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The iPad Pro has always been Apple’s most powerful tablet, but the company is taking that approach to the next level with its latest model.
The new iPad Pro, which launches in the second half of May and starts at $800 for the 11-inch model, runs on Apple’s M1 chip, the same powerful processor found inside the latest MacBook Pro and MacBook Air.
Compared to last year’s version, the 11-inch iPad Pro I’ve been testing also comes with optional 5G connectivity, a better webcam with Apple’s new Center Stage feature, Thunderbolt support, and choices for more storage capacity.
All told, the addition of the M1 chip along with these improvements makes the iPad faster, longer-lasting, and more useful as a work device than before. Yet it still has limitations that prevent it from truly replacing your laptop, so it’s better-suited for creatives rather than those with more traditional workflows.
Still, for creative professionals, the M1 chip is likely to open up a whole new set of possibilities. But as is the case with Apple’s older iPad Pros, you’ll have to pay a pretty penny to get the most out of it.
Apple iPad Pro 11-inch (2021) Specifications
Display and design
The 11-inch iPad Pro comes with a vibrant screen that packs 264 pixels per inch, just like the iPad Air, 12.9-inch iPad Pro, and previous-generation iPad Pro. Apple’s new mini-LED display, which should enable better contrast, is only available on the latest larger-sized iPad Pro.
The biggest differences between the screens on the 11-inch iPad Pro and iPad Air is that the Pro’s display is slightly larger, brighter, and includes Apple’s ProMotion technology. This boosts the refresh rate up to 120Hz for smoother scrolling and faster responsiveness.
But it isn’t noticeable enough to play a big role in your buying decision. Scrolling seems a bit faster, but using the second-generation Apple Pencil to sketch and color on the iPad Air generally feels as smooth as it does on the new iPad Pro.
The new iPad Pro also has the same slim design as its predecessor. That’s to say it has a sleek metal build with flat edges, making it extremely compact and portable. But unlike the colorful iPad Air, the iPad Pro only comes in silver and space gray.
The iPad Pro‘s M1 chip is impressively fast when it comes to processing video and photo edits. That’s important for a device like this, which Apple has been pitching towards photographers, video editors, artists, designers, architects, and really anyone who works with 3D renderings.
In one test, the M1-equipped iPad Pro exported a 10-minute
video to 1080p using Adobe Premiere Rush in nearly half the amount of time it took for the iPad Air to accomplish the same task. It also beat last year’s 12.9-inch iPad Pro by about 20 seconds. Exporting the same video on a Dell XPS 13 running on an 11th-generation Intel Core i7 chip took nearly 20 minutes.
The new iPad Pro was also a hair faster at exporting a 4.7MB photo using Adobe Lightroom, as shown in the results below.
The jump in speed compared to Apple’s older iPads is certainly notable. But it’s really the way app developers put the M1 chip’s power to use in their apps that will make the iPad Pro stand out. For example, the music composition app StaffPad is updating its app with a feature only available on M1 devices that automatically detects notes as you’re playing an instrument.
It’s features like this that showcase Apple’s intentions for the iPad Pro as a computing device. Although I’ve always appreciated the iPad Pro for its speed, battery life, and compact design, I’ve never really understood Apple’s vision for it as a new type of computer. That seems poised to change now that the M1 chip has made its way to the iPad Pro, as apps like StaffPad are proving.
But don’t get the iPad Pro if you’re really looking for a traditional laptop experience. Computers that run on a desktop operating system like macOS or Windows are still much easier to navigate for juggling multiple workflows.
I’m able to get most of my work done (including writing this review) on the iPad Pro by displaying Google Docs and
in Split View and keeping my email handy in Slide Over.
However, the minute I need to dig into another app or open a different Google Doc, I find myself missing my laptop. And if you really want to use the iPad to get work done, you’ll have to purchase accessories since Apple doesn’t include a keyboard or Apple Pencil in the box. That means the iPad Pro can get expensive pretty quickly, considering the newest Apple Pencil costs $129 and the Magic Keyboard starts at $299.
