However, the MacBook Air is still a no-brainer for students

  • The MacBook Air and iPad Pro are similar in size and use the same processor.
  • However, the MacBook Air features better productivity applications, as well as more storage and connections.
  • When you consider the expense of a keyboard, the iPad Pro is also significantly more expensive.

Looking for a portable computer for the upcoming school year? You could be torn between Apple’s MacBook Air and the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, both of which offer plenty of computing power in a stylish package. They also have some similarities in terms of specifications: both have a 13-inch screen and operate on Apple’s M1 processor.

However, there are significant distinctions between the two that you should consider before deciding, the most significant of which is the software that runs each machine. Each has its own set of strengths and weaknesses, but the MacBook Air succeeds in the majority of the situations that matter most to students.

Here’s how they stack up and which is ideal for academics.

Which is better: the Apple iPad Pro or the MacBook Air?

While both have their advantages, most students will prefer the MacBook Air. It may not have as much cutting-edge technology as the iPad Pro, but it does have a better typing experience, greater storage on the base model, an extra USB-C port, and, most crucially, multitasking software. Because of these benefits, it is a better option for general work and productivity. The MacBook Air is also far less expensive than an iPad Pro with Apple’s Magic Keyboard or even a decently priced third-party keyboard case.

However, the iPad Pro outperforms the MacBook Air in a number of categories, though not in the ones that are most critical for schoolwork. The iPad Pro boasts a significantly better selfie camera that keeps you in frame during video calls, a high-quality rear camera for shooting photographs and movies, a bright touchscreen, and Face ID. It’s also more adaptable because it’s designed to be a tablet first and a laptop replacement second.

Specifications and dimensions

 Apple iPad ProMacBook Air
Display12.9-inch Liquid Retina XDR touchscreen13.3-inch non-touch LED
Display resolution2,732 x 2,048, Up to 120Hz refresh rate2,560 x 1,600
ProcessorApple M1 with 8-core CPU and 8-core GPUApple M1 with 8 core CPU, 7 or 8-core GPU
Weight1.5 pounds (Wi-Fi only, no keyboard)2.8 pounds
Rear Cameras12MP wide, 10MP ultra-wideN/A
Front Cameras12MP ultra-wide with Center Stage720p FaceTime
Memory8GB or 16GB of RAM8GB or 16GB of RAM
Storage128GB ~ 2TB256GB ~ 2TB
Ports1 Thunderbolt/USB 4, Magnetic connector2 Thunderbolt/USB 4
SensorsLiDAR, Face IDTouch ID
Battery LifeEstimated up to 10 hoursEstimated up to 15 hours
ConnectivityWi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.0, optional 5GWi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.0

Portability and design

The MacBook Air and iPad Pro are both meant to be portable. The MacBook Air is one of the lightest laptops on the market at 2.8 pounds, while the iPad Pro is only 1.5 pounds.

However, keep in mind that the weight of the iPad Pro only applies to the tablet itself, not the keyboard. And if you’re going to use the iPad Pro for school, you’ll want to get the best keyboard money can buy.

Apple hasn’t revealed the exact weight of its $349 Magic Keyboard for the 12.9-inch iPad Pro. Last year, a buyer weighed the keyboard with what seems to be a food scale and posted the results in a MacRumors forum, showing that it weighs 1.57 pounds. The iPad Pro weighs 3 pounds with the Magic Keyboard, making it somewhat heavier than the MacBook Air.

There are, of course, many alternatives to Apple’s expensive keyboard. However, our favorite iPad keyboard case, the $200 Logitech Combo Touch, weighs around 1.7 pounds, making the iPad Pro slightly heavier than the MacBook Air.

If you’ve already used a MacBook Air, the new model will feel extremely familiar. It comes in three colors: space gray, gold, and silver, and has the same wedge-shaped design as the MacBook Pro. Unlike the iPad Pro and many Windows competitors, which have touchscreens and 2-in-1 designs, this is a classic clamshell laptop.

The iPad Pro boasts a more contemporary and adaptable design. It has narrower display boundaries that make the screen appear larger, and when linked with a keyboard, it can function as both a tablet and a laptop-like device. Because the iPad Pro can be used as a standalone tablet, it may be superior for entertainment, but the MacBook Air still offers a better balance of portability and productivity.

Software and efficiency

The biggest difference between the iPad Pro and the MacBook Air is software. iPadOS runs on the iPad Pro, while macOS runs on the MacBook Air. The former is a mobile operating system based on Apple’s iPhone software created exclusively for the iPad, whereas macOS is Apple’s desktop operating system.

When it comes to work and productivity, macOS still outperforms iPadOS. Because it was built from the ground up for laptops, it includes a standard windowed interface that makes switching between apps, web browser tabs, and additional desktops a breeze. If you’ve ever used a Mac or even a Windows laptop, you’ll notice that the experience is remarkably similar.

When it comes to work-related capabilities, the iPad has gone a long way in recent years, but it still has limitations. Apple’s iPad software allows you to run apps in split screen mode and pin a sidebar app alongside the primary program.

However, the MacBook Air is still a no-brainer for students

There’s also a file manager for accessing documents on your iPad and in cloud-based apps, and the new iPad Pro supports Thunderbolt 4 for greater peripheral compatibility. Not to mention that in 2020, Apple added mouse and touchpad capabilities to the iPad.

