Battle Royale (with Cheese): The MacBook vs The iPad

Pitting a computer against… Not a Computer.

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I’ve searched far. And I’ve searched wide. I’ve looked at damn near every laptop Best Buy had available in my price range: computers from Lenovo, Microsoft, Samsung, Google, and even Apple’s MacBook Air.

But there was still one computer I needed to look at. A computer that, by its manufacturer’s own description, was not a computer.

I needed to look at the iPad.

Ok, let’s pause there: I have an iPad. Throughout this whole lengthy search for my next laptop, my 7th generation iPad has been a constant companion.

I used to do everything on my iPad. I would write, read, draw, play, watch. It was the single most useful device I owned. I purchased multiple keyboard cases for it, I made sure it was always in my bag. But it was never, ever considered to be my next laptop.

Of course, I’d tried to use the iPad as my daily computer. But iPadOS felt limiting in some ways, especially on the 10.2 inch screen and the micro-keyboards that accompanied it.

I was certain that I needed something with a more traditional operating system. I was determined that I needed something that was familiar in use, similar to all the other computers I’ve used in my life.

But that’s not Apple’s game. All of their advertisement of the iPad tells me that it is not a computer, that it will replace my computer. “Your next computer is not a computer,” says their website.

Notice that the iPad Pro got this snazzy commercial, but the MacBook Air, which was released at the same time, got nada.

And with the recent announcement of the new iPad Air and with Big Sur on the horizon- bringing with it a lot of user interface changes that bring it in line with the design language of iPadOS- that sentiment really got driven home in my head.

I’ve been asking myself which computer I needed, but maybe I should have been asking whether I needed a computer at all.

Of course, it wasn’t my current iPad that was deserving of being compared to the computer that won my previous battles. My current iPad- purchased for a measly $329- was in no way capable of being compared to the latest and greatest MacBook Air. I had to look elsewhere. Somewhere, perhaps, that I could find some magic (read: a Magic Keyboard).

I could have waited for the aforementioned 2020 iPad Air- pitting Air against Air would have made for a catchy title- but the 2020 iPad Pro seemed more appropriate to me; it’s a more powerful, premium iPad along the same lines of the premium design of the MacBook Air. It is also available right now, instead of sometime next month. And if I’ve learned anything at all, it is that when I get the bug to try something new, I need to try it right now.

FIGHT!

Price

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The first benefit of choosing the iPad Pro- at least the base 11-inch model- is that it is, roughly, the same price as the MacBook Air. At least, it is when you buy the Magic Keyboard, which is a must for this comparison.

The 2020 iPad Pro starts at $799, which gets you 128gb of storage. If you wanted to upgrade to a 12.9 screen, you’ll be spending $999. Likewise, if you want the Magic Keyboard, it will cost an extra $299 (or $349 for the 12.9 model). Of course, you can spend more to get more storage, but we are going to be looking at the base model. All of the iPad Pro models come with Apple’s own A12Z chip and 6gb ram, though Apple doesn’t publicly advertise the latter.

Apple’s baseline MacBook Air starts at $999 (keyboard included, cause otherwise that would be weird). This gets you a Core i3 processor, 256gb storage, and 8gb ram. Again, you can spend more to get more storage or ram or better processors, but I’m not comparing those models.

While on paper, the smaller storage and lower ram for the iPad Pro does make the MacBook Air look like a better buy, but consider this: most of what you are going to store on the iPad is actually going to be stored in the cloud, and while 8gb ram would have been better, iPadOS is optimized to work with the more limited hardware. But we’ll get into that a bit more down below.

Winner: All in, the cheapest iPad Pro (with keyboard) runs $100 more than the cheapest MacBook, but the rest of this battle will have to determine whether the iPad Pro is worth the extra Benjamin. So stay tuned.

Design

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The MacBook Air is like the gold standard for computer design- especially if you, like me, get the gold MacBook Air. It is thin, it is light, and it is magnificent.

That said, Apple hasn’t really changed this formula up since the MacBook Air’s inception. Sure, it has gotten thinner, and it has gotten refined, but the original MacBook Air fit into an envelope, and so does the current one.

And frankly, the form factor is a little… dated. At least, compared to the iPad Pro. The MacBook is not a convertible laptop. It doesn’t have a touchscreen. It has massive bezels (by today’s standards, at least). And while it is damn light and super portable, you will need a lap or a desk or something to sit it on to use it.

