For years, there has been an ongoing debate over what the iPad Pro is and is not. Is it a computer, is it a tablet or is it something in between? While that debate continues on its own, it’s also opened the door as to which device someone shopping for a new computer really needs. For most computer users who rarely do more than browsing, shopping, banking, booking travel, etc., the iPad Pro may be perfect. That’s not to say you should ignore Apple’s popular MacBook Air lineup, though. Let’s take a look at how to choose between the iPad Pro and a MacBook Air.
What Are You Looking to Do?
At the end of the day, what you are trying to do with either machine is the most important question to ask yourself. The similarities between the two machines mostly hover around size and that’s it. They are both very portable and very thin “computers.”
If you only have around $1,000 to spend on a new Apple device, the differences between the two machines become clearer. Do you want something for personal use or are you looking for a serious productivity machine? Is streaming video and playing games more important than creating spreadsheets and crafting PowerPoints? Let’s put both devices head to head and see which one is right for you.
To level the playing field, one should really compare the iPad Pro to the MacBook Air 2020. At 13.3-inches (2560×1600 resolution), the MacBook Air is slightly larger than the two available iPad Pro sizes (11 and 12.9-inches). However, the iPad Pro’s screen comes in at 2338×1668 resolution on the 11-inch and 2732×2048 resolution on the 12.9-inch. On top of the similar resolutions, the iPad Pro offers “ProMotion,” Apple’s name for variable frame rates.
Why is this good news for the iPad Pro? Well, it means the frame rate on the screen will drop when streaming a movie, thus saving energy. On the other hand, if you want to use the Apple Pencil, it raises the frame rate to a maximum at 120fps to keep the latency as minimal as possible. Not to mention the iPad’s fully laminated display helps reduce reflections, especially outdoors. While the MacBook Air display is quite good compared to other laptops, at the end of the day, the iPad Pro provides more display value for the money.
Comparing performance on the MacBook Air versus the iPad Pro really comes down to your needs. On paper, the iPad Pro easily beats the MacBook Air. Apple’s A12Z Bionic chip adds an 8-core CPU and 8-core GPU that just shines. No matter which app, website or task you throw at the iPad Pro, it will metaphorically smile and ask for more.
On the other hand, the MacBook Air adds strong performance for its price. Adding a 10th generation Intel Core processor really stands out. While buyers should consider the i5 model over the i3, for most users it’s more than enough. MacBook Air users can definitely expect to browse, stream, work and play all at the same time on the MacBook Air. While anyone looking for professional needs like video- or photo-editing should really look to the MacBook Pro, the Air is more than good enough.
At the end of the day, performance is really hard to gauge because of the two different operating systems. The iPad Pro is optimized to handle 4K video-editing without slowing down any other tasks. The same cannot be said for the MacBook Air. Again, it’s an apples to oranges comparison.
Likewise, the iPad Pro comes with half the stock RAM as the MacBook Air at 4GB, but the optimized software enables it to run smoothly. Ultimately, if the professional-level apps you need to use are on the iPad Pro, give it a long, hard look. Doing the same work on the MacBook Air may be slower and cause restrictions on anything you do on the computer at the same time.
The biggest difference between the MacBook Air and the iPad Pro is, unquestionably, software. The iPad Pro runs iPadOS, a variant of Apple’s iOS software engineered specifically for its tablet hardware. The MacBook Air currently runs macOS Catalina, the latest version of Apple’s computer software. While each software has its differences, there are a few quick rules to help make a determination as to which one is right for you. If you are a creative type who likes to edit video or photos, draw or just create, the iPad Pro offers a wealth of applications.
With features like Slide Over (running apps on top of one another) or Split View (two apps side by side), the iPad Pro can really be a productive machine. On the other hand, macOS is desktop-level experience. You’ll find Apple’s famed dock, desktop applications, your choice of browsers, tools, applications and so much more. If you require specialized software not available on the iPad Pro, the choice is easy. If you are a student who needs to take notes, type up papers and browse the Web and watch videos, the choice is a lot more difficult.
Pricing between the iPad Pro and the MacBook Air is a mix of being very different and similar at the same time. The entry-level price for the 2020 iPad Pro is $799. For that price, you get the 11-inch model with 64GB of storage. A 12.9-inch model starts at $1,299 and that gets you entry-level storage of 128GB. Pricing can go high as $1,299 for 1TB of storage on the 11-inch and $1,499 on the 12.9-inch model. Don’t know how much storage you need? Our iPad storage guide can help.
On the other hand, the entry-level MacBook Air starts at $999. That price gets you an Intel Core i3 processor, 256GB of storage and 8GB of RAM. You can quickly jump that price to as high as $2,249 for an Intel Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM and 2TB of storage space. Once again, on paper the iPad Pro beats the MacBook Air on pricing but it’s not so black and white depending on your needs.
Which One to Get
No matter how you slice it, both of these machines can fill many needs. They both offer 10 hours or more of battery life, have beautiful displays and are highly portable. In the end, it really comes down to which software you need to use. There are many professional tools for iPadOS, but you need to know if they really work for you. Can you export files in the right format? Can you sync everything with your work and personal life? The MacBook Air can do anything you want a computer to do, but do you want a full computer to complete those tasks?
The iPad Pro (without a keyboard) is nearly a full pound lighter, making it much easier to carry, especially for travelers. That’s a big decision for those who tend to do a lot of work at coffee shops or in hotel rooms. If multitasking is your biggest need, the MacBook Air is the better product to buy.