A generous Christmas gift— or maybe an unexpected tax return—- enables you to treat yourself to a new device for gaming, entertaining, and maybe even a little work. You’ve brought it down to two good choices: a MacBook or a new iPad with a quality iPad case. Which is better?
That’s a hard question to answer: the MacBook and the iPad are both quality products, just different. What’s more, there are a number of different models of Macbook— from the Air to the Pro— and even more variations on the iPad. Instead of asking which is best, it makes more sense to ask: which suits you best?
The MacBook Air (2021), iPad Pro are both based on the exact same processor: the M1 with 8 core CPU. The new iPad Air has another M1 chip, but this one goes with a 7 core CPU for marginally less power.
What does all that mean? If you need something better than the MacBook Air, you’re going to have to go with the MacBook Pro: there’s no iPad with that kind of power. That said, the M1 is a capable little beast, and both the new MacBook Air and new iPads will crush almost any task you throw at them.
If you’re a power user, get the MacBook Pro. If your needs aren’t greater than average but you like a fast, responsive interface and the occasional game, get a MacBook Air or iPad Pro. And if all you need to do is casual computing, internet browsing and messaging? The basic iPad Mini should do nicely, depending on what form factor you prefer.
Portability is one area where the iPad gets better marks than does the Macbook— but not much. The MacBook Air and iPad Pro are actually very comparable in size; a few inches more or less depending on the model.
The iPad Pro weighs 1.5 pounds, without a keyboard: the MacBook Air weighs 2.8. If you add a keyboard to your Pro for productivity reasons, of course, the two weights are going to be closer. The magic keyboard actually weighs 1.57 pounds, so if you spring for that your setup is going to be heavier than the 2.8 MacBook Air which needs no accessories.
One big part of portability is battery life: you may want to be able to take your device where there aren’t outlets, and you’d like the battery charge to last. Here the MacBooks tend to have an advantage. The iPad Air, for instance, will give around 10 hours of battery power, compared to around 15 for a new MacBook Air.
Does much of your computing require keyboard use, or is that minimal? If what you do can be easily done with an on-screen keyboard, the iPad may be ideal for you. If not, you’ll want to do some figuring.
Apple has taken the keyboard issue seriously and produced some pretty nice add-ons to the iPad. The problem? They come with a pretty hefty price tag, and the gold standard here is ‘as good as a laptop’. When your other option is an actual laptop keyboard you don’t have to pay (extra) for, the shiny magic add-ons don’t look quite as magic.
An iPad Pro with a magic keyboard can do almost anything a computer can; so long as it’s not restricted by the iPad OS. But it’ll cost you more than a MacBook Air with the same specs, so if you kind of wanted a laptop— but started thinking about an iPad as a way of saving money— you might just want to go back to Plan A.
The camera is one area in which the iPad is clearly better than the MacBook, any model. The MacBook Air, for instance, has a 720 p HD camera. That’s not bad, as far as laptop cameras go, but it’s nothing like the 12MP ultra wide camera on the iPad Air.
How important is the camera to your regular computing life? If you only use it for the random FaceTime call—- and you don’t care if your face isn’t in full definition, showing off every blackhead, wrinkle, or zit— the MacBook camera may be all you’ll ever need. If you had thoughts of using your new device as a video camera, though, go with the iPad Pro. And if you communicate regularly with friends and loved ones through video calls and better resolution would be a dream come true, you’ll want an iPad too. 1080p/60fps makes for beautifully smooth videos; it’ll be just like you were sitting next to a window, talking with someone on the other side.
Honestly, when you’re looking at the iPad and MacBook, much of it comes down to preference. The main difference in performance lies in the operating system on the device: either the iPadOS or the full MacOS?
iPadOS is great. Smooth, intuitive, it responds to your ever gesture and seems to almost anticipate what you wanted before you realized it yourself. It allows you to multi-task and do almost anything you might want to do on a computer. The key word, though, is almost.
Wonderful as the iPad operating system is, it isn’t a computer OS. It can't run computer programs and it doesn’t let you do anything you’d do on a desktop. So think about your computing life. What apps do you use on a daily basis, and how committed are you to them? What are the iPad equivalents? If you've got everything you want on iPadOS, go with that. But if you want access to the full gamut of all Mac programs, better stick with the MacBook. It’s not as fun, maybe, and maybe not even as intuitive. But it’s versatile, and it’ll do what you need it to. You can run iPad programs on a MacBook. You can’t run Mac programs on an iPad.
So which suits you? Now that you know their strength and weaknesses, you’ll be able to make that decision for yourself. If your hands are itching to do some sketching on that iPad and you’d like to do some movie making with the 12MP camera, go with the iPad. If you're into serious computing, maybe buy yourself a MacBook Pro. They’re all good devices, but they’re not all ideal for the same things.