iPad Pro M1 (2021), review: power and experience

It’s only been 11 years since the first iPad was launched. Jobs did not present it as big changes are presented, but as small revolutions do: sitting on a sofa. He adjusted his glasses. This was a small window into the digital world that was about to get a lot bigger. That first Apple tablet is like the first time we left our suitcase in a new hotel and looked out the window. How to explore riding a bike as children a new path that we have just discovered.

It was certainly a very personal, innocent experience of possibilities. Personally, I don’t think even Apple was aware of it until a few years later. I was lucky enough to attend a keynote in 2011 where I understood how big that little living room tablet was going to be that was only used for exploring. On March 2, 2011, Steve Jobs himself appeared by surprise on stage (he already had serious health problems at that time ). People got to their feet. “We’ve been working really hard on this and I didn’t want to miss this today. 2010 was the year of the iPad.

15 million iPads were sold that year. Well, actually in nine months, because the launch was in April. “No one, absolutely no one, was able to predict its enormous success. It was the fastest adoption of a new device in the history of technology,” said Phill Schiller, Apple’s vice president of worldwide marketing at the time. “In ten years working in stores, I have never experienced something like the launch of the iPad” also assured Ron Johnson, vice president of Apple’s Retail business in 2011.

The importance of the iPad in this last decade was the arrival of what in technology we call “ubiquitous computing”, a term that personally I find fascinating: “the integration of computing in the environment of the person. It is the concept that first determines Once man should not adapt to the machine, but the machine to man “. And that’s how we went from reading with the iPad on a sofa, to creating with it anywhere.

The moment of the anomaly

Apple iPad Pro 2021
Apple iPad Pro 2021

The iPad Pro that we have in front of us today is a true anomaly in the world of computing. All tablets as we knew them from other brands were touch screens with desktop operating systems. The iPad dared the opposite way: an operating system designed for the mobile world, from scratch. In the short term it was tremendously risky, since an already established system had applications ready to use, but with problems in the interface layer since they were probably difficult to use as they were not designed in a touch environment.

The iPad, during these years, has been perfecting and improving its operating system, the key point of which was when it separated from iOS : iPadOS had a life of its own – it should have, by its very nature – and developers began to discover more possibilities in a device increasingly powerful and more capable of doing things that desktop systems could not do: extended reality, extreme mobility, taking videos and editing in high definition,… in short, comfort and power for all those who were in it a better way to do what you already did with your regular computers.

What is rare, what is truly exceptional, is that for the first time in the history of the iPad, one of its models has the same processor as its desktop counterparts – converging from two points: a mature operating system designed for the touch world and yes, by In short, the full power of the rest of the company’s traditional computers.

Apple iPad Pro 2021
Apple iPad Pro 2021

Science fiction anticipated something like this when in “2001: A Space Odyssey”, Arthur C. Clarke filled Discovery One with devices similar to those we have at home today. It was 1968. In 1991, Mark Weiser, one of the most brilliant engineers of the time, influenced by novels like Philip K. Dick’s Ubik, proposed three basic models for considering ubiquitous systems:

  1. Tabs: devices of a few centimeters.
  2. Pads: hand-sized devices.
  3. Boards: devices of several meters.

Meaning 2 is the reason why the iPad is called iPad. And today, thirty years after coining that term, the iPad Pro reaches a meeting point in terms of power that would surely enchant the science fiction writers of the time.

The XDR screen comes to the iPad Pro

Apple iPad Pro 2021
Apple iPad Pro 2021

The exterior design of this new iPad Pro on the outside is practically identical to the one we already met in 2020. This time the 11 “model shares characteristics with the 12.9” older brother, except for the new Liquid Retina XDR screen. In hand we could not distinguish one generation from another, which share height ( about 28.06 cm ) and width ( 21.49 cm ). On paper this new iPad Pro is somewhat thicker, but we are only talking about an increase of half a millimeter ( 0.59cm in 2020 and 0.64 in this model ), so it is imperceptible when you pick it up.

This year’s Magic Keyboard can be used with the 2020 model and vice versa: there is no incompatibility between new models and existing accessories

This small change in thickness raised the alarm as to whether the Magic Keyboard from the previous model could be used or a specific version was needed for this one: in my tests, I have been able to exchange both iPad Pro between the two Magic Keyboard without any problem and they work perfect between them, they are perfectly compatible as you can see in the images working port, trackpad and keyboard perfectly. Only that white seems to me to be really good for this generation ( and it does not seem to get very dirty, cleaning easily with a moistened microfiber cloth ), being at the level of performance and characteristics identical to the Magic Keyboard of 2020. Apple’s magic mouse can be used with this.

