Apple iPad Pro 9.7-inch full review - Page 5

Our iPad Pro 9.7in review continues. On this page we test out the audio quality of the iPad's quad-speaker setup, and then we talk about its accessories - the Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard.

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iPad Pro 9.7in review: Speakers and audio quality

The 9.7, like the larger Pro model, comes with four speakers: the two speakers at the bottom of all currently available iPad models (albeit spaced more widely than on the iPad Air 2 and minis), and two more on the top edge. The speakers are still very slightly backward-tilted, however, sitting as they do on the iPad's gently curved edges.

iPad Pro 9.7in review: Speakers

It's a huge step forward sonically. The iPad Air 2 has always had mediocre audio output, but this is particularly cruelly exposed when playing songs and films at top volume alongside the iPad Pro 9.7, which has a much fuller, richer sound: it fills our small test centre with clear, warm audio. The Air 2, by contrast, provides essentially no stereo effect whatsoever, since its speakers are so close together, and sounds desperately thin (and lopsided) after listening to the Pro.

Screen space is still a compromise, but in terms of sound the Pro 9.7 now feels like a legitimate choice for spare-room film nights - no longer do you need to plug in headphones for the proper experience. It's also a far more appealing option as a portable music device for the kitchen or picnic table.

The Pro 12.9 is still ahead in this department, however. It's possible that the speakers themselves are beefier, although Apple doesn't release specs for these and may have just used the same audio setup in both models; more likely the slightly better audio simply reflects the larger separation between speaker units. 

iPad Pro 9.7in review: Accessories

The iPad Pro 9.7 is equipped to run the same types of accessories as its larger cousin. Its screen works with the Apple Pencil, and there's a Smart Connector port on the lefthand edge for attaching a (smaller version of the) Smart Keyboard cover.

We've looked at the Apple Pencil in more depth elsewhere, but suffice it to say that it's an attractive and well-balanced stylus that makes for extremely smooth, accurate and lag-free drawing, digital 'painting' and note-taking. Having this option takes the Pro 9.7 to the next level as an artistic tool - although like most Apple kit the Pencil is among the costliest options in its field. It isn't bundled with the tablet and will cost you a further £99. (Before those Brexit price rises the Apple Pencil cost £79, by the way. If you'd like to read about Apple's next version of its stylus, read our Apple Pencil 2 rumour roundup.)

iPad Pro 9.7in review: Apple Pencil

The Smart Keyboard too has a separate review on this site and in general we view it as a solid accessory, albeit one that represents a compromise compared to conventional keyboards.

Read more: Smart Keyboard for 9.7-inch iPad Pro review | Smart Keyboard for 12.9-inch iPad Pro review

The 12.9 version of the Smart Keyboard is essentially full-size. For reasons of weight and slimness, the keys have a shallower action than those on a standalone keyboard for a desktop Mac - instead of a pleasing butterfly or scissor mechanism, the keys are kept in position by the tension in their covering fabric - and this makes them less satisfying to use. (It's useful for stopping crumbs getting into annoying places, though, that fabric.)

But the familiar layout and size of the keys (if not shape - they're more rounded than you'll be used to) makes it surprisingly accurate. Not as accurate as a conventional keyboard, but accurate enough once you get used to it.

iPad Pro 9.7in review: Smart Keyboard

The 9.7in Smart Keyboard is a different matter. Its keys still feel a bit cheap, as a result of the shallow, weightless action, but because of their size (fractionally smaller than the pad at the end of my fingers, whereas the 12.9's keys are slightly larger, which feels like a significant difference) they're pretty hard to use accurately too: switching from the 12.9's keyboard, or certainly from a conventional keyboard, is painful. It looks and to an extent feels like a toy.

As with the 12.9, however, practice will be rewarded, and this certainly isn't a disaster: indeed, for a keyboard of its size it's pretty usable. But of the many aspects of the Pro 9.7's quest to be taken seriously as a work tool, its keyboard is the most glaring weakness.

(An extremely small side complaint: the lower weight of the 9.7in keyboard accessory means it doesn't sit completely flat on the table - the front often lifts up slightly as the tablet pulls down on the back of the setup. We've tried two separate review samples here and both suffered from this - very minor - issue. Yet Apple assures us this is not a widespread problem.)

iPad Pro 9.7in review: Smart Keyboard

The 9.7in Smart Keyboard lifting up at the front (left), and the 12.9in equivalent lying nice and flat (right)

This won't be the only keyboard for the Pro 9.7, of course. Many of Macworld's iPad Pro 12.9 owners prefer the Logitech Create Backlit Keyboard Case to Apple's offering, and we assume that a version of this for the Pro 9.7 will appear before long. But if you do give Apple's own iPad keyboard a go, prepare your wallet for a battering: the 9.7-inch version of the Smart Keyboard will set you back an eye-watering £129

Read next: Best iPad keyboards

Next page: The iPad Pro 9.7in's tech specs & UK pricing, and our definitive verdict >>

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