iPad Pro 2021 (11-inch) review: Astonishing battery life
The iPad Pro 2021 (11-inch) may not have the Liquid Retina XDR display of its 12.9-inch big brother — but it’s still one of the best tablets available right now. The smaller new iPad Pro lasts longer on a single charge than almost any tablet we’ve ever tested, and its M1 processor is easily the fastest in the field.
That said, is this iPad Pro model great enough to splurge on when the iPad Air 2020 does a lot of the same tricks? And should you consider the bigger investment for the 12.9-inch version? This iPad Pro 2021 (11-inch) review will provide answers to both of those questions, and compare it to Samsung’s most similar tablet — the Galaxy Tab S7.
While the 12.9-inch iPad Pro 2021 has the best screen there is, its little brother’s panel is as great as ever. But is the iPad Pro 2021 worth its $799 price? Let’s find out.
iPad Pro 2021 (11-inch) review: Price and release date
- The iPad Pro 2021 hit stores on May 21
- Accessories add up at checkout
The 11-inch iPad Pro 2021 starts at $799 with 128GB of storage making it only $200 less than the MacBook Air — which comes with its own keyboard. The iPad Pro Magic Keyboard (previous models are compatible) costs $299 extra, and the Apple Pencil 2nd Gen runs you $129.
5G connectivity for the 11-inch iPad Pro 2021 costs $200 extra, frustratingly.
That said, the 12.9-inch iPad Pro 2021 is a lot more pricey — starting at $1,099 with a $349 Magic Keyboard.
The iPad Pro 2021 arrives in stores on May 21.
iPad Pro 2021 (11-inch) review: Specs
|11-inch iPad Pro 2021
|12.9-inch iPad Pro 2021
|11 inches (2388 x 1668 pixels)
|12.9 inches (2732 x 2048 pixels) mini-LED
|128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB, 2TB
|128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB, 2TB
|12MP wide (f/1.8), 10MP ultra-wide (f/2.4)
|12MP wide (f/1.8), 10MP ultra-wide (f/2.4)
|9.74 x 7.02 x 0.23 inches
|11.04 x 8.46 x 0.25 inches
|USB-C with Thunderbolt, USB-4
|USB-C with Thunderbolt, USB-4
iPad Pro 2021 (11-inch) review: Display
- Really bright screen
- Accurate color
- HDR content looks better on the 12.9-inch iPad Pro
As I watched Mad Max: Fury Road on the HBO Max app on the 11-inch iPad Pro 2021, I marveled slightly at the panel’s brightness and color. The amber browns of Immortan Joe’s craggy desert lair looked rich (enough to remind me I was a bit parched), and the dark-blue paint on Furiosa’s forehead — which matches her eyes — popped ever so slightly. Small details such as scratches on Furiosa’s rig and the dirt on Max’s face looked crystal clear.
The 11-inch iPad Pro 2021 571.3 nits of brightness on our light gun, a hair brighter than the 12.9-inch iPad Pro 2021 (563 nits on non-HDR content). The iPad Air 2020 (440 nits) and the Galaxy Tab S7 Plus (499 nits) are a bit dimmer.
But while the 11-inch iPad Pro 2021’s display is fantastic, it’s not on the same level as its 12.9-inch counterpart. After spending a while trying to see the differences, my eyes finally saw the darker blacks and greater contrast during some of the darker scenes in Avengers: Endgame, when Black Widow confronted Hawkeye on the streets of Tokyo. Similarly, the reds of Ant-Man’s Quantum Suit popped that much more on the 12.9-inch iPad. That said, not every scene brings the brilliance in HDR. When I looked at the greens of Hulk’s skin as he conversed in the diner early in that movie, I didn’t see much of a difference.
You may not notice these differences, though, if you’re not watching HDR content, which the XDR display of the 12.9-inch iPad Pro 2021 needs to truly thrive. Those Mad Max: Fury Road scenes, for example looked similar on both, because the HBO Max app doesn’t offer HDR. Amazon Prime Video, Apple’s TV app, Disney Plus and Netflix all do.
Testing proved that the 12.9-inch iPad Pro gets brighter on HDR content, where our test hit up to 1,582 and 1,588 nits. (We checked 10% and 40% portions of the screen to see how bright the zones get.) The full-screen HDR brightness rate was 1,251 nits.
