Apple sees the iPad Pro as the next evolution in computing. A central-robotic core that can transform into your laptop, desktop, or art studio depending on which accessory you pair with it. Now designed with an edge-to-edge display and USB-C, this tablet has a lot to offer for any kind of user.
● Slim design
● Available in Silver or Space Gray
● M1 processor
● Face ID and TrueDepth Camera
● Dual lens rear camera system with LiDAR
● Up to 2TB of storage
● Compatible with Apple Pencil 2
● Liquid Retina XDR with ProMotion Display on 12.9-inch model
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Initially announced at Apple's September event in 2015, the iPad Pro is the premium model in Apple's iPad lineup. The larger screen, greater storage capacities, and better hardware target higher-end tablet shoppers.
The iPad Pro can function as a tablet, laptop, or even a desktop with a dedicated monitor depending on your personal use case. A feature in macOS Catalina called Sidecar introduced the ability to use your iPad as a second screen for the Mac. Apple has positioned the tablet as "the future of computing" and a direct competitor to its own MacBook lineup.
Common uses for Apple's tablets include watching videos, reading books and magazines, taking notes, and general web browsing. Its portability and power have made it popular with college students and those who frequently travel. Thanks to the Apple Pencil, many digital artists have begun using it as their primary tool for digital drawing and painting.
As its name suggests, the iPad Pro is capable of professional work. However, its mobile operating system still falls short for some customers. This applies especially to those who need to perform complex tasks, require specific apps that aren't on iPadOS, or create apps in Xcode.
All generations of the pro models have been praised by reviewers and the general public. The most common criticism is their premium cost. By the time you've added accessories, its price can be greater than or equal to a base MacBook Air or even MacBook Pro.
Apple threw a curveball into the iPad lineup with the iPad Air 4. While those who already own an iPad Pro will not move to the iPad Air, it rivals the pro-level tablet in several key ways.
These include a similar full-screen design and support for the Magic Keyboard and second-generation Apple Pencil. Compared to the iPad Air, the 2020 pro-level iPads boasted better graphical capabilities, ProMotion, and Face ID but not much else to differentiate.
The 2021 iPad Pro lineup helps re-open the gap between Apple’s “Pro” and “Air” models. The updated tablets use the M1 chip, the same Apple Silicon found in the latest Macs. The larger 12.9-inch model also includes a mini LED backlit display for a better contrast ratio and deeper blacks.
Models and Features
Apple unveiled the fifth-generation 11-inch iPad Pro and 12.9-inch iPad Pro at its “Spring Loaded” event in April 2021. Like previous generations, it ships in two sizes. However, some advanced hardware is exclusive to the larger model.
Both models upgraded to Apple’s powerful M1 processor. On Macs, the chip’s benchmarks outscore all Intel MacBooks and most Intel desktop Macs. The eight-core processor and eight-core GPU will combine to provide a significant performance boost over the A-series chips in earlier models.
Apple's 12.9-inch iPad Pro differs from the smaller model with a new display, which Apple refers to as Liquid Retina XDR. For this iteration, Apple is using mini LED technology.
Housing 10,000 mini LEDs behind its 12.9-inch screen, it uses considerably more light sources than the 72 LEDs used in the previous model. Overall, the display can output 1,000 nits of full-screen brightness and 1,600 nits of peak brightness.
The advantage of the technology is similar to the Pro Display XDR's system of local dimming zones, but the iPad Pro goes further still. Using the sheer number of mini LEDs, it has 2,596 local dimming zones, enabling it to have a 1 million to 1 contrast ratio.
As well as the improvements to the display, the 12.9-inch model has the same screen features as the 11-inch, including ProMotion, True Tone, and P3 wide color support. Naturally, it is higher-resolution than its stablemate at 2,732 by 2,048 pixels, giving it a pixel density of 264ppi.
A Thunderbolt 4 port is in the base, enabling it to connect to external devices up to 40Gbps. The connection also includes support for USB 4.
The updates also extend to having 5G connectivity, bringing them in line with the iPhone 12 in providing faster cellular Internet access to users.
Apple announced the fourth-generation iPad Pro in March 2020 with new updates to its cameras and processors. The two sizes come with up to 1TB of internal storage and a cellular option.
The latest A12Z Bionic processor is optimized for more powerful graphical applications and better AI for camera operations. The eight-core GPU and eight-core CPU with improved thermals mean more performance than ever, and all models have 6GB of RAM. Apple says the processor is faster and more powerful than most Windows laptops.
Benchmarks showed little improvement in processing and graphical power compared to the A12X. The A12Z is a rebinned version of the A12X, meaning an inactive GPU core is in use now that was not before.
The fourth-generation iPad Pro has a new dual-camera system with a built-in LiDAR scanner. A 12MP wide-angle and 10MP ultra wide-angle camera will allow for improved photography and depth capture. The camera system uses a similar sensor to those found in the iPhone XR series of phones, so don't expect iPhone 11 levels of quality and no night mode.
LiDAR can be used for 3D environment mapping that will allow for AR to be massively improved. The scanner works from up to five meters away and gets results instantly, making AR apps easier to use and more accurate.
There are now five independent studio-quality microphones on the device to capture the best audio possible without extra equipment. While this might be useful for better call quality or recording a quick tune on your guitar, don't expect to launch a Podcast using just the built-in mics.
The wireless capabilities have also improved, with WiFi 6 and improved LTE coverage with 30 bands versus 29 in previous generations. The U1 chip was notably absent from this updated model.
