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iPad Pro (2021): 5 standout features that make the best tablet even better

Tuesday April 20, 2021. 08:44 PM , from Macworld Reviews
Apple released a new iPad Pro in 2020—a year and a half after the prior update—but it wasn’t much of a change. A new camera module that included LiDAR and an ultra-wide lens was fine, but the iPad isn’t really the thing people reach for when they want to take great photos. The processor was updated to the A12Z, which was just the same as the A12X but with a single GPU core, disabled on the A12X, reenabled. It had more storage, but that’s just a function of the inevitable march of time.

So, the iPad Pro was overdue for a more significant update, and with the new 5th-generation iPad Pro, we finally have it. Here are the highlights that make this year’s iPad Pro special.

11-inch iPad Pro (2021)

12.9-inch iPad Pro (2021)

The M1 processor makes it fast as all get-out

We were impressed by the M1 in the new Apple silicon Macs, and now the same chip is in the iPad Pro. The M1 is basically what we would have expected from an A14X—it’s like an A14 with double the high-performance cores (4 instead of 2), double the GPU cores (8 instead of 4), and double the memory bus width (128-bit instead of 64-bit).

In addition to the much faster CPU and graphics, storage access is twice as fast as the previous iPad Pro and is now available with up to 2TB of storage (though it’ll cost you an extra $400). On models with less than 1TB of storage, the new iPad Pro models come with 8GB of RAM. On models with 1TB or 2TB of storage, they come with 16GB of RAM. That’s the first time we haven’t relied on a teardown to get the RAM specs, which is a notable change.

The 12.9-inch model has a Liquid Retina XDR display

Both the 11-inch and 12.9-inch iPad Pros have LED displays with a resolution of 264 pixels per inch, True Tone, and 120Hz ProMotion support. But the 12.9-inch model also has a new mini-LED backlight that gives it better contrast.

Apple calls this Liquid Retina XDR, and it works a lot like the Pro Display XDR. You get 1000 nits of brightness and 1600 nits of peak brightness, a 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio, and support for multiple different HDR formats. It also includes the same features as before, including ProMotion, True Tone, and P3 wide color support. Apple says the display delivers “a stunning visual experience that reflects what can be seen in the real world by capturing the brightest highlights and the most subtle details in even the darkest images.”

It’s like a Pro Display XDR in your hands!Apple

They now have Thunderbolt and USB4 support

With the big 2018 redesign, Apple swapped out the Lightning port on the iPad Pro for a USB type C connector. This gave the iPad the ability to more easily connect to external storage, cameras, and other accessories. The 2021 models support Thunderbolt 3 and USB4, which means they support all the existing USB-C stuff as well as Thunderbolt accessories like higher-speed external storage devices and high-res monitors. It can even hook up to the Pro Display XDR at full resolution.

New 12MP Ultra Wide front camera

The 2021 iPad Pros have the same rear cameras as last year’s model: an f/1.8 12MP Wide and f/2.4 10MP Ultra Wide camera, plus a LiDAR sensor.

But the front camera has been bumped up to an f/2.4 12MP Ultra Wide camera with a 122-degree field of view. While the camera is still frustratingly located on the short edge of the device, a new FaceTime feature called Center Stage automatically pans and zooms to keep you in the frame as you move around the area so it’ll look more natural to the people with whom you’re chatting.

Center Stage automatically pans and zooms to keep you in frame.Apple

Better image processing from the M1 processor should also result in noticeably better photos and videos despite having the same rear camera hardware.

5G support

As with the iPhone 12, the new 5th generation iPad Pro supports 5G (if you buy a model with cellular support). Also as with the iPhone 12, support varies by region—in the U.S., you get sub-6GHz and mmWave support. In the rest of the world, support is limited to sub-6GHz.

iPad Pro specs compared

Here’s how the new iPad Pro compares to last year’s models.

11-inch iPad Pro (2021)12.9-inch iPad Pro (2021)11-inch / 12.9-inch iPad Pro (2020)Display600 nits, ProMotion, True Tone, Wide Color, 264ppimini-LED backlit, 1000+ nits,HDR, ProMotion,True Tone, Wide Color, 264pp600 nits, ProMotion, True Tone, Wide Color, 264ppiProcessorApple M1Apple M1Apple A12ZStorage options128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB, 2TB128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB, 2TB128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TBBatteryUp to 10 hours of web on Wi‑Fi or watching videoUp to 10 hours of web on Wi‑Fi or watching videoUp to 10 hours of web on Wi‑Fi or watching videoRear cameras12MP f/1.8 Wide and 10MP f/2.4 Ultra Wide cameras, Smart HDR 312MP f/1.8 Wide and 10MP f/2.4 Ultra Wide cameras, Smart HDR 312MP f/1.8 Wide and 10MP f/2.4 Ultra Wide cameras, Smart HDRFront cameraTrueDepth, Ultra Wide 12MP f/2.4, Smart HDR 3, Center StageTrueDepth, Ultra Wide 12MP f/2.4, Smart HDR 3, Center StageTrueDepth, 7MP f/2.2, Smart HDRUSB-CUSB4 and Thunderbolt supportUSB4 and Thunderbolt supportUSB-C onlyWi-FiWi-Fi 6, simultaneous dual-band up to 1.2GbpsWi-Fi 6, simultaneous dual-band up to 1.2GbpsWi-Fi 6, simultaneous dual-band up to 1.2GbpsCellular option5G, 4G LTE up to 32 bands5G, 4G LTE up to 32 bands4G LTE up to 30 bandsStarting price$799 Wi-Fi, $999 Wi-Fi + Cellular$1099 Wi-Fi, $1299 Wi-Fi + Cellular$799/$999 Wi-Fi, $949/$1149 Wi-Fi + CellularPrices start at $799 and $1099, available mid-May

The 11-inch iPad Pro carries the same price as last year’s model: starting at $799 128GB of storage with Wi-Fi only. The Wi-Fi + Cellular model starts at $999, a $50 increase over last year’s model (that 5G support doesn’t come cheap). The 12.9-inch model is $100 more expensive, thanks to the new Liquid Retina XDR display. It starts at $1099 for 128GB of storage in the Wi-Fi only model. Wi-Fi + Cellular starts at $1299.

Orders begin on April 30, 2021, but Apple has only given a vague “second half of May” date for availability.

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