iPad Pro 12.9 (2021) vs. iPad Pro 12.9 (2020): Does the M1 Make a Difference?

Apple has just announced the iPad Pro 12.9 (2021), featuring a MacBook-level M1 chip, a mini-LED display, and 5G support. It certainly looks like a fantastic tablet, but is it really that much better than 2020’s iPad Pro? Last year’s model also boasts some mouth-watering specs, a beautiful screen, and stunning performance, so it’s not immediately obvious if it’s worth upgrading to the newer model.

To answer this question, we put the two Apple tablets to the test in a head-to-head comparison. We examine their specs, designs, displays, performance, cameras, software, and special features, evaluating which one is the best device overall. This should help you make a decision that’s right for you.

Please note: This is a comparison of the 12.9-inch models of both devices. If you’d like to look at some other iPad models, check out our article on the best iPad to buy in 2021.


iPad Pro (2021) iPad Pro (2020)
Size 280.6 x 214.9 x 6.4mm (11.05 x 8.46 x 0.25 inches) 280.6 x 214.9 x 5.9mm (11.05 x 8.46 x 0.23 inches)
Weight 682 grams (Wi-Fi), 685 grams (5G) (1.5 pounds) 641 grams (Wi-Fi), 643 grams (LTE) (1.41 pounds)
Screen 12.9-inch Liquid Retina XDR mini-LED LCD 12.9-inch Liquid Retina IPS
Screen resolution 2048 x 2732 pixels (265 pixels per inch) 2048 x 2732 pixels (265 pixels per inch)
Operating system iPadOS 14 iPadOS 14
Storage 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB, 2TB 128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB
MicroSD card slot No No
Processor Apple M1 Apple A12Z Bionic
Camera Dual 12-megapixel and 10MP ultrawide, LiDAR, 12MP ultrawide front Dual 12MP and 10MP ultrawide, LiDAR, 7MP front
Video 4K at 60fps, 1080p at 240fps 4K at 60fps, 1080p at 240fps
Bluetooth version Bluetooth 5.0 Bluetooth 5.0
Fingerprint sensor No No
Water resistance No No
Battery 40.88Wh

Fast charging (18W)


Fast charging (18W)

App marketplace Apple App Store Apple App Store
Network support AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon (Cellular models only) AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon (Cellular models only)
Colors Silver, Space Gray Silver, Space Gray
Price $1,099+ $1,000+
Buy from Apple Best Buy
Review score News 4.5 out of 5 stars

Design, display, and durability

iPad Pro 2020 Camera

There’s no significant design upgrade this year with the iPad Pro 12.9 (2021), but that’s not really a bad thing, and this year’s Pro tablet is basically identical to last year’s, with the same edge-to-edge display and narrow bezels. Both devices incorporate aluminum frames and rears, and while their dimensions are almost exactly the same, the newer iPad Pro is 0.2mm thicker. This isn’t really noticeable, although what is noticeable is the 40-gram difference in weight, meaning that the 2021 iPad Pro is about a 10th of a pound heavier than its older sibling.

While their designs are all but indistinguishable, the iPad Pro (2021) does offer a tangibly improved display. Admittedly, it is the same size and does feature the same number of pixels (2048 x 2732), but it finds Apple using mini-LED technology for the first time. Basically, such tech allows for enhanced backlighting that improves the brightness of the display, while also deepening the blacks on offer. Everything should therefore be richer and more vibrant, given that the use of mini-LEDs means you can pack more of them into the screen.

As for durability, neither tablet is water resistant, although they do feature scratch-resistant glass that’s also oleophobic (i.e. it repels oil and fingerprints). This puts them on level pegging, but because the newer iPad Pro does have a detectably better screen, we’re giving it this opening round.

Winner: iPad Pro 12.9 (2021)

Performance, battery life, and charging

Needless to say, the 2020 iPad Pro was one powerful beast of a tablet, featuring an A12Z Bionic chip and 6GB of RAM. However, Apple has decided to do away with a mobile chip for its latest model, instead going with the M1 chip used in its latest MacBooks. That’s right, the iPad Pro (2021) is basically a highly portable laptop, and with 8GB — or 12GB — of RAM, it will outperform the 2020 version by an appreciable margin.