Alongside the new iPad comes a new Magic Keyboard designed to transform the tablet into a laptop. It has a glass trackpad, working with the cursor support Apple added to iPadOS in 2020. It uses a hinge mount to make the tablet appear to float above the keys. It also has a scissor-switch keyboard that's nearly identical to those on the latest MacBooks. The Magic Keyboard with trackpad works with the third and fourth-generation iPad Pro and the iPad Air 4.
Apple announced its third-generation pro tablet announced during a 2018 Special Event. It included the classic 12.9-inch size and an 11-inch model that would replace the second generation's 10.5-inch model.
Both devices received a new edge-to-edge Liquid Retina display, ProMotion with 120Hz screen refresh rate, improved front and rear cameras, and the Apple A12X Bionic chip.
The third generation was the first to use Face ID and remove Touch ID, like modern iPhones. Face ID on the third-generation iPad Pro is capable of working in any orientation. The tablets also boast tap-to-wake, allowing a user to wake an iPad via touching the screen rather than pressing a physical button.
The third-generation models were also the first iPads to use USB-C ports instead of Apple's proprietary Lightning port.
The maximum storage capacity of the third generation doubled that of the second generation, with a maximum of 1TB of storage possible on both models. Interestingly, installing 1TB of memory will also gain you more RAM, maxing out at 6GB in both models.
The 11-inch model originally released for $799 for the most basic model, with additional configurations driving the price upward to $1,699. The 12.9-inch model could be bought for $999 at the cheapest, with the one terabyte cellular-enabled model priced at $1,899. Because of reductions in memory pricing across all Apple products since their 2018 launch, the 12.9-inch and 11-inch now max out at $1,499 and $1,699, respectively.
The second-generation iPad Pro models were announced at Apple's WWDC event in 2017 and saw significant upgrades over their predecessors. Replacing the 9.7-inch model was the new 10.5-inch model, though the 12.9-inch model's size would remain unchanged.
Both second-generation models used an A10X Hex-core CPU and a 12-core GPU, ProMotion display, and a True Tone display that was 50% brighter than the previous models.
The second-generation models also boasted a 12-megapixel rear-facing camera, a 7-megapixel front-facing camera, and storage capacities up to 512 GB.
At launch, the 10.5-inch model started at $649 and could cost as much as $1,079. The 12.9-inch second-generation model could be purchased for as low as $799 or as much as $1299, depending on the configuration.
The second-generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro was discontinued in October of 2018, then the 10.5-inch model was later discontinued in March of 2019.
Released on November 11, 2015, the first-generation iPad Pro featured a 12.9-inch display and was available in silver, gold, and space gray. It could be purchased for $799 to $1299, depending on the size or cellular connectivity.
In March of 2016, Apple released the smaller 9.7-inch model, which featured an additional rose gold color to its line. It was available for $599 to $1129, depending on the buyer's chosen configuration.
Both models included Apple's A9X system-on-a-chip and the Apple M9 motion co-processor, and both featured Touch ID and Retina Display. A smart connector allowed users to connect Apple's Smart Keyboard, and both models were compatible with the first generation Apple Pencil.
Apple discontinued both first-generation iPad Pros in June of 2017.
The Apple Pencil is an Apple-developed wireless stylus that works with various iPad models. It is a low-latency stylus with pressure sensitivity and angle detection. When using the Apple Pencil, the iPad will reject a user's palm input.
The first-generation Apple Pencil was released alongside the first-generation iPad Pro in 2015. It connects to compatible iPad models via Bluetooth and can be charged using the iPad's Lightning port, or via a Lightning cable when used in conjunction with the included adapter. On a full charge, the Apple Pencil will last for roughly 12 hours. 15 seconds of charging time enables the Apple Pencil to perform for up to 30 minutes.
The second-generation Apple Pencil has a flat side and uses conductive charging in place of a Lightning connector. It attaches to the flat side of an iPad and pairs using that connection. A double-tap gesture can be used to switch tools in some compatible apps.
iPad Pro Review
Apple once again updated the iPad Pro hardware with little changes to its software. We believe the XDR display and M1 processor are a game changer for the device, but still want more in terms of software support.
The M1 processor is the same no matter the device, coupled with up to 16GB of RAM. That means users get the same power and efficiency found in the 13-inch MacBook Pro packed into a thin tablet.
The camera system hasn't changed, but the power of the neural engine and image signal processor found in the M1 processor means better photos than ever. For example, color processing and noise removal should be better in challenging lighting conditions.
The front-facing camera is now a 122-degree ultra-wide lens. This, coupled with Center Stage, means fitting more content within sight of the front camera. Center Stage uses the wide field of view to follow your head if you move around the room.
Apple introduced Thunderbolt to the latest generation of iPad Pro. This means it supports official Thunderbolt peripherals and displays, even the Pro Display XDR. Data transfer to Thunderbolt drives can reach 40GB/s as well.
We think the Liquid Retina XDR display makes content pop. With localized dimming across the 10,000 mini LED backlights, this display can achieve a 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio.
The new display technology did come at a cost, however. The 2021 12.9-inch iPad Pro is 0.5mm thicker than its predecessor, making some accessories fit worse, or not work at all.
Apple addressed this change in thickness with a new Magic Keyboard, but we found the old one still works, although the closure isn't perfect.
With each iteration, the iPad Pro gets more powerful and more capable. However, we believe Apple still needs to introduce pro-level software like Final Cut or Logic Pro to leverage this power.
Pricing and Release
The latest 11-inch and 12.9-inch iPad Pro models were announced in April 2021. They start at $799 for the 11-inch version and $1,099 for the 12.9-inch model and began shipping on May 21, 2021.