That being said, Apple has addressed one of the iPad Pro‘s biggest shortcomings compared to a traditional computer. Both the 11-inch and 12.9-inch models now support Thunderbolt, making it possible to connect the iPad to more peripherals, like high-resolution displays,
hubs, and directly to dedicated cameras.
Cameras have traditionally been overlooked in tablets, but that’s not the case with the iPad Pro. Like its predecessor, Apple’s latest pro-tablet has a LiDAR sensor for measuring depth, a 12-megapixel wide camera, and a 10-megapixel ultra-wide angle camera, which could be useful for those who want to quickly shoot and edit photos and videos on the same device.
But it’s the front-facing camera that’s gotten a big improvement this time around. Not only does the new iPad Pro have a 12-megapixel front camera instead of a 7-megapixel camera, but it also has a new feature called Center Stage.
As the name implies, Center Stage keeps you in frame as you move during video calls, and it works in Apple’s FaceTime app as well as other video conference apps.
Center Stage just works on the new iPad Pro, so you don’t have to toggle any settings to enable it. During FaceTime calls, the camera automatically zooms in slowly to frame my face more evenly and follows me as I slide over to the left and right. It even pans out when someone else enters the scene to get them in the shot.
Some other devices like Amazon’s newest Echo Show 10 and Logitech’s QuickCam webcam use motors to track subjects and keep them in frame, but having it built right into the iPad makes it feel more useful and ubiquitous.
This is an example of a feature that really makes the iPad Pro stand out in Apple’s tablet lineup. It also shows how Apple can leverage the M1’s power to add capabilities that weren’t possible before. I only wish it came sooner, as I could imagine it being really useful for the group video calls I made to friends and family over the holidays in 2020. Hopefully this feature comes to M1 Macs at some point, too.
Otherwise, the 12-megapixel front camera on the new iPad Pro has also gotten a boost in overall quality. Take a look at the photos below, and you’ll notice the iPad Pro’s image looks slightly brighter and more colorful than the photo taken on the iPad Air, which has a 7-megapixel front camera.
Apple estimates that the new iPad Pro should have the same battery life as the previous-generation iPad Pro and newest iPad Air. Battery life is generally similar between all three tablets based on my testing, but the new 11-inch iPad Pro lasted the longest. When I played a 1080p video on YouTube with the screen set at its maximum brightness, the new 11-inch iPad Pro lasted for almost six hours.
The iPad Air, meanwhile, died after a little more than five hours, while the older 12.9-inch iPad Pro died at the five hour mark. Remember, however, that battery life will vary depending on how you use your iPad. It’s also possible that the 11-inch iPad Pro lasted longer because it’s brand new, whereas the iPad Air and iPad Pro have been used previously for other tests and reviews.
Should you buy it?
Yes, but only if you’re looking for a tablet for editing multimedia projects and making video calls. The iPad Air can handle most of the same tasks for a cheaper price, but creatives who really want a super portable work device are likely to benefit most from the iPad Pro’s M1 processor, Thunderbolt support, and advanced cameras.
What are your alternatives?
If you’re looking to spend around $1,000 for a work device and have a more traditional workflow that involves doing a lot of research in a web browser, managing spreadsheets, and writing papers, the MacBook Air is a better choice. It still offers the long battery life and fast performance that comes with the M1 chip, but runs on Apple’s desktop software that’s better for multitasking.
Those who want a really nice iPad for light productivity, playing games, and watching movies should opt for the iPad Air, which has a similar design, plenty of power since it runs on the same chip as the iPhone 12, and is also compatible with the Apple Pencil and Magic Keyboard.
If you really want a tablet for traditional workflows and aren’t partial to Apple, there’s always Microsoft’s Surface Pro 7. The Surface Pro 7 has a similarly compact and ultra-portable design, but runs on Windows instead of a mobile-first operating system.
The bottom line
The new iPad Pro is fast, long-lasting, and has an impressive camera that keeps you in frame. But it’s expensive, making it only really worth it for creative professionals that need top-notch performance and portability for working with large video and photo files in small offices or on the go.
Pros: Great selfie camera that keeps you in frame, fast performance, long battery life
Cons: Gets expensive quickly when you add accessories, multitasking is still better on a desktop operating system
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