The weight is increased by 41 grams in both models ( Wi-Fi and the Wi-Fi + Cellular version ), which now weigh 682 and 684 grams respectively. In the same way, weighing both generations in both hands, this change on this scale is also imperceptible: the iPad Pro remains at that point of balance between dimensions, screen and weight that allow it to be held with one hand and used comfortably – even even though the screen is as big as this 12.9 “.

The big changes start with the display: for the first time on an Apple device, mini-LED technology is used to enhance the display. This technology is the one that will be incorporated in the latest generation televisions that begin to come out in 2021 and is considered one of the ones that can offer the best image today. Apple is one of the first brands to adopt it for mobile devices, and the reason for this is the improvement in contrast and image quality that is achieved.

The new Liquid Retina XDR screen uses 10,000 LEDs of less than 0.2 mm ( this is where the “mini” comes from, 120 times smaller than those incorporated in the previous generation ) each one to illuminate practically any area of ​​the screen, but in a Independent. In other words, traditionally LED technology used a single lighting layer or several smaller lighting zones that changed locally, not on this very small scale.

What the screen does is light up or darken each mini-LED depending on the image on the screen. In the keynote we saw a magnificent example of this with a night image of a starry sky over a mountain with areas from higher to lower visibility: the areas where the mountain is distinguished will have the brightest mini-LEDs, which will decrease in intensity in the areas where it is barely visible, or will turn off completely in dark areas. This achieves an image with tremendous contrast between the light and shadow areas, including the various gradients between them.

Apple iPad Pro 2021
Each 0.2mm mini-LED in the 10,000 is spot-lit to contrast the image

It is the closest approximation to OLED technology, where each pixel is illuminated independently, with a lower cost and an easier implementation. OLED panels are used on larger screens, but they are very limited to smaller devices because of the limitation on the maximum brightness they can achieve. Apple chose mini-LEDs for the iPad Pro because it practically achieves the best of two worlds: high- quality images and peak brightness peaks found on larger screens. In short, this technology allows darker black colors, spectacular improvement in contrast and brighter panels.

Liquid Retina XDR is spectacular in person, with an incredible 1,000,000: 1 contrast – the same as the Pro Display XDR

This is especially evident in this new iPad Pro, where the screen stands out for images like we have never seen in a similar device: a contrast of 1,000,000: 1 (it is the same contrast as the Apple ProDisplay XDR professional monitor, hence the name it has on this iPad Pro ). Despite maintaining the 600 nits of typical brightness, thanks also to the mini-LED technology, the maximum brightness at full screen is increased up to 1000 nits sustained, with peaks that can reach 1600 nits in HDR format. Again, we have the exact same specs as the ProDisplay XDR… on an iPad Pro.

The same resolution of 2732×2048 with 264ppp is maintained, along with the rest of the features that we already liked from the previous generation: integral lamination, 120Hz ProMotion technology, P3 cinematic color space, True Tone screen … plus the iPad Pro screen It comes 100% factory calibrated, offering great reliability out of the box, without the need to configure anything special.

Apple iPad Pro 2021
Apple iPad Pro 2021

On a day-to-day basis, the screen is still magnificent, but it is in the most contrasting images between areas of light, shadows and color where we notice the difference in screen quality, which also thanks to its high brightness improve its viewing outdoors. Make no mistake, no screen other than electronic ink will look perfect in bright outside light, but the improvement in this iPad Pro compared to what we know is important – an aspect to consider if as professionals you travel and use the iPad Pro for your sessions outside the studio, for example.

All the images in this article have been processed using Lightroom on this iPad Pro, and I must say that it has been easier than ever: not only for the tactile comfort of doing it ( some of them I edited while waiting in the car ), but also for the tonal reliability of the display.

The change is also appreciated when we put content in HDR, such as AppleTV + movies and series prepared for Dolby Vision. In the case of La Costa de los Mosquitos ( which by the way, I recommend you ) it is a perfect example, since the warmth of the tones as it is produced show the improvement in contrast in each area, even in images with a lot of brightness that are the most difficult to contrast if it is not lowered to the level of the mini-LED. Parts of the film shot like the exterior of the house, very illuminated by the sun, but with the areas of the windows or the shade of the trees perfectly obscured.

But you don’t have to go to movies recorded in the latest format on the market: let’s talk about games. The new screen shows us nuances and depth that helps the immersion, with special mention to one of my favorites in Apple Arcade: Fantasian. A classic-style science fiction adventure where, from the spectacular presentation, we discover the virtues of the new screen between the different illuminated areas of the video.

