Update: Apple's iPad Pro 9.7 gets upgraded to iOS 10 in September. Here's our updated review, with new details about the public beta software.
The iPad Pro is ambitiously touted as Apple's new tablet that has the guts to replace your laptop, and it now comes in an ideal size that perfectly demonstrates bigger isn't always better for everyone.
Even though I was thoroughly impressed with the grunt behind the powerful iPad Pro 12.9, I longed for that standard 9.7-inch display and form factor with the same pro-level features.
It's taken Apple a year and a half to launch a proper iPad Air 2 successor and, in that time, it fit almost everything from the giant iPad into a smaller frame. It's way more than an iPad Air 3 upgrade.
I can now listen to amped up music through its four loud stereo speakers, doodle away with the Apple Pencil and seamlessly attach a keyboard without fumbling with Bluetooth. Its Smart Connector port may be my favorite new feature inherited from the 12.9-inch iPad Pro.
It's not all hand-me-downs. The iPad Pro 9.7 actually strikes out on its own with a few advancements. Its True Tone display technology adapts to my environment by subtly adjusting the white balance, and there's a much wider color gamut behind its anti-reflective coated glass.
Its camera is 12MP and shoots 4K video, taking cues from the iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Plus camera specs. That's incredibly rare for a tablet of any size. So is the rose gold color option and debut of a 256GB configuration.
What we have ended up with is a tablet juggernaut - but without looking like a juggernaut. On the other hand it also has a serious asking price to match its power, and several easy-to-spot software limitations, even with the iOS 10 release date around the corner.
The iPad Air 9.7 costs $599 (£499, AU$899), higher than the iPad Air 2 launch price of $499, (£399, $699) and even higher than the current iPad Air 2 price of $399 (£349, AU$599). That price is likely to remain in effect until the next iPad launch, with temporary price drops during Black Friday and Cyber Monday in 2016.
Is there enough here for Apple to retain its best tablet status? Let's explore the current iPad that wants to be your laptop-replacement of the future.
Be sure to watch our video review of the iPad Pro 9.7
From across the room, I couldn't tell the difference between this iPad Pro 9.7 and my iPad Air 2 when I was charging both during my battery life tests. They're nearly identical on the outside, and that's a good thing.
The new iPad Pro has the same sub-pencil-thin dimensions of 240 x 168 x 6.1mm, making it a natural fit for two hands and easy to stow in a backpack. Surprisingly, its weight matches, too, despite the specs upgrade: 437g for Wi-Fi and 444g for Wi-Fi + Cellular again. The new "Pro" label doesn't mean bigger, it just means bolder.
You get the same polished aluminum frame, fast Touch ID fingerprint scanning home button and a 9.7-inch Retina display. The lightning port hasn't moved from the bottom, the headphone jack and sleep/wake button are still on the top, and the volume rocker remains on the right side.
In fact, the only surefire way to tell the difference from afar is to opt for the new finish. There are now four colors instead of three: Silver, Gold, Space Gray and the iPad 9.7-exclusive Rose Gold. This isn't the only way the tablet matches the iPhone 6S and iPhone 6S Plus, though.
There's a slight camera bump on the back that no one likes, but it's a fair trade off. It makes way for a 12MP rear-facing iSight camera, just like its smartphone counterpart, and now there's a True Tone LED flash. Yes, that's right, your tablet camera is as every bit as good as your phone camera. Still, please don't awkwardly take photos with it in public.
Of course, upon even closer inspection, you'll see two more changes from the iPad Air 2 by way of new speakers at the top and bottom and a Smart Connector port on the left side. They're flush with the aluminum frame and almost hidden, but make no mistake, they've have acted as game changers for the iPad Pro series design.
Four speakers, two at the top and two at the bottom, give the new iPad Pro 9.7 a proper stereo setup, and they're loud enough to drown out the bottom-firing, twin-speakers of the iPad Air 2 at full volume. Best of all, they're not blasting music and Netflix movie dialogue out just one side.
I no longer felt the need to cup my hand around the speaker to get a decent volume for myself without bothering other people around me by cranking it up all of the way. Turning the tablet in landscape mode to watch a movie, I found everything sounded natural. Part of that balance is due to the fact that the upper top speakers always handle mid and high frequencies and they'll change depending on how you hold the iPad Pro, rotating the sound as the screen orientation does.
Apple smartly refined the iPad Pro 9.7 design, and that's not the only clever way it changed up its traditional tablet look and feel in its push to the professional leagues.