Review: Apple iPad Pro (2021)


another iPad Pro How much can Apple’s tablet improve in a year? Complex. Apple’s software limits most hardware upgrades, so they feel modest. In a few weeks, Apple will reveal a new version of iPadOS at its Worldwide Developer Conference.

But I can only test what I have, and this iPad is the best tablet available. The 2021 iPad is Apple’s best effort yet at producing a laptop-replacement iPad. The iPad Pro isn’t perfect, but it can handle my daily computing needs. It feels like it needs an OTA update to unleash its full capabilities.

Spectacular Screen

iPad Pros are 11 and 12.9 inches. This model has a new display technology, so pay attention to it. Mini LED is what Apple calls its Liquid Retina XDR display. It’s the main reason to buy this computer.

The tablet’s screen is LCD, not OLED. The LCD backlighting technology is different. The latest iPad Pro has more than 10,000 LEDs below the screen, up from 72 in previous models. Thousands of tiny LEDs light up the display. More LEDs improve screen contrast and black depth. Local dimming provides for tighter control of the screen’s bright and dark zones. Local dimming zones number 2,596. This many Mini LEDs can also brighten the display.

I watched Justice League on the 2020 iPad Pro and 2021 iPad Pro with Mini LEDs to test it. It’s incredible. It feels like Instagram’s fade setting was turned up on the older Pro. Shadows aren’t as dark as on the iPad Pro with Mini LED illumination. The newest machine’s better contrast makes the film cleaner and sharper. It’s so fantastic, I preferred finishing it on the iPad instead on the iMac I was simultaneously reviewing.

This display is great for gaming, sketching with the Apple Pencil, and editing images in Lightroom. Shame it’s not on the 11-inch tablet.

Kingly Power

iPad Pro uses the same M1 CPU as the MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, Mac Mini, and iMac. So iPad Pro has desktop-class computing? Correct! Its benchmark scores resembled the MacBook Air’s while beating the 2020 iPad Pro. The extra power wasn’t noticeable in daily use.

Both iPads are speedy. Both handled sketching, writing, editing with multiple Safari tabs open, and playing Civilization VI with ease. Most people won’t use the M1’s increased capabilities since apps lack desktop equivalents. People who edit 4K video or create sophisticated CAD models can use this new power. If so, you’ll love its quickness.


Thunderbolt is another desktop feature. Thunderbolt SSDs are quicker than USB-C SSDs. iPad docks support external monitors.

Apple’s desktop-level features aren’t convincing. This isn’t a laptop. It’s powerful. Its unique design is awkward. iPad Pro’s screen is mirrored when connected to an external display. Apple, give me dual-screen!

I used the Magic Keyboard for days on my iPad Pro and twice on my PC. WIRED’s CMS on the iPad glitches and blocks some buttons (it works fine on my PC). iPad keeps booting me from our CMS. These shortcomings detract from the experience. A tablet may not be the optimal platform for work or school apps or websites.

Apple’s new cursor makes the iPad Pro feel like a laptop and improves my text selection accuracy, but I work more slowly. Switching between floating iOS apps might be time-consuming.

iPadOS becoming MacOS is wrong. iPad is unmatched. I can doodle or read the news with the Apple Pencil (bad idea). Desktop OS would ruin it. Apple can make the tablet’s software desktop-like and use the faster processor without sacrificing its greatness.

For Power Users

5G/camera New Center Stage. If you choose 5G over Wi-Fi-only, you’ll likely be on 4G LTE. You may not get faster internet speeds if you connect to a 5G network.

Daily use of Center Stage. It mimics Facebook’s Portal gadgets, whose wide-angle camera keeps you in frame during video calls. Creepy but useful. It tracks my face effectively and is great for kitchen video-chatting. Zoom and FaceTime use it. It turned on when I joined my first Zoom meeting with the tablet, but you can turn it off in Settings. Support should spread quickly.

This compensates for the iPad Pro’s left-side selfie camera, although I wish the lens was centered in landscape. My video-chat partner can’t see me.

iPad Pro remains unchanged. Battery lasts a day. (I logged 9.5 hours) Augmented reality apps and games still use the lidar camera and quad-speakers. Hopefully? Ports! Make the headphone jack computer-like. USB-C! SD card? Thanks!

I wouldn’t buy an 11-inch iPad. Buy the iPad Air if you want a midsize iPad. Most folks who want to work and play should acquire this tablet. If so, get the $330 iPad.

Who should buy the $1,099 12.9-inch iPad Pro? You may desire a large canvas for digital art or sheer rendering power. There’s nothing like it, and I expect it to get better.

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