What's better, the MacBook or iPad Pro? Here's how to pick the best Apple ultraportable for you!
Apple now offers an iPad that's close to a Mac ... and a Mac that's close to an iPad: iPad Pro and the new MacBook. iPad Pro now comes in two sizes, 9.7-inch and 12.9-inch, and runs iOS 10 on an Apple A9X processor. MacBook comes in one size, 12-inches, and runs macOS Sierra on an Intel Skylake Core M. Both are ideal for everything from planes to coffeeshops, classrooms to boardrooms to living rooms. But which one is ideal for you?
Models and price points
iPad Pro starts at $599 for the 9.7-inch 32 GB model with Wi-Fi and goes up to $1129 for the 12.9-inch 256 GB model with LTE. The processor stays constant at the Apple A9X. Apple Pencil runs an additional $99 and the Smart Keyboard, $129.
The MacBook starts at $1299 for a 1.1 GHz Core m3 with 256 GB of storage, and goes up to $1749 for a 1.3 GHz Core m7 with 512 GB. Wi-Fi is the only option.
While the MacBook is technically more expensive, adding all the accessories brings the fully loaded iPad Pro right up to the entry level MacBook price point.
Screen sizes and display densities
iPad Pro comes with two screen size options. Both have a 4:3 aspect ratio. The 12.9-inch is a 2732x2048 Retina display at 264ppi. That's the largest iOS display Apple has ever shipped. Though it's not quite as dense as iPad mini, and much less than iPhone 7 Plus, the larger size means you'll likely hold it slightly further away, making it effectively equal. The panel is LED backlit and boasts in-plane switching (IPS) technology for improved viewing angles. It's also laminated with a new anti-glare coating and sports a new variable refresh rate, making it one of Apple's most advanced displays ever.
The 9.7-inch is a 2048x1536 Retina display at 264ppi. It also features a DCI-P3 wide color gamut, and a True Tone technology that adjusts the color temperature to match ambient light, making it look paper-white.
The MacBook has a 16:10 aspect ratio, 12-inch, 2304x1440 Retina display at 226ppi. It's got larger apertures in each pixel and an LED backlight designed for maximum energy efficiency.
Physically, the 12.9-inch iPad Pro doesn't just have a bigger screen than the MacBook, it has many more pixels and a slightly higher density. The 9.7-inch iPad has a more advanced display than both.
Processor power and battery life
iPad Pro has Apple's newest A9X system-on-a-chip (SoC), which includes both the custom 64-bit ARMv8-based Twister CPU a multicore Imagination PowerVR GPU. It's also got an M9 motion-coprocessor and Apple lists it as having up to 10 hours of wireless web use or video playback.
The MacBook has a dual-core Intel Core M (Skylake Y) processor with integrated Intel HD Graphics 515. Apple lists it as having up to 10 hours of wireless web use and 9 hours of video playback.
On some benchmarks, the iPad Pro might beat the MacBook, but overall Apple's mobile processors are starting to make Intel's cry.
iPad Pro has a multitouch display that's used for direct manipulation. You can tap, swipe, pinch, and otherwise gesture your way though the entire operating system and all of its apps. For text input, it has a virtual, predictive keyboard. There's also an optional Apple Pencil that can handle pressure sensitivity and even tilt, and a Smart Connector for direct keyboard integration.
MacBook has a Force Touch trackpad with support for Force Click and gestures, allowing for more subtle and powerful interactions. It also has a built-in full-size keyboard with new butterfly switches.
You can add a keyboard to the iPad Pro and get close to a MacBook experience. You can't add a capacitive display to the MacBook.
Ports and expansion
iPad Pro has a Lightning connector. With it, you can use adapters (sold separately) to interface with non-powered USB devices, principally cameras and SD cards, principally to retrieve photos. It can also connect to VGA and HDMI displays, and iPad-specific accessories for video, music, and more.
The MacBook has a USB-C connector. With it, you can use USB-C peripherals, or adapters for USB-A, VGA, and HDMI, to connect to almost any standard computer peripheral.
Although it has the fewest ports and expansion options of any Mac ever, the MacBook still has greater access to peripherals than the iPad Pro.
iPad Pro ships with iOS 10, Apple's mobile operating system. It's single user but now supports picture-in-picture, slide over, and split view multi-app multitasking. It also has an iCloud Drive app and better support for storage providers, making it easier to work with files. Beyond that, it has all the features, new and old, available to any iOS device.
MacBook runs Apple's latest laptop and desktop operating system, macOS Sierra. It's a multi-user, multi-window operating system the combines all the power of a traditional UNIX environment with a full-on graphical user interface, and even an iOS-like launcher layer. It's not as accessible to the mainstream, but it's more functional for those familiar with computers.
Software and services
iPad Pro has access to the iOS App Store which boasts over one million apps, over half of which are optimized to run on its bigger screen. It includes apps in all categories, from games to productivity, communications to entertainment. Most of them are free or extremely cheap. The iPad Pro can also run HTML5 web apps, but can't download or run apps from internet locations or any app store other than Apple's. It increasingly contains modern takes on classic apps like Microsoft Office, Adobe Lightroom, GarageBand, iMove, Coda, and Pixelmator, as well as unique apps all its own, like Procreate and Adobe Comp.
MacBook has the Mac App Store, which works similarly to the iOS App Store and provides secure access to all kinds of games, productivity, communications, and entertainment apps. Macs can also run HTML5 web apps, as well as apps downloaded from the web or other app stores. This includes desktop-class apps unavailable to iOS, like Xcode, Final Cut Pro X, Microsoft Office, Adobe Creative Cloud, and many more.
Who should get the iPad Pro?
iPad Pro is best suited for people for whom traditional computers have always been inaccessible, intimidating, or otherwise off-putting. It's not only as powerful as many laptops, it can empower more people to get more out of it, thanks to the directness of its interface and simplicity of its operations. It's even got a Pencil and attachable keyboard now. If sitting in front of a computer ever made you feel stuck in place, or lost, get an iPad Pro.
iPad Pro is also ideally suited for people who want the absolute lightest computing experience possible for use around the house or while traveling. For everything from gaming to working (especially with the Pencil and keyboard) it can accomplish everything but the most intense computing tasks, in the most highly portable form factor yet devised. And you can get it in 12.9-inches and the even more portable, better looking 9.7-inch model.
Who should get the MacBook?
The MacBook is best suited for people who are used to and require a traditional computing experience. From advanced keyboard shortcuts to drag-and-drop workflows, to multiple users, to Terminal, to... you get the idea. It's everything you need in a Unix box and modern graphical user interface in the best blend of portability and power currently on the market. If you need to run Photoshop, Pro Tools, Xcode, Final Cut Pro X, or other high-end software on the go, you need a MacBook.
Thanks to its adapters, the MacBook can also be hooked into most networks, and most storage, on the market, making it a useable workstation when it needs to be. If you absolutely have to have a laptop, but you want the most minimal laptop possible, look into a MacBook. If the MacBookr isn't quite enough for you, look into the slightly bigger and more powerful 13-inch MacBook Air, or even the considerably more powerful MacBook Pro
Some people are mobile first and just want an iPad. Others are computer-first and need a laptop. Still others split the difference and get either an iPad mini and a MacBook, or an iPad Pro and an iMac. The great thing about options is that you can find the perfect device, or pair of devices, that best suit your individual needs.
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