iPad Pro vs. MacBook Air: It’s closer than you’d think

You might assume that the iPad Pro and MacBook Air are very different, but when you think about it they’re actually quite similar devices. Both are built for portability, come in two display sizes, and cost about the same. Choosing between them is trickier than it might seem at first glance.

We’ve put together this guide to help you choose the right device, no matter your budget or use case. Whether you prioritize performance, portability, display, software, or something else, you should feel more confident in your decision by the end of this article.

price

A person using Apple's iPad Pro with the Magic Keyboard Case on a desk.
Apple

The iPad Pro comes in 11-inch and 12.9-inch sizes, with prices starting at $799 and $1,099, respectively. The latter can be increased to $2,399 if you opt for cellular connectivity and up to 2TB of storage. The Apple Pencil ranges in price from $79 to $129, while if you want to make the iPad Pro more laptop-like, Apple’s Magic Keyboard with Trackpad starts at $299.

Meanwhile, the MacBook Air is a bit more complicated, as Apple currently sells three models. There’s a 13-inch MacBook Air with an M1 chip, which costs $999, and another 13-inch model that comes with an M2 chip. That starts at $1,099. Meanwhile, the 15-inch model with the M2 chip starts at $1,299. The most you’ll pay for a MacBook Air is $2,499 – that’s the 15-inch version with 24GB of memory and a 2TB SSD.

Prices are very similar between the iPad Pro and MacBook Air, so there’s no clear winner here.

the winner: tie

Display

Apple's M2 MacBook Air is extremely thin and light.
Apple

Determining whether the iPad Pro or MacBook Air offers better performance isn’t entirely straightforward due to the MacBook Air’s two different chip options. The entry-level model comes with M1, while the more recent 13-inch and 15-inch versions have M2. Every iPad Pro also comes with M2.

This means the M1 MacBook Air is at a disadvantage. The M1 is an excellent chip, but there’s not much reason to go for that model when the M2 MacBook Air costs only $100 more.

Leaving aside the M1, will the M2 iPad Pro or M2 MacBook Air get better performance? In the end, you should get almost the same output in both cases. Neither the iPad Pro nor the MacBook Air have any fans to cool them and boost performance, and Apple’s M2 chip is powerful enough to handle most of the tasks you throw at it (including high-resolution video rendering, Or beyond extremely demanding workloads like heavy-duty gaming).

the winner: All M2 models (iPad and MacBook)

design

Apple's 15-inch MacBook Air is placed on a desk.
Luke Larson/

Even though one product is a tablet and the other a laptop, they can be made to have exactly the same design. That’s because the iPad Pro can be equipped with a keyboard, either Apple’s Magic Keyboard or one from another company, turning it into a laptop (sort of). Just be aware that Apple keyboard cases are expensive, the Magic Keyboard will cost you $299.

In this situation we prefer the MacBook Air. It has a more spacious keyboard (especially compared to the 11-inch iPad Pro) and its trackpad is a more generously sized one. You get the same typing experience on both devices but the MacBook has a little more room to run with.

Elsewhere, both the iPad Pro and MacBook Air come with high-quality aluminum chassis, which are rock-solid and feel fantastically premium. The iPad Pro comes in either space gray or silver. You get a little more choice with the MacBook Air, which is available in Midnight, Starlight, Space Gray and Silver for the M2 model, and Space Grey, Gold and Silver for the M1 version.

As far as ports go, you get a single Thunderbolt 4 slot on every model of the iPad Pro. The M1 MacBook Air has two Thunderbolt 4 ports, while the M2 versions both come with two Thunderbolt 4 slots and a MagSafe charging connector. This gives them more flexibility and expansion options than the iPad Pro.

the winner: Macbook Air

It shows

Two iPad Pro tablets next to each other on a black background.  Both come with Apple's Magic Keyboard case.
Apple

Here things get a little more complicated, as both the iPad Pro and MacBook Air have many variations in size and capabilities.

We’ll start with the iPad. The 11-inch model comes with an LED-backlit display with 2388×1668 pixel resolution that can reach a maximum of 600 nits brightness. It supports Apple’s promoted variable refresh rate, P3 wide color gamut, and True Tone adaptive colors.

The 12.9-inch model is a serious step up from its smaller sibling, as it uses a mini-LED display. It brings plenty of brightness – up to 1,600 nits when watching HDR content – ​​and 2,596 individual dimming zones for significantly better backlighting. It also has the same support for ProMotion, P3 gamut, and True Tone, as well as a 2732 x 2048 resolution.

Apple's John Ternes stands next to an image of a 15-inch MacBook Air at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in June 2023.
apple apple

How does the MacBook Air stack up? It depends on the model. All models have some aspects in common: the M1 13-inch MacBook Air has a resolution of 2560 x 1600, while the M2 version has 2560 x 1664. However, the main difference here is that the brightness of the M2 version reaches 500 nits, which is higher than the 400 nits of the M1 MacBook Air.

When you step up to the 15-inch model, the most significant change is, surprisingly, the resolution, which is 2880 x 1864 pixels. However, the brightness is still above 500 nits. Still, if you’re looking for a larger, detailed display, this might be the best option for you.

Every MacBook Air P3 supports wide color gamut and True Tone. However, none come with promotions, which is a point in the iPad Pro’s favor. The iPad Pro wins here too, thanks to its brilliant mini-LED display technology. Although we’re sure you’ll be very happy with the MacBook Air’s display, it lacks this key difference.

the winner: ipad pro

Battery life and portability

iPad Air 5 with iPhone and MacBook.
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Battery life has increased a lot since Apple started equipping its Macs with M-series chips. Apple says the MacBook Air will give you 15 hours of web browsing and 18 hours of Apple TV playback, no matter which model you choose. In our review of the M2 13-inch MacBook Air, we got even more than that: 18 hours of web browsing and 21 hours of video. The 15-inch MacBook Air also beat Apple’s estimates in our review.

The iPad Pro can’t match those figures, with Apple saying you’ll get 10 hours of battery life from it. However, it fell short in our testing after a day of mixed web browsing and video watching.

The iPad Pro holds things back due to its light weight. The 11-inch iPad Pro weighs about 1 pound, while the 12.9-inch version weighs about 1.5 pounds. The 13-inch MacBook Air weighs 2.8 pounds with the M1 chip and 2.7 pounds with the M2, while the 15-inch version weighs 3.3 pounds. The MacBook Air may be Apple’s lightest laptop, but it’s still significantly heavier than the iPad Pro.

the winner: tie

software

A MacBook Pro running macOS Sonoma at Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) in June 2023.
Apple

MacOS and iPadOS are both very capable operating systems, and iPadOS is a far cry from the iOS spinoff it started out as. In iPadOS 17, you get a ton of features that will help you work and play better, including Stage Manager, improved widgets, FaceTime video reactions, and more.

But macOS wins here. The macOS Sonoma update from summer 2023 wasn’t the biggest upgrade ever, but it did bring a number of useful new features to the Mac operating system. It’s still packed with features that are missing on the iPad, from better window organization to better file management.

App compatibility is equally important. MacBook Air can run thousands of iPad apps and games without any lag, and you can simply download them from the App Store and get to work. Yet it doesn’t always go both ways, as some Mac apps and games aren’t accessible if you have an iPad.

the winner: Macbook Air

other features

A person uses the Apple Pencil's hover feature on an iPad running Final Cut Pro.
Apple

There are a few other things to consider between the iPad Pro and MacBook Air. The first is that the iPad Pro can be paired with the Apple Pencil, which is suitable for digital painting and writing notes. Although you can use the iPad as a second screen for the MacBook Air (meaning you can essentially draw on your Mac), you need an iPad to make it work – the Apple Pencil without the iPad intermediary. Will not work with Mac.

The second consideration relates to security and logins. The MacBook Air uses Touch ID, located in the top-right corner of its keyboard. However, the iPad Pro uses the more secure Face ID for facial recognition. This is not only more convenient but also more secure than Touch ID. While Face ID is rumored to be eventually coming to the Mac, it’s not here yet.

the winner: ipad pro

Which one should you buy?

The MacBook Air is on a table in front of a window.
digital trends

The comparison between the iPad Pro and MacBook Air is extremely close, and there is no clear winner. Depending on your circumstances, you may prefer one tool over the other.

For example, the iPad Pro has a much better display (if you choose the 12.9-inch model) and comes with great extra features like Face ID and the Apple Pencil. If you enjoy digital drawing or want a small, compact device that can expand into a miniature laptop with a keyboard, this would be a great choice.

However, the MacBook Air has many advantages of its own. Its battery life is out of this world, at times offering double what the iPad Pro can manage, while its additional ports and powerful software make it more capable in a wider range of situations. This is a great laptop that you will not regret buying.

Really, again, it all depends on what you want to use the device for. Think about it carefully, and you will find your answer. Either way, both products are at the top of their game, so you’ll be happy whichever you choose.






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