iPad Pro 2021 Review: Is It Better?

M1 speed on a stunning display.

Ipad Pro Review Featured

Pros

  • M1 chip
  • LiDAR sensor
  • Beautiful display
  • Thunderbolt connector

Cons

  • M1 chip's promise is stifled by software limitation
  • Center Stage doesn't always work
  • Price

Our Rating

4 / 5

A good friend’s husband once told her that she needed the right tools for the job when she wanted to buy an expensive vacuum cleaner. This is how I feel about my iPads, and I assume others feel the same way about their devices, computers, etc. I went through a series of Macs, between desktops and laptops, to do my job, but once I started using an iPad, I haven’t looked back. I can’t even remember for sure how many I’ve had, but I’m pretty sure the iPad Pro 11″ 2021 featured in this review is my sixth. Each one helps me do my job a little better than the previous one. Will the 2021 model be better than the 2018 model I’ve been using for more than two years?

Setting Up the iPad Pro 11″ 2021

Like most Apple products, there isn’t much to setting up the iPad Pro 11″ 2021, which is a huge draw for me. All iPads and iPhones have the same startup process, and the iPad is no different. After you turn it on, it sends you through a series of questions to set it up. If you’re an existing user, it’s much easier. You can connect to your Apple ID through another iPad or iPhone and can choose to load it with the backup of a previous device. If you’re not a previous user, however, the startup process will walk you through everything.

Ipad Pro Review Unboxing

I had well over 300 apps on my 2018 iPad Pro, so rather than download all those apps and adjust all the settings, it makes it much easier to start with my most recent backup. However, I like to run with the iPadOS public betas, but the startup OS on the iPad is older than my public beta, so it couldn’t pick up the backup. So what I did was restart as a new iPad instead, then register the new iPad for the public betas, downloaded and installed the beta, restarted the iPad, reset it, and erased all content and settings. This gives me a blank slate with the beta software so that I could load my recent backup.

Using the iPad Pro 11″ 2021

There are four key changes to the Pad Pro 11″ 2021 that I wanted to test:

  • Apple’s M1 chip
  • Thunderbolt connector
  • Liquid Retina display
  • LiDAR scanner

M1

Apple’s own M1 chip could be the most exciting thing about the iPad Pro 11″ 2021, and it was a surprise that it would be included until it was unveiled. No one really thought it would come to the iPad Pro, as iPads have traditionally had modified chips that were used in iPhones. Yet, in the spring announcement, Apple announced that the M1 was coming to both the iPad Pro and the iMac.

I have to admit that I have found the M1 to be amazingly fast. Yet, I am hampered by two things.

1. I have a slow Internet at times. It goes in and out. This made it hard to distinguish with my older iPad whether the slowness I was experiencing was because of a slow iPad or my Wi-Fi. I now know that it’s my Wi-Fi. Yet, right now, a test shows my Internet to be fast.

Ipad Pro Review Internet Speed

2. As we reported here recently, iPadOS apps don’t have full use of the M1. By design, they only have full use of 5GB RAM. That wasn’t a problem for prior 6GB iPad Pros, but it is a problem for these 8GB and 16GB models. My 256GB storage gives me an 8GB chip. But apps only use 5GB, so it’s no better than my previous iPad with some things.

Despite the fast Internet, when I try to open YouTube, I get a spinning ball. It can’t be the Internet speed. I’ll add that the image below opening YouTube was actually hard to catch, as the spinning didn’t last long, only about a half-second, yet to me, it shouldn’t be there at all.

Ipad Pro Review Youtube

There are still many things that happen much more quickly, such as loading images into WordPress and browsing the Internet, but some things just happen a little too slow.

Thunderbolt Connector

The Thunderbolt connector is another chance for more speed, specifically when transferring files. But since that requires the use of an app, when it’s transferring slowly, is that because of the 5GB app limitation?

The 2018 and 2020 iPad Pros were improvements for sure, adding a USB-C connector instead of Lightning. That left the device open to connect with external storage drives, cameras, thumb drives, etc.

Ipad Pro Review Thunderbolt

The iPad Pro 11″ 2021 has improved on that even more by changing that to a Thunderbolt connector. You can still do everything you did with the USB-C, but ostensibly, it’s faster. It definitely charges up more quickly. It went from around 15% to more than 90% in less than two hours.

