Apple's flagship tablet computer, the iPad Air, can seemingly do anything. It's light and astonishingly slim, it's fast, it's a brilliabtly effective mobile work device. But is the iPad truly ready to replace the laptop? Should you ditch your Macbook Air for the iPad Air? Updated, 8th May 2014, to reflect updates to the MacBook Air line-up
With all the fancy upgrades Apple keeps rolling out for its top-of-the-line iPad tablets, we wanted to know if you could really ditch your laptop for the iPad. There was only one way to find out: replacing a MacBook Air with an iPad Air for a day, and seeing if we could cope.
Along the way we've got two obvious points of comparison between these two products: the hardware side, and the software. We wanted to compare the two most alike products in Apple's lineup (by name and by look), and hardware-wise, the two actually aren't too different when looking at pure tech specs.
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iPad Air vs MacBook Air comparison review: Tech specs
The iPad Air Wi-Fi + 3G model measures 169.5 mm by 240 mm, with a depth of 7.5mm, and weighs 478g; while the smaller (11in-screen) Macbook Air weighs 1.08 kg and is 30 cm by 19.2 cm, with a depth of 1.7 cm when the laptop is closed.
Although the MacBook Air is nearly twice the weight of the iPad Air, both machines live up to their names as being light as, well, you know. You obviously don't flip open the iPad beyond peeling off its Smart Cover, so the user experience is different, and each is comfortably light enough for its chosen purpose.
Using the iPad to do anything for extended periods of time also depends on your accessories… and arm strength. The iPad Air's inability to stand of its own accord makes it like a baby that can't do much else but lay on its belly. Thank goodness for mum and dad's help propping him up... and the Smart Cover.
Consider the MacBook Air the iPad's cool older sister: the one who can ride her bike without training wheels, but still wears a helmet because that's the safe thing to do. (The helmet stands for some sort of protective carrying case in this metaphor, for the record.)
One small item in the iPad's favour is that you can choose which colour iPad Air you'd like - although you only get two choices. The MacBook is only available in silver.
iPad Air vs MacBook Air comparison review: Software
Not to repeat the obvious, but the MacBook Air and iPad Air offer wholly different user experiences, most notably in the operating systems.
Sure, there are loads of apps out there to allow you to do many of the same things on the iPad as the MacBook, but don't expect to do the same things in the same ways.
Case-in-point: word processing. The iOS version of the Pages app, for example, is powerful and there's really not much you feel you're missing when tapping out a quick story. But copy-pasting things like quotes or numbers or anything really from the web browser to the document is time-consuming and requires more gestures than I'd like. Of course, this all is made easier using a wireless keyboard, but that'll cost you extra.
Again, pointing out the obvious, but iPad users can't have multiple windows open on the same screen, so if the aim is to multitask, you’ll be switching back and forth between apps. This is easier on iOS 7, but still more of a hassle if you're trying to work between multiple documents. The MacBook Air is a far stronger proposition when flipping between multiple programs and documents.
iPad Air vs MacBook Air comparison review: Price
Finally, let's talk about price. The lower price tag is one of the things that lead buyers towards tablets rather than laptops, but Apple recently cut the price of its MacBook Air line-up so this is less of an issue than it was.
The cheapest 11-inch Macbook Air now sets you back £749 (rather than the £849 it cost in April). This is still considerably higher than the entry-level (16GB, Wi-Fi-only) iPad Air's £399 price tag, but obviously comes with far more storage and a bigger screen. The high-end iPads (the maximum spec peaks at £739) are comparable in price to the cheapest MacBook Airs.
iPad Air vs MacBook Air comparison review: Conclusion
As you've probably realised by now, trying to compare the iPad Air with the Macbook Air is comparing apples with oranges. Sure, you get some of the same things from both products, but ultimately they're two different products offering different experiences. And it's up to you, the buyer, to decide which is best for you - or whether you'll just get both.