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MacBook Air vs iPad Pro (2021): Which Apple Device Should You Buy?

Armed with the M1 chip, the Apple iPad Pro 2021 has enough power and endurance to take on day to day productivity tasks. However, does this mean that it’s capable enough to replace the Apple MacBook Air 2020 altogether? In case you didn’t know, the newest MacBook Air is equipped with the same M1 chip, allowing it to outperform the top PCs on the market. This makes it one of the best laptop purchases in our opinion. If you can’t figure out which Apple machine you should buy for work or school, here’s an in-depth MacBook Air vs iPad Pro comparison to help you make up your mind.

MacBook Air vs iPad Pro Comparison Chart

ModelMacBook AiriPad Pro
 
Price
Display13.3 inches (2560 x 1600 pixels)11 inches and 12.9 inches (2388 x 1668 pixels; 2732 x 2048 pixels)
Display TypeRetinaMini-LED
CPUM1 chipM1 chip
Storage256GB to 2TB128B to 2TB
Battery Life14 hours and 41 minutes10 hours
Dimensions 12 x 8.4 x 0.6 inches11-inch: 9.74 x 7.02 x 0.23 inches
12.9-inch: 11.04 x 8.46 x 0.25 inches
Weight2.8 pounds11-inch: 1.04 pounds
12.9-inch: 1.51 pounds
Ports2x Thunderbolt 3 ports; 1x headphone jack1x USB-C with Thunderbolt 4 compatibility

Display

The 12.9-inch iPad Pro has a more impressive display than the MacBook Air.

MacBook Air vs iPad Pro display
The MacBook Air (left) has a Retina display while the iPad Pro (right) is equipped with the new mini-LED technology.

The MacBook Air’s 2,560 x 1,600 pixel Retina display is a beautiful sight to behold. Featuring bold colors and crystal clear details, watching movies on this laptop is a very enjoyable experience. However, it’s definitely not the most impressive display that has ever been put on a laptop as even the iPad Pro’s screen outmatches it.

On the 12.9-inch iPad Pro specifically, you’ll find a mini-LED display which is considered a huge jump in technology. The diodes on the larger iPad Pro are much smaller than the normal LED which means they’re more densely packed, allowing for better control of brightness and darkness in specific areas of the screen.

While the display on the MacBook Air is dazzling in its own right, the iPad Pro might be the better choice for those who prefer a higher quality screen. Just be sure to go for the 12.9-inch version as the smaller 11-inch model still uses Apple’s Liquid Retina LED display and is only able to accommodate 4 million pixels. This is a significantly lower number compared to the 5.6 million pixels of the 12.9-inch iPad Pro.

Design

The MacBook Air and the iPad Pro look very similar to their predecessors.

MacBook Air vs iPad Pro design
The iPad Pro (right) is thinner and lighter than the MacBook Air (left).

Design-wise, neither the MacBook Air nor the iPad Pro was given any major revisions, both looking very similar to their predecessors. Given that there aren’t any significant changes externally, it all really boils down to your personal preference when choosing between their designs. Take note that the iPad Pro is offered in Space Gray and Silver while the MacBook Air comes in both colors as well as Gold. And of course, it goes without saying that the MacBook Air comes with a built-in keyboard while you’d have to buy one for the iPad Pro.

Something else you should consider is their difference in size and weight. Both the 11-inch and 12.9-inch iPad Pro are lighter and thinner than the MacBook Air. This doesn’t mean, however, that the MacBook Air is difficult to carry around. Quite the opposite actually as it’s under three pounds with dimensions that are no larger than bond paper.

As for ports, you probably know by now that iPads don’t tend to sport many of them. While this holds true for the iPad Pro, its charging port does have Thunderbolt 4 support. This means that you can use it in tandem with the latest external devices and screens out there. As for the MacBook Air, it has two Thunderbolt 3 ports. While they’re not compatible with the newest external devices, at least you can work with two at a time. The MacBook Air also comes with a headphone jack which is great news for those who prefer a wired experience.

Performance

The MacBook Air and the iPad Pro are neck and neck in terms of speed and performance.

MacBook Air vs iPad Pro performanceMacBook Air vs iPad Pro performance
Both the MacBook Air and the iPad Pro are powered by the M1 chip.

