Technophile

Tough choice: MacBook Air or iPad Pro?

Mala Bhargava | Updated on February 14, 2019 Published on February 13, 2019

Apple’s MacBook Air 2018 and iPad Pro 2018 are in a similar price bracket, and it’s not an easy choice

Nobody who saw it can quite forget the moment when Steve Jobs took the stage over ten years ago and pulled something impossibly thin out of an envelope. The audience was so delighted that a friend of mine stood up suddenly and dropped his own notebook on the floor, ending its life then and there. Needless to say, he switched to a MacBook Air.

The MacBook Air became the new standard for thin notebooks as other companies began to imitate the look and feel, calling them Ultrabooks. The MacBook Air became the coveted computer of students and anyone who didn’t need the power of the MacBook or MacBook Pro. The Air hasn’t been updated as much as say, the iPhone, but in late 2018, Apple gave it a makeover — also raising its price, which in India, becomes thoroughly expensive.

At the same time, the iPad Pro also got a makeover and interestingly is now a better piece of hardware than the MacBook Air — in some ways, at least. Now, the two machines are overlapping in price, depending on which model you opt for, of course. We think it makes sense to consider the other before buying either. If you want raw power and are quite sure you need an Apple notebook that doesn’t waste time with anything else, you might well want to look at one of the other MacBooks, but if you’re exploring the MacBook Air for more basic computing tasks, see if the iPad Pro 12.9-inch might be more fitting for your needs.

The design difference

Both the MacBook Air and the iPad Pro are thin and light. Both will need a case, the iPad Pro even more so because its screen would be left unprotected without one and because the case could contain the keyboard. The MacBook Air is all notebook by design while the iPad Pro begins to compete with the Air once you deploy a keyboard attachment. Without that, it would be all-tablet.

 

Design-wise, the MacBook Air is of course the more familiar and regular notebook most people have worked with. Whether you would prefer it to the iPad depends on the kind of work you do. In 2018, Apple made the iconic MacBook Air in a smaller footprint without compromising on the 13.3-inch screen. It’s also a shade lighter. The keyboard on the MacBook Air is soft and buttery to use but doesn’t have too much travel. I had trouble switching to it at first but got used to it and was able to type at the same speed as I’m used to on the iPad Pro. There’s a big roomy touchpad and mouse support for those who are used to those.

The iPad Pro’s keyboard doesn’t have a touchpad and there’s no point even trying to use a mouse with it because the operating system doesn’t support it. This is one of the biggest complaints of users who switch from MacBooks to the iPad as they find cutting, pasting, dragging and dropping and handling multi-tasking windows very cumbersome. Users of the iPad Pro, however, can’t believe nothing happens when they jab at the screen on Macbooks to select something. One gets accustomed to anything, but consider whether your kind of work involves a lot of multi-tasking and actions that would be better done with a mouse. The iPad Pro’s keyboard has to be purchased separately — at no small cost — and is also not everyone’s cup of tea although the keys have a lot of travel and again, just takes half an hour or so to get used to. The iPad Pro being my primary working device, I can vouch for the ease and speed with which it’s possible to type using it.

The newest MacBook Air now has a 2560x1600 p ‘Retina’ screen with a 227 pixels-per-inch density. No one is quite sure what Retina entails but it’s brighter than before.

Hard(ware) facts

We showed the new Air to the user of an older version and he could tell immediately and appreciate the brightness. But overall, it’s the iPad Pro that has the better screen. It is almost bezel-less and very vivid and has a wider colour gamut and a high refresh rate so that things just happen on it faster and smoother. With the True Tone feature, it auto-adjusts to the light to protect the eyes. But this is Apple’s best screen yet, allowing the Pencil (also an additional expensive purchase) to be used with no lag evident between action and result. The brilliant screen of the iPad Pro makes it the weapon of choice if there’s a lot of content consumption to be done as part of your work — or play. The display also makes it more suited to creators, especially artists or anyone who wants to do precision work. Much of that is difficult on the MacBook Air, which is actually meant for more basic and ‘regular’ work. The iPad Pro 2018 has been redesigned to be more flat and that makes it feel more tablet-like than ever, but the flatness doesn’t matter much once you’re in laptop mode — that is when you’ve attached the keyboard to work.

Of the two devices, it’s the iPad Pro that has the better processing power. Its A12X Bionic chip has been called the fastest processor on a mobile device. It is even faster than a few of the MacBook Pros. The A12X is what makes the display blazingly responsive, makes navigation on the device lightning fast and enables artists to work on heavy files easily. It also handles processor-heavy augmented reality applications smoothly and seems to be meant for it. It’s worth mentioning that the iPad Pro has incredible sound and also sports a camera as good as the one on the iPhone XR.

All the same, many users prefer the MacBook Air to the iPad Pro because of one overwhelming factor — MacOS. The operating system on the laptop allows not just multi-tasking and navigation in a different way but lets you store your work more conveniently and allows the use of certain applications not available on the iOS App Store. In fact many lament that one can’t have the MacOS on the iPad Pro making it near perfect. You can, in fact, use a workaround to load Windows in parallel with the MacOS on the Air and use some applications only compatible with Windows. The notebook now uses a dual-core Intel Core i5 processor (eighth generation with 8 GB or 16 GB of RAM and storage options from 128 GB to 1 TB.) It gives about 10 to 12 hours of battery life. The iPad Pro gives a little less battery life and has all the storage options as well.

The iPad Pro has a USB Type C port but there are a limited number of things you can do with it. The Air on the other hand now has two USB-C Thunderbolt 3 ports and one headphone socket. There’s no memory card slot in either. The MacBook Air has a fingerprint reader for its Touch ID while the iPad Pro has no buttons on the front at all. It uses flawless face recognition (Face ID) to unlock the device, no matter what direction the iPad is in.

Ultimately, the iPad Pro (of which you could also of course consider the smaller 11-inch) as well, is a versatile content consumption and creation tool, if you add the essential accessories. It can take on a few of the MacBook Air’s tasks, but can’t go beyond a point because of the mobile device operating system. The MacBook Air is more of a regular notebook form factor and can’t do much of what the iPad does — but sometimes that’s all some users want from it.

Prices for the iPad Pro 12.9-inch range from ₹89,900 to ₹1,71,900 and start at ₹1,14,900 for the new MacBook Air.

Published on February 13, 2019
This article is closed for comments.
Please Email the Editor