For color output, the 11-inch iPad Pro 2021 keeps in line with Apple’s tradition of going for realism: our colorimeter rated it for 113.1% of the sRGB spectrum. The 12.9-inch iPad pro hit 114.9%, which is above the 102.9% rating from the iPad Air. Samsung aims for an oversaturated color balance, with the Galaxy Tab S7 getting 152% of the spectrum.
iPad Pro 2021 (11-inch) review: Performance
- The M1 chip is Apple’s not-so-secret weapon
- Apple’s beating its own records
The differences stop at the display, as the 11-inch iPad Pro has the Apple M1 chip found in the 12.9-inch iPad Pro. And it’s amazingly fast. I threw my basic multi-tasking set of issues at the iPad Pro 2021, splitting the screen between 13 Safari tabs and a 1080p/60fps YouTube video. Nary a hiccup.
So I brought in a slide-over window of the Files app, to look at high-res HDR art. Still no issues. If you thought the iPad Pro was fast before, you’ll be even more impressed now, as everything moves smoother than before.
On the Geekbench 5 benchmark test, the 11-inch inch iPad Pro 2021 notched a 7,293 score, basically in a dead-heat with the 7,298 from the 12.9-inch iPad Pro (Apple M1). That score beats the 4,262 from the iPad Air 2020 (A14 Bionic) and the 4,720 from the iPad Pro 2020. And the iPad Pro’s result obliterates the 3,074 from the Galaxy Tab S7 (Qualcomm Snapdragon 865+).
But since this is an iPad Pro, we had to give it a pro-level challenge: our Adobe Premiere Rush test, where we add a color filter and transition to a 4K video, and then export it at 1080p and 30fps. The 11-inch iPad Pro 2021 finished this in 21.9 seconds, beating the 34-second time from the iPad Pro 2020 and the 27.2-second time from the iPad Air.
iPad Pro 2021 (11-inch) review: Design
- We want more colors
- Thunderbolt 3/USB 4 offers improved external device support
The 11-inch iPad Pro 2021 is identical to the 2020 model, which added a rear camera (and nothing else) to the 2018 model. That means you’ve got a clean design, with a machined aluminum backplate and thin black bezels on the front.
The iPad Pro 2021 is only sold in silver and Space Gray, which is frustratingly boring compared to the iPad Air 2020, which Apple makes in green, blue and rose gold. This seems to be the current pattern with Apple, where pro products get few color options than the entry level iMac 2021 and iPad Air.
Measuring 9.7 x 7.0 x 0.2 inches and weighing 1.0 pounds, the iPad Pro 2021 has the same dimensions as the 2020 version, and a similar footprint as the Galaxy Tab S7 (10 x 6.5 x 0.2 inches, 1.1 pounds).
Unlike the 12.9-inch iPad Pro 2021, the 11-inch iPad Pro will fit perfectly in the iPad Pro Magic Keyboard for the previous year’s model. The larger model will still work, but may feel like a tight fit.
The 11-inch iPad Pro’s weight goes up to 2.4 pounds when you attach its Magic Keyboard, which is much lighter than the docked 12.9-inch iPad Pro (3 pounds) The docked Galaxy Tab S7 is lighter, at 2 pounds. (Samsung’s tablet doesn’t have all the magnets that the Magic Keyboard does.)
Apple also kept the buttons the same on the iPad Pro 2021. The tablet’s “top” button locks the screen, and its volume buttons — get this — adjust the amount of sound it emits.
The USB-C port is upgraded from previous year’s model to include Thunderbolt 3 and USB 4 support. This is an advantage for improved bandwidth on external devices, so expect faster transfers from drives, as well support for up to 6K monitors.
iPad Pro 2021 (11-inch) review: Cameras and Center Stage
- Center Stage is really clever
- But not if you’re poorly lit
Apple continues to give its iPads far better cameras than its MacBooks, as is the case with the new front-facing 12MP TrueDepth sensor, the star of the show here. And for once, an internal webcam is pretty smart: Apple’s new Center Stage tool allows the camera to track and follow your face — so you stay in the frame on calls.
When I’ve tested Center Stage’s limits, I found it does an amazing job of tracking my face. I basically needed to hide away from it — like Hobbits ducking away from the Ringwraiths — to drop it.
Yes, while I spent years mocking anyone who used the cameras in a tablet, even I’ve accepted that Apple’s done something pretty neat here. The one issue I had with Center Stage was while using it in a dimly lit room while watching horror movies with friends remotely — sometimes my face wasn’t illuminated enough to track.
The 12MP front-facing camera is also great for selfies, capturing the pinks of my cheeks, and superbly detecting the edges of my clear glasses in portrait mode. The rear cameras also proved superb for capturing my Orange Cassidy action figure, showing off the stitching of the pro wrestler’s acid wash denim jacket and shirt that bears his own visage.
iPad Pro 2021 (11-inch) review: Security
- Face ID is as great as ever
- We want Touch ID too
Apple’s sticking with just Face ID on the iPad Pro 2021, which is good enough. The sensor (provided you remember to not have your finger blocking it on the left bezel in landscape orientation) provides snappy identification, so you use Apple Pay or unlock other apps nearly instantly.
