Apple iPad Pro (12.9-Inch, 2021) Review

The new iPad Pro is far superior to the operating system it runs on. This $1,099 12.9-inch tablet is an astonishing hardware tour de force, with power to match the latest Apple laptops, the best screen we’ve ever seen on a slate, and networking options to rival the latest MacBooks. However, iPadOS is unable to take advantage of the increased processing power, thus the $599-and-up iPad Air remains our Editors’ Choice for Apple tablets.

Apple iPad Pro (12.9-Inch, 2021) Review

2021 Apple 11-inch iPad Pro

PROS
Mini LED screen with desktop-level CPU
Excellent audio and video.
Outstanding 5G performance
 
CONS 
There is no true multi-monitor support.
Multitasking is difficult on iPadOS.
The platform is lacking certain key apps.

APPLE IPAD PRO (12.9-INCH, 2021) SPECS

Operating SystemApple iPadOS
Dimensions11.04 by 8.46 by .25 inches
Weight1.5 lbs
Screen Size12.9 inches
Screen Resolution2,732 by 2,048 pixels
CPUApple M1
Storage Capacity128 GB
Battery Life5 hours 28 minutes

At Laptop Prices, a Tablet With Laptop Power

The new iPad Pro comes in two variants. The 11-inch model costs $799, while the 12.9-inch version costs $1,099. The bigger model, which is the only one with the new XDR Mini LED display, is up for review. Both are available in gray or silver. The 12.9-inch model has dimensions of 11.04 by 8.46 by 0.25 inches (HWD), and it weighs only 1.5 pounds, despite its speed and power.

You’re not going to get this tablet for $1,099, though. That price is for a 128GB model, and after a year or so, you’ll probably fill it up with massive media files. Although the Pro can use external storage, external drives are seen as second-class citizens in iPadOS, and some programs cannot access them directly, so you’ll want to use the internal storage. 256GB (an extra $100), 512GB (an extra $300), 1TB (an extra $700), and 2TB (an extra $1,100; altogether twice the entry-level price).

But hold on, there are more options. A 5G modem will set you back an additional $200, without adding the cost of a prepaid eSIM or a monthly subscription package. Apple Pencil costs $129. A nice keyboard case from Apple or a respectable third party like Logitech can set you back $200 or more; Apple supplied us a Magic Keyboard with trackpad for $349 with our test unit. Some accessories from previous iPad Airs and iPad Pros, such as last year’s Magic Keyboard With Trackpad and second-generation Pencils (first-generation ones aren’t compatible with the iPad Pro), can be reused, but it’s still possible to walk into an Apple Store intending to buy an iPad Pro and walk out $2,000+ lighter.

That alters everything about what the iPad Pro is and who it’s for. A $2,000 computer should be capable of serving as your primary computer, and it should be capable of more than a $1,000 laptop or desktop. Although the M1 chip in this iteration of iPad Pro has that capability, iPadOS does not make use of it.

A New Perspective

The 12.9-inch (and only the 12.9-inch) iPad Pro‘s XDR display is incredible. This panel contains 10,000 small LED backlights separated into 2,500 “local dimming zones,” rather than a handful of backlights like typical LCDs or self-illuminating pixels like OLEDs. Images are richer and more realistic than on my Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon laptop or on cheaper iPads.

LCDs are getting closer to the absolute blacks we’ve come to expect from OLEDs thanks to mini LED displays. You can definitely perceive the difference when watching streaming HDR video at the greatest available bitrate (that is, on a decent internet connection). Details in shadow areas are more visible, and muddiness is reduced.

The sumptuous media experience is completed by high-quality audio. However, I’m disappointed that the iPad Pro lacks a 3.5mm headphone connector. The quad speakers, on the other hand, produce the finest sound I’ve ever heard from a tablet. (The iPad Air comes in second.) When I listened to the Killers’ “All The Things That I’ve Done” on YouTube, for example, I heard everything from the high-hats to the organ overtones; when I listen to the song on cheap tablets or my laptop, many of those sounds are missing.

Other characteristics of the 2,732-by-2,048-pixel display include the 120Hz ProMotion refresh rate, which we’ve seen earlier on iPad Pro screens. Although 120Hz is increasingly widespread on Samsung and OnePlus phones, Apple reserves it for the iPad Pro. The Pencil is more responsive because to the faster frame rate, and scrolling is quite smooth.

Both the 11-inch and 12.9-inch iPad Pro versions, according to Apple, have 1.8 percent reflectivity, which is incredibly low. I saw reflections in the display while using the iPad Pro outside on a sunny day. But it’s still useable, and all I had to do was put it in the shadow to nearly completely eliminate reflections.

