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(Pocket-lint) - How we all work over the last couple of years may have changed dramatically, but the need for a powerful and portable tablet is still strong. 

Right now, if you're aiming to be productive when on the move, Apple's iPad Pro 12.9-inch (2021) wants to be your friend. 

Featuring the M1 processor, a different screen, 5G connectivity and improvements to the camera, it's almost certainly the most powerful slate that money can buy. 

So, does the company's flagship iPad finally - yes, finally - lets you ditch your laptop altogether? 

We've used the iPad Pro (2021) for long enough to know, so here's our full verdict.

Our quick take

When Steve Jobs first revealed the iPad back in 2010, it was all about casual reading and surfing from the sofa, and about access to apps to empower, entertain and educate us.

More than a decade on, the latest iPad Pro still embraces those principles. For today's creative types who want more than just basic typing and surfing, though, it's a more empowering experience - largely thanks to the M1 processor - bringing greater opportunity for both work and play.

For all intents and purposes, the iPad Pro 12.9-inch is like a touchscreen-enabled MacBook Pro with 5G connectivity that runs iPadOS instead of macOS. It's the closest to a laptop replacement that Apple has ever taken the iPad.

Yet, the iPad Pro is still in transition. It doesn't completely replace the laptop just yet, because Apple hasn't quite cracked the software. So, if that's what you're after, let's hope updates to iPadOS this year and beyond change that.

Apple iPad Pro 12.9-inch (2021) review: The top tablet for productivity?

Apple iPad Pro 12.9-inch (2021)

4.5 stars - Pocket-lint recommended
  • Mini LED screen is better and brighter
  • Ease of use
  • Camera improvements
  • 5G connectivity
  • Center Stage (camera tracking) can be hit and miss
  • Software feels like it's holding it back


Should you still buy the Apple iPad Pro (2021)?

Since Apple released the latest Pro, the rest of the iPad lineup has changed dramatically. There's now a newer entry-level iPad, a sixth-generation iPad mini and a fifth-generation iPad Air

That means that the Pro's place in the lineup has also shifted. It's no longer the only option if you want an iPad for productivity, with the newest Air also featuring the same powerful M1 chip for a lower price.

In fact, for most people, the Air is now in the sweet spot between a casual tablet and one that's trying to impersonate a laptop. 

That doesn't mean the Pro is redundant, though. With ProMotion refresh rates, a Mini LED screen and that larger design, it's certainly still a very good option - and that's even taking into account the fact a new generation will likely land later in 2022, or perhaps in early 2023.

If you're a real power user that works with 4K video or high-res images, say, or you just want the iPad with the most future-proofing, then this is still the pick in 2022.

Below are our full impressions of the Pro, but you can also continue to compare models with our iPad buyer's guide.

Design gets heavier

  • Same design as the 2020 model
  • Finishes: Silver or Space Grey
  • Dimensions: 281 x 215 x 6.4mm
  • Weight: 682g (Wi-Fi), 685g (5G)

Having launched previously with a much squarer design, which has since been adopted by the iPhone, the iPad Pro keeps an almost identical design to its previous offering.

The 12.9-inch model is ever so slightly thicker than previous versions, thanks to new Mini LED screen technology, but it will still fit your previous cases (albeit snugly), including the Apple Magic Keyboard that launched in 2020.

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That extra thickness also means it's a bit heavier, with around 40g extra. While that's not hugely noticeable over the previous version, it does mean that the Pro is getting heavier and heavier - which is something to bear in mind.

To put it in perspective, though, the latest Pro is actually the same weight as the original iPad from way back in 2010. And while no one would argue that this iPad is considerably more powerful, it's interesting that all that tech, and batteries to power it, means that the days of a thin-and-light iPad have come to an end - well, certainly at the top-end of this market.

Why's that important? Because it is no longer a slip-in-your-bag-and-not-notice-it device any more. Add in the Magic Keyboard - which is another 710g - and you've got a device that's 1.395kg. That's roughly the same as the company's 13-inch MacBook Pro, and, indeed, it's actually not too difficult to find sub-1kg laptops on the market.

Display gets brighter

  • 12.9-inch 'Liquid Retina XDR' Mini LED display
  • 2732 x 2048 resolution (264ppi)
  • 1600-nit peak brightness
  • 120Hz refresh rate

The iPad Pro gets an updated display technology - called Mini LED - which makes it considerably brighter than older models. It's a relatively new panel technology that's only just making its way into the latest TVs.

In the case of this 12.9-inch model, that means over 10,000 LEDs are positioned behind the screen to create, at times, a much brighter display that is also more nuanced to what is happening on the screen.

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The enhanced technology is instantly noticeable. The screen is physically brighter for starters, and has the ability to increase that brightness further depending on what is required. Previously the peak brightness was 600 nits, now that can go up to 1600 nits for those high dynamic range (HDR) moments.

While the average user will benefit from watching high-resolution content from their favourite streaming service - even the end credits of a movie look stunning - creatives will certainly enjoy the ability to see all that extra detail in their images or video, especially if they are working within the realms of HDR or Dolby Vision.

Combine that with the Pro's usual array of screen tech - such as P3 wide colour gamut, ProMotion (120Hz refresh rate), and True Tone - and you won't find much to complain about when it comes to the screen.