But I was a bit disappointed that the battery lasts just a little longer – I still need to charge it in the middle of my day. Granted, I have odd working hours, so my iPad is unplugged for about 16 or 17 hours. I had to rely on a power bank later in the day before, and I still have to do that. It also seems like the battery drains really slow at first, then really speeds up as it drains. That said, it’s a known problem with iOS 14.6. The 14.7 public beta hasn’t changed that, but maybe iOS 15 will.

Ipad Pro Review External Drive

I bought an external Thunderbolt drive to test out the speed of moving files. I was able to move a folder of 150 high-res photos in just a couple of minutes. When I tried to move just four, it still seemed to take a couple of minutes. I was moving them from Dropbox, so perhaps it was a limitation of my Wi-Fi. It just seemed odd that it seemed to take close to the same amount of time.

Liquid Retina Display

Stunning. That one word completely sums up the Liquid Retina display on the iPad Pro 11″ 2021. While the 12.9″ iPad Pro received a mini-LED backlit Multi-Touch display with IPS technology, the 11″ received an LED backlit Multi-Touch display with IPS technology. They both have 264 PPI, Pro Motion technology, and a wide color display, but the 12.9″ also has 1000 nits max full-screen brightness and 1600 nits peak brightness (HDR).

Consider this image below. This is an image that I took a year ago in St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands with my old iPhone 7. I made it my background on the iPad Pro. While it was a stunning photo to begin with, it’s breathtaking and somehow even more clear on this display. I’m not sure if the clarity that I saw will transfer through this screencap.

Ipad Pro Review Homescreen2

What I also find particularly stunning is white text on black, and that’s something I come across often, as I run in Dark Mode at all times.

Ipad Pro Review Mte

I had thought I really didn’t need an exceptional display, so the “lesser” 11″ display would suffice. But experiencing it now, there is nothing “lesser” about it.

Camera System

I was looking forward to the camera system on the iPad Pro 11″ 2021, and it has not disappointed. I only wish there were more apps to use with the LiDAR scanner.

There are three cameras: 12MP wide camera and 10MP ultra wide camera on the back and a 12MP selfie camera on the front. There is also a LiDAR scanner.

The wide and ultra wide cameras are more than efficient. I’m usually not taking pictures with my iPad other than screencaps, but now I want to. The presence of the ISP and M1 chip allow the iPad to steal the Smart HDR 3 processing of the iPhone 12 lineup.

Ipad Pro Review Cameras

Using the Clips app that ships as part of iOS 14, I was able to play with the cameras. I could put animated backgrounds behind me and even add what can only be described as the “Take on Me” effect as well as a scene from The Incredibles. That’s a blank wall behind me, by the way.

This is where I was able to play with the LiDAR sensor, too. I scanned my surroundings with the camera, then dropped in the effect I wanted. Our deck is in need of being re-stained, so I added a dance floor.

Ipad Pro Review Deck

One of the features of the camera system is Center Stage. When you’re on a video call, such as FaceTime, the camera focus is supposed to move with you. While it worked for me before, you can see in the image below that I am clearly not on “center” stage.

That makes sense, as it’s not like the iPad Pro is going to levitate and follow me around; it’s limited to the range of the camera.

Ipad Pro Review Center Stage

I suppose if I played around with the position, I could get it to work again, but that’s not really the point.

Other Features

There are other features that weren’t a focus of this review, such as 5G. The iPad Pro 11″ 2021 can also be 5G-enabled, but I only have Wi-Fi on mine. I don’t want to pay for another cellular plan.

Optional accessories include the Apple Pencil, Magic Keyboard, and Smart Keyboard Folio. I’ve had an Apple Pencil for over a year and can’t imagine working on my iPad Pro without it. I don’t like the Apple keyboards and not because of the high price. They don’t have a row of function keys. I use third-party keyboards for that reason. I’m still trying to decide whether I need a trackpad and have tried one built into a keyboard and another one that is standalone.

Price

The iPad Pro 11″ 2021 starts at $799 for Wi-Fi only and 128GB and is sold with up to 2TB for $1899. The 5G model starts at $999 and goes up to $2,099. The 12.9″ model starts at $1,099 with the most expensive being $2,399.

Going back to the original question: is the iPad Pro 11″ 2021 better than the 2018 model I’d been using? Yes, but probably not as much as it could be, though I do feel it’s the right tool. Hopefully, some updates to the OS will tie up those loose ends.

Image: Credit: Apple Newsroom

Laura Tucker Laura Tucker

Laura has spent nearly 20 years writing news, reviews, and op-eds, with more than 10 of those years as an editor as well. She has exclusively used Apple products for the past three decades. In addition to writing and editing at MTE, she also runs the site's sponsored review program.

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