The sky’s the limit when it comes to connectivity.

The 12.9-inch iPad Pro cellular model includes Qualcomm’s X55 modem, which is also found in the iPhone 12 series. There are three regional models, each of which includes every 4G LTE frequency and sub-6GHz 5G band utilized in the United States, as well as the future C-band. The version sold in the United States has an eSIM and millimeter-wave 5G. The Model A2461 has an eSIM but no mmWave; it will most likely be sold in Canada and other countries where mmWave networks are not available. Model A2462 has a hardware SIM and does not support mmWave; it will most likely be released in China.

The eSIM interface on the iPad makes it simple to add ad-hoc service plans from various carriers, even on the fly. AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, and three multi-country roaming specialists, GigSky, RedteaGO, and Truphone, are your options in the United States. Verizon does not make it simple to add prepaid plans; instead, you must register an account and add a line the old-fashioned way. However, you can get 25GB with AT&T for $35 and then switch to 30GB with T-Mobile for $40 with relative ease.

You might choose to use your phone as a hotspot instead, given the $200 cost of adding a cellular modem to the tablet and the cost of data. However, having 5G built in makes connecting a breeze, as there’s no need to search for networks or make sure your phone is charged—the tablet is always connected to the internet.

Apple iPad Pro (12.9-Inch, 2021) Review

Another advantage of built-in 5G is that it can be faster than Wi-Fi or a tethered Wi-Fi connection. Hotspots typically offer rates of roughly 600Mbps, but if you use Verizon’s ultra-fast millimeter-wave 5G infrastructure, you may expect even faster speeds.

I placed the iPad Pro in a Verizon mmWave coverage region, and Ookla Speedtest revealed a raw network speed of over 2Gbps. However, the services you use may still limit your internet speeds over 5G on any device. Because of the interconnections and internet paths along the way, I didn’t notice real speeds much higher than 500Mbps when downloading multi-gigabyte files from multiple cloud services. So don’t allow the hype that “5G is faster than Wi-Fi!” impact your purchase decision.

The iPad Pro has incredible reception. Big antennas equal big chassis, and big antennas equal robust connections. On Verizon’s UWB 5G, the iPad Pro had greater mmWave reception and speeds than a Samsung Galaxy S21 with a newer X60 modem. There’s Wi-Fi 6 (but not Wi-Fi 6E) with good performance, as well as Bluetooth 5.0 for wireless connectivity. I made many Zoom calls on the iPad’s Bluetooth connection using OnePlus headphones and had no slowdown. Only a Thunderbolt 4 USB-C port is available.

Cameras and LiDAR are ideal for augmented reality.

A 12-megapixel, f/1.8 main camera and a 10-megapixel, f/2.4 125-degree wide-angle camera are on the rear of the iPad Pro, coupled with a LiDAR depth sensor that dramatically speeds up augmented reality (AR) and 3D picture capture. There’s a 12MP, 122-degree wide-angle camera on the front, up from 7MP on last year’s versions. The main cameras record 4K video at 60 frames per second, while the front camera records 1080p video at 60 frames per second.

This is as good as a tablet camera gets, and it’s nearly up to contemporary iPhone standards, save for one major flaw: the iPhone’s aggressive and capable Night mode. Low-light images shot on the iPad Pro are lacking in resolution, and they lack the revelatory effect seen on the latest iPhones, when night appears to be day. With superior illumination, the Smart HDR 3 algorithm excels at capturing blue skies and rich skin tones in outdoor settings, never blowing anything out.

Although a 12.9-inch tablet is cumbersome for photography, the combination of superb cameras, LiDAR, and a powerful processor makes it ideal for large-scale augmented reality. CamToPlan, a home-measurement program that combines a photo of the real with virtual objects, works well even in congested rooms with complex textures and limited floor space.

For video calling, the front-facing camera outperforms most tablets and laptops. The 122-degree wide-angle lens enables Center Stage, a new function that allows the camera to follow you around the room if you move around during a video conversation. Although it’s still rather simple to glide out of picture, the function is useful.

There is one caveat with the front-facing camera: I, like most people who use sketching programs and anyone who uses a keyboard dock, prefer to use my tablet in landscape mode. However, the front-facing camera is set up for portrait mode; in landscape mode, it’s all the way to the left, resulting in strange video call angles. Face ID would occasionally fail while I was holding the tablet throughout the testing session because my thumb was obscuring the camera.

