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iPad Pro 12.9-inch (2021) review

It’s pretty, powerful and pricey as hell but the new iPad Pro 12.9-inch (2021) just can’t be beaten.

iPad Pro 2021 review
Published: Thursday, 10th June 2021 at 2:34 pm
A star rating of 5.0 out of 5.
Our Rating
GBP £749

Our review

Apple's newest and most expensive flagship iPad is the best tablet we've ever used.

Pros

  • Lightning fast
  • Built for working and creative tasks
  • Bright, sharp and vibrant display
  • Easy to setup and use, especially for existing Apple customers
  • Beautiful design with easy-to-use controls
  • Apple Pencil adds serious productivity credentials

Cons

  • Expensive, especially if you want decent storage
  • Chunky – which dents its portability somewhat

For years, Apple’s iPad range has bucked the global tablet trend. While tablet sales generally have waxed and waned, Apple’s collection has remained consistently popular, outselling its Android rivals and continuing to make up a substantial amount of Apple’s earnings.

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At the heart of this success – outside of the fact iPads are beautifully made, powerful machines – is that Apple offers something for everyone. From its entry-level iPad to its compact iPad Mini, its mid-range iPad Air and its premium, flagship iPad Pro.

The latter is the most expensive iPad in the range. It also stands out because whereas other iPads are entertainment-focused machines with the added bonus of being able to work on, the iPad Pro is a productivity powerhouse dedicated to being a laptop alternative first and an entertainment hub second.

In our iPad Pro 2021 review, we look at just how viable an alternative it really is. We put its performance, power, and productivity to the test while comparing it to other flagship models to see who this tablet is best suited to. And to see how it compares to another iPad, read our Apple iPad Pro vs iPad Air article.

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iPad Pro 2021 review: summary

Price: from £749

Key features:

  • Available with an 11-inch Liquid Retina display or a 12.9-inch Liquid Retina XDR display
  • Both models are powered by Apple’s iPad OS
  • Front-facing camera supports FaceID
  • Support for the second-generation Apple Pencil (£119, sold separately)
  • Built-in Siri voice controls
  • 12MP wide and 10MP ultra-wide cameras on the rear, 12MP TrueDepth and ultra-wide camera
  • Apple App Store gives access to millions of entertainment and productivity tools, games, TV shows, music, podcasts, books, notes, reminders and more
  • Can be used for browsing, streaming, games, drawing, and note taking (when used with the Apple Pencil) and as a monitor (when used with an Apple keyboard, sold separately)
  • HomeKit app allows you to control compatible smart devices via the tablet

Pros:

  • Lightning fast
  • Built for working and creative tasks
  • Bright, sharp and vibrant display
  • Easy to set up and use, especially for existing Apple customers
  • Beautiful design with easy-to-use controls
  • Apple Pencil adds serious productivity credentials

Cons:

  • Expensive, especially if you want decent storage
  • Chunky – which dents its portability somewhat

What is the iPad Pro 2021?

At an event in September 2020, when the latest iPad and iPad Air made their debut, the iPad Pro was notable by its absence. Many questioned whether we’d see the flagship iPad this event season at all until Apple came out swinging at its Spring showcase in April.

The release of two models – a third-generation version of the £749 11-inch iPad Pro and the fifth-generation, £999 12.9-inch iPad Pro – takes the total number of tablets available from Apple to five. They join the £329 iPad, £399 iPad Mini, and £579 iPad Air. All other models have been discontinued (but may be on sale via third-party websites.)

To justify the £749+ price tag, the 2021 iPad Pro is the fastest, most powerful iPad ever made, thanks to the introduction of the M1 chip. A chip that’s only ever been seen in Apple’s Mac products up till now. This has been optimised to work with the new iPad OS 14.5 and complement the other high-end hardware on board. Hardware that includes a 16-core Apple Neural Engine, an advanced image signal processor (ISP), up to 16GB of memory, and up to 2TB capacity.

