With a refreshed range of the MacBook Air announced, those who fancy an ultra-portable Apple powerhouse should be furiously scribbling it down on their Christmas list right now.
But this year things are a little more complicated, with Apple having also announced a new iPad Pro with laptop-rivalling specs alongside the new MacBook Air.
A few years back it would have been near-insane to suggest a tablet could fulfill the job of a laptop, yet here we are. Whether Apple’s iPad Pro boasts are as authentic as they claim remains to be seen, but the spec sheet certainly seems convincing.
Of course, the two machines satisfy different needs. The iPad has a touchscreen that – once paired with an Apple Pencil – is a massive boon for doodling artists. The MacBook Air, meanwhile, boasts a butterfly backlit keyboard and is so the perfect companion for bashing out essays in Starbucks.
That said, if you simply want a super-portable Apple machine that lets you browse the web, complete simple media tasks and binge Netflix in bed, then it’s not such an easy task separating the two devices. Fortunately, we’re here to do a proper comparison so you can make the right call.
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iPad Pro vs MacBook Air – Display
One of the most intriguing face-offs between the two Apple portables is which has the superior display. The MacBook Air has a 13-inch screen, and while the new iPad Pro does have an 11-inch option, we’ve only focusing on the 12.9-inch model here in order to have a fair fight.
Apple made a big deal of the MacBook Air finally getting a Retina display, which should significantly boost the on-screen visuals. That’s no advantage over the iPad Pro though, which has a seriously impressive Liquid Retina display.
In fact, judging from the spec sheet, the iPad Pro seemingly has the superior display with 2732 x 2048 resolution and 264 pixels per inch, compared to the MacBook Air’s 2560 x 1600 native resolution at 227ppi.
The iPad Pro’s display also benefits from a slew of tech and features, including True Tone, ProMotion, an anti-reflective-coating and 600 nits brightness. If you need a super-accurate display for photo editing, or you simply want the best screen for Netflix sessions, then the iPad Pro wins this round.
iPad Pro vs MacBook Air – Design and ports
In terms of design, there’s not a whole lot separating the MacBook Air and iPad Pro. In fact, rip the MacBook Air’s screen off its keyboard hinge and the two devices will look like identical twins. Both have a super-skinny bezel, keeping them up to date with the 2018 trend.
Of course, that keyboard makes a big difference though. The backlit butterfly keyboard will no doubt feel significantly better than prodding a touchscreen when typing.
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That said, you could buy Apple’s official Smart Keyboard for the the 12.9-inch iPad Pro for £199. That sounds steep, sure, but the total cost of the tablet and accessory will still just about undercut the cost of MacBook Air with a Retina display. Whether you’ll be happy substituting a proper butterfly keyboard for a clip-on accessory is another matter, but you do at least get more versatility with iPad as compensation.
One issue that’s not so easily resolved for the iPad Pro, though, is that you miss out on ports. You only get one USB-C port here, and if you attach the keyboard that’s all your ports gone. There’s not even a headphone jack. The MacBook Air, on the other hand, may not be blessed with ports, but there’s still room for two Thunderbolt 3 ports (USB-C) as well as a headphone jack.
The MacBook Air even pips the tablet when it comes to colour choices. Both devices are available in Silver and Space Grey, but only the MacBook Air gets the option of Gold. It may be a narrow victory, but the MacBook Air has the beating of the iPad Pro here.
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iPad Pro vs MacBook Air – Processor, OS and features
In terms of the internals, it’s harder to compare the two devices. The MacBook Air packs an Intel Core i5 running at 1.6GHz, which can be boosted up to 3.6GHz. The iPad Pro features an A12X Bionic chip with 64-bit architecture.
As we haven’t been able to test either devices yet, we can’t provide any benchmark results, but the MacBook Air will almost definitely offer a superior performance. That’s no slight at the iPad Pro’s expense though. Being a tablet that’s capable of running full-fat Photoshop, it looks to be a seriously impressive machine.
The MacBook Air boasts an 8th-Gen i5 processorThe operating system is a bigger factor differentiating the two. With the MacBook Air using macOS, it’s not restricted to apps like the iPad Pro. Again, that doesn’t really give either machine an advantage or disadvantage. Instead, it comes down to personal preference.
Both devices offer ample storage. The iPad Pro has a 1TB option, while the MacBook Air goes all the way up to 1.5TB. That’s likely plenty, even for creatives and professionals.
There’s a string of features that could make the difference though. For example, with the iPad Pro you get a 12MP camera, 4K video recording at 60fps, FaceID and the option of a cellular model for on-the-go network connectivity. What does the MacBook Air offer? A butterfly keyboard, force touch trackpad, TouchID and a FaceTime 720p HD camera.
iPad Pro vs MacBook Air – Battery life
To stress, we haven’t been able to test the battery life for either device for ourselves, so take Apple’s findings with a pinch of salt.
If you’re happy enough to trust Apple though, the MacBook Air can apparently last up to 12 hours while browsing through the web, while the iPad Pro will survive 10 hours doing similar tasks.
There’s not much difference here then, with the iPad Pro’s superior display likely the reason for slightly shorter stamina. It will be a surprise if the two-hour battery life difference is enough to be the dealbreaker in this face-off though.
iPad Pro vs MacBook Air – Prices and verdict
As you can see so far, this is surprisingly a tight contest. As long as the iPad Pro’s A12X Bionic chip is as powerful as Apple claims, then there really isn’t much between the two devices. And since the 12.9-inch iPad Pro can be bought for as cheap as £969, it becomes an even more tempting proposition when compared to the £1199 Retina display MacBook Air.
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And even if you really fancy buying Apple’s clip-on Smart Keyboard or would like to upgrade to the model with 256GB storage, you’ll still be undercutting the MacBook Air by a few quid.
Of course, since one device is a tablet and the other a laptop, there are enough key differences here to prevent this face-off being a straightforward affair. The touchscreen and Apple Pencil compatibility of the iPad Pro could be deal-breaker for creatives, while the the butterfly keyboard could make the MacBook Air a no-brainer purchase for workaholics.
Otherwise, it really just comes down to preference. Whichever Apple device you settle on, you’ll likely be getting a quality product. If you’re happy to wait a few extra weeks before investing, we’ll have reviews up for both products before the 7 November release to ensure you make the right decision.
Which Apple device are you more excited about? Let us know on Twitter @TrustedReviews