While it’s hard to pinpoint exactly who the better performer is, it’s safe to say that the MacBook Air and the iPad Pro are both more than capable of handling any task you throw at them. Apple claims that the MacBook Air 2020, powered by the M1 chip, is able to perform three times better than its predecessor. This puts it at the same level as the MacBook Pro with Intel chip which was considered Apple’s most powerful laptop before the MacBook Pro M1 came along.

Now that the M1 chip has crossed over to the iPad family as well, Apple says that the iPad Pro 2021 is able to deliver a performance that’s 50% faster than the previous model’s. Not just that, but it also boasts 40% improved graphics and double the storage access speed, which is very impressive considering that the iPad Pro 2020 is already quite a powerful device.

The MacBook Air and the iPad Pro are both strong performers but if we really had to split hairs, you might be able to get more out of the former as its design allows for better heat management. However, that shouldn’t take away too much from the iPad Pro’s power.

Battery Life

The MacBook Air has a significantly longer battery life than the iPad Pro.

MacBook Air vs iPad Pro battery
The MacBook Air (left) can last up to 14 hours and 41 minutes while the iPad Pro (right) can only manage 10 hours).

The M1 chip not only gave the MacBook Air a performance boost but it also significantly improved its battery life. Able to run for 14 hours and 41 minutes on a single charge, the MacBook Air can easily outlast strong competitors like the Dell XPS 13 and the ASUS ZenBook 13. This makes it a highly dependable work companion, especially if you’re doing tasks away from your home.

Given that the iPad Pro has the M1 chip just like the MacBook Air, you’d think that it would have the same kind of longevity. Unfortunately, it can only manage up to 10 hours of video playback and web surfing. This is still commendable though considering that the older iPad Pro could only muster up to 9 hours of usage.

Verdict

The MacBook Air is the more sensible option but the iPad Pro can prove to be a good investment if you want a two-in-one device.

Given its speed, power, and compatibility with Apple’s Magic Keyboard, the Apple iPad Pro 2021 can definitely stand in for a laptop. However, you have to keep in mind that you’d have to fork over an additional $300 minimum to make this setup a reality. But if the versatility of having a tablet and laptop in one device is an absolute necessity for you, then the iPad Pro might prove to be a worthwhile investment.

If you think you can do away with the high quality touchscreen of the iPad Pro then the Apple MacBook Air 2020 is the more sensible option. Because you don’t have to spend more for an external keyboard, you can use that money to increase your storage and RAM instead. With these upgrades, you’ll have yourself one of the best laptops that’s available on the market right now. Also, the MacBook Air’s battery life is far more dependable than the iPad Pro’s, which is a huge win in our book.

FAQs

๐Ÿ“Œ Which one has a better display, the MacBook Air or the iPad Pro?

The 12.9-inch iPad Pro has a more impressive display than the MacBook Air. Equipped with mini-LED technology, the diodes on the iPad Pro are much smaller than the normal LED which means they’re more densely packed. This allows for better control of brightness and darkness in specific areas of the screen.

๐Ÿ“Œ Which one has better performance,the MacBook Air or the iPad Pro?

Both powered by the M1 chip, the MacBook Air and the iPad Pro are neck and neck in terms of speed and performance. The MacBook Air 2020 performs three times better than its predecessor while the iPad Pro 2021 delivers a performance that’s 50% faster than the previous model’s.

๐Ÿ“Œ Which one has better battery life,the MacBook Air or the iPad Pro?

The MacBook Air has a significantly longer battery life than the iPad Pro. The MacBook Air can last up to 14 hours and 41 minutes on a single charge while the iPad Pro can only manage up to 10 hours.

๐Ÿ“Œ Which one should you buy,the MacBook Air or the iPad Pro?

If you don’t need the high quality touchscreen of the iPad Pro, then the Apple MacBook Air 2020 is the more sensible option.But if the versatility of having a tablet and laptop in one device is a necessity for you, then the iPad Pro might prove to be more worthwhile.

Last update on 2022-05-27 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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Denise Jose

Senior Editor at Compare Before Buying. Researcher and yoga teacher passionate about article writing, photography, wellness, and mindfulness.