On the front of the tablet is an upgraded, ultra-wide 12MP front-facing FaceTime HD camera, and the iPad Pro now has a 12MP wide and 10MP ultra-wide camera setup on the rear. The reason we’ve stressed the fact these cameras are wide and ultra-wide is because they allow the introduction of a brand new feature to the iPad Pro called Centre Stage.

When you’re making video calls, a combination of machine learning in the M1 chip and the wide field of view afforded by the cameras mean you’re always in shot and in focus. Even as you walk around a room or as people enter the frame. If you’ve got an Echo Show 10, or a Facebook Portal, you’ll be familiar with the technology on play with Centre Stage, and it has undoubtedly been launched to address the increase in remote working and video conferencing.

Two stereo speakers are positioned on each side of the tablet, in landscape mode, to improve the sound quality when watching shows or films, and the iPad Pro features a USB-C port. Instead of a physical Home button, the iPad Pro supports FaceID alongside PIN entry.

To coincide with the launch, Apple has also released a white version of its Magic Keyboard to go with the black model, and this keyboard and the second-generation Apple Pencil are both sold separately.

iPad Pro Apple Pencil RT

What does iPad Pro 2021 do?

As its name suggests, the iPad Pro has been designed with pro users in mind, and it puts power, performance and productivity front and centre.

  • Support for millions of productivity, entertainment and gaming apps via the Apple App Store. This includes Slack, Teams, Zoom, Netflix, BBC iPlayer, All 4, ITV Hub, SkyGo and Disney+
  • Media streaming with the Apple TV app installed by default. This app acts as a remote control for Apple TV streaming boxes; a library for video content purchased from the iTunes store; and a hub to find and watch Apple TV Plus shows (for subscribers)
  • Apple Books and Podcasts have their own apps, as does the iTunes Store
  • GarageBand, iMovie, Numbers, Keynote, Pages and Files are pre-installed. The latter four apps are Apple’s equivalent to Microsoft Office, or Google Drive’s suite of productivity and work-focused apps
  • The iPad Pro can be used to control and manage smart home devices via HomeKit
  • iCloud support means you can sync content, purchases, and downloads across multiple Apple devices, including Macs, other iPads and iPhones
  • Centre Stage helps enhance the experience on video calls
  • Support for the Apple Pencil (sold separately, £119) and the Magic Keyboard (sold separately, £279)
  • Available in grey and silver

How much is the iPad Pro 2021?

The iPad Pro comes in two sizes, a choice of five storage options – 128GB, 256GB and 512GB, 1TB, and 2TB – and is available with Wi-Fi only or Wi-Fi and cellular. The iPad Pro is the only tablet in Apple’s range to support 5G.

Screen SizeStoragePrice Without CellularPrice With Cellular
iPad Pro 11-inch128GB£749£899
iPad Pro 11-inch256GB£849£999
iPad Pro 11-inch512GB£1,049£1,199
iPad Pro 11-inch1TB£1,399£1,549
iPad Pro 11-inch2TB£1,749£1,899
iPad Pro 12.9-inch128GB£999£1,149
iPad Pro 12.9-inch256GB£1,099£1,249
iPad Pro 12.9-inch512GB£1,299£1,449
iPad Pro 12.9-inch1TB£1,649£1,799
iPad Pro 12.9-inch2TB£1,999£2,149

iPad Pro 11-inch

You can also buy the iPad Pro 11-inch from the following places:

iPad Pro 12.9-inch

You can also buy the iPad Pro 12.9-inch from the following places:

Is the iPad Pro good value for money?

Unless you’re planning to ditch your laptop and work exclusively on the iPad Pro, it’s hard to see how many of us could justify paying £749 at the lower end and a staggering £2,149 at the higher. But that’s the point. Apple already sells a range of iPads for more casual users at more affordable prices. The iPad Pro is not such a device and is not for the masses.

With the Pro, the tech giant has thrown all of its very best technology at the device to appeal to a smaller yet highly discerning audience. An audience that will truly appreciate the increase in power, speed and functionality that accompanies the high price tag. For this group of people, a group that lives and breathes creativity, remote working and collaboration, the iPad Pro represents good value for money in its own right and fantastic value for money when used with the keyboard and Pencil.

