detective Chief Inspector Colin Smith, a security expert and adviser to the Home Office Centre for Applied Science and Technology, warned that small quadcopter drones could easily be used by terrorists for attacks and propaganda purposes
8/23 Goggle-Eyed Lemurs watch TV as part of their reintroduction to the wild
Port Lympne Reserve in Kent, UK, has installed Sony Bravia 4K TVs into its lemur and langur enclosures to show life-like footage to its primates as part of its ‘Back to the Wild’ programme. The charity will trial TV watching on Sony’s 4K TVs as part of this programme in a bid to make langurs more familiar with the new environment
Uber has added a lift-sharing feature to its app in London, allowing people to share their taxi with a stranger in return for a reduced fair. Users will be given 25 per cent off their journey if they say they will let up to two other passengers share their car. Drivers will then receive a message telling them that they’ll be picking up more than one fare, and can plan their route accordingly. London is the second European country to get the feature, after Paris. It was first launched in San Francisco and now most people who use the app do so with the feature
10/23 Attempt to build world’s biggest Rubik’s cube ends in disaster
An attempt to build the world’s biggest Rubik’s cube ended in disaster when the puzzle exploded as it was turned for the first time. One of the masterminds behind Coren Puzzle, a YouTube channel dedicated to custom puzzles, live-streamed the final assembly of the 22x22 cube. The video was the culmination of seven months of construction, which included a month of deliberation on how to build the mechanism at the centre of the device
11/23 New battery chip could let phones charge in minutes
The maker of a new chip claims that it could reduce the charging times of phones to a few minutes, and could prevent dangerous explosions. The tiny chip could be embedded into batteries of all sizes and monitor how healthy and charged they are. That in turn would mean that the batteries would become much safer and quicker to charge, according to the scientist that developed it. Unhealthy lithium-ion batteries can be at risk of exploding or catching fire, as well as gradually losing their capacity so that they run out more quickly. Those problems may become even more important as people move towards electric cars or other vehicles
12/23 Facebook on iPhone gets new fast-loading Instant Articles
If you've noticed articles on Facebook loading a little quicker recently, that's because the new Instant Articles have been launched to all iPhone users. Instant Articles load up to 10 times quicker than a regular article, and have some enriched features - such as unobtrusive autoplay videos, zoomable high-definition images and interactive maps
13/23 Halo 5 patch
Gamers looking forward to playing Halo 5: Guardians on its release on 27 October 2015 will have to wait to download a 9GB day one patch before the game's multiplayer mode can run properly. Those without the patch won't even be able to play multiplayer at all until it's downloaded, in yet another case of a blockbuster game needing a patch on the day of launch
14/23 New HTC Desire 626 handset launch
HTC has launched its latest Desire 626 handset with the Sense 7 software which automatically detects whether you’re at work, at home or on-the-go and alters its theme to suit your location. This advanced technology intelligently analyses your favourite photos to modify the look and feel of your apps, allowing you to modify the colour scheme and backgrounds – the ultimate in personalisation
15/23 Nasa confirms Mars water discovery
Nasa has announced that it has found evidence of flowing water on Mars. Scientists have long speculated that Recurring Slope Lineae — or dark patches — on Mars were made up of briny water but the new findings prove that those patches are caused by liquid water, which it has established by finding hydrated salts.
16/23 Customers wait in line at the Apple Store in Paris to get their hands on the iPhone 6s
Several hundred camped outside the London store in Covent Garden. The 6s will have new features like a vastly improved camera and a pressure-sensitive “3D Touch” display
17/23 Bloodhound SSC: The most powerful ever made is shown off to the public
The car is displayed at Downing Street, when the team visited David Cameron to demonstrate the project
18/23 Lunar eclipse threatens Nasa technology
Artist's rendering of Nasa's LRO spacecraft, which will have to withstand a rapid drop in temperature during an upcoming lunar eclipse that could lead to it shutting down
19/23 Mobile phone bills could rocket up after Ofcom announced that the fees it charges to phone operators will be trebled
The regulator will now charge far more to phone companies for using the mobile spectrum — and though it says that fee will not be passed on to customers, experts have said that prices are likely to go up
20/23 New iPhone 6s rose gold
Apple has released a bright pink new iPhone 6s — likely the only way that you’ll be able to tell that someone has the new handset. The company released the new phone with much fanfare, but almost all of the changes — a new camera and pressure-sensitive display — were on the inside. The only new noticeable addition to the phone’s look is the very pink rose gold colour, and a tiny “S” on the back. The new handsets will be released on September 25
21/23 iPad Pro
Apple has launched a huge new iPad, which it hopes can bring the tablet to offices and designers. But it unveiled it with an Apple-designed stylus — an idea that was famously mocked by late Apple founder Steve Jobs
22/23 Apple TV
Apple has introduced the new Apple TV
23/23 Apple Pencil
Apple has introduced the new Apple Pencil
And it turns the iPad Pro into an extremely effective laptop alternative, complete with touchscreen, unlike Apple's own laptops. In fact, the touchscreen works so well with the iPad Pro and keyboard, it's hard to think Apple isn't considering making a MacBook with touch-sensitive display. We’ll see. After all, at the product’s launch, Apple’s Phil Schiller said that the majority of people coming to the bigger iPad Pro had come from Windows PCs. Proof, if of nothing else, that the iPad Pro series are immensely powerful machines and can be taken seriously.
Like the bigger Pro keyboard, this one is solid and well-balanced enough to be highly usable even if you're resting it on your lap.
This iPad, like other recent models, has Touch ID so you can unlock it with your fingerprint. It’s not the newest, blazing-fast version of this tech, as found on the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, but nippy enough for everyday use.
The new model is also available in Apple's latest colour, rose gold. This is the first iPad available in this shade and it looks especially classy with the bigger expanse of colour as you look at the tablet's back.
The other thing you notice is the redesign of the top edge of the version with cellular connectivity. Since the first iPad, this has had a rubbery strip to let the 3G and wi-fi signals in and out. Now, there's a much more elegant look – the entire back of the iPad is one piece of aluminium, as it is on the wi-fi only model. But there's now a thin white line that follows the line of the strip and sorts the signal out.
Like the iPhone 6s, this new tablet has a 12-megapixel camera with True Tone flash. While I can’t really recommend a large, flat piece of glass as any ergonomic substitute for a real camera, these are mean specs and test photos were pretty impressive. Oh, it shoots 4K video, too.
The iPad Pro 9.7 inch brings the latest advances to the world of the tablet. It builds the considerable steps forward from the 12.9-inch version into a model that is more affordable. Mind you, you can still spend more if you wish by opting for the 256GB storage capacity now available in both 9.7-inch and 12.9-inch models, starting from £739 on this smaller screen size.
The Pencil and Smart Keyboard – this smaller keyboard costs £129 –are essential add-ons that work perfectly and add real extra capability.
But the real reason this is the best iPad yet built is because it combines a stunning display, stonking audio and relentless processing power into a tablet that’s supremely portable.