Apple updated its popular iPad Pro lineup in April 2021, introducing a faster M1 chip, a Liquid Retina XDR display, a Thunderbolt port, and other features, replacing the previous models from March 2020.
Although Apple has now discontinued the 2020 iPad Pro models, they are frequently available at reduced prices from third-party retailers. Some users who already own the 2020 iPad Pro may be debating whether it is worthwhile to upgrade to the 2021 model.
Should you save money by sticking with or purchasing an older iPad Pro, or do you need the latest model? Our guide will help you decide which of these two iPad Pros is best for you.
The 2020 iPad Pro has more in common with its 2021 successor than it does with its predecessor, including key features such as design and rear camera setup.
- Flat-edged industrial design
- TrueDepth camera enables Face ID
- P3 Wide Color and True Tone ƒ/1.8 12MP Wide and ƒ/2.4 12MP Ultra Wide rear cameras with LiDAR scanner, Liquid Retina display with 264 PPI, full lamination, oleophobic and anti-reflective coating, 2x optical zoom out, 5x digital zoom in, brighter True Tone flash, and Smart HDR 3 for photos are all new features.
- 4K video recording at 24 frames per second, 25 frames per second, 30 frames per second, or 60 frames per second, 1080p HD video recording at 25 frames per second, 30 frames per second, or 60 frames per second, slo-mo video support for 1080p at 120 frames per second or 240 frames per second, time-lapse video with stabilization, and audio zoom.
- TrueDepth front-facing camera with Retina Flash, Portrait mode, Portrait Lighting, Cinematic video stabilization, 1080p HD video recording at 25 frames per second, 30 frames per second, or 60 frames per second, Animoji, and Memoji Stereo recording with “studio quality” mics
- “All-day” audio on four speakers Battery life of 10 hours
- Bluetooth 5.0 and Wi-Fi 6 connectivity
- USB Type C connector
- Magic Keyboard, Smart Keyboard Folio, and Apple Pencil are all compatible (2nd generation)
- Silver and Space Gray colors are available.
According to Apple’s specification breakdown, the two iPad Pros share the vast majority of features. Nonetheless, there are a few notable differences between the 2020 and 2021 iPad Pros, including display technologies, processors, and front-facing cameras.
iPad Pro 2020
- Liquid Retina LED display with a maximum brightness of 600 nits (typical)
- The A12Z chip
- Storage configurations up to 1TB/2.2 Neural Engine 6GB RAM 7MP TrueDepth camera Smart HDR for photos
- The thickness is 5.9mm.
- 1.04 kilograms / 1.41 kilograms
iPad Pro 2021
- Liquid Retina XDR mini-LED display with a maximum full-screen brightness of 1,000 nits. The peak brightness of 1,600 nits and HDR (12.9-inch model only)
- M1 chip
- Neural Engine of the Future
- Storage capacities of up to 2TB/2.4 12MP TrueDepth camera with Ultra Wide camera, 2x optical zoom out, and Center Stage Smart HDR 3 for photos
- Extended dynamic range for video at up to 30 frames per second
- Thunderbolt / USB 4 interface
- The thickness is 6.4mm (12.9-inch model only)
- 1.5 pound / 1.03 pound
The 12.9-inch 2020 iPad Pro, as well as the two generations of 11-inch models, all have the same 120Hz ProMotion Liquid Retina LED display with full lamination, an anti-reflective coating, P3 wide color, and True Tone.
The 12.9-inch iPad Pro 2021 features an entirely new Liquid Retina XDR mini-LED display. The Liquid Retina XDR display, in addition to the display features of the other iPad Pros, uses over 10,000 LEDs across the back of the display to deliver 1,000 nits of full-screen brightness, 1,600 nits of peak brightness, and a 1 million-to-1 contrast ratio. The end result is a better visual experience that captures even the darkest images’ brightest highlights and subtle details.
Photographers, videographers, and filmmakers, among others, can now view and edit true-to-life HDR content on the iPad Pro. HDR and Dolby Vision content also has a more cinematic viewing experience.
If you can use the new display to consume or create HDR media, the 12.9-inch iPad Pro represents a significant upgrade over the 2020 model. If you’re considering the 11-inch model, the identical displays mean this won’t be a consideration.
M1 Chip vs. A12Z Chip
When it comes to chips, the two generations differ significantly. The A12Z chip found in the 2020 iPad Pro models is an improvement over the previous A12X chip found in the 2018 iPad Pro, which was a variant of the A12 chip found in the iPhone XS. The M1 chip from Apple’s latest MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, Mac mini, and iMac is used in the 2021 iPad Pro.
The A12Z and M1 chips both have eight cores, four of which are high-performance and four of which are high-efficiency. Both processors can use all eight cores to power the GPU.
The A12Z is manufactured using a 7-nanometer process, whereas the M1 is manufactured using a newer 5-nanometer process. The maximum clock speed of the A12Z is 2.49GHz, while the M1 chip has a much higher clock speed of 3.2GHz.
Benchmarks for the iPad Pro’s M1 chip show that it is significantly more powerful than the A12Z, with scores comparable to the MacBook Air, which is also a passively cooled mobile device with the M1 chip. The M1 in the MacBook Air achieves a Geekbench single-core score of 1700, while the A12Z in the iPad Pro achieves 1121. The MacBook Air has a multi-core score of 7374, while the iPad Pro’s A12Z has a score of 4655.
