About four months ago Apple released the 2021 generation of its iPad Pro lineup. Its biggest highlight is the Apple M1 chipset and the 12.9-inch tablet has gotten a new XDR display. Apple also released a beta of iPadOS 15 recently which works with all current iPads. I’ve been using both the 11 and 12.9-inch iPad Pro extensively for the last four months. This is my review.
Hardware & Performance: Apple M1
Let’s start with the internal hardware and performance because that’s the biggest difference compared to last year.
Inside both iPad Pro’s sits the same Apple M1 chipset that also powers the newest MacBook Air and iMac. For the first time, Apple states the amount of RAM which is 8GB or 16GB. You can get it with 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB or 2TB of internal storage. Starting with the 1TB version, you get 16GB of RAM. 5G is an option too.
That Apple M1 chipset is crazy fast and beats the last generation and all current Android and Windows tablets by a huge margin. Especially its graphics performance is much better than its competition.
It’s not easy to measure and compare its real-life performance, though. In my Adobe Premiere Rush render test, it’s faster than all competitors but beats the previous iPad Pro by a small amount only. I guess that app is not optimized for the M1 chipset yet.
All demanding games I tried like PUBG Mobile, Call Of Duty, Need For Speed, and Genshin Impact perform very smoothly. Most games probably don’t make use of the M1’s potential yet. And I’m sure this iPad Pro will be able to handle all demanding games for years to come since it’s so much more powerful than its predecessors and iPhones.
I edited lots of photos in Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop. These two apps are the main reason why I love the iPad Pro lineup. I take lots of photos for work and fun and this is a fantastic platform for editing them.
Both apps perform very well and can handle large RAW files without any problems. But, to be honest, I didn’t notice any performance difference compared to last year’s tablets. Everything did run super smooth back then too.
I think that at least right now, most people won’t be able to bring the M1 chipset to its limits. Besides video editing, there’s almost no application that’s capable of doing so.
But what I certainly did notice is its large RAM. It seems like the tablet never closes an app in the background. Even when playing demanding games, you can go back right where you left the last time in Lightroom, Microsoft Office, Safari, and so on.
Display: 12.9-Inch XDR
Let’s get to their screens. You can get the 2021 generation iPad Pro with an 11-inch and a 12.9-inch display.
That 11-inch screen is the same LCD as last year. It’s the best standard LCD I reviewed, is very sharp with a resolution of 2388 x 1668 pixels, and with 600 nits, it’s brighter than almost all competitors. The screen is fully laminated, has coatings to prevent fingerprints, and just looks great. But since it’s an LCD, blacks don’t look as black as on an OLED.
With the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, that changes this year. No, Apple is not using an AMOLED screen like Samsung. Instead, they decided to go with a new technology called mini-LED. While they call the 11-inch one a Liquid Retina Display, the 12.9-inch one is called Liquid Retina XDR Display.
That XDR display has a resolution of 2732 x 2048 pixels, so it’s equally sharp as the smaller one. It’s fully laminated too, has wide viewing angles, and, well, with 12.9 inches it’s very big. Just like the smaller one, it supports up to 120Hz.
Especially when comparing it to a standard LCD directly, blacks of this XDR display do look much deeper, just like on an OLED. When using it as an office tablet, it’s not really noticeable. But you clearly can see a difference when watching a movie in a dark room.
The 12.9-inch iPad Pro supports HDR. For that, it has a maximum peak brightness of up to 1600 nits. And, yes, HDR content does look fantastic on this screen.
Now, as with most new technologies, there’s a problem with this XDR display which has gotten lots of attention already. Many users reported a kind of blooming effect that’s visible in some scenarios – when having white writing on a black background, for instance.
I’ve never noticed that during my normal use. However, when reconstructing these scenarios, the blooming is visible. You can see this blooming when setting the tablet to dark mode and writing in the notes app with a bright color, for instance.
When watching movies, it can be visible too. But for that to be the case, you’ve got to watch a movie in the dark with the screen set to maximum brightness. The screen is so bright, that it’s not comfortable to do so.
