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Which to buy: MacBook Air or iPad Pro?

By Kenny Yeo - 13 Nov 2018,8:04pm

Which to buy: MacBook Air or iPad Pro?

With its blistering performance and Smart Keyboard Folio, the iPad Pro blurs the line between tablet and notebook.

The new MacBook Air and iPad Pro are similar in some ways and different in some others. They are both highly portable devices but they go about their business in very different ways. If you are having trouble deciding which is right for you, let us try to break it down by listing key factors that you should consider so that you can see their similarities and differences clearer.

 

Portability

The new iPad Pro is just 5.9mm thick.

  • MacBook Air: 304.1 x 212.4 x 15.6mm / 1.25kg
  • iPad Pro: 280.6 x 214.9 x 5.9mm / 633g

The new MacBook Air might be thin and light but it has got nothing on the iPad Pro. The latest iPad Pro is Apple’s thinnest tablet yet and even the larger 12.9-inch model only weighs a tad over half a kilogram. Adding the Smart Keyboard Folio increases the thickness and weight noticeably, but even then it is still lighter than the MacBook Air. If every excess gram counts, the iPad Pro is the one for you.

But it doesn’t end there. The iPad Pro also has optional built-in cellular connectivity, which is something the MacBook Air doesn’t have. Additionally, you can charge the iPad Pro quite easily using any battery bank or USB ports at public spaces (provided you have the right cable or dongle). All of this makes the iPad Pro a much more flexible and capable road warrior.

Advantage: iPad Pro

 

Ports

The MacBook Air has two USB-C Thunderbolt 3 ports.

  • MacBook Air: 2 x USB Type-C, Thunderbolt 3 ready
  • iPad Pro: 1 x USB Type-C USB 3.1 Gen 2

The iPad Pro is the first tablet from Apple to get a USB-C port and it enables the iPad Pro to connect to a wider range of accessories. You can connect it to cameras to quickly import and edit photos, or to external monitors so that you can see your work on a larger screen. However, the USB Type-C port on the iPad Pro has one serious limitation and that is it won’t work with external storage devices. The MacBook Air, on the other hand, has two USB Type-C Thunderbolt 3 ports that do whatever the iPad Pro can and it will work with just about any accessory and peripheral you can think of, including external storage devices.

Advantage: MacBook Air

 

Performance

The A12X Bionic is beastly.

  • MacBook Air: Dual-core Intel Core i5
  • iPad Pro: A12X Bionic

The new A12X Bionic processor in the iPad Pro is a beast. Using Geekbench as a reference, it offers performance that is comparable to a new MacBook Pro with a six-core Core i7 processor. In other words, the MacBook Air is no match for the iPad Pro in the performance stakes. Of course, the real world isn’t as simple as that, but consider this: the iPad Pro breezes through just about anything you could throw at it. The MacBook Air, however, would choke on more compute-intensive workloads like video editing. Admittedly, it’s kind of hard to compare the performance of two machines that don’t run the same OS, but I think I’m going to have to give it to the iPad Pro here because it just runs so fluidly.

Advantage: iPad Pro.

 

Functionality

No MacBook can do this.

The MacBook Air is a traditional notebook and it does all the stuff that you expect a notebook to do. One could even say it is one-dimensional, especially in comparison to the iPad Pro. Apart from doing all the usual computer stuff like web browsing, word processing, emails, and spreadsheets, it can also take photos and scan documents with its built-in rear camera. With the Apple Pencil, it can even become a notepad and a canvas for your digital art. Even though the iPad Pro has its limitations in some areas, I have to concede that it is a more multi-talented device.

Advantage: iPad Pro

 

Cost

You need accessories to fulfill the potential of the iPad Pro and that's going to cost you.

  • MacBook Air: From S$1,789
  • iPad Pro: From S$1,199 (11-inch) / S$1,499 (12.9-inch)

The MacBook Air works right out of the box. There’s no need to buy any accessory to get the full experience. But to get the full iPad Pro experience would require you to shell out extra for the Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard Folio. Together, these two accessories will add $488 to the cost of the iPad Pro ($458 for the 11-inch iPad Pro), which is substantial. Of course, you could opt for cheaper third-party accessories but the fact remains that the iPad Pro comes with zero accessories. Furthermore, the low starting prices of the iPad Pro that you see above is because the starting models only come with 64GB of storage, which I personally think isn't enough unless you rely heavily on cloud storage services.

Accessories aside, let’s also talk about apps. You can only get apps for the iPad Pro via App Store. Sure, there’s a boatload of apps on the App Store for the iPad Pro but you are still limited in the sense that the App Store is your only source. On the MacBook Air, it is far easier to find alternative apps and there are arguably more free apps out there. So if price is a major consideration for you, the MacBook Air probably makes more financial sense.

Advantage: MacBook Air

 

OS

macOS Mojave offers more flexibility.

iOS and macOS are both great OSs but they are vastly different because they were designed for two different machines. Because macOS was always designed for desktops and notebooks while iOS was designed for mobile devices, even the way you interact with them and the way the OS looks is different. As I said, both are great OSs and I can’t say one is necessarily better than the other even if macOS is arguably more flexible. It really depends on the user's comfort level with the OS and if the app that they depend on is available on the respective OS. For this particular category, I have to call it a draw. That said, I must also commend Apple’s efforts to bolster iOS’ capabilities and increase its library of apps. Recently, Adobe announced that it will be bringing the full version of Photoshop to the iPad so that professionals can take advantage of the power of the iPad Pro on Photoshop.

Advantage: Draw

 

Conclusion

The iPad Pro is pricey but in return, you get a supremely portable machine.

There is some concrete buying advice we can draw from this comparison exercise. If you are seeking the ultimate portable device, the iPad Pro is pretty hard to beat. It is more compact, lighter, and it has built-in cellular connectivity so you don’t have to hunt for Wi-Fi or tether from your phone. It is also super fast and powerful too. But this assumes that you are comfortable with iOS and know how to work around its, sometimes, frustrating limitations - such as not being able to use with external storage devices.

If price is a major factor, the MacBook Air is the wiser pick mainly because you don’t need additional accessories to get the most out of it. You also have more freedom with apps and there are arguably more free apps for macOS. The MacBook Air is also more flexible with accessories and peripherals. It has two USB Type-C Thunderbolt 3 ports that handle data and video, and most importantly, it plays well with external storage devices.
 

Read Next: Apple iPad Pro (2018) review - Apple's notebook killer is here

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