No Other Tablet Has This Much Power

The 12.9-inch iPad Pro, with Apple’s M1 processor, is far more powerful than any prior iPad and performs nearly identically to Apple’s M1 Macs in benchmark tests. Take a peek at the graph below to see how much the Geekbench 5 benchmark has improved. The GPU on the M1 is just as powerful as the CPU, as evidenced by the GFXBench results.

On the cross-platform Basemark Web 3.0 browser benchmarks, however, the iPad Pro falls far short of the M1 Macs. iPadOS and iPad apps are unsure what to do with all of this capability.

Finding an iPad app that emphasizes the M1 is hilariously difficult. Video editing isn’t going to cut it. For example, downscaling a 10-minute video from 4K to 720P on the 2021 iPad Pro is just as quick as it is on the 2018 and 2020 models. (They’re all approximately 14% faster than the $329 8th-generation iPad.)

Apple iPad Pro (12.9-Inch, 2021) Review

The iPad Pro handled even the most processor-intensive mobile game, Genshin Impact, with ease. There is no game that even the 2020 iPad Air or 2020 iPad Pro can handle. My daughter has a 2018 iPad Pro and is one of those Photoshop artists that works with 120 layers. The 2021 iPad Pro, unsurprisingly, accomplishes all of these things with ease.

The genre of LiDAR 3D room-scanning apps is the closest I’ve come to an app that starts to harness the new iPad Pro’s capabilities. These apps allow you to create stunningly realistic 3D models of the insides of entire homes on LiDAR-equipped iPads from 2020 and 2021, which you may use for home improvement planning, selling a house, or producing art. The M1 chip helps the 2021 iPad Pro locate surfaces and model objects rapidly, which is important for 3D modeling.

Within a few months, we may see more app developers taking advantage of the M1’s headroom. Zoom already possesses: On a 12.9-inch M1 iPad, you can see 48 people in Zoom’s Gallery View, compared to 25 on any other iPad model.

The storage variants with 128GB, 256GB, and 512GB come with 8GB of RAM, while the 1TB and 2TB ones have 16GB. That’s exactly the same as an M1 Mac.

The iPad Pro‘s battery life sits between the iPad Air’s (4 hours, 45 minutes) and the 2020 iPad Pro’s (5 hours, 28 minutes) (6 hours, 16 minutes). The tablet lasted between 5 and 6 hours when used for normal chores with some 5G usage. With a USB-C adaptor, the iPad Pro can be charged at up to 20W, but it does not allow wireless charging.

One Step Forward in iPadOS 15 (When You Need Two)

I used iPadOS 14.6 to test the iPad Pro. The impending iPadOS 15 makes an attempt to loosen some of the iPad’s constraints. However, it appears that Apple’s hardware and software teams have yet to communicate with one another: The hardware has progressed, but the operating system has not.

The new multitasking menu in iPadOS 15 makes the tablet’s split-window interface more evident; previously, creating two windows on an iPad required a series of completely unintuitive actions. Safari now has synchronized tab collections in the new OS. On the home screen, you can blend apps and widgets for a better rapid view of your work.

Video calls are opulent. The camera is significantly crisper than any laptop’s, and the Center Stage feature is a nice touch, albeit it didn’t have enough range to follow me as I ducked and weaved. I can take notes in a side window while on the phone. This iPad Pro is as good as the iPad Pro has always been for pure writing and drawing, which is unparalleled. There are a ton of painting apps to choose from, and the Pencil is both comfy and responsive.

However, after spending many days working only on the iPad Pro, I discovered that it suffers from a common iPad flaw: you can only accomplish one or two things at a time. Let’s imagine you need to edit a video while also checking Slack, looking for the spelling of a name for subtitles, and checking the video notes in OneNote. Alternatively, you may need to combine elements from two emails and a slew of Facebook messages into a spreadsheet, which you’d like to keep open while pasting into PowerPoint. There is an iPad process that allows you to perform these things, but it requires a lot of back-and-forth app switching and is far more cumbersome than on MacOS or Windows. (And don’t get me started on file transfers across apps, which are now available but sometimes more complicated than they need to be.)

People have claimed that the iPad is a “true computer” since it can code. When I code, though, I use various Notepad++ pages, several StackExchange tabs, and the appropriate IDE. On an iPad, I can’t do it. iPadOS makes having a cluttered mind excessively difficult.

Apple iPad Pro (12.9-Inch, 2021) Review

True external display support is the top feature driving media pros up the wall, and it’s tied to iPadOS’s continuing refusal to acknowledge that we want multiple windows. When you connect a USB-C display to the iPad Pro, you can mirror rather than extend the display. If you’re giving a presentation, this is good, but it doesn’t give you any additional working space. Extending the display would almost certainly necessitate a more flexible multi-window solution than the iPadOS designers are ready to provide.