Apple iPad Pro 2021, Apple m1 chip in ipad pro
Left: iPad Pro M1 (2021), Right: iPad Pro (2020). Same frame, both screens at maximum brightness

Within the game itself, the definition and brightness remain spectacular, so the use of this new Liquid Retina XDR display is not limited to work. Notice that Apple has also been able to think about this even when designing the new wallpapers that you see in the images, with areas of multicolored light and shadows that we can already have from the iPad Pro desktop to appreciate the difference.

The M1 chip in an iPad

Until now, the iPad Pro had known how to coexist with improved processors from the iPhone, the cycle being similar every year: a generation of new iPhones inaugurates a new processor that is then implemented in the iPad Pro with more cores or some specific improvement. This is what happened until the M1 arrived on Macs.

The arrival of the M1 chip to the iPad Pro will facilitate the road map from now on, since it is closer to the Macs than to the iPhone

We are no longer talking about enhanced smartphone performance for tablets here: why not use the desktop processor, which already uses the same architecture, so that both operating systems – the Mac and iPadOS – share hardware, power and capabilities? This will also help Apple align manufacturing processes by ranges: no longer need to tune any processor, simply use a Mac adapted for the iPad Pro.

And this adaptation does not speak of limiting the cores available on the chip. The M1 that we find in this iPad Pro is the M1 that is in Macs, being even the highest version with 8 cores for CPU, 8 cores for GPU and 16 cores to manage Machine Learning from the Neural Engine. We are talking about the largest increase in power in an iPad in its history. Let’s approximate it with the Geekbench 5 Pro benchmarks:

Geekbench also provides us with technical hardware information, such as that this review model ( which is the 1TB capacity version ) has 16GB of RAM – also a first for a device like this. The score of this iPad Pro must be framed closer to the Mac M1, than last year’s iPad Pro, which stood at 1125 single-core points and 4644 multi-core points. Very close to the MacBook Air, although with the lower sustained peak performance (it is observed in the multicore score that, as it is not linear, it decreases a few points as the cores go up) possibly to maintain the heat dissipation that in the iPad Pro is also passive, but with less space of cooling path than in a laptop like the Air. Still, we are talking about 2,500 points higher from one generation to the next.

Apple iPad Pro specification
Apple iPad Pro specification

Speaking of heat, one of the advantages of the M1 is that it is absolutely cold and in the iPad Pro it was not going to be less: for this I configured the most complex tests of Geekbench 5 Pro, which go through increasing the number of activators for each test, so i set them all to max:

  • CPU Workers: 8 (Max)
  • Memory Workers: 4 (Max)
  • Iterations: 10 (Max)
  • Workload Gap: 20 (Max)

When the tests were running, I used an industrial surface- specific infrared thermometer to measure heat, capable of accurately measuring within the range of -50ºC to 680ºC. At all times, the maximum temperature was approximately 32º, which in hand is imperceptible ( taking into account that they are only peak moments ) and does not bother even if we are holding it with us. On the screen I have not noticed an increase in heat of any kind, so in this regard the iPad Pro, despite drastically improving in power and image quality, remains quite cold.

Apple iPad Pro 2021
Apple iPad Pro 2021

Another improvement that we could notice with the incorporation of the M1 is energy efficiency. In the specifications of the device, Apple maintains the theoretical 10 hours of Internet browsing via Wi-Fi or video playback, although I wanted to test it something else in real life. Therefore: I deactivated the automatic screen shutdown keeping the screen brightness around 60% and used it for a day with the usual applications:

  • Microsoft Teams: 67% (video calls, chat, calendar…)
  • Microsoft Outlook: 23% (notifications activated, receiving and composing email)
  • Safari: 8% (typical browsing)
  • Lightroom: 2% (processing and editing of photo packs)

The result I obtained was better than the one Apple mentions, possibly because the company wants to maintain a common base for all users: the uses that each of us will give it is very different, but on a similar journey to mine, the curve of the battery descent was this:

Apple iPad Pro 2021
Apple iPad Pro 2021

As you can see, 13h and 46 minutes with the screen on using the device, with the applications mentioned above and the brightness at 60%, which for an iPad Pro with this power and new screen technology is a breakthrough. The charging time with the 20W USB-C charger and the cable ( both included ) goes from 10% to 30% in 30 minutes, so we will charge 20% every half hour with it.

The 2020 iPad Pro already had a Neural Engine to process Machine Learning requests that applications demand. However, with the incorporation of the M1, the calculation tasks necessary for the processes that the learning engines need are greatly improved: from the identification of faces in photos, to more complex things, for example using the latest version of Photoshop for iPadOS. With the new cores for ML, the identification of figures or patterns is much faster than in previous generations, and some photographs can even outline the hair almost to the pixel… automatically. Very useful to separate by layers, change backgrounds, or compose images, faster than ever and wherever we are.

