iPad Pro (2020) vs. iPad Pro (2021): Should you upgrade?

Best iPad for artists
Best iPad for artists (Image credit: iMore)

Here at iMore, we've always been pretty high on the iPad Pro (2020). It's fast, powerful, and its gorgeous display has always looked beautiful. None of that has changed, but if you're looking to buy an iPad Pro right now, waiting for the new iPad Pro (2021) may be your best option.

There are several differences between last year's model and the iPad Pro (2021), both inside and out. But for the first time, the 12.9-inch version and 11-inch version of the iPad Pro (2021) will be different. In fact, if you want the most powerful and most feature-packed iPad Pro (2021), you'll need to get a 12.9-inch iPad Pro (2021) with at least 1TB of storage — that's a lot of money.

The iPad Pro (2021) promises to be a performance king

Ipad Pro M1 5g Lifestyle

Ipad Pro M1 5g Lifestyle (Image credit: Apple)

The biggest story surrounding the iPad Pro (2021) is the inclusion of Apple's M1 chip. We've seen just how crazy the performance has been in both the MacBook Air with M1 and the MacBook Pro with M1, so we know that the M1 chip is going to be a boost over the 12Z Bionic from the iPad Pro (2020).

What's more? If you're the type of person who loves getting a data plan for their tablet, all iPad Pro (2021) models are compatible with 5G. They're even compatible with mmWave 5G (that's the super-fast kind), whereas the iPad Pro (2020) can only achieve a 4G connection.

While the iPad Pro (2020) is rocking a USB-C port, the iPad Pro (2021) takes it a step further by making the USB-C port a USB 4 and Thunderbolt 3 compatible port. This allows the iPad Pro (2021) to utilize its USB-C port to its fullest potential, with blazing-fast data transfer speeds.

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Header Cell - Column 0 iPad Pro (2020)iPad Pro (2021)
Size12.9-inch, and 11-inch models12.9-inch and 11-inch models
ChipA12Z BionicM1
RAM6GB (reportedly)8GB or 16GB depending on model
PortUSB-CThunderbolt 3 / USB 4
Max storage1TB2TB
Back cameras12MP Wide and 10MP Ultra Wide cameras12MP Wide and 10MP Ultra Wide cameras
Front camera7MP Wide TrueDepth12MP TrueDepth with ultra-wide-angle
Apple Pencil SupportApple Pencil 2Apple Pencil 2

While Apple usually isn't very forthcoming with how much RAM is actually included with its devices, all the iPad Pro (2020) models reportedly had 6GB of RAM. That means that the iPad Pro (2021) includes a RAM upgrade for all models since the lowest amount of RAM included in this year's iPad Pro is 8GB. You can even get an iPad Pro (2021) with 16GB of RAM if you opt for buying models with 1TB or 2TB of storage. Oh yeah, don't forget that the iPad Pro (2021) now offers a 2TB storage model whereas the iPad Pro (2020) only went up to 1TB.

While both the iPad Pro (2020) and iPad Pro (2021) have the same back camera array — including the LiDAR sensor — the front TrueDepth camera in the newest models got a pretty big upgrade. Jumping from 7MP to 12MP, the TrueDepth camera on the iPad Pro (2021) will offer much better picture quality for video calls and pictures alike. It's an ultra-wide-angle lens, meaning to will be able to see more than the previous version of the camera. Apple even boasted about how a new feature called Center Stage will aim to keep you in the center of the frame on FaceTime calls by cropping the image as you move.

Let's talk about the iPad Pro (2021) display

Here's where the story of the new iPad Pro (2021) gets a little weird. The 11-inch iPad Pro (2021) and the 12.9-inch iPad Pro (2021) have different screens.

The 11-inch iPad Pro has the same screen that you're used to seeing on the iPad Pro (2020) — the 11-inch LED-backlit Multi-Touch display with IPS technology (called Liquid Retina display by Apple); however, the same can't be said for the 12.9-inch models.

The 12.9-inch iPad Pro (2021) will now be sporting a Liquid Retina XDR display, which promises to be the best screen for viewing and working with HDR content. The screen is backlit by a new mini-LED that offers a 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio. If you've wanted a mobile machine to work with and edit HDR content, the 12.9-inch iPad Pro (2021) is the best iPad for the job.

iPad Pro (2020) vs. iPad Pro (2021): Should you upgrade?

This is the biggest upgrade we've seen in the iPad Pro lineup in years, and might even be the biggest upgrade since the product first launched. The M1 chip has proven to be an absolute beast in performance — it was built for the Mac after all — and the upgraded RAM is bound to be a boon to anyone who calls themselves a pro.

If you have an iPad Pro (2020) and you find that you push it to its very limits right now, upgrading to the iPad Pro (2021) will likely achieve a performance boost. That being said, the iPad Pro (2020) is still a great tablet, and if you aren't dying for the new features upgrading isn't necessary by any means.

If you're buying a new iPad Pro right now, it's hard to imagine why you wouldn't opt to get the iPad Pro (2021), especially since they start at the same price as the 2020 models did when they launched.

Luke Filipowicz
Staff Writer

Luke Filipowicz has been a writer at iMore, covering Apple for nearly a decade now. He writes a lot about Apple Watch and iPad but covers the iPhone and Mac as well. He often describes himself as an "Apple user on a budget" and firmly believes that great technology can be affordable if you know where to look. Luke also heads up the iMore Show — a weekly podcast focusing on Apple news, rumors, and products but likes to have some fun along the way. 

Luke knows he spends more time on Twitter than he probably should, so feel free to follow him or give him a shout on social media @LukeFilipowicz.