The front-facing camera gets more intelligent

  • Improved front-facing camera: 12-megapixel, 122-degree field of view
  • New 'Center Stage' technology (for subject tracking)

If you're like us, you'll have spent a lot of time over the last couple of years on video calls talking to colleagues, friends, and family. That's why it's handy the iPad Pro celebrates video calling by adding a new front-facing TrueDepth Camera.

It's unique to the iPad and, for the most part, you won't notice that it's ultra-wide. That's because of the feature Apple first debuted on the iPad Pro: Center Stage.

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No doubt inspired by devices like the Facebook Portal and Amazon Echo Show 10, the idea is that the front-facing camera can now follow you as you move about so you're always "centre stage".

By cropping into the captured image to deliver the same image crop iPad users are used to, nothing physically moves within the iPad itself. Instead, Applehas opted to emulate that movement by digitally cropping in on the image as it follows you.

The feature, which works just as well in Apple FaceTime as it does in Zoom and other video calling apps, can be fun, but it can become jarring.

Anything with a head and shoulders is automatically picked up and the frame will resize to fit them in. Add more people and the feature zooms out to make sure everyone is in the frame. That's fantastic for a family catch-up with the kids trying to jostle around the iPad Pro screen, or for ensuring you're fully in the shot.

The 122-degree viewpoint is wide enough to catch most of you, wide enough to track you around the room, and wide enough to still move if you've stepped some distance from the camera (we got to around 5 metres away). 

Where things get tricky is if you move around when using it and the iPad Pro is stationary on the desk. Not because it doesn't follow you, but because of the fluidity to the follow. You move and the camera slowly moves with you.

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The resulting affect is as if Apple has applied a Ken Burns effect to dramatise your video call. Or, as we found when being fairly close to the camera, it looks a bit like being on a boat and bobbing up and down with the tide. It can, at times, be very nauseating.

However, go hands-free and the technology helps stabilise your movement - making it a much better experience as the tracking is kept to a minimum and less pronounced.

It's probably why business calls from our desk garnered plenty of complaints, but family calls resulted in much more positive feedback with the grandparents in awe of the technology in action, and a chance to see everyone for the first time without us having to stand miles away from the screen.

Performance: Everything is faster

  • Apple M1 processor, 8GB/16GB RAM
  • Options for 128GB to 2TB storage
  • Apple Pencil support (2nd Gen)
  • LiDAR sensor on the rear
  • Thunderbolt / USB4

With every iteration, the iPad Pro gets a faster processor - normally on par with the iPhone. Rather than trying to keep pace with the iPhone, though, the iPad is now trying to keep pace with the Mac.

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Now you'll find Apple's M1 processor, instead of an upgraded iPhone processor powering the Pro tablet. Yes, the same first-gen chip that powers the MacBook Air, iMac and MacBook Pro also powers the 2021 iPad Pro. We'll let that sink in for a moment.

According to Apple, that results in a 50 per cent boost in performance without compromising the battery - so you'll still get around 10 hours per charge. Although, just like a Mac, the battery life widely varies in performance depending on what you do and how bright that screen is.

Also just like a Mac, there are now RAM options for the first time on the iPad Pro, all the way up to 16GB - although that option is restricted to the 1TB or 2TB storage options (extremely pricey), whereas it's 8GB RAM for the 128GB, 256GB, or 512GB storage capacities (and more reasonable price points).

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The M1 processing power means the iPad Pro whizzes along with any various tasks that you'll throw at it, just in the same way as apps do on the M1 MacBook models.

Whether that's photo editing in Adobe Lightroom, drawing in Procreate, or designing in Affinity Designer, we had no problem loading, importing, editing, or saving large files on any of the 'pro' apps we use.

Working with large sound and video files proved little stress to the iPad Pro, as well, while power-hungry games like Asphalt 9, Call of Duty, or NBA2K21 loaded almost instantly - and, yes, noticeably faster than on previous iPad Pro models.

And if the M1 isn't enough to keep that workflow process happy, the iPad Pro 12.9-inch now also comes in a 5G flavour for those who want speedy connectivity on the go. An afternoon hot-spotting via an EE SIM proved just as productive as being on the Wi-Fi in the home office.

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Elsewhere there's an improved Thunderbolt / USB4 port for transferring files to and from the device even faster - it's up to 40Gbps, whereas previously it was USB-C and therefore 10Gbps.

You still get the dual camera and LiDAR sensor setup on the back for taking pictures, video, or playing with AR too. It's the same 12-megapixel main and 10-megapixel wider-angle as on the previous generation. 

iPadOS needs to offer more

  • Software: iPadOS 14.5

Given that the iPad Pro has the same technical power as a MacBook Air but runs iPadOS, it can at times feel a little underwhelming in terms of what you can do - especially given the sheer power under the hood.

Apple broke iPadOS away from iOS a number of years ago to be able to offer things like file transfer and track support. But now, with the more powerful innards, it feels like it needs to do more than just offer a series of app icons on the Home Screen.

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It's not that the iPad Pro 2021 isn't capable - far from it - it's just at we can feel that there's something much bigger coming that's just around the corner to help capitalise on that new found power within.

When it truly becomes a powerful OS that matches the ambitions of the hardware remains to be seen, but we're expecting to hear some positive incoming features for iPadOS 16 at WWDC 2022 in June.

To recap

This iPad continues the Pro's transition to a laptop - and is the closest replacement experience to date. The hardware is now there, the only holdback is the software situation.

Writing by Stuart Miles. Editing by Conor Allison.