So, I think most would never notice this blooming. But it’s there and it could happen that you’ll notice it at some point.
Apple Pencil 2: Just Like Before
On both screens, you can use the same Apple Pencil 2 which they introduced a couple of generations ago. Unlike Samsung’s S Pen, you’ve got to charge it for it to work. That’s done magnetically using induction when placing the pen on the top of the iPad. I love this design.
This stylus supports 4096 levels of pressure sensitivity and is very precise. Since we’re getting 120Hz screens here, it looks like writing with the pen is instant, just like with a real pencil. That’s one of the advantages over the iPad 9 or iPad Air which both have 60Hz screens.
Apple is supporting the pen very well on the software side. The official Notes app is great, supports handwriting recognition, and with iPadOS 15, they introduced a new quick note feature that lets you start a new note while using any app.
I love the Scribble feature. With it, you can use handwriting inside every standard text field and handwriting recognition is fantastic.
Software: iPadOS 15
Together with the iPad Mini, Apple released iPadOS 15 that has been available as a beta for a while already. I tested that beta on the iPad Pro. The newest version of iPadOS brings a couple of nice features to all iPads.
I think the most noticeable are the widgets that you can place everywhere on the home screen now. Yes, Android has supported this since forever and now you can do that on iPads too.
Another feature that Android always had is the App Library that Apple just introduced. Here you can see all apps that you’ve installed. And that means you don’t have to have every app on the Home Screen now.
Multitasking has been improved. On the top of almost every app, there’s a new multitasking button consisting of three dots. Once you tap them, you can choose to open the app in a split-screen view or as a Slide Over.
In some apps like Apple Notes, you can also open a new window in the middle when using the split-screen view. I love that.
Another new multitasking feature is that you can see instances of an app on a new shelf at the bottom now. That works with Safari, for example. Here you can quickly switch between the instances.
Safari has been improved too. The tabs at the top have a new layout and you can sort tabs in tab groups now.
I mentioned the new Quick Note feature already. Inside every app, you can quickly start a new note by swiping with the Pencil from the bottom left corner. You can also easily add things to the note – markings in Safari, for instance.
Design & Built Quality
The basic design has not changed at all. Both iPad Pro’s offer a modern design and a very premium-feeling built quality. We get full metal bodies and slim screen bezels. The 11-inch iPad Pro continues to be just 5.9mm thin but the 12.9-inch one did get a bit thicker at 6.4mm. It’s hard to feel that difference, of course.
On its sides, we get four speakers each and the sound quality continues to be fantastic. These are among the best entertainment tablets you can buy.
Sadly, there’s no headphone jack anymore and as usual, you can’t expand the storage using a microSD either.
On a positive note, I love that Apple is using a USB C port on the iPad Pro because that means you can connect almost every accessory that works with a standard laptop. That includes external SSDs and complex USB C hubs. In fact, this year, Apple even supports Thunderbolt.
In the past, Apple has been terrible with file management and accessories. But with iPadOS, the files app, and the USB C port, I think the experience is better than on Android now.
There is no fingerprint sensor but you can unlock the tablet using facial recognition. It’s called Face ID and works very well even in a dark room.
A new feature is the front-facing camera. It’s still placed on the side when holding it in landscape orientation which is not ideal for video chats. But it’s a 12-megapixel ultra-wide-angle camera now – which is crazy wide. And for video chats, Apple has a new feature called Center Stage. Here, the camera is zoomed in a bit and follows you around. Very nice.
The camera module on the back hasn’t changed. We get the same 12-megapixel main camera with a 10-megapixel ultra-wide shooter, a LED flash, and the LiDAR sensor.
Apple Magic Keyboard & Cover
For both iPad Pro variants, Apple is selling two different kinds of keyboards. There’s a keyboard built into a cover which is called Smart Keyboard Folio. Then there’s the Apple Magic Keyboard which is more of a keyboard dock. I tested both.
The Smart Keyboard Folio is the best choice if you want to work with your tablet occasionally only. It’s a slim cover that protects the front and back of the tablet and is connected magnetically. I like that it is very light and you can use it as a stand at two angles.