Enter the iPad Pro. On it’s own, it is much lighter than the MacBook Air, and with the Magic Keyboard case it weighs about the same (maybe a bit more). But because it is an iPad, you can leave the keyboard on your desk and use the iPad damn near anywhere. The bezels are thin, and of course, it has a touchscreen (cause it is an iPad).

The name of the game here is versatility. For example, I am working from home. I’ve converted my desk space to accommodate my work computer, which frankly takes up a lot of room (two monitors and a massive tower). But when I’m not working, I utilize the same desk space for writing and other creative tasks. With the MacBook Air, I have to clear a space to make room for it, but with the iPad Pro, I can simply connect it to the same Bluetooth Logitech keyboard that I use for work (which conveniently has a tablet tray built in) and- voila- I’m writing and taking up no extra space. The iPad Pro simply can adapt to more use cases than the MacBook Air, and therefore becomes a much more versatile computer.

The latest MacBook Air comes in space gray, silver, or gold (go for the gold, it stands out), and comes equipped with two USB-C ports (both can be used for charging and are Thunderbolt 3) and a headphone jack for… reasons. Inside, you’ll find the brand new Magic keyboard, a massive trackpad, and a 13.3 inch screen with a resolution of 2560x1600.

The screen is, simply, fantastic. Though it lacks touchscreen capabilities, it looks perfectly crisp and clean and has a nice anti-reflective coating to it. It is a fingerprint magnet, however, which is strange since you aren’t touching the screen. It has true-tone, which subtly changes the warmth of the screen based on your surroundings, and when the screen is off but the laptop is still open, it does this cool thing where it shows a notification alert on the otherwise black screen. Handy… except then you need to unlock the computer to read the notification. Personally, waking this device is a bit of a nuisance, as I am used to moving the mouse on a PC to wake up the computer; running your hand over the trackpad seems hit or miss when it comes to waking the Macbook, and more often than not I have to resort to hitting the space bar or pressing the touch ID button, which doubles as the power button. That’s not a dealbreaker, but for me it feels like an added step to turn the damn thing on after it has fallen asleep. If you had the computer closed, however, it will turn on automatically when you lift the lid.

And yes, I did mention that it has Touch ID, which is handy for payments and filling in passwords without having to remember them yourself. But I do think that it is a shame that Apple didn’t include Face ID on any of the 2020 MacBooks; the bezel definitely seems large enough to hold it, and without that stellar true-depth camera system, you are left with a shoddy 720p FaceTime camera. Really, Apple, it is nice to be able to use the Mac for FaceTime, but I’d rather use my iPhone with it’s much better selfie camera.

Of course, if we are talking about screens, we definitely need to talk about the iPad Pro, simply because it pretty much is all-screen. Coming in either Space Gray or Silver (I really wish there was a gold option, or one of those snazzy new colors coming to the iPad Air… that blue looks nice), the body of the device is squared off- similar to the design of the iPhone 5 (and if rumors are true, the upcoming iPhone 12). Gone are the tapered edges that lesser iPads have (and, by comparison, the MacBook still has). This design feels wonderful in hand, as it should, since in hand is primarily where you’re gonna use this device.

The screen on the 11-inch model has a resoution of 1668x2388, and it screams. Unlike the MacBook Air, the iPad Pro is capable of refresh rates up to 120Hz (the MacBook stops at 60Hz), which gives movement like switching between screens and apps a fluidic visual. I honestly didn’t think this was going to make a huge difference, but even just in the set up options when I first turned on the iPad I noticed how quickly it swiped from one screen to the next. By comparison, it makes the basic iPad feel sluggish. It just flies through menus and apps with elegant ease. By comparison to the MacBook Air- which we are actually comparing it to- it feels more responsive, but that may be the touchscreen at work.

The iPad Pro’s screen also has a wider color gamut, which is good for artists, and has the ability to get almost twice as bright as the MacBook Air’s, meaning you shouldn’t have any issue using it outdoors… not that many of us are going outdoors right now. Like the MacBook, it has true-tone (heck, the iPad Pro introduced true-tone), and it appears less reflective than the standard iPad.