For everyone else, this will be an extravagance and one that will be hard to see where all the extra money has gone.

Apple Pencil on iPad Pro 2021

iPad Pro features

Like all iPads, the iPad Pro runs on iPad OS, and specifically the newly released iPadOS 14.5 (from July, Apple will be rolling out iPadOS 15, which will replace this version.) This operating system is a slightly redesigned version of the iOS software seen on iPhones and, on the iPad Pro, looks and works similarly to the software seen on MacBooks. The biggest difference is that iPad OS has support for touchscreens and has been tweaked to make sure apps and features render better on the larger display.

By connecting the iPad Pro to an existing iCloud account during setup, it means you’ll get full access to all the settings, photos, videos, downloads and more, on every device linked to the same Apple ID. You can also copy something on one device and paste it to another on the same account. This may seem like a small feature, but it hugely boosts productivity because you don’t have to email or message links to yourself.

Apple’s App Store on iPadOS comes with the same range of apps seen on iOS, and the tablet comes with a number of Apple apps installed by default. These include Music, Apple TV, Podcasts, Books, GarageBand, News, Clips, iMovie, Fitness, Health, Voice Memos, Reminders, Notes, Pages, Keynote, Numbers, Files, and a university app called iTunes U. The iTunes Store app is where you’ll find any previously purchased content stored in your iCloud account.

Apple doesn’t let you physically expand the storage on any of its products and usually offers a range of relatively small built-in options. The iPad Pro is an exception and, due to the type of people and professions it’s appealing to, Apple offers 128GB up to 2TB built-in sizes. Granted, you do have to pay for the privilege to get all this extra space, and it’s a premium that many may baulk at, considering you can pay £6.99 a month to get up to 2TB of iCloud storage. However, it depends on how much on-device storage you need.

Security-wise, Apple has brought its FaceID technology to this latest round of iPad Pros, which is used alongside a six-digit PIN or passcode. This technology, despite being built into the housing of the front-facing camera at the top of the device, works perfectly well when the tablet is in landscape mode.

Other hardware features include a LiDAR Scanner, which measures how long it takes light to reflect back from objects to make AR experiences more accurate and lifelike, as well as a 12MP ultra-wide, front-facing FaceTime HD camera, and wide and ultra-wide 10MP and 12MP rear cameras. This camera setup not only allows creators to film high-resolution footage – alongside five studio‑quality microphones – and make high-quality video calls, but the ultra-wide front-facing design enables the Centre Stage feature; a feature that always keeps you in shot and in focus during a video call even if you’re writing on a whiteboard, moving around the kitchen, or are switching between sitting and standing.

iPad Pro rear camera

Although you have to pay extra for them, having support for the Magic Keyboard and Apple Pencil elevates the iPad Pro even further into the realm of a laptop replacement. The second-generation Pencil comes with some standout features, including gesture controls and the ability to handwrite in any type box, known as Scribble to iPad. Another small but useful feature of the Apple Pencil is that it can be stored magnetically on the side of the tablet. The Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 and Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 Plus store the pen on the rear, which prevents you from placing them flat on a surface.

The Magic Keyboard doubles up as a case to protect the device and features a full keyboard with a trackpad. The keys are somewhat cramped but still useful, and it makes the iPad Pro feel like a MacBook.

iPad Pro screen and sound quality

Very little separates the 11-inch iPad Pro from the 12.9-inch version (other than their respective sizes, of course) but one significant difference is in the display technology used.

The smaller of the two devices features a Liquid Retina display. We’ve previously outlined the benefits of the Retina display in our iPad Mini review, but to summarise – Retina is an Apple display technology that crams a greater number of pixels into a smaller frame to make colours brighter and text sharper.

Liquid Retina offers the same benefits as Retina but does so via an LCD panel rather than an OLED one. On the iPad Pro 11-inch, Apple has added TrueTone technology, a ProMotion 120Hz refresh rate, and a P3 colour gamut, with 600 nits peak brightness. This is all a little technical, but, put simply, it makes graphics look sharp, accurate and vibrant by analysing the ambient light and automatically adjusting the on-screen content to match. Its brightness level also means the display is easier to see in direct sunlight.