Here, the keyboard works fine but is not perfect. It’s built into the inside of the cover and the keys have a very short travel. That’s totally fine if you want to answer some emails or want to type out some text for a presentation or so. And in the past, I did get some serious work done with it too. But it’s not the most comfortable keyboard for that and it has no touchpad. The main selling point here is that it’s slim and light.
Not as slim and certainly much heavier is the Apple Magic Keyboard. I would describe it more as a serious keyboard dock. And again, a heavy one at around 600 to 700 grams which means that even the 11-inch one weighs more than 1kg with this keyboard. So, in this case, you’re not saving any weight compared to a light laptop.
With that being said, I love working with the Magic Keyboard. The design is very elegant. It’s attached magnetically too and it looks like the iPad Pro is floating when using it. You can adjust the angle a bit but not too much. Folded up, the back and front of the tablet are protected here as well.
The keys do have a proper travel here. Especially with the 12.9-inch one, it feels like working with a good laptop keyboard. The keys are spaced far enough from each other, the travel is great, and everything feels comfortable. Below the keyboard is a touchpad which on the 11-inch one is a bit small but works fantastic. iPadOS supports both a keyboard including shortcuts and a touchpad including multitouch gestures very well now.
Another feature is a built-in USB C port which you can use to charge the tablet. That means that the USB C port of the iPad Pro is free to be used with other accessories when using this keyboard dock.
So, the Apple Magic Keyboard is a great choice if you often want to get some serious work done with your iPad Pro. With it, I think it really can be used as a great laptop alternative for many. The tradeoff is that it’s heavy and expensive.
Obviously, you can use tons of third-party keyboards too.
In my standard battery test, both the 11-inch and 12.9-inch iPad Pro got a runtime of 6 hours. Apple did enlarge the battery of the larger one a bit and the battery life did improve compared to its predecessor indeed. For this test, I’m always looping an HD video on YouTube at maximum brightness.
I should note that this test is not totally fair because these iPads are much brighter than most tablets and I run these tests at maximum brightness. So, if you turn down the screen a bit, both will last longer.
Apple iPad Pro M1 Review: Final Verdict
So, should you get the 2021 generation of the Apple iPad Pro? Yes. Like last year, I think that the iPad Pro is the best pure tablet you can buy. Due to the Apple M1 processor, it’s much, much faster than all competitors. Both screens and especially the new XDR display are fantastic and iPadOS gets better and better with every version. The software is a great reason to get an iPad because developers continue to build better and more tablet-optimized apps for iPadOS. You can’t get a real Photoshop for Android, for instance.
Not everything is perfect, of course. This blooming effect on the 12.9-inch screen is a real issue. I don’t think you’ll notice it much, but it does exist. But I think the biggest downside is the price. Both iPad Pro’s are very expensive, especially with the accessories, and unless you use it as a work device, it’s probably not worth it for you to spend that much on a tablet. But I do think it is the best of the best.
Let’s check out the alternatives.
If you want a great iPad but don’t need the crazy fast Apple M1 processor or a 120Hz screen, you should check out the Apple iPad Air. Some of the premium features are missing but it has a great 10.9-inch screen and it too is faster than all Android tablets. The same Apple Pencil 2 and even the Apple Magic Keyboard are both supported. There’s no 12-inch version, however, so if you want a large iPad, the Pro is the only choice.
The best alternatives running Android are the Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 and Galaxy Tab S7+. They are the fastest Android tablets you can buy, the screens support 120Hz as well, and the fantastic S Pen stylus is included. Here you do get all the premium features you can think of and you can get two kinds of great keyboards too. The Galaxy Tab S7+ has a fantastic 12.4-inch AMOLED screen. Usually, and especially when factoring in the pens, both Samsung tablets are quite a bit cheaper than the iPad Pro.
- Very powerful
- Great XDR screen
- Premium design
- Up-to-date software
- Good keyboard options
- Apple Pencil 2
- Four great speakers
- Blooming effect
- Very pricey
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