You won’t find a Touch ID on the iPad Pro because it does use Face ID, and that also means you have a much better front-facing camera for selfies and FaceTime (although it is still awkwardly positioned on the left-hand side rather than the top if you have the iPad in landscape mode- which is most likely the main position you’ll use based on the peripherals; this has caused an issue a couple of times when I’m holding the iPad and my thumb is covering sensor). Like Touch ID on the MacBook, Face ID is used to unlock the device, authenticate for payments and passwords, and whatnot. Face ID also gives the iPad the same benefit over the MacBook that Windows Hello gave the Surface tablets and laptops: your device is already unlocked for you (and you alone) as soon as the screen turns on. And my gripe about waking the MacBook from sleep is non-existent on the iPad; the iPad Pro supports the same tap-to-wake feature that the iPhones have, so simply touch the display and it wakes.

I will freely admit that while using the 11 inch iPad Pro, I do kind of miss the 13.3 inch screen on the MacBook Air, but I quickly got over the missing real estate when I start using the display. It is, by far, the best screen I’ve ever used. And of course, there is a 12.9 inch model that I could go for it I need the larger screen, but for the sake of keeping the iPad Pro- along with the Magic Keyboard- within reasonable cost of the MacBook Air, I’ve chosen not to consider that one right now.

That said, with the narrow bezels, the 11 inch iPad Pro basically has the same footprint that my 10.2 inch 7th gen iPad has while affording me a much larger screen, and for that, I’m impressed; it means I can carry this thing around in my smaller tablet bag rather than lugging around a large laptop bag. It’s the little things in life that make me happy.

The iPad also works with the Apple Pencil, specifically the second generation, which is slighty a bummer; my gen one Pencil has become obsolete. Like Blockbuster. This is because the iPad Pro replaced the Lightning port with USB-C, and the gen two Pencil charges magnetically. I did try using that little Lightning connector for the Apple Pencil, but no matter what, the iPad Pro wouldn’t recognize it. Bummer. But the new Pencil is much better, and even has a tap function that is super useful.

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If you’ve been following my Battle Royale series, then you know what comes next: video tests. Screen resolution stats are nice, but I like to see how well they handle the shit I do on a daily basis. And there’s nowhere better to test that than on YouTube. Not that I’m planning on watching 4K video all of the time (although with the iPad Pro’s stellar screen and portability, I might), but I like to know how capable the screen is. The videos I run are the vibrant music video for Sucre’s “Inside”, which maxes out at 4K, Aurora’s live performance of “It Happened Quiet” from Lindmo (maxed at 1080p, but still very colorful), and the Slow Mo Guys’ 8K Glitter video, which is capable of destroying YouTube’s frame rate algorithms on lesser displays.

This isn’t the first time I’ve run the MacBook through this slew of videos. I don’t even think this is the third time. It handles the music videos with ease at their highest resolutions, but the Glitter video stumps it at 8K, causing it to lag and buffer horribly every couple of seconds. Reducing it down to 4K will get it to play better.

Funnily enough, until recently, the iPad wasn’t even able to play YouTube videos in 4K. In fact, that change came just a few days ago with iPadOS 14. That does mean that I still couldn’t attempt to stream the Glitter video in 8K,………

I don’t know if it is because iPadOS 14 is still so new, but I could not get the iPad Pro to play back videos at 4K resolution, either in the YouTube app or in Safari or Chrome. Because of that, the standard Glitter video didn’t look all that great due to the lower resolution. Instead, I tested the Slow Mo Guys “Spinning a Million Sparks” video, which looked excellent even in lowly full HD. The music videos both played back excellently (Aurora’s is capped at 1080p anyway, and Sucre’s is only 4K and not 8K, so it didn’t have to downgrade as far).

As always, my ears were working while I was watching those videos. The MacBook Air has some stellar speakers built in, with speaker grills to the left and right of the keyboard (although if you catch the grills in a certain light, you’ll notice that the speakers themselves are quite a bit smaller than the grills themselves). You get great clarity, bass, and volume from this machine, despite its slight size.

The speakers on the iPad Pro, however, are next level. Apple put two pairs of speakers on the right and left sides of the iPad (while in tablet mode) and they provide a surprising amount of sound for such a compact design. They easily outpace the standard iPad’s speakers, and they are on par with- if not better than- the MacBook Air’s speakers.

