iPad Pro vs MacBook Air

We look at whether an iPad Pro can re­place a Mac?

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Here we’ll com­pare the 13.3in MacBook Air to the iPad Pro, as it has a sim­i­larly sized 12.9in screen and thus, should have sim­i­lar di­men­sions. Even though its called the MacBook ‘Air’ it seems to be the bulkier of the two, though not by much – the iPad Pro mea­sures in at 305.7 x 220.6mm and is only 6.9mm at its thick­est point, while the MacBook Air mea­sures in at 325 x 227mm and is 17mm at its thick­est point. Al­though with this be­ing said, the iPad Pro is clearly the lighter op­tion of the two, weigh­ing in at a light­weight 713g com­pared to the bulkier 1342g MacBook Air.

How­ever, di­men­sions aren’t ev­ery­thing; for an iPad Pro to re­place a MacBook Air, it needs to be able to do ev­ery­thing a MacBook Air can, and more. While in terms of pro­cess­ing power, the iPad Pro is an in­ter­est­ing spec­i­men (we’ll come to this in more de­tail be­low), it falls flat on its face in one im­por­tant area; ports. Though the MacBook Air has even less ports than the MacBook Pro (due to its slim form fac­tor) it still boasts more con­nec­tiv­ity than the iPad Pro, offering a head­phone port, Thun­der­bolt 2 port, two USB 3.0 ports, an SDXC card slot and of course, the hugely pop­u­lar MagSafe 2 power port.

The iPad Pro on the other hand? Its new ‘smart’ con­nec­tor used for con­nect­ing key­board cov­ers is the only other ad­di­tion to the sin­gle Light­ning port and head­phone port avail­able on the de­vice. The light­ning port can be used to im­port pho­tos and videos from an SD card when used with a Cam­era con­nec­tor (sold separately) and mir­ror the iPad Pro dis­play to the TV us­ing a Light­ning Dig­i­tal AV Adap­tor (also sold separately), but those look­ing to pop a mem­ory stick in and browse their files will be dis­ap­pointed. It’s the one area we feel the iPad Pro is lack­ing, es­pe­cially for those look­ing to use the iPad Pro on busi­ness trips – even its main com­peti­tor, the Sur­face Pro 4, has a num­ber of ports in­clud­ing a full size USB 3.0 port, a Mini Dis­playPort and a mi­cro SDXC card slot.

So the iPad Pro might not be the best op­tion for busi­ness men and women, but what about for those look­ing for a me­dia consumption de­vice? This is an area where the iPad Pro ex­cels thanks to a num­ber of fac­tors, but mainly thanks to its’ dis­play and au­dio. The iPad Pro has a 12.9in LED touch­screen with a

res­o­lu­tion of 2732x2048, giv­ing it a pixel den­sity of 264ppi, while the MacBook Air boasts a 13.3in glossy dis­play with a na­tive res­o­lu­tion of 1440x900, al­most half of the iPad Pro offering – and the dif­fer­ence is no­tice­able. This makes gam­ing, catching up on the lat­est TV and even brows­ing the web on an iPad Pro a much crisper, vivid ex­pe­ri­ence.

Al­though me­dia consumption doesn’t just rely on video – as any de­cent video ed­i­tor will tell you, au­dio has a just as im­por­tant – if not more im­por­tant – role to play. Think of it like this; if you’ve got a na­tive 4K video but low qual­ity, highly com­pressed au­dio, you won’t enjoy the ex­pe­ri­ence the same as with crisp, high qual­ity au­dio.

The MacBook Air fea­tures stereo speak­ers that aren’t ex­actly ground break­ing; while it’s sat­is­fac­tory for catch-up TV, it’s isn’t some­thing you’d con­stantly be play­ing mu­sic though (we

al­ways opt to use a Blue­tooth speaker rather than the built-in MacBook Air speak­ers).

The iPad Pro on the other hand has not two, but four speak­ers that help to pro­duce a “stereo sounds­tage” as Ap­ple de­scribes it. The speaker hous­ings have been ma­chined di­rectly into the body of the iPad Pro, pro­duc­ing a wider fre­quency range, im­proved vol­ume and au­dio that seems to be com­ing di­rectly from the cen­ter of the dis­play, op­posed to from be­hind or the sides, as is the case with other iPads. It really pro­vides a more im­mer­sive ex­pe­ri­ence when gam­ing or watch­ing movies, and al­though it still isn’t as bass-y as we’d like, it’s a huge im­prove­ment over the MacBook Air and pre­vi­ous iPad mod­els.

It’s time to move onto the most im­por­tant part of the com­par­i­son (for some at least) – pro­cess­ing power. The 13.3in MacBook Air boasts a 1.6GHz dual-core In­tel core i5 pro­ces­sor, Turbo Boosted up to 2.7GHz with 4GB of RAM and In­tel HD Graph­ics 6000, which when cou­pled with a SSD pro­vides a solid per­former with enough power to com­plete ev­ery day tasks, as well as use pro­ces­sor-hun­gry soft­ware like Pho­to­shop.