Let’s go up on stage

One of the most spectacular functions of the cameras in this new iPad Pro is Center Stage ( they have translated it as “Center Framing” ). For this, it uses a new 12 Mpx ultra-wide-angle camera much improved compared to the previous 7 Mpx of the 2020 model. As we saw with the new iMac M1 (2020) , it seems that Apple has taken the moment into account. current teleworking at home ( or anywhere, as is the case with the iPad Pro ) and offers better features in the camera for it.

Apple iPad Pro 2021
Apple iPad Pro 2021

Combining this new 12Mpx TrueDepth camera system, it captures video in ultra wide angle mode, but only shows the part where a person is detected in video conferences. Here again highlight the use of the M1 Machine learning , which detects patterns of human faces ( also of pets, according to my tests, by the way ) to zoom in on that portion of the video, giving the impression that the iPad Pro “rotates” physically to focus. This effect is already incorporated by other manufacturers, such as Logitech with its StreamCam, and in the case of the iPad Pro it works perfectly, since it is also capable of detecting several people at the same time, increasing or closing the frame as they enter or leave the plane, in the 122º that surround the screen. Very spectacular (and useful).

It should be noted that this functionality is available for any video conferencing application that uses the front camera to transmit images: of course FaceTime, but also Webex, Zoom, Teams or Skype ( as you can see in my images ), without the need to configure anything and even working the filters of blurred backgrounds or similar, all in real time and without artifacts or stoppages.

The rest of the cameras maintain the characteristics and results that we already know from last year, that is, we have the same 12 Mpx wide-angle camera and 10 Mpx ultra-wide angle camera on the back, accompanied by the LiDAR scanner to sample reality. in 3D and help augmented reality applications or photographic sensors to better determine the depth in our photos.

If the latest iPad Pro has stood out for something, it has been for sound quality : until the arrival of the 16 “MacBook Pro (2019) or the iMac M1 (2021) it was the Apple product that performed the best in this regard. This iPad Pro maintains that quality with the four high-quality speakers

Update on connectivity and storage

Apple iPad Pro 2021
Apple iPad Pro 2021

A change that I hope to talk about a lot in WWDC21 is the incorporation of a USB-C port compatible with Thunderbolt / USB 4, improving the data transfer and possibilities of this port ( the previous iPad Pro simply had a USB-C connector without this rule ). Thanks to it, we will be able to connect devices that will use up to 40 Gb / s of transfer with external accessories usually classified as “high performance”.

With the new Thunderbolt port, iPadOS needs to improve the use of external monitors to bring us the real extended mode in any application.

It is exactly the same port that Mac computers include, and will allow us to connect a Dock to the iPad that in a single port, can offer even more versatility of connections, high-speed hard drives for transferring large volumes of files, cameras and monitors. On this last point, now that we have this technology in the Pro, it is iPadOS who has to catch up : support for the external monitor should not be limited to previews of some apps or the mirror mode.

As you can see, connecting an external monitor duplicates the iPad Pro desktop instead of extending it and is only used by some apps to show certain previews or specific parts of the result that we are creating. It would be important that iPadOS 15 gave us a real extended desktop to work with the iPad Pro, where we can have any application in full screen on the external monitor and even work with several of them distributed between the iPad and the monitor. The power of the M1 allows that and more, it is already possible to connect nothing more and nothing less than a Pro Display XDR 6K without problems.

In the 2021 edition, we have the possibility of buying the iPad Pro with up to 2 TB of storage, so that our mobility solution is complete if we only want to take the iPad Pro to our outdoor sessions. Apple has also increased the speed of the hard disk, which can now be twice as fast as in the previous model (as long as we have a higher capacity hard disk: the higher the capacity, the faster the access speed ).

An iPad Pro closer to the Mac than ever

With this iPad Pro, Apple updates the iPad experience at the highest level: Mac processor, next-generation screen with clear legacies of its professional range and necessary details such as the incorporation of 5G that are needed in a mobility-oriented product like this. In combination with accessories such as the Magic Keyboard, or the Apple Pencil ( which is still compatible with its second generation ), we will have a powerful creative station and transport it wherever we go. However, we must remember that an iPad Pro is not for everyone nor can it be generalized: if our workflow and our daily applications are ready in iPadOS, this new hardware will give the best possible performance.

It is therefore a valuable proposition for creative professionals who need the versatility, power, comfort and ecosystem that an iPad Pro offers. Also for all those who seek the highest quality iPad experience and with many years of life ahead of them, with a much more thoughtful integration with the rest of the brand’s devices and that can get even more interesting when the company unveils iPadOS 15 at WWDC21 – given the enormous possibilities of Apple’s new professional tablet on a canvas that this generation looks better than ever.

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