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Is the M1 iPad Pro the last tablet you’ll ever need to buy?

Apple has made such a powerful iPad— future-proofed with the best display, performance, battery, 5G, and more — that you might not need another one anytime soon.

Apple recently updated the 12.9-inch iPad Pro with its mighty M1 chip, impressive mini-LED display technology, and this fall it’s getting iPadOS 15 with features like widgets, a new multitasking menu, Quick Note, and more.

Many people think the iPad Pro’s M1 chip — the same silicon in the M1 MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, Mac mini, and 24-inch iMac — is squandered on iPadOS. The consensus seems to be: The hardware is being held back by the software. Give us macOS.

I disagree. Even as a diehard macOS user, I don’t think putting macOS’s windowed and desktop experience on the M1 iPad Pro is correct at all. iPadOS still needs work, but it’s far more robust than many cranky tech bloggers make it to be.

iPadOS 15’s new multitasking menu makes it easier to juggle two or three apps.
iPhone apps finally work in landscape in iPadOS 15.

You can read my full argument for why I think Apple will never put macOS on iPad here.

iPadOS aside, the 12.9-inch M1 iPad Pro is easily the best and most powerful iPad that Apple has ever made.

M1 speed

Not that the A12Z Bionic in the 2020 12.9-inch iPad Pro is a slouch or anything, but the M1 chip in the 2021 iPad Pro truly obliterates on performance. I tested up to 55% year-over-year boosts in CPU power. No other tablet comes close and the M1 iPad Pro blows past many thin-and-light Windows laptops.

But... iPadOS doesn’t take full advantage of the M1 speed, you say. Maybe not, but there are certain tasks where I noticed it. 3D games like Genshin Impact or Asphalt 9 load faster and run smoother. Upscaling low-res photos using machine learning in Pixelmator Pro is significantly quicker. iPadOS (even the iPadOS 15 beta) is overall more responsive.

Future-proof

Where the M1 will really matter is years down the road. Five years from now, the M1 chip will still have enough power to support iPadOS 20 (or whatever it’s called) without slowing down. If my 2018 iPad Pro is still going strong three years later, the M1 iPad Pro will most likely have a very long lifespan.

About that mini-LED Liquid Retina XDR display...

First, the mini-LED display tech is exclusive to the 12.9-inch M1 iPad Pro. The 11-inch uses the same regular LED display as other iPads. Second, is it worth the money considering the 12.9-inch M1 iPad Pro starts at $1,099, which is $100 more than the 2020 version cost?

Screen perfection

With 10,000 mini-LEDs lighting up the display, the Liquid Retina XDR display is capable of getting extremely bright — 1,600 nits of peak brightness when viewing HDR content.

That’s geek-speak for: the picture quality is really friggin’ fantastic. Colors are more vibrant than before and the bright and dark sections are brighter and darker, respectively. The black levels are the darkest on any iOS device or MacBook; blacks still aren’t as dark as OLED, but there are rumors that Apple might adopt OLED in 2023.

2020 iPad Pro (top) vs. 2021 M1 iPad Pro (bottom).
Love reading Libby ebooks on the M1 iPad Pro.

A/V nerds like myself will appreciate having the best visual fidelity, but I don’t think most people will appreciate mini-LED. I don’t think most people are making purchase decisions based on black levels. Mini-LED is a nice feature to have — one of those small quality-of-life improvements. No wonder Apple made it exclusive to the biggest, most expensive iPad — it definitely feels like a “pro” feature.

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The rest of the M1 iPad Pro is pretty much unchanged.

Battery life is best-in-class with 10 hours. The quad-speakers are really loud and crisp. It still charges via USB-C and supports Thunderbolt 3 speeds and USB 4 speeds up to 40GB/s. Despite being 0.5mm thicker...

...it’s perfectly compatible with the old Magic Keyboard.
And, of course, the M1 iPad Pro supports the Apple Pencil.

The cameras on the rear are virtually identical to the previous iPad Pro: 12-megapixel main lens + 10-megapixel ultra-wide. There’s also a LiDAR scanner on the bump for AR. The selfie camera got a bump up to 12-megapixels and supports Center Stage, which keeps you in focus on video calls. But they’re iPad cameras... so temper your expectations.

Last iPad you’ll ever need?

Maybe not the last one ever. But the 12.9-inch M1 iPad Pro (and even the 11-inch) will last a very long time. The M1 chip alone gives the iPad Pro an extraordinary amount of power to grow into as Apple adds new features to iPadOS. It wouldn’t surprise me if the M1 iPad Pro still works great 10 years from now. If you already have a 2020 iPad Pro, you can probably skip this one, unless you have to have the mini-LED display or 5G.

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