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iPad Pro (2021) Review: So Powerful and So Bad

iPad Pro 2021 review

With the iPhone covering the bulk of the tasks people use a smart device for, you might have slept on the iPad Pro’s 2021 model. However, that probably wasn’t a good choice. 

The iPad Pro has a lot going for it, and it can do some things better than your trusty iPhone 13 Pro can besides just giving you a bigger screen. 

If you’ve slept on the iPad Pro, let me tell you why you need to reconsider and maybe pick one up ASAP. 

Design

The overall design of the iPad Pro is amazing. While other large tablets are fairly unwieldy, both the 11-inch and 12.9-inch versions of the iPad Pro are feather-light and exceptionally thin.

Not only does this make both models easier to hold for longer sessions or video binges, but it also makes it a lot easier to tuck the iPad Pro away in a backpack’s tech slot without taking up all the room you need for accessories. 

Visually, it’s not bad. There’s nothing fancy about it, but it is sleek and overall gives off a sense of quality where other tablets can feel a bit flimsy or gimmicky. This doesn’t affect the performance at all, but I think we all like for our expensive gadgets to look like they’re worth the investment, regardless. 

Liquid Retina XDR Display

The display on this one differs dramatically depending on which model you get. 

For the 11-inch, you’re not getting anything fancy. It has 72 LED lights lighting the screen, and while its resolution is impressive, it doesn’t have any of the advanced illumination and contrast features high-end tablets are starting to include. 

iPad Pro 2021 display

However, that’s why you need to get the far superior 12.9-inch model. Yes, the added inch gives you more viewing room for an overall better experience, and it has a 120hz refresh rate that is perfect for gaming or artistic endeavors.

That’s not the best part, though. Apple upgraded the 12.9-inch model to include Mini LED lighting. Instead of a mere 72 full-sized LEDs, you get 10,000 Mini LED lights. 

Note: Apple calls this “Liquid Retina XDR” like it’s a futuristic cyborg enhancement or something, but that’s just marketing nonsense. It’s the same Mini LED other high-end manufacturers are implementing, but it’s made by Apple. 

On the surface level, that means you can make the screen brighter than you should ever want it, but it provides another benefit, too: Localized dimming.

With 10,000 miniature LED lights under the screen, the tablet can adjust the contrast on the fly to provide the best-looking image you’re going to get on a tablet from any angle. 

This is easily one of the best features the iPad Pro has, and it’s definitely worth grabbing the 12.9-inch over the 11-inch. 

Camera

The camera here is nothing to write home about. It takes crystal-clear images and has some of the software enhancements of the iPad 13 Pro, but it’s not contending with professional-grade cameras or shooting any Hollywood films.

iPad Pro 2021 camera

It’s 12-megapixels wide with 10-megapixels ultra-wide, and you get both front and rear-facing cameras. 

However, the one big attraction here is that the front-facing camera gets Center Stage technology benefits. 

Center Stage takes advantage of the ultra-wide lens to correct one major problem most other tablets suffer from; when you’re on a video call, you disappear the second you shift in your seat or otherwise move. 

With Center Stage, the camera can focus on you and shift its focus as you move around. This means that you will stay in the camera’s focus throughout video calls, and it’ll track you around the room. 

If that makes you a little nervous, you can relax. It’s a video-call-only feature. Your tablet isn’t going to shift focus and watch you run around in your boxers. 

Given the focus on virtual learning, online business communication, and virtual family gatherings the world has seen over the last couple of years, this can come in handy. 

Software

The iPad Pro is slightly behind the iPhone 13 Pro when it comes to software, and that’s probably one of the biggest problems that we’ll talk about later. 

iPad Pro 2021 software

It runs on iOS 15.1. This isn’t a bad OS at all. It has all the features you’ve come to know and love from an Apple product, it’s snappy as can be, and it’s great for multi-tasking. 

Of course, this outdated software also lacks some of the customization and utility features added in version 15.2 and the new experimental version of 15.3.

If you want to be on the cutting edge of Apple’s technology, you’ll want another option, or at least hope they update it in the future. However, that’s not the worst part about the OS. Let’s look at the performance. 

Performance

The iPad Pro is packed to the gills with impressive hardware, and unfortunately, all of it is held back just enough to irritate tech junkies. If you’re a casual user, you can ignore the con I talk about in a moment. 

iPad Pro 2021 performance

RAM

Any iPad Pro (2021) model with 512GB of storage space or less has 8GB of RAM. For a tablet, that is exceptional. However, Apple has taken it even further. With the models past the 512GB storage limit, you get 16GB of RAM. This is a huge contributor to the system’s snappiness. 

Memory

As I said, there are different storage tiers across all models of the iPad Pro (2021). It starts with a basic 128GB drive, and while that option is easily the cheapest, keep in mind that this tablet is supposed to be a workhorse.

You can easily game with it, edit multiple 4K videos at once, and do other resource-consuming tasks without the stuttering and poor performance of other devices. You need space to store all that work. Luckily, you can buy models with more storage, and the price doesn’t go up, too much. 

The maximum amount of onboard storage is 1TB, and there are options between 128GB and 1TB raising in intervals. Honestly, it’s probably best to just go with the 1TB model unless you’re a very casual user. You’ll appreciate the high storage capacity. 

M1 Processing Chip

High storage capacity and desktop levels of RAM are impressive, but they’re nothing you can’t find on other high-end tablets. What is absolutely mind-blowing is the M1 chip that powers everything.