As mentioned earlier, the MacBook Air has Apple’s redesigned (read: fixed) keyboard and a massive trackpad. The keyboard is one of the best that I’ve typed on, regularly netting me around 75 to 80 words per minute with between 96% and 99% accuracy. And I love the trackpad; unlike most laptops, it is a simulated click made with taptic engines, so you can easily click anywhere on the pad and get the result you are looking for. Simply put, Apple is class-leading with the trackpad.

Thankfully, the Magic Keyboard for the iPad Pro has the same keyboard as the MacBook Air, albiet, slightly smaller in the 11 inch model (though I am used to typing on much smaller keyboards- see the Surface Go 2). That said, Apple did manage to fit as large a keyboard as possible in this case, to the slight detriment of the track pad, which is somewhat small. The keyboard does lack a function row, which I know some people are mad about (but really, Apple’s previous Smart Keyboards didn’t have one either, so it is to be expected), and the way that this is designed, it kinda makes sense; if there was one, it would be obscured by the iPad and could be difficult to use. And since this is an iPad, all of the controls you’d want in the function row are located handily in the Control Center panel that you can access by touching the screen or using the mouse. On 10fastfingers.com, I got 78 words per minute with 97% accuracy, so typing-wise it is just as accurate as the keyboard featured in the MacBook Air. Personally, the smaller size of the 11 inch keyboard fits my preferences a little more than the MacBook’s more spaced out keys, but again, that’s because I’m used to small keyboards. If they bother you, you’d be better off with the 12.9 iPad Pro or the MacBook Air.

And while the trackpad is quite a bit smaller (it is about as wide as the MacBook Air’s, but half as tall), it isn’t too small; in fact, it is quite the perfect size for the iPad Pro, and it is extremely responsive. Like the MacBook’s, it can be clicked anywhere, but it is a physical click. I personally thought the lack of height was going to be a concern, but I quickly realized that I didn’t need all of the space Apple gave me with the MacBook Air’s trackpad to do what I needed to do. In using the Magic Keyboard, I’ve not yet ever found myself wishing I had more trackpad space.

The Magic Keyboard is, of course, part of the… erm… magic that makes the iPad Pro so versatile. Unlike ye olde keyboard cases for previous iPads, it isn’t a case that the iPad has to live in permanently to use the keyboard. Instead, you’ve got a panel that magically… sorry… magnetically adheres to the back of the iPad, and through the clever use of hinges, holds the tablet in a hovering position over the keyboard itself. It is a striking look, and it can easily be folded up to cover both the front and back of the iPad like a case. The magnets are strong, so you don’t have to worry about the iPad slipping out, and the hinges are extremely sturdy.

With this form factor, the iPad can be a little top heavy, but in my experience, that is rarely a problem; this is because the Magic Keyboard also has some weight to it in an attempt to counterbalance the iPad. Some users have complained that this more than doubles the weight of the iPad Pro, but realistically, it brings it to a pretty similar weight to that of the MacBook Air, so honestly if you were going to carry one with you, the other won’t feel much different in your bag. It might make a difference, however, if you were planning to lug around both devices.

If you are typing for long periods, it is worth mentioning that the MacBook Air has more of a palm rest for your wrists, given that the screen and the aforementioned bezels are larger. With the cool, aluminum build of the laptop, it feels nice to write on for lengthy periods of time. The Magic Keyboard doesn’t have much of a palm rest to provide, but the soft touch material of the keyboard feels very nice and smooth on the hands, and the thinness of the lower half makes it blend easily with the surface of your desk, whereas the tapered lip of the MacBook will have your arms floating a few centimeters above the table. It’s a preference thing, and what makes you feel more comfortable over time is the real winner, but I do like the softer material of the Magic Keyboard.

The iPad Pro swaps the traditional Lightning port for a more standard USB-C, which is used for charging and can finally be used for peripherals such as external hard drives as well. Of course, that is one less port than the MacBook Air- and it is not Thunderbolt 3, if that matters to you at all- but a sliver lining is that the Magic Keyboard comes with a USB-C port as well; this port can’t be used for data transfer, so peripherals are out, but it will charge the iPad, so that at least frees up the iPad’s port when you need to charge and plug in something else like a hard drive at the same time. For me, personally, that’s not an issue, but something to consider if you regularly need more than one USB-C port at a time.

Winner: The iPad Pro. Look, I love the design of the MacBook Air, but if you want something that looks more like the future instead of the past, it is the iPad Pro. It is elegant and damn useful however you plan on using it.

