New iPad Pro 2021 vs iPad Pro 2020: what are Apple's biggest tablet upgrades?

iPad Pro 2021
The iPad Pro 2021 (Image credit: Apple)

After months of leaks, the new iPad Pro 2021 is here and there are some big upgrades, including that for the first time the iPad Pro doesn’t have an A series chipset. This year’s Pro has something even better: the same M1 system you’ll find in the M1 MacBook Pro.

Apple isn’t kidding when it says this takes the iPad Pro to the next level. If you’re a photographer, videographer, filmmaker or other power user there are some crucial new features to excite and delight you, especially in the 12.9-inch model.

But is it a big enough upgrade on the iPad Pro 2020? Covering everything from the price to the design, display, power and more, here’s what you need to know about how these two slates compare.

iPad Pro 2021 vs iPad Pro 2020: price and availability

For the 2021 model, the 11-inch starts at roughly the same price as its predecessor: $799 / £749 / AU$1,199. For comparison, the iPad Pro 11 2020 started at $799 / £769 / AU$1,329.

The iPad Pro 2021 12.9 is slightly more expensive than the outgoing model, coming in at $1,099 / £999 / AU$1,649, while its predecessor was $999 / £969 / AU$1,649.

Those are just the starting prices though. If you go for the new 2TB model that takes the price up to $1,899 / £1,749 / AU$2,849 for the Wi-Fi version of the iPad Pro 11 2021, or $2,099 / £1,899 / AU$3,099 for the Wi-Fi and Cellular version.

For the iPad Pro 12.9 2021 it's $2,199 / £1,999 / AU$3,299 for the Wi-Fi model or $2,399 / £2,149 / AU$3,549 for the Wi-Fi + Cellular version.

You can pre-order the new iPad Pro on April 30 with deliveries beginning in the second half of May. The old model meanwhile has been discontinued - though you should still be able to find it at third-party stores.

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The iPad Pro 2021 (Image credit: Apple)

iPad Pro 2021 vs iPad Pro 2020: design

The iPad Pro 2020 is a good-looking thing with very narrow bezels, a single USB-C port, an aluminum build, and a choice of silver or space grey colors. The iPad Pro 2021 doesn’t look very different, and it's available in the same colors, but there are some very important changes here.

Its USB-C connector now supports Thunderbolt and USB 4, enabling you to drive an external Pro Display XDR at full 6K resolution and use Thunderbolt accessories such as high speed storage. And if you go for the 12.9-inch model there’s a new kind of display, the much-rumored Mini LED.

Otherwise, these really are visually very similar, right down to the dimensions - though the iPad Pro 12.9 2021 is slightly thicker than its sibling or predecessor at 6.4mm.

Apple iPad Pro 2020

The design isn't much changed from the iPad Pro 2020 (Image credit: Future)

iPad Pro 2021 vs iPad Pro 2020: display

The display in the iPad Pro 2020 is an IPS LCD with a resolution of either 2,388 x 1,668 in the 11-inch model or 2,732 x 2,048 pixels in the 12.9-inch iPad. The display has 1.8% reflectivity and 600 nits brightness, P3 Wide Colour, True Tone and ProMotion for crisp color reproduction and smooth video.

Opt for the iPad Pro 11 2021 and you get a very similar screen to the iPad Pro 11 2020, but while the iPad Pro 12.9 2021 also has the same resolution as its predecessor, it's a significant upgrade in some ways.

Apple spring event 2021

The iPad Pro 2021 (Image credit: Apple)

That's because it has a Mini LED display, and it delivers incredible numbers: 1,000 nits of typical brightness with a peak brightness of 1,600 nits and a contrast ratio of one million to one.

That’s because the Mini LED screen packs over 10,000 LEDs into the display compared to 72 in the previous iPad Pro, and with over 2,500 local dimming zones it’s the most impressive display ever put in an iPad. It’s effectively a portable Pro Display XDR.

iPad Pro 2021 vs iPad Pro 2020: camera and battery

The iPad Pro 2020 got a big camera upgrade with the addition of a second rear camera as well as the existing 12MP, f/1.8 rear camera. The new (for 2020) camera added a 10MP, f/2.4 ultra-wide snapper with a 125-degree field of view.

There's also a LiDAR scanner for judging depth, while on the front there's a 7MP selfie shooter.

The iPad Pro 2021 has the same rear camera setup, but there's an all-new ultra-wide selfie camera designed specifically for iPad video calls. It’s 12MP with a 122-degree field of view and it has a clever new feature called Center Stage that automatically zooms and pans to keep you and others in shot during video calls.

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The iPad Pro 2021's camera can follow you around the room (Image credit: Apple)

The iPad Pro 2021 also uses the M1 chip’s image processing to deliver improved clarity in low light.

As ever, Apple doesn’t go into detail about battery sizes but the promised 10-hour battery (for watching video or web browsing on Wi-Fi) of the iPad Pro 2020 wasn’t an unreasonable claim. The 2021 iPad Pro promises the same battery life, so don't expect any upgrades here.

iPad Pro 2021 vs iPad Pro 2020: specs and features

The iPad Pro 2020 got Apple’s A12Z Bionic chipset teamed with a neural engine and M12 motion coprocessor. It supports the second generation Apple Pencil and the optional 2020 Magic Keyboard, which includes a trackpad, backlit keys and a hinge to turn the iPad Pro into something much more like a laptop.

The iPad Pro 2021 takes things to a whole new level because this time, there’s the same M1 chipset as you’ll find in the current MacBook Pro.

iPad Pro 2020

The iPad Pro 2020 isn't the most powerful model anymore (Image credit: Future)

It’s got an eight-core CPU, an eight-core GPU with integrated memory that offers 2x faster storage access, and it allows for 50% faster CPU performance and 40% faster graphics than in the previous iPad Pro. We’re using the same processor in our Mac and we can testify that it’s an astonishingly quick system.

RAM has had an upgrade on the new models too, topping out at 16GB. You get that much if you opt for 1TB or 2TB of storage, while the other models have 8GB of RAM. With the iPad Pro 2020, all models have just 6GB.

The cellular version of the iPad Pro 2021 also has 5G, including mmWave in the US. It’s capable of speeds of up to 3.5Gb/s in ideal conditions. With the iPad Pro 2020 you're limited to 4G.

iPad Pro 2021 vs iPad Pro 2020: takeaway

We’re not ones for hyperbole, but the iPad Pro 2021 is - at least on paper - a genuine game changer: it’s an M1 MacBook Pro and Pro Display XDR pretending to be an iPad, combining all the strengths of iPadOS with all the power of a Pro Apple Mac.

Both versions are significant improvements over their predecessors, but the 12.9-inch model is the sweetest: that new display is going to delight anybody who works with photos, illustrations or video.

The larger iPad Pro is quite simply the most powerful, most desirable and to our mind most exciting iPad that Apple has ever made.

Carrie Marshall

Writer, broadcaster, musician and kitchen gadget obsessive Carrie Marshall (Twitter) has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to all kinds of magazines and websites as well as writing more than a dozen books. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, is on sale now. She is the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR.