by Jim Lynch

iPad Pro: 12.9-inch or 9.7-inch for writing?

May 27, 2016

The 12.9-inch iPad Pro’s larger on-screen keyboard lets you type faster and more accurately than the one on the smaller 9.7-inch iPad Pro.

When Apple released the 9.7-inch iPad Pro many users were uncertain if they should buy it or the larger 12.9-inch iPad Pro. While there are many things to consider when choosing the right size iPad Pro, here’s one that you may want to consider: typing on the 12.9-inch iPad Pro’s on-screen keyboard is easier and faster.

The larger iPad Pro offers a full sized keyboard that matches the key location and size of a physical keyboard, while the smaller iPad Pro does not. This is an important distinction for anyone who plans on writing a lot on their iPad Pro’s on-screen keyboard.

Jason Snell at Six Colors has an excellent comparison between the 12.9-inch iPad Pro software keyboard and the one that comes with the 9.7-inch iPad Pro:

The display on 9.7-inch models only have 7.8 inches of width to work with, and as a result, the keys are slightly smaller and crammed more closely together. More importantly, there’s very little room left over for modifier keys, forcing the layout into three layers (regular text input, a number-and-symbol keyboard, and another keyboard for less common symbols).

The 12.9-inch keyboard offers tab and caps lock keys and a wide shift key, plus six additional symbol keys on the main key layout. And, most importantly, the big keyboard provides an entire extra row of 14 keys at the top of the screen, including numbers, more symbols, and the ability to generate 14 more symbols by holding down the shift key.

To quantify this experience, I decided to take a typing test with TapTyping, an app recommended by Fraser Speirs on the typing episode of the Canvas podcast. I took the test, which involves three different sessions of typing a few random sentences, on both iPad Pro models, using their software keyboards as well as their Smart Keyboards.

The results were pretty much as I expected. I was slowest on the 9.7-inch iPad’s software keyboard, at 80 words per minute. The 9.7-inch Smart Keyboard didn’t fare as well as I thought—once I was forced away from the letter keys for punctuation I lost track of the geography of the keyboard and made a bunch of mistakes. The software keyboard on the 12.9-inch iPad Pro clocked in at 96 words per minute, and I once would never have believed that I could type nearly 100 words per minute on a software keyboard.

More at Six Colors

Typing on a 9.7-inch iPad screen slowed me down too

When I read Jason’s article, I found myself nodding in agreement with him. I’ve experienced a very similar difference in typing on iPads with a 9.7-inch screen. Before I bought my iPad Pro, I had an iPad Air 2, and I found that iPad’s on-screen keyboard to be significantly more difficult to type on in terms of my typing speed.

Don’t get me wrong here, it is possible to write using the on-screen keyboard on a 9.7-inch iPad, but it is more challenging and I found that my typing speed was definitely adversely affected by the size of the smaller iPad’s software keyboard.

At one point, when I owned the smaller iPad, I opted to buy a Logitech bluetooth keyboard. The bluetooth keyboard increased my typing speed back to normal, but it came at a cost: it increased the weight and size of my iPad Air 2 significantly.

But with the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, I have not bothered to buy a bluetooth keyboard. I don’t think the additional weight and size would be worth the increase in typing speed. I can use my iPad Pro as it is without the need for a bluetooth keyboard or even Apple’s Smart Keyboard.

The trade-off: Portability or a larger keyboard?

If you’re trying to decide between the 12.9-inch iPad Pro and the 9.7-inch model, you really have to figure out which you value more: portability or a larger on-screen keyboard.

The 9.7-inch iPad Pro is significantly smaller and lighter than its larger sibling. It’s easier to carry and it won’t take up as much space in a bag or suitcase. But the price you pay for portability is a smaller on-screen keyboard that might be less comfortable and productive to type on.

The 12.9-inch iPad Pro, on the other hand, gives you the larger keyboard but it weighs about half a pound more than the smaller iPad Pro, and it’s a bit more of a handful to carry around with you when travelling.

Ultimately, it’s a trade-off that you have to face when you make your final buying decision. Each of us has different needs and priorities so there’s no “one size fits all” answer when it comes to buying the smaller or larger iPad Pro.

I prefer the 12.9-inch iPad Pro for writing

I bought my 12.9-inch iPad Pro before the smaller one became available. But if I had to make my purchasing decision again, I’d buy the larger iPad Pro all over again.

For me the advantage of the larger on-screen keyboard far outweighs the extra weight and size of the 12.9-inch iPad Pro. But that’s because I do a lot of writing, so I have to go with the iPad that makes me the most productive when I’m on the go.

Your mileage may vary, of course, and if you don’t do a lot of writing with your iPad Pro’s on-screen keyboard then the 9.7-inch might work very well for you.

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