Bringing the Heat

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I’ve talked about the MacBook’s poor thermal design to death. I loathe that the MacBook Air has a fan, but that loathing pales in comparison to my sheer annoyance that the fan isn’t connected to a heat sink, which means it only passively cools. This, in turn, means that when the fan runs, it has to run faster (read: louder) and the MacBook becomes a toaster oven.

Now, all that said, the MacBook Air doesn’t overheat. In my usage, it gets damn hot sometimes, but it never breaks the 200 degrees threshold that would signal it is heating beyond tolerance. I still don’t want my computer running at 170 all the time; I’m sure that won’t have the best results in the long term. But it still bugs the hell out of me that the MacBook Air- impeccably designed as it is- has this one, glaring design flaw. But hey, this is Apple; if it wasn’t butterfly keyboards, it will be something else, right?

That’s where (spoilers) the iPad Pro is easily going to win this section. There’s no fan. There’s no fan noise. And it does not overheat. I don’t know how hot the iPad’s CPU gets under stress because I’ve never needed to check its vitals. Certainly, during some more intensive tasks- like gaming- the back of the iPad will get a little warm, but I’ve never once found it to get hot enough to warrant any real concern or to cause my iPad to slow down (thermal throttling is real on the MacBook Air) or misbehave.

Simply put, with the iPad, thermal throttling feels like a thing of the past.

Winner: iPad Pro.

OS vs OS

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The biggest difference between the MacBook Air and the iPad Pro is going to be the operating system that they run. Granted, both are Apple-made, but the iPad runs the more limiting iPadOS.

Except… I’m here to tell you that I think the iPad’s “limitations” in the operating system department are more perceived than real. It also helps that Big Sur is coming to make the Mac look and feel a lot more like the iPad. In fact, that more than anything instigated this battle.

We harp on the limited multitasking options on the iPad, and while there is no window mode like you get on the home screen of the MacBook, I don’t think you need that. More often, it just looks cluttered, and ends up with me closing half of the open windows just to find the one Finder window I was looking for.

In the other realms of multitasking, the iPad has it all. It can do split screen just like the MacBook. Apps are, natively, full screen, which eliminates the need for multiple desktops because each app is its own desktop. You can do Picture in Picture with most videos. And the iPad can even bring in an app in slide over view, which is handy for apps like Notes or other things that you need for a hot second but don’t want to take over what you are doing. I also find that simple tasks- like sharing a photo with a friend through iMessages- are simpler in iPadOS; iPadOS (and by extension iOS) seems to put contextual menus right where you need them rather than making you dig for them in the top bar (I don’t know why, but it always seemed like a struggle to find the “Share” button in macOS).

Had I written this review a year or two ago, the MacBook would have wiped the damn floor with the iPad. But now, iPadOS has added the full, desktop level Safari browser, it has added the ability to open more than one instance of the same app (a major win for editing a novel… I often need multiple Pages or Word documents open at the same time), and it has added trackpad support.

Sure, iPadOS still has its quirks. Writing this story on Medium, the usual shortcut for highlighting a word and then pasting a link to automatically make that word a link results, instead, in replacing the word with the text of the link. Instead of double-tapping a picture in Safari that I want to save, I have to click and hold it for a second. But those quirks are minor, and there’s always a simple work around.

The trackpad is very unique. You don’t get a traditional pointer on the iPad, but instead a small circle that adapts to what you are doing. Honestly, it takes getting used to, but it does feel like the future of mouse input, and the adaptive nature- how it snaps to select different things on the screen and whatnot- is simply more intuitive than a pointer.

One of macOS’ oddest quirks- at least for me- is also non-existent on the iPad. I found that when using built in programs like Safari or Pages, the Mac would incorrectly recommend word replacements- if I wrote “I am thinking of something”, it would more often than not recommend that I change “of” to “off” even though that makes no sense. It would do that for all of the commonly misused words, like “to” and “too” or “there”, “their”, and “they’re” but each time, the word I chose was correct and the word Apple wanted me to use instead was not. But iPadOS seems to have a better grasp of grammar, which I find curious.

