Apple iPad Pro 2021 review: It can replace the laptop, but we don’t want it to
The new Apple iPad Pro 2021 is a solid alternative to a laptop, but you might still want to hold on to your bigger machine.
- Apple's M1 chip
- Center Stage feature
- Slight heating issue
- Placement of front camera
The Apple iPad has been the best tablet on the market for a while now. And Apple has carried that legacy with the 11-inch iPad Pro for 2021. While we haven't seen a lot of upgrades on the iPad over the last five years, the big change this year is the Apple M1 chip. Yep, this is the same chip that is currently powering the MacBooks, the iMacs, and the Mac minis. Which means that Apple has suited the iPad to offer as much power as its laptops and PCs, at least on paper. It aligns with Apple's plan of essentially making its iPads replacements for real laptops.
The new M1 chip is powerful. We've seen how it streamlined the performance of both the MacBook Pro and the MacBook Air. On the 2021 iPad the M1 improves performance, making it buttery smooth to use, delivering great battery life, etc. However, the exact improvement in performance (where it really matters) is hard to spot unless the tasks you engage in require that kind of power.
For example, my daily work involves mostly dealing with Google Docs, a proprietary Content Management System (CMS), some rudimentary photo editing, web browsing, and social media. In non-work hours, I play games like Sky: Children of Light.
Now, the older iPad Pro could easily handle all of this without breaking a sweat, and the 2021 iPad Pro does too, but it just feels a tad smoother and faster. To be honest, that's the only difference one can spot here since, well, none of these tasks are exactly ‘heavy duty'. An iPad with M1 will be appropriately put to task when you are editing and exporting 4K videos, or creating content on the tab like music or videos and, it should be able to expedite it all faster.
Apple also has its developers adapting their apps to the M1, which is good for iPad users — particularly those who are actually looking to replace their laptops with the tablet. Almost everything you use on your M1 Mac, you will be able to use on your M1 iPad. However, when I really asked myself the question about replacing my MacBook with this iPad the answer wasn't straightforward. CAN it replace my MacBook Air? It can. But do I really want to do that?
I prefer the MacBook Pro or even the MacBook Air when it comes to daily work simply because the screen is bigger and it is easier to read and edit content there. I can and have edited and written content on the iPad as well and it works flawlessly, but if I have to stare at a screen for 9 hours a day, it's more comfortable if it's a bigger one. Also, the trackpads on the MacBook Pro and the MacBook Air are bigger than the one on the Magic Keyboard, obviously. The whole typing experience feels a tad cramped. And again this is not to say that I cannot do my daily work on the 2021 iPad Pro, I absolutely can - I just prefer some more room on my keyboard.
However, that said, someone like me has the option of choosing to work on a MacBook instead of an iPad. If it really came down to picking one out of the two, the iPad would make much more economic sense without compromising on what it can deliver as compared to the MacBook - and that matters. Plus, it's more portable.
The one instance where I prefer using the iPad over the MacBook is when it comes to watching content. If I am not Netflixing on TV, the iPad is my go-to, and here the 2021 iPad Pro is just more comfortable. I've long been partial towards Apple's screens, whether it is on the iPhone or the iPad, and it's no different this time either.
The problem areas on the 2021 iPad Pro are a slight heating issue and its front camera placement that Apple REALLY needs to change. The iPad heated up while gaming and it was slightly uncomfortable, particularly if you are in a non-air-conditioned room in summer, and some games slowed down a little.
I do not play any heavy games, and if the 2021 iPad is struggling here, then for heavy-duty tasks like video editing, soundtrack editing, etc, it might be a problem for creators who will need more power continuously. Of course, the iPad can handle the tasks, but in cases like these, it feels like a portable alternative and not a replacement for the MacBooks.
The front camera on the iPads has been a problem, an issue that has been around for a while. In portrait mode, the front camera is on top of the device, but in landscape mode, which is exactly how you will be using the iPad most of the time, the camera is on one side - which is odd, to say the least. If you are holding the iPad in your hand, you are going to end up covering the camera which interferes with the face unlocking feature unless it's placed on the keyboard.
The 2021 iPad also comes with a new Center Stage feature for the front camera, which is an interesting addition. The front camera on the iPad with its ultra-wide lens and large field of view can track a user with this feature - it zooms in or out to keep the user in the frame even if you are moving around during a video call.
Apple also has machine learning working on how to track motion. For all practical purposes, your iPad or your camera does not move, but it feels like it is. This is a pretty handy feature to have, particularly if you do a lot of webinars and live videos. It also works on other video conferencing apps like Zoom and Microsoft Teams.
The 11-inch 2021 iPad Pro does not have the top-of-the-line Retina XDR display that the 12.9-inch version has. The screen on the 11-inch one we reviewed is perfectly good, but not the best that Apple has to offer. The front camera on the 2021 iPad needs some upgrades, while the back camera is decent, however, we barely see a use case for either except for video calls, to be honest.
So, should you buy it?
If you are looking for a more portable option for a laptop, sure. If you are not into heavy content creation, also sure. Apple has taken some very stable steps towards potentially replacing its MacBooks with the iPad some time down the line, but I am not ready to give up my MacBook Pro quite yet.
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