The M1 chip outperforms the A12Z in terms of performance, but it is unlikely to be noticeable in most tasks. The A12Z was already a powerful and capable chip, and it is difficult to recommend the 2021 model over the 2020 model based solely on processor unless you can clearly benefit from the extra performance.
The 2020 iPad Pro features an A12Z processor and 6GB of RAM. The 2021 iPad Pro has 8GB or 16GB of storage, just like Macs with the M1 chip. All iPad Pro configurations with 1TB or 2TB storage include 16GB of RAM, while all other storage configurations include 8GB of RAM.
The 2020 iPad Pro will have 6GB of RAM, which will be sufficient for casual users, but 8GB will be more capable of handling multiple windows of the same application and a variety of intensive background tasks.
Finally, because iPadOS is excellent at memory management, the amount of RAM in your iPad is unlikely to be important in most cases.
Both iPad Pro models have storage capacities of 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, or 1TB. The 2021 iPad Pro includes a new 2TB storage option for $400 more than the 1TB configuration.
The maximum 1TB of storage in the 2020 iPad Pro will be more than enough for most users, but the option is available with the 2021 iPad Pro for power users who intend to store a very large amount of data on their iPads.
In terms of hardware, both iPad Pro models have the same rear camera setup. Nonetheless, the 2021 model includes Smart HDR 3 and an extended dynamic range for video up to 30 frames per second.
On the front of the iPad Pro, the camera differences are more pronounced. The front-facing camera on the 2020 iPad Pro is /2.2 7MP TrueDepth, while the 2021 model is /2.4 12MP TrueDepth with an Ultra Wide camera.
The camera’s improved specifications in the 2021 model allow for a 2x optical zoom out and Center Stage for video calls.
Center Stage recognizes and keeps users centered in the frame by utilizing the much larger field of view on the new front camera and the machine-learning capabilities of the M1 chip. Center Stage automatically pans to keep users in the shot as they move around. When others join in, the camera detects them as well and smoothly zooms out to accommodate everyone.
In cellular configurations, the 2020 iPad Pro models support standard 4G LTE. The 2021 iPad Pros, on the other hand, are the first to include 5G connectivity, which allows the iPad Pro to reach speeds of up to 4Gbps.
5G is significantly faster than 4G, but it will only be worthwhile for users who have the cellular iPad Pro configurations and a corresponding carrier plan.
The 2020 iPad Pro has a standard USB-C port, whereas the iPad Pro has a Thunderbolt port. The iPad Air’s USB-C port supports 10Gb/s transfers, while Thunderbolt supports up to 40Gb/s. Thunderbolt, in addition to being significantly faster, allows for compatibility with a much broader range of Thunderbolt-only accessories, such as external hard drives and monitors. Thunderbolt is also backward compatible with USB-C, so the two ports appear to be identical.
Even though Thunderbolt is much faster than the standard USB-C port on the 2020 iPad Pro, most users are unlikely to have Thunderbolt accessories that can take advantage of these speeds, so the 2021 model is not worth it for Thunderbolt alone.
Both iPad Pro models are compatible with accessories such as the Apple Pencil 2, Smart Keyboard Folio, and Magic Keyboard. When it comes to keyboards and trackpads, there is no reason to choose one model over the other because they both support the same accessories.
However, it should be noted that accessories such as the Apple Pencil and Magic Keyboard must be purchased separately from the iPad, which raises the overall price. As a result, if the $799 2021 iPad Pro is already out of your price range and you want an accessory like the $299 Magic Keyboard, you may need to opt for the older iPad Pro to reduce the overall cost.
Users of the 2020 12.9-inch iPad Pro who use the Magic Keyboard and want to upgrade to the newer model should keep in mind that because the 2021 model is slightly thicker, you may want to purchase a new Magic Keyboard as well for a better fit. Although the 2020 Magic Keyboard is functionally compatible with the 2021 12.9-inch model, Apple notes that it may not fit precisely due to the added thickness.
Other iPad Alternatives
If the iPad Pro is too expensive for you or you believe you will be unable to benefit from it, you may want to consider the iPad Air, which starts at $599. The iPad Air shares many features with the iPad Pro, including the latest all-screen design, a fast, capable processor, practical features like USB-C, and compatibility with the latest Apple accessories, all at a lower price point.
Unless you require iPad Pro features such as a more advanced camera setup, Face ID, more RAM, or stereo audio recording, the iPad Air is the best option for the average consumer. See our iPad Air 2020 vs. iPad Pro 2021 Buyer’s Guide for more information on whether to buy the iPad Air or the iPad Pro.
Overall, the upgraded features of the 2021 iPad Pro models are significant but very specific. It will only be worth getting the 2021 model over its predecessor or upgrading from the 2020 model if you have a clear use case for features like Thunderbolt, more RAM or storage, or a better front-facing camera.
The M1 chip outperforms the A12Z, but most users’ workflows are unlikely to benefit from the extra power. The mini-LED display on the 2021 12.9-inch iPad Pro is a significant upgrade from the previous model and will be a game changer for consumers or creators of HDR media, but there is little point in upgrading for 11-inch iPad Pro users in particular.
The only other reason to buy the 2021 iPad Pro is for 5G connectivity, which will likely be available to only a small percentage of users who choose the cellular configuration.
Nonetheless, the M1 chip and increased memory will make the 2021 iPad Pro more future-proof. If you intend to keep your iPad Pro for more than a few years, it may be worth purchasing the newer model to ensure better performance over time through successive updates and with more demanding apps.