The 12.9-inch model takes things a step further and is the first iPad display to use what’s called a Liquid Retina XDR panel. It takes the technology seen on Apple’s Pro Display XDR – a monitor that will set you back a minimum of £4,599 – and brings it to its tablet collection. The Liquid Retina XDR is superb. It offers true-to-life detail, great for viewing and editing HDR photos and videos or watching movies and TV shows in the way they were meant to be viewed. It ups the total number of nits to 1,600 for peak brightness. All with the same P3 wide colour, True Tone and ProMotion technologies seen on the smaller model.

We reviewed the latter of these two displays, and it really is next-level. It makes Full HD content and our HDR photos taken on our DSLR absolutely shine. Colours are accurate, bright and have a lot of depth, and text is clear and sharp. The areas where there were marginal drops in contrast on the iPad Air’s Liquid Retina display are non-existent on the iPad Pro.

The iPad Pro screen doesn’t quite live up to the striking impact seen on the Samsung Galaxy Tab S7 Plus’ display. The latter remains the best display we’ve seen on a mobile device, but the iPad Pro’s offering is an extremely close second. In the iPad Pro’s favour, though, is the fact it comes with an anti-reflective coating. You don’t get the same glare or reflections when watching content on the iPad as you do on Samsung’s models, and this helps add a depth of colour regardless of what light the display is being viewed in. The touchscreen on the iPad Pro also features Apple’s Tap to Wake feature. This allows you to tap the screen to bring it to life, rather than having to find the power button, which is the case on the Samsung range. A small but really frustrating omission.

Onto sound, Apple has taken the layout of the stereo speakers seen on the iPad Air and put two on each side of the iPad Pro when viewed in landscape mode. The sound is immersive, rich and well-rounded when watching videos or on conference calls. An experience that is elevated further when listened via headphones. You only get the full benefit of this layout and sound if you’re using the tablet in a case, stand or via the Magic Keyboard, though, because your hands tend to block the speakers somewhat if you’re holding the device.

iPad Pro Apple Pencil Google Docs

iPad Pro design

The iPad Pro looks and feels like a beast of a device when placed alongside the iPad Air, and particularly the iPad Mini. Not only because of its larger screen and overall dimensions but because it’s 50% heavier than the Air and almost three times the weight of the Mini. On paper, it’s not significantly thicker than its two siblings – 6.4mm vs 6.1mm – but in reality, it feels much chunkier.

This isn’t a criticism of the iPad Pro. We’d expect a tablet that’s full of laptop-level components to be weighty and large. Instead, we’re using this comparison to further highlight how the iPad Pro and the iPad Air and Mini have different use cases and different audiences.

Whereas the latter two models are perfect for on-the-go streaming, gaming or working, the iPad Pro’s design makes it more suited to being a permanent fixture on a desk or table. That’s not to say it’s not portable, but it’s just not *as* portable as the other two. Or any other tablet we’ve reviewed, for that matter.

The overall design is more square and more industrial-looking than its siblings, another positive and adds to its premium status. The tablet itself is well-balanced and easy to hold, despite its large size. Although, realistically, you’re unlikely to hold it for any length of time if you’re using it for work.

As is the case with most iPads, the bezels are larger than those seen on many rivals, but because of the super bright, mammoth screen, they’re much less noticeable the larger the devices get.

In terms of ports, the iPad Pro has a USB-C charging port, rather than a Lightning connector, with support for Thunderbolt 4 and USB 4. Thunderbolt is another technology that has migrated over from Apple’s MacBook range – it was first seen on the MacBook Pro in 2011 – and it adds extra features to standard USB. Thunderbolt 4 is the most recent and advanced iteration of this technology, and on the iPad Pro, it means the USB-C connector is “the fastest, most versatile port ever on an iPad.” It supports four times more bandwidth for wired connections, allows for faster external storage and means the tablet can support higher resolution external displays, including the £4,599 Pro Display XDR we mentioned earlier, with all of its full 6K resolution.

iPad Pro set-up

Setting up the iPad Pro – as with all Apple products – is a doddle. If you’re an existing Apple customer, you can simply put your current device in the vicinity of the iPad Pro and copy all your data and settings over. With this mode, the tablet will do all the hard work for you, pulling in your existing settings, app downloads and syncing all relevant data from your latest backup. You can alternatively choose to set it up manually if you’re going to be using it for work or want to effectively start from scratch with app downloads etc.

