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12.9-inch vs. 11-inch iPad Pro 2021: What's different?

12.9-inch vs. 11-inch iPad Pro 2021
(Image credit: Apple)

We just finished our iPad Pro 2021 (12.9-inch) review, and it's Apple's most powerful tablet to date. But if you've decided to shell out for what's shaping up to be one of the best tablets on the market you've still got to decide which size to buy, and Apple has made the decision harder than ever by kitting out the larger 12.9-inch iPad Pro with what could be one of the best displays we've ever seen in a tablet.

That's because the 12.9-inch model will have a new Liquid Retina XDR display, which supposedly draws on Apple's learnings from its desktop Pro Display XDR to deliver 5.6 million pixels' worth of bright, vibrant color. 

It's an exciting piece of tech, but if you want to see that screen in person you're going to be paying at least $300 extra for the privilege -- and that's on top of the $800 minimum Apple is asking for a new iPad Pro. 

The smaller 11-inch iPad Pro is no slouch, either; it's cheaper than the larger model and doesn't pack the same Liquid Retina XDR display, but it still has the same blazing-fast M1 chip inside, the latest cameras, 5G support and a Liquid Retina display that can display 4 million pixels. 

Not sure which size of iPad Pro is right for your needs? Read on for a deeper comparison that should make the decision a little easier!

12.9-inch vs 11-inch iPad Pro 2021: Specs

11-inch iPad Pro 202112.9-inch iPad Pro 2021
Starting price$799$1,099
Display11 inches (2388 x 1668 pixels)12.9 inches (2732 x 2048 pixels) mini-LED
ProcessorM1 (16-core)M1 (16-core)
Storage128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB, 2TB128GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB, 2TB
Rear Cameras12MP wide (f/1.8), 10-MP ultra-wide (f/2.4)12MP wide (f/1.8), 10-MP ultra-wide (f/2.4)
Front Cameras12MP TrueDepth12MP TrueDepth
PortUSB-C with Thunderbolt, USB-4USB-C with Thunderbolt, USB-4
AccessoriesMagic Keyboard, Apple Pencil (gen 1 & 2)Magic Keyboard, Apple Pencil (gen 1 & 2)
Battery life (rated)10 hours wireless web10 hours wireless web
ConnectivityWi-Fi 6, optional 5GWi-Fi 6, optional 5G
Dimensions9.74 x 7.02 x 0.23 inches11.04 x 8.46 x 0.25 inches
Weight1.04 pounds1.51 pounds

12.9-inch vs 11-inch iPad Pro 2021: Price

Apple's new iPad Pro 2021 starts at $799 for the 11-inch model, while the 12.9-inch version has a starting price of $1,099. 

You can pay extra for more storage or the option to have cellular connectivity in addition to Wi-Fi, and if you kit each of these tablets out with all the trimmings you'll be paying $2,099 for the 11-inch iPad Pro 2021 and $2,399 for the 12.9-inch model.

You can buy either through Apple's website (in your choice of Space Gray or Silver paint jobs) fairly easily, so the decision ultimately comes down to whether the larger iPad Pro is worth an extra $300 to you.  

Note that the Magic Keyboard adds $299 to the 11.9-inch iPad Pro price and $349 to the 12.9-inch model. The Apple Pencil costs $129 for both tablets. 

12.9-inch vs 11-inch iPad Pro 2021: Display

The biggest difference between the two iPad Pro 2021 models is undoubtedly the disparity in display quality. The new iPad Pro has two different screens depending on which size you buy: the smaller, cheaper 11-inch iPad Pro 2021 sports a Liquid Retina display with more than 4 million pixels, while the larger 12.9-inch iPad Pro comes with Apple's first tablet-sized mini-LED that can display more than 5.6 million pixels.

The new Liquid Retina XDR display on the 12.9-inch iPad Pro packs 10,000 mini-LEDs into the tablet, allowing it to display XDR (extreme dynamic range) content with what Apple claims are peak brightness levels of between 1,000 - 1,600 nits. If true, that makes it a significant improvement over the 2020 12.9-inch iPad Pro, which achieved an average brightness of 559 nits in our lab testing. 

12.9-inch vs. 11-inch iPad Pro 2021

(Image credit: Apple)

We won't know for sure what a difference the larger iPad Pro's new Liquid Retina XDR display will make until we get one in for testing and see it for our own eyes. However, we know that mini-LED is a big deal that could revolutionize tablet displays, because we've seen the same technology deliver significant improvements in TV display quality.

Since mini-LEDs are so much smaller than regular LEDs manufacturers can fit a lot more of them into a screen, giving the display tinier, more tightly controllable lighting zones that can be independently dimmed and brightened. That gives the screen better contrast capability, letting it create deeper blacks and brighter highlights.

12.9-inch vs. 11-inch iPad Pro 2021

(Image credit: Apple)

So if screen quality is important to you, the 12.9-inch iPad Pro 2021 should give you the best tablet display on the market, which is especially important if you expect to be viewing or working with a lot of HDR (high dynamic range) content.

If that's not worth an extra $300 to you, the 11-inch iPad Pro 2021's LED display should still deliver great image quality. Both displays also offer wide color gamut support and refresh rates of up to 120Hz thanks to Apple's ProMotion technology.

