Apple’s iPad Pro tablets are only about five years old, but updates to these devices have already become iterative while remaining the best tablet on the market. This holds true for the 2021 edition of the 11-inch iPad Pro as well.
The big change in the 2021 iPad Pro is that it has Apple’s M1 chip, the same chip that runs its Macbook laptops, Mac Minis and iMacs. In theory, that means Apple is offering nearly the same amount of power on full-fledged PCs as it is on this tablet. It takes the iPad one step closer to being real laptop replacements, with the onus shifting almost fully from hardware to software limitations.
The new chip is powerful, without a doubt. It beats the 2020 edition by about 35% on performance, but that difference is tough to spot on regular benchmarks. Games like Sky: Children of Light and Crash Bandicoot work the same but the 2021 edition is quicker when it comes to editing and exporting resource intensive 4K videos, even if only by a few seconds. Apple is positioning the M1 as its PC chip, meaning it’s also pushing developers to adapt their apps to it. This could be really helpful for an iPad user who is looking to replace a laptop with the iPad, because, in the long run, apps that don’t support the tablet right now, will start doing so as well.
That said, you still shouldn’t expect Macbook-like performance from the iPad. For one, the smaller and more mobile form factor of the device will hinder prolonged usage under heavy load. In the Delhi summers, the iPad Pro tends to heat up quite fast in a non-air-conditioned room, and even games like Sky tend to stutter. So it isn’t going to work for heavier use cases, which are needed by video editors, designers and others. That makes the iPad Pro a portable alternative to a Macbook, but not one that can replace it.
The new Center Stage feature allows the iPad Pro’s front camera with an ultra-wide lens and large field of view, which tracks a user and zooms in or out automatically to keep them in the frame even if they move around during a video call; machine learning helps continuously track motion. The camera doesn’t move, but it does seem like someone is panning to keep you at the centre. It’s a useful feature, especially for those who have to be on webinars or live videos often, and supports Zoom and other videoconferencing apps, but it doesn’t work if you’re using custom backgrounds on apps like Microsoft Teams.
A problem though is that the camera rests to one side when you using the iPad Pro like a laptop. Given how often the iPad Pro is used in landscape mode, the camera positioning should really be changed now. It also interferes with the FaceID unlock mechanism, since your hand covers the front camera when the tablet isn’t docked on a Magic Keyboard or other cases.
Center Stage and the M1 chip are all that’s new about this tablet. It doesn’t have one of the biggest features of the iPad Pro, the Retina XDR display. Apple is limiting that feature to the 12.9-inch iPad, so even though the 11-inch has a good display, it’s not the best Apple offers. The 12.9-inch version uses mini-LED technology to offer what is arguably the best display on a tablet today.
In sum, the 11-inch version of the iPad Pro takes a step towards achieving the ultimate goal of these devices—to replace laptops—but there’s no reason to upgrade. Writers like me can already use it instead of a laptop, but designers and other heavy users will have to wait a little longer.