Review: The 2021 iPad Pro with M1 Chip

Above: Boxes for the new 2021 ipad pro and magic keyboard in white

Apple began delivering the new M1-powered iPad Pro on Friday, May 21, and the question that existing iPad Pro users are asking is — should I upgrade? The short answer is no, if your current device is not causing you any technostress or grief, but for “power users”, the system upgrades are more than just bells and whistles; it’s almost an extreme makeover to the screen and processor that will more than enhance the user experience.

Above: The iPad pro with magic keyboard is about the same size and weight as the 13″ macbook pro, just slightly narrower

Let’s start with the screen: Like every other iPad owner, I’ve been watching Netflix and HBO (have you seen the Friends reunion?!) on my iPad Pro; and with the Liquid Retina XDR display that’s on this new model, the visuals are undoubtedly stunning. But watching shows on past iPad Pro screens have never been anything to complain about, and for most users, it’s a losing game of spot the difference — because while this new screen is gold, so were the ones with previous generations. BUT — and this is a huge but — the impact of the improved display came when I started editing my RAW photos; I’ve been using both Lightroom and Pixelmator for my photography work, and the dynamic range of the screen completely brought my pictures to life. It was effortless to colour-grade and adjust the lighting in my work and the final edits gave me much joy.

Above: Pixelmator on the ipad pro

Also considering I work with RAW files that are large in size (around 40MB each), it takes some time to load and edit them even on my computer; but on the M1-powered iPad Pro, it was impressively fast. The specs say that the 8-core CPU delivers up to 50% faster CPU performance than the A12Z Bionic chip (which first debuted in the 2020 iPad Pro), and the 8-core GPU delivers up to 40% faster GPU performance — and the combination of the CPU and graphics performance on the 2021 iPad Pro is unrivalled. While I’m not doing any industry-standard benchmark tests, my personal experience working on this latest device is enough to convince me that it’s faster and more powerful than previous generations of iPads, and is the top of its class in the industry.

Something to know as well is that for my photography work on the iPad Pro, I’ve been using the Apple Pencil (2nd Generation, $189). It’s necessary for healing and spot edits, and really helps in making precise adjustments in the edits panel. And I can imagine for illustrators, the Apple Pencil is even more essential. 

I’ve also been taking advantage of the USB-C port that now supports Thunderbolt; transferring 3GB of photo data after shoots is quick and satisfying to watch.

There’s also an interesting new feature called Centre Stage that made its appearance on my Skype call with my sister who lives in New York. While video-chatting with her, my five-year-old rammed her way into my session and the camera automatically panned out to fit both of us comfortably into the frame. When she found something more interesting and left the room, Centre Stage zoomed back in on me and made me the focus on the screen once again. Centre Stage takes advantage of the new Ultra-Wide camera and is a fun and actually useful feature that works very smoothly.

Above: the magic keyboard in white with backlit keys

As for the magical white Magic Keyboard, it looks gorgeous and is so comfortable to use; I prefer the typing experience on this compared to that on the MacBook Pro keyboard (note: my version uses the scissor-switch keyboard and not the butterfly keyboard). I initially imagined that the white case would get dirty and be hard to clean, but these fears were unfounded; the surface is easy to wipe down with a cloth, and there have been no stains. I’m impressed and I love it.

With the newest iPad Pro, Magic Keyboard and all things in life, if you want the best technology, you have to pay for it. The 11” version starts from $1,199 while the 12.9” (the one featured here) starts from $1,649. It’s by no means a cheap machine, but if you’re considering replacing your computer system with these two things, it might make sense. And if you need the power that comes with the M1 chip (for example, you’re 3D-modelling or coding expansive universes for mobile games), you won’t regret this purchase.

ipad pro is available in 11″ (from $1,199) and 12.9″ (from $1,649) displays, in space grey and silver. magic keyboard comes in white or black, priced at $439 for 11″ and $519 for 12.9″ versions. apple pencil (2nd generation) is priced at $189. Buy at