Switching to the iPad Pro as your primary computer, however, comes with a learning curve. Apple’s multitasking motions take some getting used to, and they still don’t feel as natural as using a mouse and keyboard. On an iPad, you can only use numerous apps at once if you use apps that are specially pinned to the dock at the bottom of the screen.

While using another app on a laptop, you can just click on any program you wish to start, whether it’s on the dock or not, and it will open in a new window. On a MacBook, resizing and moving windows to your liking is much easier than on an iPad. You’ll need to remember Apple’s special multitasking movements, such as swiping left or right with four or five fingers to cycle between programs, to get the most out of your iPad as a work device.

Another significant distinction to keep in mind is that iPad apps may not always work the same way they do on a Mac. Yes, the iPad has a lot of productivity and creative apps, but some of the most popular ones lack some functionality.

Take, for example, Microsoft Word. Although the iPad version has many features, it lacks some, such as the ability to add and update citations, which is only available in Word for Mac and Windows. This could be especially useful while writing research papers. In the past, the iPad version of Adobe Photoshop has trailed behind its desktop counterpart, and it has a different interface.

When it comes to sketching or editing up images, the iPad Pro‘s Apple Pencil compatibility may be useful to creatives. However, the MacBook Air offers more app consistency and a more familiar operating system, making it much easier to utilize many programs at the same time.

The keyboard on the MacBook Air is also more durable than those found on most keyboard cases. It also includes a second USB-C port, allowing you to charge your device while using an accessory.

The MacBook Air still outperforms the MacBook Pro in most productivity-related tasks. If you do decide to go with the iPad Pro, make sure the programs and applications you’ll need for schoolwork have all of the functionality you’ll need to finish your job.

Battery life and performance

When it comes to performance, the iPad Pro and MacBook Air each have a lot to offer, which makes choosing between the two difficult. They’re both powered by Apple’s M1 processor and come standard with 8GB of RAM. In comparison to the MacBook Air, the iPad Pro includes an additional core in its graphics processing unit (GPU).

The iPad Pro outperforms the MacBook Air in terms of graphics processing power, but they perform comparably in ordinary computing activities, according to benchmark testing.

However, the MacBook Air is still a no-brainer for students

In the 3DMark Wild Life Stress Extreme benchmark, which examines how a device performs under long periods of heavy strain, the iPad Pro outperformed the MacBook Air. I’ve also noticed that the iPad Pro exports huge image files from Adobe Lightroom several seconds faster than the MacBook Air.

In Geekbench 5, the MacBook Air and iPad Pro both scored similarly in the processor (CPU) test, which measures overall computing capability.

These tests were carried out on an M1-powered MacBook Air with 8GB of RAM and an 11-inch M1-powered iPad Pro, which has the same processor as the 12.9-inch variant.

 Geekbench 5 CPU3DMark Wild Life Stress Extreme
MacBook Air1,731 (single core), 7,644 (multi core)4,437 (best), 1,490 (lowest), 33.6% stability
iPad Pro1,722 (single core), 7337 (multi core)5,045 (best), 3,964 (lowest), 78.6% stability

Both computers have excellent battery life, but the MacBook Air is the clear winner. The MacBook Air is expected to last 15 hours on a single charge, while the iPad Pro is expected to last 10 hours. In my experience, the MacBook Air lives up to these boasts, providing more than 12 hours of battery life.

Camera and display

The iPad Pro outperforms the MacBook Air in two key areas: display and camera.

The iPad Pro not only has a sharper touchscreen with slimmer bezels, but the 12.9-inch model also has a tiny LED panel that improves brightness and contrast dramatically. The 12.9-inch iPad Pro’s screen has over 10,000 tiny LEDs, resulting in a significant increase in contrast and overall image quality. In comparison, the MacBook Air features a basic Retina display that is sharp enough to enjoy watching movies and looking at images, but not particularly impressive.

Laptop cameras aren’t well-known, which is one of the reasons the iPad Pro stands out as a work machine. The iPad Pro sports a 12-megapixel (MP) back camera, a 10-megapixel (MP) front camera, and a LiDAR scanner for depth sensing, making it comparable to the iPhone 12 range in terms of photography.

However, the MacBook Air is still a no-brainer for students

Because genuine computers can’t shoot images that aren’t selfies, the MacBook Air doesn’t include a back camera. Apple, on the other hand, has long positioned the iPad Pro as a more versatile device than a traditional laptop replacement.

In comparison to the MacBook Air, the front-facing camera has some additional smarts. It features a feature called Center Stage that maintains the topic in frame during video chats, which is a wonderful advantage for people who FaceTime or Zoom loved ones back home from their dorm room on a regular basis. The MacBook Air doesn’t have this feature, but it still has better image quality thanks to Apple’s image signal processor in the M1.

In conclusion

The MacBook Air is the greatest pick for people looking for a college computer because of its more productivity-friendly software, stronger keyboard, long battery life, and portability. When it comes to display and camera quality, the iPad Pro beats the MacBook Air, and it has a much more versatile design that can be used as a laptop or tablet. However, for students, the areas where the MacBook Air outperforms the iPad Pro are even more significant.

Plus, upgrading the iPad Pro to compete with the MacBook Air will cost a lot of money. The cheapest configuration for the 12.9-inch device starts at $1,099. It has 128GB of storage and 8GB of RAM. You’ll be spending at least $1,448 if you include Apple’s Magic Keyboard. Even with Apple’s student discount, the total cost would be $1,328. Students may get a MacBook Air with twice the storage for $899, while standard pricing is $999.


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