This is some real processing power, and it’s the same chip you’ll find in the latest Mac books. Yes, you can get a full-blown PC chip in the iPad Pro’s 2021 release, and it shows whenever you’re gaming, multi-tasking, or taking on resource-extensive tasks. 

Not only that but that M1 chip is fully utilized through Apple’s Neural Engine; a machine-learning AI that optimizes your computing capabilities on the fly. 

The Big Drawback

All those specs and fancy parts sounded great, right? Well, if you’re a real tech junky who wants to push them to their limits, don’t get too excited. Apple essentially shot itself in the foot. 

Yes, they packed a ton of fancy hardware into the iPad Pro, but they limited it with their own software. The iOS 15.1 operating system simply can’t take advantage of all that power. 

Do you want to hook your iPad up to a PC monitor for some dual-screen work? Too bad. It has the power to process it, but the OS only allows for screen mirroring. 

Do you want to use the iPad as a hub for other devices to really power through complex tasks and heighten productivity? Nope. 

Those are just a few of the limitations it has, and while it technically outclasses some business-level laptops and competes with budget-friendly gaming laptops, Apple’s own highly-limited software holds it back. 

This might resolve itself over time if Apple bothers to push out some upgrades, but it’s been more than a year and plenty of small things get in the way of unleashing this unit’s true power. It’s a shame, really. 

Battery Life

Like other recent inclusions in Apple’s high-end lineup, you can expect 10 solid hours of battery life from both the 11-inch and 12.9-inch models. 

iPad Pro 2021 battery life

This is a good thing considering it’s obviously a great piece of work equipment, and it’s even beneficial for casual users who don’t want to be plugged in every time they get a good Netflix binge in. 

Note that this battery life tends to fluctuate a bit depending on the tasks you’re processing, but not by more than an hour in either direction. 

5G Cellular and WiFi 6

First and foremost, don’t let the 5G implementation sell you on the device. Yes, it’s fast and fancy, but there’s not enough 5G infrastructure in the US to ensure you get much use out of it. 

This is why it’s not recommended to buy the “cellular only” versions of the iPad Pro. You’ll be locked into the much slower 4G LTE instead of enjoying the 5G you paid for. 

Luckily, both the 11-inch and the 12.9-inch come in a variety of configurations. You can get cellular-only, WiFi-only, or combination versions that are compatible with both. 

The combo version is the most desirable for obvious reasons, and I’d recommend not going with the cellular-only options. 4G isn’t bad at all, but you’re paying for 5G and won’t even have it most of the time. 

Pros and Cons

The pros and cons of the iPad Pro (2021) should be considered and weighed heavily before you commit to a purchase. They’re extreme in both directions. 

Here’s the full breakdown. 

Pros

  • Powerful hardware
  • Great for productivity
  • Great price point
  • Mini LED display on the 12.9-inch
  • Large screen for excellent viewing
  • Light and sleek without feeling or looking cheap
  • Multiple storage capacities to choose from at reasonable prices
  • Expandable memory via external hard drives
  •  Snappy and responsive
  • The touchscreen is great for art stylus tasks

Cons

The cons of the iPad Pro are big enough that they can’t just be summed up with bullet points. First, the software holds it back from reaching its true potential, and that’s never a good thing. You’re paying for that advanced hardware, and while it’s capable of being a portable business desktop, the software limitations keep it in the tablet category. 

Then, you have to consider that the 11-inch is far inferior to the 12.9-inch. When you’re talking about expensive tech, it’s not easy for everyone to just waltz out the door and upgrade every time Apple adds something new a month down the line. Hopefully, you haven’t already bought the 11-inch and can spend your money on the superior version. 

Finally, while the camera is great, it’s not on par with the iPhone 13 that was released shortly after. Luckily, it’s more of a streaming/professional productivity tool. So, the camera isn’t that big of a deal. 

Should You Buy it?

iPad Pro 2021 on a desk

Should you buy the iPad Pro (2021)? There are a couple of answers to that question. 

If you want a highly powerful tablet you can tinker with and really push it to the limits of the hardware it contains, no. You shouldn’t pick it up until Apple decides to remove the limitations of its software.

This is a problem with several Apple products, and it’s why a lot of more tech-savvy people opt not to go with their products. However, you can wait and see if that update comes out. If it does, you’re in for a real treat, because the 2021 version of the iPad Pro is a killer piece of tech under the hood. 

Fortunately, if you want a productive piece of equipment that doesn’t necessarily have to max out its RAM and processing power to make your life easier, this is perfect.

It’s also great if you’re into mobile gaming on the higher end such as Xbox’s XCloud streaming platform or the more resource-demanding games from the Apple Store, and it will absolutely breeze through any streaming or artistic tasks you put it through. 

The iPad Pro is held back in a really dumb way, but don’t let that turn you off of it. It’s held back in ways most people won’t even notice, and unless you plan on pushing the tech to its boundaries with extremely complex tasks, you’ll get your money’s worth from the iPad Pro (2021). 

iPad Pro 2021 review
iPad Pro 2021
Verdict
The iPad Pro 2021 is basically a MacBook Pro hardware running in the body of an iPad. However, the limitation of iPadOS doesn't do the iPad Pro justice. Hopefully, Apple will address that soon.
Good Stuff
Powerful hardware
Center Stage is awesome
Mini LED display on the 12.9-inch
Bad Stuff
iPadOS can be limiting
No Mini LED on the 11-inch
Awkward camera placement
8.5
Gotechtor Score

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