Similarly, Pages on the MacBook sometimes had a weird quirk where some lines or even whole paragraphs would go “missing” at the bottom of the page, as if the page break was eating the words (thankfully, this was only a visual issue; the text was still in the document, just invisible). I found that if I changed the font or copied everything into a new document, that would usually fix the issue for a little while. But it is another thing that Pages for the iPad does not do.

Of course, the iPad does still have limitations. The Files app is still not as powerful a tool as Finder is on the MacBook, but it has been much improved from the days when it was first introduced (and called iCloud Drive). The Mac also has a powerful one-up on multitasking in that it can utilize the iPad’s screen as a second monitor, and even gain some functionality from the Apple Pencil through that process. And you can’t dig into the system like you can on macOS or other, more traditional computer operating systems (but that’s not for everyone). In fact, one of the biggest benefits macOS has over the iPad is that it is more traditional in how you use it- if you are coming from another Mac or even Windows (as I was), it doesn’t take long at all to get accustomed to using it.

But doing things the way they’ve always been done isn’t the future of computing. Increasingly, when Apple announces a new iPad it gets all the fanfare while their equally new Macs come out more quietly. UAnd with every new iteration of iPadOS, the iPad becomes more and more recommendable as a replacement- not a companion- for the traditional computer experience.

Winner: iPad Pro.

There’s an App For That

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One of the biggest “issues” with using an iPad as your daily computer is that there are some programs that the iPad cannot run.

You need full Photoshop? Nope. Need Final Cut Pro? No way. There are so many programs that the iPad just simply can’t run.

But, there’s usually an app for that. Granted, it may not be the name-brand software, but there’s bound to be one that will get the function that you need. I mean, this is the App Store we are talking about. Not Google’s Play Store, or Microsoft’s Windows Store. The App Store. The original, you might say.

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And most of those apps are getting better all the time. For example, Photoshop is now available on the iPad. It isn’t quite as full featured as the desktop version, but it is leagues beyond the old Photoshop Express app that was offered. And frankly, if there is one or two features missing that you do use in Photoshop, as said, there’s probably another app that will complete that task for you.

Honestly, after setting up my MacBook Air, I couldn’t think of any major computer-specific programs that I needed to install on it. Sure, I downloaded all of the Adobe programs that come with my subscription, and I downloaded Chrome for reasons, but those are all apps I rarely touch; I still use Safari as my primary browser because all of my daily devices are now Apple, and when it comes to editing photos I am much more inclined to use my iPhone or… well, my iPad.

In fact, some of the apps that I do use most often- YouTube, Netflix, Disney+, YouTube Music, etc. and so forth- are not available on macOS beyond visiting their websites. And the websites are fine, but sometimes you want the app; on the one hand, they may run better than they do in a browser, and on the other, you get more features from the app (like the offline download features in Netflix and YouTube).

A good example of this is the Squarespace app. When first deciding whether the iPad could actually replace my computer, I ran my old, crusty 7th gen iPad through some of the normal tasks I do. One of those is updating my website on Squarespace. Try as I might, I could not get the editor on Squarespace.com to give me the option to add a photo to my art gallery; the option was non-existent in both Safari and Chrome. Thinking that my experiment was over before the iPad Pro even arrived at my front door, I suddenly remembered Apple’s catchphrase- “There’s an app for that”- and within a couple minutes had downloaded the Squarespace app and successfully uploaded my photography.

I quickly learned that all of the programs that I personally use on a daily basis- Pages, Word, OneNote, Apple Books, and Medium- are available as full-fledged apps on the iPad. And while I do still prefer editing Medium articles in Safari (the app weirdly won’t let you use keyboard shortcuts to make words bold or italics, instead forcing you to highlight them after and change them), it is just nice to had a dedicated program installed for the things I do most frequently, separating my workflow from the browser, and by extension, distractions.

Not all of the apps for the iPad are as good as the ones that I depend on- Google Docs for iPad flat out sucks, and that’s always been one of my favorite writing platforms- but I think this is a space that really deserves to be watched. With Apple moving to their own chips in MacBooks, undoubtedly the two platforms will begin to merge a little bit; the Mac will be able to start running iPad apps, but likewise, future versions of Mac apps- made to run on Apple silicone- could also be able to run on the iPad.

Winner: iPad Pro. Maybe your needs are different. But for mine, the iPad can do everything my MacBook does for me, but in most cases, better.

