iPad Pro 12.9in (2021) vs iPad Pro 12.9in (2020) full review

As was always likely - expected, even - Apple has updated the iPad Pro range for 2021, so you probably want to know how the tablet compares to the previous generation from 2020. Well, you've come to the right place. In this article we break down the key differences between the new and previous iPad Pro models.

Apple's first event for the year was a bumper one with the long-awaited AirTag tracker announced along with a new purple finish for the iPhone 12. More importantly, the firm upgraded the iMac with its M1 processor and a completely new design - similar to the iPad Pro, in fact.

It's a little confusing with the generations as the 11in came later, so here's what we're looking at:

  • 2020: iPad Pro 11in (2nd gen) and iPad Pro 12.9 (4th gen)
  • 2021: iPad Pro 11in (3rd gen) and iPad Pro 12.9in (5th gen)

Design

There's actually nothing to say here as Apple has kept the design of the iPad Pro the same as last year. Everything is still in the same place, such as the power button and camera module, and they both come in a simple choice of Silver or Space Grey colour finishes.

A minor difference, due to the hardware upgrades, is that the larger Pro now weighs a little more than it did last year. Looking at Wi-Fi models, the 12.9in has jumped from 641 to 682g. Meanwhile, the 11in model has got a tiny bit lighter, dropping from 471 to 466g.

The 2021 models are still compatible with the same accessories, such as the Smart Keyboard Folio and Apple Pencil (2nd generation). The main news here is that Apple now offers the Magic Keyboard in a white finish.

iPad Pro 2021 Magic Keyboard

Specs & Features

With design (non-)changes out of the way, we can see that it's really all about the specs. This is where you'll find the key upgrades for the new 2021 iPad Pro, and the reasons to upgrade.

M1 processor

While this was never a given, Apple has stuck its impressive M1 processor in the new iPad Pro giving it a big performance boost. Apple says it can deliver up to 50% faster CPU performance compared to the A12Z Bionic found in the previous generation.

It can also offer up to 40% better GPU performance. Those are big jumps for a device in its 5th generation.

And if you're worried about compatibility issue caused by the inclusion of a new chip, Apple offers reassurance. "Because M1 shares the same fundamental architecture of A-series chips," the company says, "iPadOS is already optimised to take full advantage of the powerful technologies in M1 to easily handle everything from simple navigation to the most demanding workflows."

It's worth noting, though, that the M1 doesn't appear to bring a battery life improvement, with Apple's usual claims of 'all-day battery', or up to 10 hours of web browsing or video playback, still holding steady.

Liquid Retina XDR

This only applies to the larger 12.9in iPad Pro, but Apple has given the display a huge upgrade to XDR status, like the Pro Display XDR monitor. Apple is bringing Extreme Dynamic Range to the iPad Pro.

While the size and resolution stay the same, the new XDR display on the iPad Pro has a full-brightness level of 1000 nits and can reach 1600 nits at peak brightness (for HDR).

Perhaps more importantly, it uses Mini-LED technology so there are more than 10,000 tiny LEDs lighting up the screen compared to just 72 on the previous iPad. Like high-end TVs, this means Apple can offer over 2,500 local dimming zones to control the lighting on the display very accurately.

iPad Pro 2021 Liquid Retina XDR

It improves contrast - it's now 1,000,000:1 - and reduces undesirable issues like blooming.

Apple says: "Now creative professionals, including photographers, videographers and filmmakers, can view and edit true-to-life HDR content on a large display they can take anywhere."

5G

If you enjoy having mobile data connectivity on your iPad - or 'cellular', as Apple calls it - you'll be pleased to hear that the iPad Pro just got a boost to 5G. This brings next-generation download and upload speeds to your tablet without needing to find a Wi-Fi network.

The previous iPad Pro was 4G LTE and Apple says the new model has the most 5G bands on any device of its kind. US models support millimetre wave 5G, too, meaning you can get speeds of up to 4Gbps.

Thunderbolt & USB 4

The USB-C port on the new iPad Pro now supports Thunderbolt and USB 4, so it now has four times the bandwidth of the last model and can handle speeds of up to 40Gbps.

It opens things up to faster external storage and connecting higher-resolution displays, including the Pro Display XDR at full 6K.

iPad Pro 2021

12Mp TrueDepth camera

While the cameras on the rear remain the same, Apple has upgraded the front-facing camera on the iPad Pro from 7MP to 12MP.

It adds a new Ultra Wide lens and supports a new feature called Centre Stage, which uses machine learning on the M1 to follow you around. If you're having a FaceTime video call with someone it will pan/crop the image to keep you in the middle and can smoothly zoom out if someone else enters the frame.

This is similar to what the Amazon Echo Show 10 and Facebook Portal can do.

2TB of storage

This might not be a headline upgrade like the things above but Apple now offers the iPad Pro with up to 2TB of storage. That's double the 4th-generation iPad Pro, which goes up to 1TB.

Great news if you need that much space and can afford it.

iPad Pro 2021

Price

When it comes to price, Apple has kept it the same for the entry-level 11in model in the US, while the starting price in the UK has gone down. The 12.9in model with Liquid Retina XDR display, meanwhile, has gone up by £30/US$100.

Note that there is a larger premium to get cellular 5G connectivity now at £150/US$200.

You can order the new model from 30 April and it will then ship in the second half of May, according to Apple.

Here's a full price comparison of each device and you can read our iPad buying guide for more information.

iPad Pro 11in prices

  iPad Pro 11in (2021) Wi-Fi iPad Pro 11in (2021) 5G iPad Pro 11in (2020) Wi-Fi iPad Pro 11in (2020) LTE
128GB £749/$799 £899/$999 £769/$799 £919/$949
256GB £849/$899 £999/$1,099 £869/$899 £1,019/$1,049
512GB £1,049/$1,099 £1,199/$1,299 £1,069/$1,099 £1,219/$1,249
1TB £1,399/$1,499 £1,549/$1,699 £1,269/$1,299 £1,419/$1,449
2TB £1,749/$1,899 £1,899/$2,099 - -

iPad Pro 12.9in prices

  iPad Pro 12.9in (2021) Wi-Fi iPad Pro 12.9in (2021) 5G iPad Pro 12.9in (2020) Wi-Fi iPad Pro 12.9in (2020) LTE
128GB £999/$1,099 £1,149/$1,299 £969/$999 £1,119/$1,149
256GB £1,099/$1,199 £1,249/$1,399 £1,069/$1,099 £1,219/$1,249
512GB £1,299/$1,399 £1,449/$1,599 £1,269/$1,299 £1,419/$1,449
1TB £1,649/$1,799 £1,799/$1,999 £1,469/$1,499 £1,619/$1,649
2TB £1,999/$2,199 £2,149/$2,399 - -
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