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
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|
|Ports||Two USB-C||One USB-C|
|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.
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.
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.
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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