Battery Life and Charging

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Both the MacBook Air and the iPad Pro charge via USB-C, which is a nice thing to have in 2020. One day, perhaps, all of Apple’s tech will be on USB-C, but for now, that does mean carrying two chargers if you are all in with Apple.

As mentioned, the MacBook Air has two USB-C ports and will charge from either one. Both are located on the left-hand side of the computer, which is a minor bummer to me, as I like when I can charge from either end of the device, depending on where the nearest outlet is. The iPad Pro only has the one USB-C port, but when paired with the Magic Keyboard, you get that second port for charging, and unlike the MacBook, that does give you the option to charge from either the right or left of the device, so you’re port is always closest to the outlet.

The port on the Magic Keyboard does charge at a slower pace, which I think is important to mention. If you are trying to top off your iPad in a hurry, it would be best to charge with the iPad Pro’s built in port instead. With the charger in the box (18w), the iPad Pro will take between two and three to fully charge from zero depending on which port you use, but it will support faster charging at up to 30w, which should save you about half an hour, according to the internet (I did not have a 30w charger available to give this a test myself).

The MacBook Air comes with Apple’s 30w charger, and in my experience this charges the device in about 2–2.5 hours. Apple does state that it will charge faster while asleep, and in my experience it does, but they don’t quote any fast charging metrics like you might see with other computers- notably Microsoft’s Surface Laptop 3, which will go from zero to 80% in about an hour with the lid closed.

In daily use, I got about 7–8 hours out of the MacBook, which is shy of their reported 11 hour battery life. The iPad Pro, which, like all iPads, is said to have 10 hours of battery life and… yeah, I feel like I get pretty close to that in regular use. Of course, I can drain it faster by playing games, but in other cases, it just lasts and lasts. There’s been some speculation on whether the Magic Keyboard causes considerable drain on the battery life, but in my experience, it is negligible.

Winner: They are pretty on par with one another. I do think the iPad battery lasts a little longer in day to day use, but the MacBook Air charges slightly faster compared to the charging speed if you are using the port in the Magic Keyboard.

What’s a Computer?

This is a question I’ve really been asking myself lately. Apple asked us that, too, a few years ago. But at that time, iPadOS was not yet a thing (it was running iOS 11), and the idea of replacing your computer with an iPad- Pro or otherwise- was laughable.

But if Apple aired that same commercial today, with the iPad Pro running iPadOS 14 and rocking the Magic Keyboard, it would be enough to make me stop and really think about how to answer that question.

In fact, during the iPad Air announcement a few days ago, all I could really think about was the fact that I’ve been searching for my next computer, the thing to see me through the next few years of writing, of editing photos, of watching movies, reading books, listening to music… and maybe I was looking in the wrong place.

For me, picking a clamshell laptop over the iPad Pro was like Carol Danvers trying to use her powers with that dampening microchip that the Supreme Intelligence put in her neck. “I’ve been fighting with one hand tied behind my back. But what happened when I’m finally set free?

The iPad Pro is freeing. It frees my computer from only being a computer, and allows it to become my book, or my notepad, or whatever else I need it to be in that moment.

That’s versatility. That may not be what a computer is.

But that’s what a computer should be.

Personally, I’m really excited to see how the iPad Pro- and the Magic keyboard- will change my workflow. For the last few months, my regular iPad has been relegated to nothing more than a toy, something to watch videos on or play games with, but it can be so much more.

And that was what I wanted to bring to my computer experience. Something that could absolutely be all the computer I need, but was versatile enough to be whatever I wanted or needed any given moment.

The iPad cannot replace every scenario in which you’ll need a computer- for me, the primary thing I would need a computer for is iTunes, so that I can add my own collection of music to the cloud or, in rare events, plug up my phone or iPad and perform a factory reset. But those are rare use-cases, and I do still have the Surface Go 2 which is more than capable of doing those tasks for me.

I have also been considering the size of the iPad Pro that I chose; it would cost roughly $350 more to upgrade to both the 12.9 inch iPad and the equivalent Magic Keyboard, but I don’t think I’ll be bothering with that. After all, split screen is nice, but if I really need to see two documents at once, my 7th gen iPad would function just fine as a pseudo second screen (it can, after all, run all the same apps, just slower).

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Your needs and workflow may justify the need for a more traditional laptop. But I think for me, Apple’s “Not a Computer” might just be the computer I needed.

I am just clever enough to get myself in trouble…

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