The iPad Pro fea­tures Ap­ple’s lat­est (and great­est) SoC, the 64-bit A9X, which is a dif­fer­ent beast al­to­gether – even with re­gards to its de­sign.

Chip­works, a patent anal­y­sis and com­pet­i­tive in­tel­li­gence com­pany, has taken a look at the A9X chip and posted its own tear down on­line. First things first, the chip is around 147 square mil­lime­tres, making it 40 per­cent larger than the size of the TSMC-built vari­ant of the A9 chip found in­side the iPhone 6s and 6s Plus, bring­ing with it a huge

in­crease in tran­sis­tor count and also added dif­fi­culty in the man­u­fac­tur­ing process.

The com­pany also notes the ab­sence of the levelthree cache mem­ory found in the A9 chip – the A9X in­stead fea­tures a mem­ory in­ter­face that’s twice as wide as what’s found on the A9, which al­lows the chip to pass data to and from mem­ory at twice the rate (51GB per sec­ond to be pre­cise). There’s also 12 graph­ics cores, which makes any graphic-re­lated task an ab­so­lute breeze on the iPad Pro. The larger form fac­tor of the iPad Pro helped make this hap­penin fact, the A9X is larger than In­tel’s lat­est quad-core desk­top pro­ces­sors, and that’s pretty im­pres­sive.

All this equates to a chipset that is making heads turn – and when cou­pled with 4GB of RAM and an M9 mo­tion co-pro­ces­sor, you’ve got a ma­chine that can han­dle any­thing you can throw at it. In fact, in our bench­mark­ing, we found the iPad Pro to score 3231 in sin­gle-core mode, and a whop­ping 5478 in multi-core mode. While a MacBook Air may strug­gle with the likes of high-res­o­lu­tion video edit­ing, the iPad Pro is ca­pa­ble of edit­ing three streams of na­tive 4K video at once with no sign of slow­ing down.

Soft­ware

The iPad Pro comes run­ning iOS 9, Ap­ple’s lat­est mo­bile op­er­at­ing sys­tem whereas the MacBook Air fea­tures OS X El Cap­i­tan, a fully-fea­tured desk­top OS. iOS 9’s key iPad-fo­cused fea­tures like splitscreen brows­ing and pic­ture-in-pic­ture mode work really well on the iPad Pro. You no longer need to scroll down to con­tinue read­ing an email be­cause (in gen­eral) the 12.9in screen will be able to dis­play the email in full, even when in split-screen mode. This in

turn makes you more pro­duc­tive, as you’re able to op­er­ate two apps in­de­pen­dently at the same time and get more in­for­ma­tion at a glance.

How­ever, with a MacBook Air run­ning OS X El Cap­i­tan, you can have a small num­ber of win­dows open at the same time, with the abil­ity to switch be­tween ac­tive win­dows be­ing only a click of the track­pad away. Some peo­ple may think us­ing a track­pad is faster and more ef­fi­cient than us­ing a touch­screen, but we think this is more down to per­sonal pref­er­ence than any­thing else.

One area where the iPad Pro may not be able to com­pete with its OS X coun­ter­part is, iron­i­cally, pro apps. For a long time, de­vel­op­ers have com­plained that Ap­ple’s App Store poli­cies act as a bar­rier for those that want to cre­ate iOS ver­sions of Mac apps. Pro­fes­sional apps can cost hun­dreds of pounds – Dig­i­tal de­sign app Sketch 3 costs £79.99 when pur­chased for Mac, which is a lot of money to hand over with­out us­ing the app first. Of course, Mac users are treated to a free trial be­fore part­ing with their cash, but the same can’t be said for the iOS App Store, where free tri­als aren’t avail­able.

Con­sumers have to take the leap of faith, pur­chase the app and hope its what they need – some­thing that wouldn’t hap­pen with pro apps that would likely have a sim­i­lar price tag to their Mac coun­ter­parts. The other op­tion is to lower the price and hope it

en­cour­ages more sales, but with pro­fes­sional apps that cater to rather small, niche mar­kets, it’s not a vi­able op­tion. Even if con­sumers did pay full price for a pro iPad app, paid-up­grades aren’t avail­able with the iOS App Store, mean­ing de­vel­op­ers that put re­sources and time into app redesigns can’t reap the ben­e­fits of ex­tra in­come.

How­ever, with that be­ing said, the iPad Pro wins in terms of app dis­cov­ery and avail­abil­ity. Though there is a mul­ti­tude of apps avail­able for Mac, the Mac App Store isn’t over-pop­u­lated to say the least. Com­pare this to the iOS App Store which has over 1,500,000 apps and its clear to see that in terms of app dis­cov­ery, the iPad Pro of­fers the bet­ter plat­form. It’s ideal for ca­sual gamers, too – where on a Mac you’d pay £10 to £40 for a de­cent game, iOS games are gen­er­ally much cheaper, with the av­er­age game cost­ing be­tween 79p and £4.99.

