MacBook Air vs. iPad Pro: same price, very different use cases

MacBook Air (2018) Review
Riley Young / Digital Trends

Want a portable Apple device that packs punches without knocking on your wallet? In a race against Apple's MacBook Air vs. iPad Pro, the two fight against each other.

This fight may seem like a strange comparison, but there are many reasons to consider each device. Let's see which comes out as a heavyweight champion.


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Let's start with the fully redesigned MacBook Air in 2018. Earlier, Apple used the “Air” moniker to show the thinnest and lightest products, but in the 2018 revision, we saw MacBook Air occupying the midrange slots in the Apple lineup.

The entire metal chassis retains the classic air wedge shape and is available in 13.3 inch size and silver, gray and gold finishes. The MacBook Air weighs in at 2.75 pounds (2.03 pounds or larger for 12-inch MacBooks and less than 13 inches for MacBook Pro 3.02 pounds). It's portable enough to carry on the go, but it's not the thinnest laptop Apple ever offers.

MacBook Air has up to two Thunderbolt 3 ports using a USB-C form factor, supporting very fast transfer speeds up to 40 Gbps. MacBook Air comes with an 8th generation Intel Core i5 processor, up to 1.5TB of storage, and 16GB of memory.

iPad Pro was extensively redesigned in 2018. Now comes with a flat chassis and 11 inch and 12.9 inch sizes. The color can be either silver or space gray. It is equipped with a 12-megapixel camera on the back, and you can connect various accessories (e.g. external keyboard) using smart connectors.

The customization options for the iPad Pro are slightly more limited than the customization options for the MacBook Air. SSD options range from 64GB to 1TB of flash storage, and you can choose to add cellular features in addition to the iPad Pro's Wi-Fi connection.

There is a USB-C port for charging and data transfer, and four microphones to clearly capture the sound input. It also comes with very impressive stereo speakers when you sit down to watch a movie. Both are beautifully designed devices, but there is no doubt that they are more modern. The iPad Pro is very portable and has a thinner bezel, but the MacBook Air hasn't moved in that area.


MacBook Air (2018) Review
Riley Young / Digital Trends

MacBook Air wasn't as revolutionary as it used to be, but it's a family tree in a different way. One such upgrade compared to the old design was the introduction of a Retina display with a resolution of 2560 × 1600 with a slim bezel. Prior to 2018, MacBook Air was the last Apple laptop without a Retina screen, and it turned out to be a poor choice to buy.

The review revealed that the IPS display had excellent color accuracy, but the brightness was a bit disappointing and lacked Apple's excellent True Tone technology to white balance the ambient light around it.

In addition to the Retina display, Redesign on MacBook Air brings a lot of new features. Now it has the same 3rd generation butterfly keyboard as Apple's other laptops, with smaller keys and less movement. A thin membrane is provided under each keycap to allow for more quiet typing. Also, although Apple hasn't officially confirmed it, this membrane is thought to prevent dust from reaching the keys and causing typing problems.

Another first on the MacBook Air is the large trackpad. This uses haptic feedback to simulate trackpad presses and works with many gestures on MacOS. Apple's trackpad is the best thing you'll get from any laptop, so don't be disappointed with the MacBook Air's trackpad.

One of the main selling points of the iPad Pro is undoubtedly its display. We called this in the review “Fantastic for content consumption and production”. It uses the same Liquid Retina technology as Apple's iPhone XR and comes in 2,388 × 1,668 resolution. Easily view in any situation using the same True Tone technology as MacBook Air.

We also like the ProMotion feature of the iPad Pro display. This dynamically changes the refresh rate to up to 120Hz, so you always get a smooth experience when scrolling through documents or drawing with Apple Pencil.

Speaking of Apple Pencil, this has been redesigned with the new iPad Pro. The edges are now flat, allowing you to charge magnetically from the iPad Pro side, with an attractive matte finish.


iPad Pro (2018) review
Julian Kat Kathu / Digital Trend

Plug your MacBook Air into your iPad Pro and you'll compare interesting performances. MacBook Air uses Intel's Core i5 processor, but Apple developed iPad Pro with its own A12X Bionic chip. This decision paid dividends because the performance of the iPad Air is very impressive.

After reviewing the iPad Pro and testing the processor features on Geekbench 4, I got 5,029 points for single core and 18,042 points for multi-core performance. In comparison, MacBook Air's single-core and multi-core scores are 4,233 and 7,773, respectively. It's surprising that the iPad Pro outperforms one of Apple's latest MacBooks, especially in terms of multi-core performance. Although measuring Geekbench on different platforms is not similar to comparing apples to apples, you can only make comparisons when using both devices anecdotal.

Nevertheless, it is not an open and closed case. The Thunderbolt 3 port on MacBook Pro significantly improves graphics performance by connecting an external graphics card if you prefer. The keyboard and trackpad on MacBook Air make intensive tasks like video or photo editing much easier than iPad Pro, except for quick and dirty editing.

There are also operating systems to consider. MacBook Air runs on MacOS, a legacy system with many powerful apps like Adobe Premiere. In contrast, iPad Pro on iPad Pro has just come out of iOS. MacOS has powerful and powerful apps, but due to its powerful features and configuration, MacOS is better suited for tough tasks.

Conclusion — Ahead MacBook Air Edge

MacBook Air (2018) Review
Riley Young / Digital Trends

Given the similar price points and different form factors, choosing a winner between MacBook Air and iPad Pro can be tricky. But in this case, I think the MacBook Air is on the edge.

There are many reasons. iPad Pro is surprisingly powerful and perfect if you want a great tablet for drawing and working, but it lacks flexibility to accommodate it. Internally, you can only really customize your storage. MacBook Air, on the other hand, gives you the choice of storage and memory, and the Thunderbolt 3 port can greatly expand its functionality if needed.

The more powerful operating system of the MacBook Air and compatibility with the world's best pro apps are just as strong selling points as the great trackpad. These tools are perfect for detailed tasks like video editing, which is easier to perform than touch screens like iPad Pro.

So we like the iPad Pro, but it's the best product to buy with a tablet. MacBook Air is the device you should buy if most people are looking for Apple products at this price.

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