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Apple iPad Pro (2021) vs iPad Pro (2020): preview and expectations

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, which was a bit of a surprise. The tablets don’t usually get an annual refresh, like the iPhones do, and the Pro line used to get a new entry once every two years or so.

However, once the event picked up speed, it quickly became apparent that Apple did have what to upgrade about the Pro iPad line. And upgrade it it did.

The iPad Pro (2021) is a massive, massive upgrade thanks to the M1 chip. And, specifically, the 12.9-inch iPad Pro (2021) has a new Liquid Retina XDR display with micro-LED tech. For those of you that are always on the go, the cellular models have now been upgraded to support 5G. Our thoughts on it? The iPad Pro (2021) line is a definite buy. But, if you already have a 2020 iPad Pro — you’re probably fine for a couple more years. No need to rush.

Let’s take a deeper dive:

iPad Pro (2021) vs iPad Pro (2020) display and design

In terms of design, we have pretty identical machines. Apple sticks to the “new” (circa 2018) industrial look of the iPad Pro line (it has now trickled down to the iPad Air 4, too) and it also sells some pretty expensive accessories for it (*ahem* Magic Keyboard), which users would prefer to keep using with their next iPad. So, an all-screen rectangle with bezels thin enough to stay out of the way, thick enough to provide grip room. And, on the back, we have the familiar camera module from the 2020 iPad Pros and the triple-dot Smart Connector. You can rest assured that the new slates are filled with magnets, too, to continue sticking to the aforementioned accessories.

But, the iPad Pro 12.9 (2021) received a rather major upgrade in display technology. It is basically a miniature version of the Apple Pro Display XDR — the big, beautiful, and expensive external monitor that was launched alongside the latest Mac Pro.

The screen on the iPad Pro 12.9 is now called Liquid Retina XDR — it still has a 120 Hz refresh rate, but also a 1600 nit peak brightness and a 1 million to 1 contrast ratio. Apple achieved this by employing a mini-LED panel — a brand-new technology, which we will get into in just a second.

Just to be clear — the iPad Pro 11 (2021) still “only” has a Liquid Retina screen — a 120 Hz LCD panel, just like on the 2020 iPad Pros.

What’s the difference between mini-LED and LCD?

You know there is LCD and there is OLED. The former uses LED-powered backlighting to light up an LCD substrate layer. In contrast to that, the OLED panel uses millions of tiny organic LEDs — basically, each pixel on the screen provides its own light and color, so there’s no need for a backlight.
OLED panels are said to be superior to LCDs because they save energy and their black color is “real”, since the individual LEDs that are displaying black are simply off.

Mini-LED sits somewhere between those two. It’s the old backlight technology, but the illuminating panel consists of mini-LEDs that can be 0.2 mm or smaller. This means that the backlight can be divided in a lot of small sectors, allowing better control and precision when lighting the different parts of a screen. Essentially, it’s creating an LCD panel that can behave as an OLED panel.

iPad Pro (2021) vs iPad Pro (2020) processor and specs

So, late last year, Apple announced its new M1 chip for its Macs — the MacBook Air, Pro, and the Mac mini. What had us absolutely floored at the iPad Pro (2021) announcement is the fact that M1 is actually making its way to the iPad Pros — both the 11-inch and 12.9-inch variants!

What’s the big deal? Well, the M1 is extremely powerful and very, very power-efficient. Also, it runs cool. At the presentation, Apple claimed that the iPad Pro (2021) is already 50% faster than the iPad Pro (2020) with its Apple A12Z processor.

Now, let me be clear — the currently-available iPad Pro (2020) is still extremely fast and productive. The A12Z is already more powerful than the processors of many slim notebooks out there on the market. Don’t think about sending it towards the trash bin in a fit of anger.

However, the iPad Pro (2021) just got an insane amount of headroom. You know how laptops generally have more life in them, in terms of years of working as intended, as compared to mobile devices? Well, the iPad Pro is joining that party.

The unfortunate reality is that Apple refuses to let the iPad Pro have a more laptop-like experience. iPadOS — despite its many enhancements, mouse support, Slide-over and Split View, still doesn’t feel like a proper PC that you can multi-task on like you can on a MacBook or Windows laptop. As for professional apps — yeah, we have some of those on the iPad, but most are easier to work with on a computer. So, that M1 chip may be super-powerful, but will it be used to its full potential?

I am being cautiously optimistic that we may actually see yet another iPadOS update that will launch the platform into a whole new playing field. The iPad Pro (2021) line comes with 8 GB RAM on the models through 512 GB and a whopping 16 GB of RAM on the 1 TB and 2 TB models. This is very interesting — the iPad Pro (2020) line only has 6 GB of RAM on all of its variants (128 GB to 1 TB). So, it’s a massive, massive upgrade. And we know that Apple doesn’t do big jumps in hardware unless the software requires them. So, what’s in store for us with the next iPadOS update, hm? And will it immediately depreciate the 2020 iPad Pros?

iPad Pro (2021) vs iPad Pro (2020) camera

Is the new iPad Pro camera different? Well, on the back, it seems like it’s the same deal — a 12 MP wide camera and 10 MP ultra-wide camera, with a LiDAR sensor for real-time Augmented Reality magic. Both the 2020 and 2021 iPads have these specs.

But, on the front, there’s something different. The iPad Pro (2020) has your regular ol’ 7 MP selfie camera. The iPad Pro (2021) selfie camera now has a 12 MP sensor with an ultra-wide-angle 120-degree lens. This allows the selfie camera to get a wider field of view, getting more into the frame.

Apple is using the wider FOV to bring a new feature, specifically designed for video calls. It’s called Center Stage and it allows the camera to track you.

See, with Center Stage enabled, the caller doesn’t see the full view of your selfie camera. They see a zoomed-in version, which tracks your face. So, if you are in a call with somebody, you don’t need to stay nailed to the iPad — you can move around freely and the camera will track you, almost as if you have your own operator there. If somebody else steps into the camera’s field of view, it will recognize that there is a new face and it will zoom out to catch both of you in the shot.

Apple didn’t mention it specifically, but it’s a sure bet that Center Stage is strictly a Facetime feature.

iPad Pro (2021) 5G

We’ll there’s no way around it — the 2021 edition cellular iPad Pro has 5G connectivity. The 2020 doesn’t. Simple as that. Sadly, the new antennas also cost you more — getting a cellular iPad Pro model now costs you $200 extra. For the iPad Pro (2020), the cellular model only raised the price by $150.

iPad Pro (2021) vs iPad Pro (2020) Apple Pencil, Magic Keyboard, accessories

For a while now, Apple has been trying to make the iPad into a tool that is as productive as a laptop, but focused on a slightly different type of productivity, or coming in at the concept from a different angle. Thus, the Apple Pencil, the Smart Keyboard, and later — the Magic Keyboard were born.

Is the Magic Keyboard compatible with iPad Pro (2021)? Is the Apple Pencil 2 compatible with iPad Pro (2021)?

For those of you that bought themselves a Magic Keyboard and an Apple Pencil 2, you will be happy to know that the iPad Pro (2021) will support them fully. You can still use the trackpad as a mouse pointer, the Pencil 2 still attaches magnetically and charges from the iPad.

There were no new accessories announced, but it’s worth mentioning that — yes — the iPad Pro (2021) comes with a USB Type-C port. So, if you bought some 3rd party accessories and adapter for the 2020 version, they will work. If you are upgrading from a non-Pro iPad (or iPad Pro from before 2018), know that there is no Lightning connector here for your favorite accessories and dongles. It’s a switch to USB Type-C for you.

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