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Apple iPad Pro M1 review: stunning screen and so much power

Guardian Technology 19 May 2021 01:00

Apple’s latest iPad Pro gets upgraded with the game-changing M1 processor and a new screen that rivals the very best TVs, let alone tablets and laptops.

The fifth-generation iPad Pro comes in two versions, one costing £749 with an 11in screen and the top dog with a 12.9in screen costing £999. Both have the new M1 chip, but only the larger model – reviewed here – has the stunning new screen.

Apple iPad Pro M1 review

The new screen technology is an evolution of the traditional LCD display called “mini LED”, which has hitherto been the preserve of high-end televisions. An array of 2,596 individual LEDs behind the LCD display only light up behind bright parts of the image, producing super-bright lights and deep, inky blacks in dark areas.

Feed the iPad Pro an HDR movie and you’re treated to arguably the best picture this side of a £1,500 television. Night scenes are a particular treat with lights shining out from the pitch-black darkness, while sunrises burst with colour and vibrancy. With very few rivals reaching a brightness of more than 500nits (a standard measure of screen brightness), only the very best smartphone screens such as that on the Galaxy S21 Ultra come anywhere near close to the iPad Pro’s peak HDR brightness of 1,600nits.

Apple iPad Pro M1 review
  • Screen: 12.9in 2732x2048 Liquid Retina XDR display (264 pixels per inch)

  • Processor: Apple M1 (8-core CPU/8-core GPU)

  • RAM: 8 or 16GB

  • Storage: 128/256/512GB or 1/2TB

  • Operating system: iPadOS 14.5

  • Camera: 12MP wide, 10MP ultrawide and Lidar scanner, 12MP TrueDepth selfie camera

  • Connectivity: Wifi 6 (5G optional, nano/eSim), Bluetooth 5, Thunderbolt 3/USB 4

  • Dimensions: 280.6 x 214.9 x 6.4mm

  • Weight: 682g (4G version: 684g)

Apple iPad Pro M1 review

The chip makes it the fastest tablet available measured by both benchmarks and real-world use, beating Androids such as Samsung’s Galaxy Tab S7+ and Windows 10 machines such as Microsoft’s Surface Pro 7 alike.

The tablet lasts up to 10 hours of browsing or movie watching, or well over nine hours of work using text editors, web browser, Affinity Photo, Evernote and various chat apps, which is about an hour longer than last year’s model but far short of the 16 hours the MacBook Air lasts for.

Apple iPad Pro M1 review

It worked as advertised with the Anker PowerExpand Elite 13-in-1 Thunderbolt 3 Dock attaching an external 4K monitor, keyboard, mouse, card reader, flash drives and ethernet. It also supports the fastest external storage drives such as the very fast 1TB G Drive Mobile Pro SSD. Copying a 14.91GB zip file to and from the SSD took just 19 and 22 seconds respectively.

Apple iPad Pro M1 review

Some games and creative, image and video editing apps can use that high-level performance, but I’m not convinced many people will buy an iPad this expensive for professional creative work instead of a similarly-priced Mac.

The iPad Pro has its advantages too. It has the best screen Apple makes outside of its £4,600 Pro Display XDR. It has long and reliable battery life, the option of 5G for data on the road and it is more portable than anything else. And you have been able to get real work done on an iPad for a while.

It is these novel uses that benefit the most from having evermore powerful chips opening up new and interesting capabilities, even when for the average user it may be complete overkill.

Apple iPad Pro M1 review

It’s a feature found on dedicated video conference cameras and some smart displays, but combined with the excellent microphones and speakers in the tablet it turns the iPad Pro into the very best portable video calling device you can get – one that is simple and just works better than anything else.

Apple does not provide an estimated lifespan for the iPad Pro’s battery but it can be replaced for £99. The tablet is generally repairable with the out-of-warranty service cost being £636.44, which includes the screen. The previous generation iPad Pro was only awarded three out of 10 for repairability by the specialist iFixit.

Apple also offers trade-in and free recycling schemes, including for non-Apple products.

Apple iPad Pro M1 review

Price

Models with 5G cost an additional £150 plus mobile broadband subscription.

Verdict

However, at the end of the day it’s still just an iPad, which means dealing with some limitations as a computer replacement compared to a similarly priced laptop. But it is the sort of multipurpose device that becomes invaluable, whether it’s for the best-in-class video calling experience, the broad media app support or even the novel uses such as tennis coaching, art production or even video editing.

Pros: good battery life, extremely fast M1 chip, stunning mini LED screen, optional 5G, USB-C/Thunderbolt 3, great speakers, Face ID, good rear camera with lidar for AR, large app library.

Cons: very expensive, no kickstand without case, no headphone socket, still has limitations as a PC/Mac replacement.

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