12.9-inch vs 11-inch iPad Pro 2021: Performance

One of the other big selling points of the new iPad Pro 2021 is the inclusion of Apple's new M1 chip. 

Since its debut last year, the M1 chip has significantly boosted performance in every Apple device it's been added to, and we've already seen it deliver great improvements in the MacBook Pro M1 and MacBook Air M1.

The iPad Pro 2021 is the first iPad to incorporate the M1, and Apple says the octa-core chip will offer 50% faster CPU performance and 40% better graphics performance over the already-powerful iPad Pro 2020, which relied on Apple's A12Z Bionic processor.

12.9-inch vs. 11-inch iPad Pro 2021

(Image credit: Apple)

The new iPad Pro 2021 models are also said to deliver a 2x improvement in storage access speed over the iPad Pro 2020, which was already quite speedy. The new iPad Pro 2021 also supports USB-4 and Thunderbolt 4, which means better-than-ever bandwidth for for external devices and displays if you like to use them.

So while we won't know for sure how much of a difference the M1 makes in the iPad Pro until we test it for ourselves, it's safe to say that no matter which size iPad Pro you buy, you'll be getting one of the most powerful tablets on the market.

12.9-inch vs 11-inch iPad Pro 2021: Battery life

Apple claims both of the new iPad Pro 2021 models should offer up to 10 hours of surfing the web or watching video on a Wi-Fi connection, though that number goes down to 9 hours if you're on a cellular connection. 

We look forward to verifying that with our Tom's Guide battery test, which is based on web surfing over Wi-Fi at 150 nits of brightness. However, Apple's been pretty good recently about delivering products that last as long on battery power as the company claims, so it's a safe bet that you'll get reasonably good battery life out of either model of iPad Pro.

12.9-inch vs 11-inch iPad Pro 2021: Design

These new iPad Pro 2021 models look remarkably similar to their predecessors, sporting the same thin black bezels and rounded edges on a machined aluminum body. 

The most noticeable difference in design is that the 12.9-inch model is a little thicker than its predecessor, measuring 0.25 inches thick vs. 0.23 inches on the previous model. The additional thickness is rumored to be due to the inclusion of the new mini-LED display, but in practical use we doubt you'd notice the extra size. 

12.9-inch vs 11-inch iPad Pro 2021: Cameras

There's no difference between the cameras on the two new iPad Pro models, so whichever one you buy you're guaranteed to get Apple's latest tablet camera tech. 

There are some notable improvements over last year's model, too. The rear cameras of the iPad Pro 2021 are the same as before (12MP wide (f/1.8), 10-MP ultra-wide (f/2.4)), but there's been a big change to the front-facing camera: it now sports a 12MP TrueDepth sensor instead of the 7MP sensor on the prior model, and it comes with a cool new feature that could spice up all those Zoom calls you've been having.

12.9-inch vs. 11-inch iPad Pro 2021

(Image credit: Apple)

The new camera feature is branded Center Stage because it makes use of the iPad Pro's ultra-wide camera to keep the frame centered on you during video calls, even when you move to the side. If someone else enters the frame, the camera recognizes them and zooms out to capture them as well. It's a neat touch, especially if you make a lot of video calls with your tablet, and it's available on both models of the new iPad Pro 2021.

12.9-inch vs 11-inch iPad Pro 2021: Accessories

If price is a factor when deciding between the two models of the new iPad Pro, you should keep in mind that you will have to pay a bit extra for some accessories — mostly cases and covers — if you go with the larger 12.9-inch iPad Pro.

12.9-inch vs. 11-inch iPad Pro 2021

(Image credit: Apple)

Notably, Apple's Magic Keyboard will cost you $299 for the 11-inch iPad Pro and $349 for the 12.9-inch iPad Pro. And if you already have an older 12.9-inch Magic Keyboard you won't be able to rely on it working perfectly with the new 12.9-inch iPad Pro, because the tablet's just a smidge thicker than last year's model, and that means it doesn't quite fit right into the old Magic Keyboard.

If you want to take notes, draw, edit photos or perform other functions with more precision, the Apple Pencil for both the iPad Pro 11-inch and 12.9-inch costs $129.

12.9-inch vs 11-inch iPad Pro 2021: Outlook

The premium price tag Apple puts on its iPad Pro means it's rarely an easy decision to invest in one. This time around the price disparity between the two sizes of iPad Pro is higher than ever ($300 vs. $200 on last year's model), but so is the difference in what you get. 

No matter which size iPad Pro you buy, you're getting one of the most powerful tablets on the market (thanks to the M1 chip) with one of the brightest and most beautiful displays. Either of the two iPad Pro 2021 models should be more than capable of running all your favorite apps for years to come.

So if you don't need the most amazing display or you like the smaller, lighter size of the 11-inch iPad Pro 2021, know that you're saving $300 (or more, if you're planning to invest in a keyboard or cover) without sacrificing too much.

But if you absolutely, positively must have the best screen possible, or if you just have to see what a mini-LED display looks like on Apple's most powerful tablet yet, the 12.9-inch iPad Pro looks like it could be worth the extra $300 you'll pay to own it. 

Alex Wawro

Alex Wawro is a senior editor at Tom's Guide covering all things computing, from laptops and desktops to keyboards and mice. Got a hot tip? Get in touch via alex.wawro@futurenet.com.