Furthermore, the iPad platform currently lacks some professional apps and functionality. Although an iPad version of Photoshop exists, it lacks feature parity with the Mac version. It’s not Xcode; it’s baby Xcode in the new Swift Playgrounds for programming. Everyone I speak with wants to use Final Cut Pro. Personally, I’d want to see Tableau Desktop and a desktop-friendly version of Microsoft Excel. The iPad interface, which now supports full mouse and keyboard compatibility, and the CPU aren’t holding any of these back. Only the operating system stands in the way.

The Universal Control feature in iPadOS 15 and Mac OS Monterey allows you to use one keyboard and mouse to control your Mac and iPad as two independent devices, each with its own OS and apps. (You could use an iPad as a Mac display using the older Sidecar capability.) Universal Control demonstrates that Apple wants you to buy an iPad and a Mac and use different apps on both. To be sure, that’s a potent mix, but it also comes at a hefty price. If Apple is intentionally keeping iPadOS locked down so that you end up buying an iPad for artistic activities and a MacBook Air for anything that requires the M1’s power, that feels a little shady.

Compare Apple iPad products

11-inch iPad Pro10.2-inch iPadiPad Mini12.9-inch iPad ProiPad Air
Ratings4.8 out of 54.8 out of 54.8 out of 54.8 out of 54.8 out of 5
Display11 inch Liquid Retina display10.2 inch Retina display with True Tone8.3 inch Liquid Retina display12.9 inch Liquid Retina XDR display10.9 inch Retina display with True Tone
Secure authenticationTouchIDTouch IDFace IDTouch ID
ChipApple M1 8-core CPU chip with 8-core GPU and Neural EngineA13 Bionic chip with Neural EngineA15 Bionic chip with Neural EngineApple M1 8-core CPU chip with 8-core GPU and Neural EngineApple M1 8-core CPU chip with 8-core GPU and Neural Engine
Camera12MP photos8MP photos12MP photos12MP photos12MP photos
Video4K video recording1080p HD video recording4K video recording4K video recording4K video recording
Apple Pencil CompatibilityApple Pencil (2nd generation)Apple Pencil (1st generation)Apple Pencil (2nd generation)Apple Pencil (2nd generation)Apple Pencil (2nd generation)
Smart Keyboard CompatibilityCompatible with Smart Keyboard Folio, Magic Keyboard and Bluetooth keyboardsCompatible with Smart Keyboards and Bluetooth keyboardsCompatible with Smart Keyboard Folio, Magic Keyboard and Bluetooth keyboardsCompatible with Smart Keyboard Folio, Magic Keyboard and Bluetooth keyboardsCompatible with Smart Keyboard Folio and Magic Keyboard
ConnectorUSB-C connectorLightning connectorUSB-C connectorLightning connectorUSB-C connector

Too many tablets, not enough operating systems

The iPad Pro this year is a marvel. It’s beautifully designed, with a screen that rivals your laptop’s, a pro-level processor, and 5G speeds that are actually too fast for the cloud. It’s also hampered by an operating system that still adheres to a 2012-era concept of tablet computing. The result is a fantastic tablet that can’t quite justify its luxury laptop pricing since if you want to open more than three windows or use a second display, you’ll need a computer running a non-tablet OS.

The iPad Air, which costs $599, is where the iPad range currently excels. It uses the dependable second-generation Pencil and has a processor that can handle practically all iPad use cases, with the exception of 3D AR apps that require LiDAR. The Air will not disappoint you if you are an illustrator or other design professional.

Last year’s iPad Pro versions are still available for approximately $120 less than this one if you want ProMotion’s 120Hz responsiveness, LiDAR, or the massive screen.

Apple needs to free the iPad Pro to justify selling a high-priced tablet with the capabilities of a professional laptop. This doesn’t have to be as simple as “run Mac apps on the iPad,” but it should include correct processing of external monitors and switching between multiple windows while putting up material.

The tale of iPadOS 15 is still being written. When the OS officially launches this fall, it will have additional features than those announced recently. Hopefully, this will propel the iPad Pro to prominence, where it belongs.

Apple iPad Pro (12.9-Inch, 2021) Review

2021 Apple 11-inch iPad Pro

PROS
Mini LED screen with desktop-level CPU
Excellent audio and video.
Outstanding 5G performance
 
CONS 
There is no true multi-monitor support.
Multitasking is difficult on iPadOS.
The platform is lacking certain key apps.

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