When it comes to down­load­ing files from the In­ter­net, the MacBook Air is the clear win­ner. iOS users can down­load and open files, but it can’t be any old file – it has to be a photo, video or a sup­ported file type that can be opened by an in­stalled iOS app. Even then, down­loads can be slow and de­pend­ing on the over­all size of the down­load, you could run into er­rors – as we of­ten have – whereas down­loads on a MacBook Air are handed with ease, no mat­ter whether its large or small. You also have com­plete free­dom with file for­mats too, as you can down­load any file type to your MacBook Air.

Ac­ces­sories

Let’s move on to ac­ces­sories, an area par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant for graphic de­sign­ers and artists alike

that use dig­i­tal plat­forms to cre­ate their art­work. Of course, the MacBook Air isn’t touch­screen-en­abled, so us­ing any kind of sty­lus is out of the ques­tion – and try­ing to draw on a MacBook dis­play would be pretty awk­ward (with its cur­rent de­sign, any­way). Cre­atives us­ing a MacBook Air for work would have to fork out for a graph­ics tablet to pro­duce sim­i­lar re­sults to what is pos­si­ble on the iPad Pro with the Pen­cil – ex­cept a de­cent graph­ics tablet, like the Wa­com In­tuos Pro, costs £299.99. Not ideal when you’ve just paid £850 to £1,000 for the lap­top.

As men­tioned, the Ap­ple Pen­cil is the flag­ship ac­ces­sory for the iPad Pro, and was an­nounced along­side the de­vice it­self in Septem­ber 2015. The Pen­cil was de­signed specif­i­cally for use with the iPad Pro, and boasts a num­ber of im­pres­sive fea­tures, in­clud­ing vir­tu­ally no lag when draw­ing. This is pos­si­ble be­cause the iPad Pro can sense the dif­fer­ence be­tween Pen­cil in­put and fin­ger in­put, scan­ning its sig­nal 240 times per sec­ond when the Pen­cil is de­tected, giv­ing the iPad Pro twice the amount of data it would nor­mally col­lect. That’s not all though, as the Pen­cil can also

de­tect vary­ing lev­els of pres­sure, which al­low for bet­ter shad­ing, and should help to pro­duce more life-like im­ages than be­fore.

There are also two tilt-sen­sors built into the tip of the Pen­cil that cal­cu­late the ori­en­ta­tion of your hand, mean­ing you can tilt the Ap­ple Pen­cil and shade like you would when us­ing a real pen­cil and achieve the de­sired ef­fect. Even with re­gards to its de­sign, it’s a win­ner. Last is­sue, il­lus­tra­tor Pete Fowler re­viewed the iPad Pro and Pen­cil. He re­marked that “In your hand, it just feels fan­tas­tic” and that “there’s a really nice weight to it”. It’s a fas­ci­nat­ing ac­ces­sory, even for those with­out an artis­tic bone in their body (like us) and at £79, it’s a lot cheaper than buy­ing a graph­ics tablet.

Price

Fi­nally, we come to pric­ing. The iPad Pro starts at £679 if you want the vari­ant with 32GB of stor­age, jump­ing up to £799 for 128GB of stor­age, and for those that want to add cel­lu­lar con­nec­tiv­ity, it jumps up to £899 (with 128GB of stor­age, of course). Though that may seem like a lot of money to fork out for an iPad, es­pe­cially con­sid­er­ing the iPad Air 2 starts at £399, its pro­cess­ing power and hard­ware puts it in the same cat­e­gory as the MacBook Air.

The 13.3in MacBook Air starts at £849 and comes with 128GB of PCIe-based flash stor­age, jump­ing up to 256GB for those want­ing to part with £999 of their hard-earned cash. Com­par­ing 128GB Wi-Fi mod­els (there is no cel­lu­lar MacBook Air), it makes the iPad Pro £50 cheaper than the MacBook Air, but that’s not in­clud­ing ac­ces­sories. For the iPad Pro to re­place your Mac, you’ll prob­a­bly have to fork

out for a key­board cover – the of­fi­cial Ap­ple iPad Pro key­board cover will set you back £139. And if you’re a cre­ative, the Pen­cil costs an ad­di­tional £90, al­though buy­ing both ac­ces­sories are a cheaper op­tion than opt­ing for the £299 Wa­com In­tuos Pro, as men­tioned ear­lier.

iPad & iPhone User’s buy­ing ad­vice

Re­vert­ing back to the orig­i­nal ques­tion of whether an iPad Pro could truly re­place your Mac – it’s a hard ques­tion to an­swer, and we think it de­pends on a num­ber of fac­tors, from what you’d use the iPad Pro for, to your re­quire­ments for work. Are you a cre­ative? Do you edit videos or pho­tos on the fly? Or do you just want a big­ger iPad for TV and gam­ing? Then you could prob­a­bly ditch your MacBook and buy your­self an iPad Pro. How­ever, if you rely on USB-pow­ered ac­ces­sories for ev­ery day life (like mem­ory sticks), rely on soft­ware that isn’t avail­able on an iPad or just need a “do it all” sys­tem, the MacBook Air seems to be the bet­ter op­tion.

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