The iPad Pro has always been ahead of the curve when it comes to hardware performance, and the new M1-based 11-inch iPad Pro pushes that even further, offering PC-like performance on a tablet. That said, it feels like the iPad is at a stage where Apple really needs to up its software game to match the hardware, and even the upcoming iPadOS 15 doesn’t really take advantage of the power available to it.
Along with the larger 12.9-inch iPad Pro, Apple has also updated the 11-inch iPad, bringing it in line with its larger sibling by incorporating most of that tablet’s features, but in a more manageable size.
However, the smaller iPad is missing the Liquid Retina XDR Mini LED display which, in our opinion, is the standout feature of this year’s top-end model.
That’s not to say the screen on the new 11-inch iPad Pro is bad – far from it. It’s the same stellar IPS panel found on the previous generation of iPads, with Pro Motion 120Hz display, and combined with Apple’s M1 chipset that’s new to the iPad, it makes apps fly.
The iPad has never felt slow but the specs on this latest generation give it plenty of future-proofing headroom for years to come. You can equip the new iPad Pro with 16GB of RAM and 2TB of storage –specs that match those of the highest-end M1 based MacBook Pro.
There’s also support for 5G connectivity, through a physical or eSIM, for accessing your data on the go, while the USB port has also been upgraded with Thunderbolt support.
Last, and certainly not least, is the new ultra-wide front-facing camera. It includes Apple’s new Center Stage feature, which tracks subjects or zooms into the scene based on what’s in the frame – the way it works is pure Apple magic.
The question that remains, however, is why has Apple endowed the iPad Pro range with what feels like a surfeit of power.
Apple will say that it’s in order to make to make the best iPad it can, but the restrictive iPadOS doesn’t really allow you to take full advantage of all the power that’s on tap – multi-tasking still isn’t very intuitive, external display support is weak, file management is still very basic, and options to expand the iPad’s functionality via accessories is still limited.
Editor’s note: this review is specifically for the iPad Pro 11-inch. Want to know about the 12.9-inch model? Read our
iPad Pro 12.9 (2021) review
iPad Pro 11-inch 2021 release date and price
The new iPad Pro is now available from Apple and other retailers in both 11-inch and 12.9-inch sizes. However, stocks are still limited at the time of writing, and you might have to wait a couple of weeks to get one in your hands; Apple says it’s working to address these supply shortages.
Pricing on the new 11-inch iPad Pro starts at $799 / £749 / AU$1,199 / AED 3,199 which gets you 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage in a Wi-Fi-only configuration. You can increase the storage and also add 5G connectivity, which up the price considerably: a fully-loaded iPad Pro 11-inch with 2TB storage and 5G connectivity will set you back an eye-watering $2,099 / £1,899 / AU$3,099 / AED 8,199.
If you’re not looking to use the iPad for professional work, the iPad Air is still a great option and looks almost identical to the new iPad Pro. It has Apple’s latest iPhone chip in it and starts at AED 2,499 while supporting all the latest accessories such as the Magic Keyboard and Apple Pencil. It also comes in five lovely colors.
The iPad Pro is available in 11-inch and 12.9-inch models, and if you want to use it primarily as a tablet rather than a stand-in for a laptop, the smaller version is definitely the one to choose. In terms of size and design, the new 11-inch iPad Pro is identical to last year’s model. It has dimensions of 178.5 x 247.6mm with a thickness of just 5.9mm, and is slightly lighter than its predecessor at 466 grams.
This makes the iPad Pro 11-inch comfortable to hold and easy to use, and with an aluminum frame and back and rounded corners, the iPad continues to feel like a premium device. It’s available in just two colors: Space Grey and Silver, which is a shame, as we’d have loved to see the new iPad Pro available in more colors, like the new iMac and indeed the iPad Air.
Button and port placement is similar to older iPad Pro models, with the volume keys on the right when you’re holding the tablet in portrait orientation, with the power button on the top and the thunderbolt-equipped USB-C port at the bottom. There are four speakers, located on the top and bottom if you’re holding the iPad in portrait, or on the sides in landscape – the preferred orientation for watching videos.
Unfortunately, the camera continues to remain on top of the iPad in portrait orientation, which isn’t ideal for video calls if you’re talking to a group of people and have the tablet in landscape mode, as it’s off to one side. There’s a SIM card slot on the right edge, and the pin connector on the back for attaching the Magic Keyboard. As on the previous iPad, the Apple Pencil magnetically attaches to the right edge, where it also charges.
Up until last year, the display specs of the larger 12.9-inch model and the 11-inch model were identical. However, for 2021, Apple has introduced a new XDR display on the larger 12.9-inch model powered by mini-LED technology, which the 11-inch version misses out on.
That’s not to say the iPad Pro 11-inch has a bad display – far from it. You still get Apple’s IPS display, with excellent color fidelity and ProMotion technology that enables a 120Hz refresh rate for fast and smooth scrolling. The higher refresh rate also improves the Apple Pencil experience, with lower latency.
However, considering how intrinsic the display is to the tablet experience, if you don’t mind the larger size of the iPad Pro 12.9-inch – and you can afford the extra outlay – we’d recommend that you go for the larger model. The much higher peak brightness and the contrast ratios on the larger iPad make for a screen that’s simply stunning.
