Lightweight power

MacBook Air

Powerful iOS computing

iPad Pro

The MacBook Air is a lightweight and super portable computer that has a gorgeous 13-inch Retina Display screen with two USB-C ports. It also has a powerful dual-core i3 processor, and you can configure it to have an SSD up to 2TB and 16GB of RAM. It also has the new scissor-switch keyboard mechanism. However, it only comes in the 13-inch size and starts north of $999.

From $999 at Apple

Pros

  • 13-inch Retina Display
  • Super lightweight and compact
  • Two USB-C ports
  • Dual-core Intel i5 processor with up to 1TB storage and 16GB RAM
  • Runs macOS
  • New and improved scissor-switch keyboard

Cons

  • Starts at $999
  • Only 720p FaceTime HD Camera

The iPad Pro is a great computing device if you need to do things like writing, researching, simple coding, photo and video editing, and more tasks with iPadOS. You can choose the more portable 11-inch size, or go big with the 12.9-inch, and take great photos and video with the 12MP camera with Ultra Wide lens and LiDAR scanner. However, you're still limited by iPadOS and iPad hardware.

From $799 at Apple

Pros

  • Available in 11-inch or 12.9-inch sizes
  • Liquid Retina Display
  • Ultra Wide camera and 4K video recording
  • Configurable up to 1TB of storage
  • USB-C port
  • New LiDAR scanner

Cons

  • Still limited by iPadOS
  • Only one USB-C port
  • Keyboard accessories are pricey

While iOS and iPadOS have come quite a way since Apple first introduced the iPad, it still has some limitations when compared to a full desktop computing operating system like macOS. If you want a true computer without any limits, then the MacBook Air is the better buy. If you don't mind the limitations of iOS and just need a powerful tablet to do your entertainment and work on, then there's nothing wrong with the iPad Pro.

It comes down to what you're looking to do

MacBook Air 2018Source: iMore

Both the MacBook Air and iPad Pro are similar in terms of size (especially the 12.9-inch), but that's about it, honestly. We think that the MacBook Air is the better buy of the two because you're getting a full-featured computer experience with macOS while having a lightweight and portable package that can go with you anywhere. Plus, it just feels more natural to use for productivity, and you get true multitasking without weird RAM hiccups like constant refreshing of suspending apps on iOS/PadOS 13.

MacBook Air iPad Pro
Cost Starting at $999 Starting at $799
Size 13-inch 11-inch or 12.9-inch
Screen Retina Display Liquid Retina Display
Processor/Chip Intel Dual-Core i3 A12Z Bionic
Charging USB-C USB-C
Ports Two USB-C One USB-C
Operating System macOS iPadOS
Starting storage 256GB 128GB
Configurable storage Up to 2TB Up to 1TB
RAM 8GB, configurable up to 16GB 6GB with 1TB model
Camera 720p FaceTime HD 12MP with Ultra Wide lens and 4K video and 7MP TrueDepth Camera

While the MacBook Air has a higher starting price point than the iPad Pro, we think that it's comparable if you look at similar storage space and capabilities. For a 256GB 12.9-inch iPad Pro, it costs $1099 for Wi-Fi only (or $899 if you go the smaller route), but again, you only get about 4GB of RAM, one USB-C port, and are limited to iPadOS. For $999, you get a 256GB MacBook Air with a 13-inch Retina Display, Intel Dual-Core i3 processor, 8GB of starting RAM, two USB-C ports, and it runs macOS, which is much more capable than iPadOS.

With a MacBook Air, you're able to do pretty much anything you would need, such as social media, email, writing, programming, and testing out apps in XCode, photo and video editing, graphic design, project management, finance, and much more. And since it runs macOS, you have true multitasking, where you can have more than three apps on the screen at one time. Plus, the MacBook Air is the most portable laptop offering from Apple — it's so lightweight that you'll forget you even have it with you sometimes. Apple has also replaced the faulty butterfly keyboard with the new and improved scissor-switch keyboard mechansim that was first introduced with the 16-inch MacBook Pro in 2019.

iPad Pro (2020) drawingSource: Apple

Meanwhile, even though the iPad Pro comes in a smaller 11-inch size, you get fewer ports, RAM, and must use iPadOS. There are also new Smart Keyboards with trackpad support coming too, in case you want even more of a laptop-like experience with just your iPad Pro.

Even though iPadOS has come quite a way since the iPad's debut in 2010, it's still held back by limitations, such as only having three active apps on screen at a time through Split View and Slide Over modes. iOS also likes to refresh suspended apps after a period of idleness, which means multitasking is slightly hampered.

If you do not mind having to use iPadOS to do everything (it's possible, but can take more time than using a Mac), then an iPad Pro could be your only computer. However, we require a bit more for our computing needs, which is why we think a MacBook Air is better.

We recommend a Mac for serious computing

Apple has made a lot of improvements in iPadOS, and while it's good for basic, short-term sessions, we can't recommend it if you need something for longer periods. With a MacBook Air running macOS, you can have pretty much an unlimited number of windows open, and they will truly continue to run in the background, and not be put into a suspended state as it would be on iOS/iPadOS. Plus, windows can be resized to however big or small you need them to be on macOS, instead of the 50/50 or 25/75 or 75/25 ratio in Split Screen or on-third screen size Slide Over window.

And keep in mind that the iPad Pro, despite the "Pro" moniker, will always be limited in terms of RAM, regardless of the screen size and storage capacity you choose. The MacBook Air starts out with 8GB, which is already about double the RAM of the iPad Pro, and you can even configure it up to 16GB if need be. Having more RAM is always a good thing, since it makes the machine feel and run faster, and it can handle even more resource-intensive tasks like video editing.

Portable computing

MacBook Air

Lightweight power for everyone

MacBook Air is Apple's most portable computer and can do pretty much anything you need it to on macOS without limitations aside from the camera and graphics card.

Pro tablet

iPad Pro

Get the most out of iPadOS

The iPad Pro gives you the power of iPadOS in two convenient sizes for all of your computing-on-the-go needs. But keep in mind that you're still dealing with iPadOS, which is still not quite the same as macOS.

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