Review: Apple’s 12.9 inch iPad Pro is supercharged - but pricey

The M1 chip bumps up Apple’s premium iPad’s power

The new iPad Pro: super-powered and ideal for working from home.

The new iPad Pro: super-powered and ideal for working from home.

 

€1,229

*****

It is stating the obvious to say that the fifth generation of the iPad Pro is the best yet. But it is. The high powered tablet has had some tweaks to improve everything from its performance to its screen.

RAM has been bumped up, mini LEDs have been brought in to beef up the display (on the 12.9 inch version at least) and connections have been upgraded. Most significantly, it includes Apple’s custom-built M1 chip, which is more powerful than its predecessor. That means an eight-core CPU, and eight core GPU and a 16-core Neural Engine.

In short, the 2021 iPad Pro is a potential laptop killer, one that comes with a stunning display. Your TV may be next in its sights.

The display on the 12.9 inch version is what Apple refers to as Liquid Retina XDR: a display that uses thousands of mini LEDs to support a 1 million to one contrast ratio and hits 1600 nits at peak brightness, with 1,000 nits for the bulk of the time.

Content

For photographers and film makers, that means true to life HDR content; for everyone else, the HDR 10, HLG and native support for Dolby Vision means your iPad Pro is a cinematic experience, even in bright sunlight.

While I wouldn’t say it’s better than my TV, that’s only because my HDR TV was a relatively new purchase; if you have an older set, the iPad Pro will blow it away.

The increased RAM - 16GB in the 1TB and 2TB version, 8GB in the 11 inch iPad Pro - makes the iPad Pro a bit of a beast, and with the M1 chip, it’s a powerful combination. Apple says the CPU is up to 50 per cent faster and graphics up to 40 per cent.

Benchmarking tests show the clear power advantage the M1 chip has over its predecessor, an advantage that is borne out in real world experience. The iPad zipped through video editing and graphics work, which can slow down all but the most robust of systems.

The new M1 powered iPad Pro doesn’t look much different to the 2020 version. It is thicker, apparently, but unless you have the two devices side by side you aren’t going to notice that. It’s almost all screen, which gives it a nice advantage when you are mid-Netflix binge.

The front facing camera is Apple’s usual TrueDepth camera, which allows you to use FaceID to unlock the device. It has been upgraded to 12 megapixels and has a new feature: Centre Stage, which has been built with the hybrid work environment in mind.

Angle

We’ve spent the past year and a bit trying to find the best angle for Zoom calls so people aren’t seeing the underside of our chin or up our noses; Apple’s new feature makes that a little easier by keeping the subject in the frame automatically.

It uses the new wider angle on the camera to give you a bit of wriggle room, zooming in as you open FaceTime or another compatible video calling app, and then panning to follow your movement — as long as it stays in the 122 degree viewing angle, of course.

Centre Stage uses digital zoom to perform this feat. As soon as you open your video calling app, you’ll notice the camera zoom in closer on your face in a slightly disconcerting way.

If you are familiar with digital zoom you’ll know there are some sacrifices to make - you are just magnifying what’s there, so the image quality will take a bit of a hit. Is it noticeable? Not massively on FaceTime, but it was a bit more obvious on third party apps such as Zoom. You can disable it in the settings if it’s not for you.

The rear cameras are the wide and ultra wide cameras, with LiDAR Scanner capabilities. I don’t usually expect much from a tablet camera, but the iPad Pro is the exception. Whether it’s augmented reality or just shooting some still images or video, the iPad Pro has you covered.

Another of the iPad Pro’s selling points has been its four-speaker set up. The new version keeps this, making it very handy for music or video, and a great feature for video calls.

At the very least it means the audio on your streaming video will always be balanced, no matter what orientation you are using.

The five-mic array picks up audio excellently - again, excellent for video calls - and is decent for recording audio directly to the device.

Price

All this technology comes at a price though. The iPad Pro certainly isn’t a cheap tablet; it never has been.

If you go for the top end version, you’ll be spending out as much as you would on a decent MacBook, but without some of the advantages of MacOS. The upside? The iPad Pro is more portable.

The entry level storage is 128GB, but you can bump that up to 2TB if you have deep enough pockets. As previously mentioned, the 1TB and 2TB versions on both sizes have 16GB of RAM, versus 8 for the lower storage models.

Is it worth the investment? It depends on the buyer. For the average user, the iPad Air is still a good buy, and gives a lot of the iPad Pro experience without the more premium features.

For creative professionals, the new iPad Pro has a lot to offer, and given the power bump, it should last several years before requiring an upgrade.

The good:

The display on the iPad Pro is top notch. Contrast ratio and brightness are superb, so regardless of whether you want to use it for work or leisure, the iPad Pro will deliver.

The upgrades to the ports are also welcome, and although you may not need USB 4 or Thunderbolt 3 right now, it means the device is futureproofed.

Centre Stage is an interesting feature too, although it won’t be to everyone’s taste.

Last and by no means least, the M1 chip. Apple’s new silicon is proving its worth, both in the Macs and now in the iPad Pro.

The not so good:

The iPad Pro isn’t cheap, especially the 12.9 inch version. When you take into account the cost of the extras - the magic keyboard, the Apple Pencil - which are needed to make this a fully functional laptop replacement, things get a lot pricier.

The rest:

The new iPad supports WiFi 6 and 5G in the cellular version, updating your wireless connections.

The verdict:

Apple’s newest iPad may be expensive, but it earns its price tag.

Apple.com