Ed Baig checks out the new 9.7-inch iPad Pro, with a screen size similar to the original iPad. The prices, however, can quickly get into laptop territory.

NEW YORK — Given slumping iPad sales, Apple has a strategic incentive to persuade you its tablets make viable PC alternatives, particularly the newer iPad Pros. Do they measure up?

On Thursday, Apple’s latest iPad Pro, the smaller version announced last week, hits stores. It has the same 9.7-inch screen size as the original iPad and at $599 commands a $200 premium over the other standard size tablet still in the Apple portfolio, the iPad Air 2. It’s cheaper than the bigger iPad Pro released last fall, which started at $799.

Yet the smaller iPad Pro is still costly when used as a work machine: if you lump in the price of an accessory Smart Keyboard and Apple Pencil digital stylus , the total comes to $847. And it’s near $1500 with those accessories plus added storage and cellular.

Apple’s pitch to buyers is this is a machine you can employ for work purposes. Microsoft Office is available as are other productivity-oriented apps.  And of course you can also use it like any other iPad to browse the Web and pictures, watch movies, read books and so on. (Apple also made a pitch to Major League Baseball: All 32 teams will have access to the larger iPad Pro this season).

Along those lines, the multi-touch Retina display is beautiful, and backed by what Apple refers to as True Tone technology, essentially ambient light sensors that adapt to your viewing environment.

The machine has a zippy Apple-engineered A9X processor, and top notch cameras, including a rear 12-megapixel iSight camera that can shoot 4K video and take so-called Live Photos in which a snippet of video is captured before and after a still image. The four-speaker audio sounds terrific, the Wi-Fi fast. There are more than 1 million available iPad apps.

I didn’t run a formal battery test, but Apple claims up to about 10 hours of battery life. In other words, Apple has packed a lot oomph into a slim sub 1-pound design slate that’s available in silver, gold, space gray or rose gold.

Nice as this is, for many of you the decision to buy a downsized Pro boils down to a basic question: would you choose it over a laptop computer, or even rival tablet/computer crossovers such as Microsoft’s Surface line? That’s a harder call and not one I’m convinced I’d make.

In pretty short order you’re talking about the amount of loot you’d spend on a very nice capable laptop. The entry level smaller iPad Pro comes with 32 gigabytes of storage (versus 16GB for the entry iPad Air 2) but if you spring for the the top of the line 9-7-inch model with 256GB and cellular connectivity to complement Wi-Fi, you’re at  $1229. And you’re at $1477 factoring in the keyboard cover and Pencil. That’s a heftier sum than the $1299 starting price of Apple’s own MacBook Pro laptop with a 13-inch Retina display and 128 GB of storage and just below the $1499 MacBook Pro price with 256 GB.  It’s also just below the entry price for Microsoft’s Surface Book laptop/slate hybrid. Another comparison: Apple’s 11-inch MacBook Air laptop with 256GB of storage fetches $1199. 

The Macs of course run OS X El Capitan; the iPads, iOS 9. Despite some overlap these are distinct operating systems.

And if you’re indeed looking to the 9.7-inch iPad Pro as a potential laptop replacement you’re almost certainly going to have to spend $149 for the fold away Smart Keyboard cover, which like a version for the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, magnetically attaches to to the tablet via what Apple calls a “smart connector.” It just works too, without batteries or switches or the need to pair it.

Moreover, if you frequently draw or sketch as an architect, designer, or artist, or merely jot a lot of handwritten notes as a student, you’ll also want the precise, lag-free Apple Pencil, a $99 add-on.

I’m not one of those folks—I was never good at Pictionary—but I do type for a living. I wrote this column in Microsoft Word typing on the keyboard cover. As with any new keyboard there’s a getting-to-know-you phase after which I got comfortable. I didn’t fall in love though, as with the keyboard on my MacBook Air, or any number of fine Windows keyboards I’ve typed on

Keys for things like Caps Lock, Shift and Tab are too petite, and a few times I inadvertently typed capital letters when I didn’t mean to.  You can also only prop up the iPad Pro when connected to the keyboard at a single angle.

You can press a key on the Smart Keyboard to summon an onscreen emoji touch keyboard and the iPad being an iPad, you get the benefit of a terrific multitouch experience. Not so terrific however to compensate for the absence of a mouse and trackpad—other staples of a PC computing experience.

As with the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, you can exploit the split view iOS 9 features (displaying two open apps at the same time) and slide over feature (opening a second app without closing the first) but these lose some impact on the smaller display.

The latest iPad Pro is the best standard size iPad Apple has ever produced. That’s high praise. But it’s expensive and the way that I work anyway, I’m sticking with a laptop.

Email: ebaig@usatoday.com; Follow USA TODAY Personal Tech Columnist @edbaig on Twitter

The bottom line

iPad Pro 9.7-inches

$599 on up; www.apple.com

Pro. Thin and light design. Fast. Powerful specs. Beautiful screen. Top notch tablet.

Con. Expensive, especially when you add price of keyboard and Pencil accessories.