Specs, performance and cameras
The iPad Pro takes a leap from an iPhone processor to the Mac processor this year, which will give it plenty of future-proofing headroom and allow it to comfortably run the next generation of apps. The M1 processor brings this generation of the iPad Pro up to the same level of performance as the latest M1 Macs, and with up to 16GB of RAM and 2TB of storage, it’s effectively a high-end computer in a tablet form factor.
The table below compares the benchmark scores of the latest iPad Pro 2021 to last year’s mode.
Looking at that table above, you can clearly see how ridiculously fast the new iPad Pro is. The M1 processor coupled with 16GB RAM makes opening and switching between apps faster than on any other tablet, and also on most PCs out there.
Having said that, when it comes to real-world use the new iPad Pro only performs a little better than last year’s model – and the new iPad Pros are the only tablets that best last year’s.
If you’re just looking to do the things you normally do on a tablet, such as browse the web, consume media, and write emails and documents, the power inside the new iPad Pro almost seems overkill.
Weight: 466gDimensions: 247.6 x 178.5 x 5.9mmDisplay size: 11-inchDisplay type: Liquid Retina displayResolution: 1668 x 2388Refresh rate: 120HzChipset: Apple M1RAM: 8GB / 16GBStorage: 128GB / 256GB / 512GB / 1TB / 2TBOS: iPadOS 14.5Rear camera: 12MP + 10MP + ToFFront camera: 12MPBattery: 28.65-watt-hour rechargeable lithium-polymer battery
It would also be nice to see Apple releasing its own pro-level apps, such as Final Cut Pro or Motion, for the iPad. Considering that the iPad Pros now have identical hardware to Macs, we really see no reason why Apple can’t make this happen.
What is new, and very enjoyable, on the new iPad Pro is Center Stage – it’s pure Apple magic. When you’re using the ultra-wide camera on the front of the iPad, the framing is automatically adjusted to keep you, or a group of people, in the center of the picture. Have a look at this video below, keeping in mind that there’s no camera movement at all – it’s just software framing.
There are two rear cameras on the new iPad Pro: 12MP wide and 10MP ultrawide. We’re not huge fans of using the back cameras on a tablet, but they’re there if you need them, and provide decent image quality. The lidar sensor also makes a comeback for use with AR apps, though we’ve not found many use-case scenarios for that since Apple added it to the iPad last year.
The iPad ecosystem has grown over the past couple of years, with multiple manufacturers offering a variety of protective cases, keyboard covers and stylus options.
The 2021 version of the iPad Pro 11-inch works with the Apple Pencil, as well as with the Magic keyboard from last year. Apple has released a new white model of the Magic keyboard, but the color is the only thing that’s new.
If you’re looking for alternatives to Apple’s offerings, Logitech makes a nice keyboard cover for the iPad that’s more affordable than Apple’s offering.
There hasn’t been any change in terms of the new iPad Pro’s battery capacity or claimed battery life compared to last year’s model. The new iPad Pro has a 28.65-watt-hour battery that Apple claims gives you 10 hours of usage of the Wi-Fi model and nine hours on the 5G model using cellular data.
Obviously the mileage varies depending on what tasks you’re using the iPad for. For example, rendering 4K videos or 3D models will definitely inflict a bigger hit on the battery than watching a movie on Netflix or browsing the web. With mixed usage we were able to get eight hours from a full charge.
We did notice the battery depleting a tad faster, especially in standby mode with the Magic Keyboard connected, which makes sense, as that accessory draws power from the iPad Pro.
Charging speeds on the iPad Pro are 18W, which is lower than many other competing tablets in the market; however the strong battery life along with the excellent stand by time mean charging isn’t something you need to worry about much. Thankfully, Apple does provide a charger in the box with the iPad, which isn’t something new iPhone users can say.
Should you buy the iPad Pro 2021?
Buy it if…
The new iPad Pro 11 is super-capable when it comes to hardware, and should last you a good number of years. The M1 processor will surely take the iPad into new territories.
The iPad makes a wonderful companion to your larger-screen laptop or desktop computer, making it easy to do a range of everyday takes quickly and easily, and its 11-inch screen means it’s more easily portable than the larger 12.9-inch iPad Pro.
If your work routine is fairly straightforward – writing emails, creating documents and researching on the web, then the iPad with the Apple Pencil can capably serve as your primary computing device.
Don’t buy it if…
With the 12.9-inch iPad Pro sporting Apple’s latest and greatest XDR display, this year the iPad to get is the larger one. The new mini LED screen technology is a generation ahead and makes HDR content stand out.
The iPad Pro is plenty powerful, but it’s also on the pricey side. If all you want from your tablet is to browse the web, watch videos and work on documents there are much cheaper alternatives that will do the job just as well – Apple’s iPad Air or even the regular iPad, not to mention Android slates from the likes of Samsung.
As powerful as the new iPad Pro is, in its current form, it’s limited by iPadOS. Apple could improve things by implementing a desktop-like browsing experience, better file management and multi-window support, but right now even the best iPad can’t fully replace a similarly powerful computer..