That said, I’d love it if Apple could have added Touch ID support on the power button, as found on the iPad Air 2020. The Galaxy Tab S7 has both a power-button based fingerprint sensor and a bezel-based facial recognition camera.
iPad Pro 2021 (11-inch) review: Audio
A boombox, however iconic, is too big and bulky to tote around these days — especially when the quad-speaker setup of the iPad Pro booms as loudly as it does. As I hit play on Fiona Apple’s “I Want You to Love Me,” I smiled wide the sound filled my bedroom office and adjacent apartment spaces. Piano keys plunked accurately, Apple’s voice hit all the right notes and crisp drum cymbals crashed crisply.
To see the rest of the iPad Pro 2021’s range, I switched the tone to modern rap, turning on Future’s “Move That Dope.” I continued to feel delight, as the bass sounded sturdy and Pusha T’s guest verse sounded as strong as ever.
iPad Pro 2021 (11-inch) review: Battery life
- Almost the best battery life we’ve ever seen in a tablet
- Lasts longer than 12.9-inch iPad Pro
The 11-inch iPad Pro is one of the longest lasting tablets we’ve ever seen. Our web-browsing battery test, with the iPad set to 150 nits of brightness drained it of its charge in 13 hours and 42 minutes.
That’s hours longer than the 12.9-inch iPad Pro 2021 (10:48) and the iPad Air 2020 (10:29). The Galaxy Tab S7 Plus (13:16) comes close, but the iPad Pro outlasted it. The Amazon HD Fire 10 is the only tablet I remember lasting longer — but not by much, as its time of 13:45 wins by a mere 3 minutes.
iPad Pro 2021 (11-inch) review: Magic Keyboard and Apple Pencil
- Excellent typing experience
- Magic Keyboard is pretty in white
You can use the 11-inch iPad Pro 2021 with either the previous Magic Keyboard or the brand-new white model Apple’s introduced. The $299 accessory may be pricey, but it’s worth it for the magnetic simplicity where it just snaps to the iPad Pro.
Taking it for a spin on the 10FastFingers typing test, I hit a rate of 77 words per minute, keeping close enough to my 80 wpm average. The keys provide just enough feedback for smooth typing, so your fingertips know that they’ve activated the keys and you can move along.
Nothing has changed on the 2nd Gen Apple Pencil ($129 extra) which is still an excellent (albeit expensive) stylus. I saw nearly no latency as I doodled in the Notes app, and continue to smirk as the Scribble feature in iPadOS does a decent job of interpreting my chicken-scratch handwriting to text.
iPad Pro 2021 (11-inch) review: Software
- Multitasking is good, but not enough for some
- Professionals may miss the interoperability of macOS apps
iPadOS 14 is pretty good, but it’s still more like iOS than it is dissimilar. And when the iPad Pro is meant to possibly replace a MacBook (at this price, it better), we’ve got one big demand. Yes, iPadOS has good multitasking — with up to three apps at once, plus picture-in-picture — but there’s a difference between multitasking and true productivity.
Applications working side-by-side is great, but applications working in harmony are better. If Apple could adjust the iPad Pro — it’s a Pro device after all — to allow for applications to work together, and bend its sandboxing rules, users could do much more. Podcasters could use a communication app with a recording app, and not be limited to apps made for podcasting. Streamers could broadcast their games directly from the iPad Pro, which makes sense given its excellent camera!
iPad Pro 2021 (11-inch) review: Verdict
As this iPad Pro 2021 (11-inch) review shows, bigger isn’t better in all ways. The 11-inch iPad Pro packs enough battery life to mop the floor with its big brother, and still offers the same improbably fast speeds you get on that 12.9-inch model. And since the new iPad Pro runs laps around the iPad Pro 2020’s speed (which was already the fastest tablet), Apple’s clearly just posting new records in the tablet world while the rest of the market is trying to catch up.
But the iPad Pro 2021 is even pricier than last year’s model, which will make folks ask if they need all that power and all those nits. When I’m inevitably asked for recommendations by friends and family, I will probably tell them to save $200 and go for the $599 iPad Air 2020, which gets you Magic Keyboard and 2nd Gen Apple Pencil support at $200 less. I’m not sure many people will need the M1 speed of the iPad Pro 2021 at this point. If Apple manages to free iPadOS from some of its iOS-based confines, that may change.
That said, anyone who found the iPad Pro 2020 a bit too slow when editing photos or video should upgrade to this year’s edition. And until HDR is available in all of the streaming apps, the 11-inch iPad Pro 2021 feels more than ready to be the best tablet you’ve ever used.
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