You can then choose to set up or disable, FaceID, Siri and sharing settings via the on-screen step-by-step guide that follows the data sync.

If you’re not already an Apple customer, you’ll need to create an Apple ID and manually download the apps you want. Apple has created an Android switching feature, though, which helps you switch from one software to another with ease, and you can access this simply by selecting the option from the opening screen.

iPad Pro battery life and performance

Apple promises up to ten hours of surfing the web or watching video over Wi-Fi, which drops to nine hours when doing the same via a mobile network. This is exactly the same estimated timeframes seen on the iPad Air and the iPad Mini.

From our experience, this massively underplays the iPad Pro’s battery capabilities. Firstly during our looping video test in which we play an HD video on repeat until the battery dies, the iPad Pro 12.9-inch went from full to flat in 14 hours. That’s four hours more than Apple states.

When using the iPad Pro intermittently to play SimCity, watch TikTok, make a couple of Zoom calls and work with the Apple Pencil and Magic Keyboard, this battery lasted well into the fourth day. This is incredibly impressive.

The same can be said for the iPad Pro’s performance. A lot was made of the M1 Chip and its myriad cores, high RAM and support for Apple’s neural engine during the Spring launch event and, having spent weeks pushing it as hard as we can, we can’t fault it.

Applications that have been known to cause problems on even more souped-up hardware, such as our 2020 MacBook Pro – namely Photoshop – opened as quickly and worked as well on the iPad Pro as apps as lightweight as Mail or WhatsApp. There is zero lag with the Magic Keyboard, and the Apple Pencil works almost as smoothly as a regular pen on paper. The only thing that’s missing is the slight resistance you get from the real thing.

Another feature that Apple waxed lyrical about during the event, and which has also lived up to the hype, is Centre Stage. It gives a freedom that has only previously been possible via the likes of the Echo Show and Facebook Portal, yet it does so in a device that is infinitely more useful and which is portable. It’s become a bit of a party trick during both work and personal video calls to show off how it follows us around the room and, once you’ve used it, you’ll realise how restrictive normal camera setups are.

Our verdict: should you buy the iPad Pro?

Some very minor criticisms aside, we’ve been completely blown away by the iPad Pro. We’ve been in the tech reviewing game for more than a decade, and this has made us both highly cynical and intolerant to hyperbole.

With the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, though, we have to admit defeat. We’ve tried to push it to various limits, we’ve actively gone looking for faults, and the only one we can really point to is its price. Even then, though, the amount of premium technology on board this tablet goes a very long way towards justifying paying so much for it.

It’s not an everyday tablet for everyday people. During our testing, we only really scratched the surface of what it’s capable of, and we have no doubt that it would perform just as well for even the most intense tasks.

We run the risk of sounding like Apple fanboys, but this is the best tablet we’ve ever used, and it’s almost a shame that its price means it won’t be experienced by large numbers of people.

Rating:

Features: 5/5

Screen and sound quality: 5/5

Design: 5/5

Set-up: 5/5

Battery life and performance: 5/5

Overall rating: 5/5

Where to buy iPad Pro

iPad Pro 11-inch

You can also buy the iPad Pro 11-inch from the following places:

iPad Pro 12.9-inch

You can also buy the iPad Pro 12.9-inch from the following places:

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Apple fan? Don't miss our best iPhone round-up or our iPhone 12 vs Mini vs Pro vs Pro Max and iPhone 13 vs iPhone 12 comparisons. Still comparing tablets? Read our best tablet and best tablet for kids guides.

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