Apple’s 2021 12.9-inch iPad Pro: the best tablet ever

I think I can safely say that the 2021 12.9-inch iPad Pro is the best tablet ever made by any company. Its display is fantastic, and its hardware is more powerful than many laptops (and some desktops). But it still can’t replace my Mac laptop, though I was hoping it could.

Nothing against my 13-inch MacBook Pro, but, in an ideal world, I would use my 24-inch iMac (review coming soon) for my daily work, and a 12.9-inch iPad Pro for working when traveling. Alas, iPadOS still isn’t as flexible as macOS when it comes to my needs, though it will be interesting to see what features Apple announces for iPadOS 15 at this summer’s Worldwide Developer Conference.

For now, the standout feature of the 2021 12.9-inch iPad Pro is the stunning new Liquid Retina XDR display. It’s engineered with a mini-LED design that uses over 10,000 LEDs across the entire back of the display. The Liquid Retina XDR display features up to 1000 nits of full-screen brightness, 1600 nits of peak brightness, and 1 million-to-1 contrast ratio. That contrast ratio compares to about 1,700-to-1 for the 2018 and 2020 iPad Pros. Previous iPad Pros had 72 LEDs behind the screen to illuminate the display; the 2021 model bumps that number to more than 10,000.

Combine those features with ProMotion, True Tone, and P3 wide color support, and the screen of the new 12.9-inch iPad Pro is the most gorgeous on any mobile device. Photos simply pop on-screen, and viewing movies is a delightful experience. In fact, watching movies on it may be the best film viewing experience outside of a movie theater (remember those?) or a high-end TV.

I have to point out that some folks have reported seeing blooming on brightly lit pixels against a black background. Blooming occurs when the light that’s illuminating a small object bleeds into the surrounding dimmed zones. However, I haven’t experienced this on my iPad Pro.

The display is great for FaceTime and Zoom calls. What’s more, the new Ultra Wide front camera enables Center Stage, a new feature that impressively keeps you in the frame when making video calls. This feature uses the larger field of view on the new front camera and the machine learning capabilities of M1 to recognize and keep users centered in the frame. 

As users move around, Center Stage automatically pans to keep them in the shot. When others join in, the camera detects them, too, and zooms out to fit everyone into the view. Pretty cool.

Center Stage is supported in FaceTime and some third-party videoconferencing software, such as Zoom. It’s enabled by default; however, you can turn it off in the Settings app if you don’t like it. 

Apple surprised everyone by putting the M1 processor into the 2021 12.9-inch iPad Pro, as most of us felt the “M” in “M1” stood for Mac. Apparently not. 

Apple says the 8-core CPU design features the world’s fastest CPU cores in low-power silicon — delivering up to 50% faster CPU performance than A12Z Bionic. I’ll take them at their word; after all, the new tablet packs the processing power of the new 24-inch iMac. 

What’s more, its 8-core GPU delivers up to 40% faster GPU performance. Also adding to the iPad Pro’s blisteringly fast performance is a next-generation 16-core Apple Neural Engine, an advanced image signal processor (ISP), a unified, high-bandwidth memory architecture with up to 16GB of memory, and 2x faster storage (which can be upgraded to a maximum 2TB). Even with all this processing power, you can still get all-day (over 10 hours, in my experience) battery life on the Apple tablet.

When it comes to audio, the 12.9-inch iPad Pro offers the same fantastic four-speaker sound as the previous model. Who needs a boombox?

Cellular models of the new 12.9-inch iPad Pro with 5G deliver even faster wireless connectivity. However, I ordered the WiFi-only version (Apple World Today still isn’t on Apple’s review list, so we have to fork out our hard-earned moolah for all new products ourselves). I just use the iPhone hot spot feature when I need cell service. Also, my cell provider is Verizon, and in my neck of the woods, its 5G service is sporadic.

You should not that the iPad Pro models in the U.S. support millimeter wave, the higher frequency version of 5G, allowing iPad Pro to reach (at least in theory) speeds up to 4Gbps. The new tablet also features support for eSIM, which helps make it easy to find a network and sign up for a 5G data plan on-the-go.

The super-sized  iPad Pro now includes support for Thunderbolt. That and support for USB 4 makes the device’s USB-C port more versatile with up to 4x more bandwidth for wired connections than the previous tablet— up to 40Gbps. Thunderbolt supports 10Gbps Ethernet and opens up a ecosystem of high-performance accessories, like faster external storage and even higher resolution external displays, including the Pro Display XDR (assuming you can afford the $5,000 price tag of the ultra-cool display) at full 6K resolution.

The million (or perhaps $2,000 question): why can’t Dennis use this powerful, gorgeous device as his go-to, on-the-go, work device? Actually I can. But it’s more time-consuming and requires more work-arounds than using my Mac laptop. Apps don’t work in harmony as they do on a Mac. iPadOS’s multitasking isn’t bad, but isn’t as fluid as that of macOS. There’s still no multi-user support. Etc.

Pricing for the 12.9-inch iPad Pro starts at US$1,099for the Wi-Fi model and $1,299 for the Wi-Fi + Cellular model from apple.com.

Review overview

Operating system7

The Pros

  • Great screen
  • fantastic audio
  • super powerful

The Cons

  • iPadOS is limited
  • pricey


9The iPad Pro 2021 is a fantastic tablet and, for some folks, a great laptop alternative. However, if you’re a dedicated macOS user, you’ll probably find it’s a great laptop companion and not a replacement.

the authorDennisSellers
Dennis Sellers is the editor/publisher of Apple World Today. He’s been an “Apple journalist” since 1995 (starting with the first big Apple news site, MacCentral). He loves to read, run, play sports, and watch movies.