This represents a clear step forward in terms of performance, and while things aren’t quite the same in terms of internal memory, the newer iPad Pro still has a slight edge. While it starts with 128GB of RAM as standard (just like the 2020 iPad Pro), it can be upgraded to a whopping 2TB. Again, this really does make it a more nimble laptop, although you will have to pay Apple an astonishingly expensive $2,199 if you want that amount of storage.

We haven’t yet given the iPad Pro (2021) the full run around, but its battery is slightly bigger than the 2020 model’s. As such, we suspect it might just provide more use time between charges, although its extra juice may end up being used by its more intensive display. We’ll find out with a review, although with a distinctly more powerful chip and more RAM, we’re still giving this round to the latest model.

Winner: iPad Pro 12.9 (2021)


iPad Pro 12.9 (2021) camera

Things are very close in the camera department, save for one notable improvement. Both devices feature a dual-lens rear camera, with a 12-megapixel wide lens and a 10MP ultrawide lens, as well as a LiDAR sensor (that’s potentially useful for AR applications). They’ll both be as versatile and as useful as each other, with our review of the 2020 model finding that it takes decent photos in the vast majority of conditions, even if it isn’t quite up to the same level as the iPhone 12 or leading Android phones.

While the rear cameras are basically the same, the iPad Pro (2021) packs a 12MP ultrawide selfie camera, in contrast to the 2020’s 7MP regular wide lens. Apple says this provides more natural video calls, while the use of the A.I.-powered Center Stage feature should allow for some impressively panoramic selfies. Given the regularity with which most of us take selfies and video calls these days, this could be more than a nice gimmick, so we’re giving yet another round to the newer iPad Pro.

Winner: iPad Pro 12.9 (2021)

Software and updates

person holding ipad pro
Henry Ascroft/Unsplash

The iPad Pro 12.9 (2021) and its 2020 predecessor both run iPadOS 14, which offers a variety of helpful features you don’t get with the iPhone, such as sidebars, the Dock menu, and the great Scribble feature (letting you use the Apple Pencil to write into on-screen text fields and boxes).

This means they’ll be as useful as each other, while Apple’s enviable track record in rolling out updates also means they’ll receive updates as regularly and as promptly as each other. It’s also worth pointing out that Apple hasn’t yet stopped supporting any iPad Pro model (and we’re now onto the fifth generation), so you’ll be able to use both for many years before actually needing to upgrade.

Winner: Tie

Special features

5G feature image

The iPad Pro 2021 copies the iPhone 12 range by adding the option of 5G support. You will have to pay $200 extra for this privilege, but it will grant you access to the fastest mmWave 5G bands, as well as the longer-range sub-6Hz frequencies. This is something not all flagship smartphones can boast of (even in 2021), so you really will be at the forefront of innovation with the 2021 model.

As noted above, both models come with a LiDAR sensor. This enables the use of a range of augmented-reality apps, although these remain few and far between at the moment, so you probably won’t be using it all that much. Both devices also harness Face ID (for unlocking and purchases) and even support the Magic Keyboard accessory, letting you turn both of them into a glorified laptop.

Again, there isn’t a massive difference between either device, but the inclusion of 5G support is another feature that does just enough to tip the scales in favor of the newer iPad Pro.

Winner: iPad Pro 12.9 (2021)

Price and availability

The iPad Pro 12.9 (2021) is available for pre-order now from Apple’s website, starting from $1,099 and rising to $2,229 if you want the 2TB version with 5G. It will be supported by all major networks and sold by pretty much every credible retailer.

Now that it has been officially usurped by the 2021 model, you can no longer purchase the iPad Pro (2020) directly from Apple’s site. Still, there are plenty of good deals available from retailers such as Best Buy and Amazon, and you are likely to find it at a small ($100) discount right about now, so get shopping.

Overall winner: iPad Pro 12.9 (2021)

Apple iPad Pro 12.9 (2021)

The iPad Pro 12.9 (2021) isn’t a quantum leap over the iPad Pro (2020), but it does offer improvements in just about every department. Its display has been enriched by the use of mini-LED technology, it has a seriously capable M1 processor, a more versatile selfie camera, and 5G support. So while the older version has many of the same fundamental features in place, these new improvements do tip it over the edge.

That said, if you’re not too fussed about selfies or 5G support, the iPad Pro (2020) is certainly worth buying if you can find a new model for less than its launch price. It will last you for almost as long as the 2021 model, and will do the vast majority of the same things. Similarly, if you already have the 2020 model, it probably isn’t worth upgrading just yet.

Editors’ Recommendations

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