iPhone and iPad Mac

How to Decide Between Buying an iPad and a MacBook

Laura Cordero 04-02-2020

If you’re an Apple fan, you might wonder whether an iPad or MacBook is best for you. As it turns out, it really depends on what kind of person you are and how you get work done.

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The best choice for you also depends on what devices you’ve been most comfortable with in the past. Today, we’ll walk you through the most important questions to help you decide whether an iPad or a MacBook is worth your money.

Do You Value Portability?

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If you travel a lot and want a lightweight device that you can carry around everywhere, then the MacBook is an acceptable option, especially for the power it packs.

But while the MacBook gets the job done, the iPad is simply unbeatable when it comes to portability. It’s more portable than even a MacBook Air, which is the lightest MacBook that Apple makes.

For example, the 2019 13-inch MacBook Air weighs around 2.75 pounds. The 2018 12.9-inch iPad Pro (the biggest iPad) weighs only half of that, at 1.39 pounds.

So if you want a lightweight, carry-anywhere device, the MacBook is fine, but the iPad is miles better.

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Do You Need a Robust OS?

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In 2019, Apple renamed the iPad’s operating system from iOS (which also powers the iPhone) to the new iPadOS. This marks a distinction between the two devices, as iPadOS offers more powerful features such as Split Screen, desktop-class Safari, a full Dock, and others.

But macOS offers much more, with traditional desktop features like robust file management, full desktop software, and complex multitasking. If needed, you can even install Windows alongside macOS—check out our guide covering how to install Windows on a Mac 3 Ways to Run Windows on Your Mac Wondering how to get Windows on your Mac? Here's how to run Windows using Boot Camp, virtualization, and Windows To Go. Read More if you’re interested in this.

That said, it’s certainly possible to get work done on iPadOS, but its applications offer limited features when compared to their desktop counterparts. For example, Photoshop for iPad has been a mess since its release in late 2019, and is lackluster compared to the full edition Photoshop on macOS.

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In summary, if you’re looking to get professional work done, iPadOS is a decent option with some major limitations. macOS, on the other hand, likely has everything you need.

Do You Value Ease of Use?

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iPadOS may not be as robust as macOS, but it makes up for that with its remarkable ease of use. This means an iPad is a good choice if you’re looking to buy it for a child or an elderly person. Of course, this also can apply for yourself, if you appreciate an easy-to-use device above all else.

An iPad isn’t just easy to use on the software side. Unlike MacBooks, iPads have touchscreens, which add a lot of practicality for tasks like drawing and writing. If you like, you can use the Apple Pencil for added precision.

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For some kinds of use, a touch screen is superior. However, if you often work in spreadsheets and other tools that require precisions, a trackpad or mouse will better fit your needs.

What About Powerful Hardware?

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Image Credit: ifeelstock/Depositphotos

Due to their size and use cases, iPads and MacBooks have different kinds of hardware. As a result, the devices offer varying levels of power.

As one example, the iPad Pro has an advantage in the visual department thanks to the ProMotion display technology. This is Apple’s name for the high refresh rate (up to 120Hz) that these screens can reach, which makes everything look extremely smooth. This is great for tasks like browsing and drawing.

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On the other hand, an advantage that any MacBook has over any iPad is a far greater amount of RAM (Random Access Memory), which greatly improves multitasking. Combined with the more powerful processors in MacBook models, heavy tasks like 4K video editing are much faster on a laptop.

Both devices offer great hardware for their respective uses. If you don’t need the heavy horsepower of a MacBook, an iPad will suit you well. On the other hand, those looking to multitask with dozens of apps and use powerful software will need find the resources of an iPad lacking.

Do You Want to Game?

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Neither the MacBook nor iPad are dedicated gaming machines, but both offer some good gaming options. Both iPadOS and macOS let you enjoy a variety of games on Apple Arcade How to Get Started Playing Games With Apple Arcade Apple Arcade provides unlimited access to a selection of high-quality games for one monthly price. Here's how to get started. Read More if you have a subscription.

The Mac App Store offers many games for sale, including both desktop versions of casual games and more mainstream titles. Steam is also available for Mac, and while Mac doesn’t support as many titles as Windows, there’s still a great selection of Mac games The 11 Best Mac Games to Play in 2019 Most games aren't ported to Mac, but if you're a Mac gamer, these are the best Mac games to play in 2019. Read More to choose from.

Meanwhile, the iPad has a wealth of games on its App Store. However, these are mostly casual games that are free to start but soon hinder your progress with in-app purchases and play limits.

What’s best for you ultimately depends on how you like to game. If you like keyboard/mouse controls and are an enthusiast gamer, then you should go for a MacBook. But if you don’t mind touch controls and prefer casual gaming, then an iPad is a better choice.

Are You on a Budget?

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Another important factor that will help you decide between the two devices is how much money you’re willing to shell out for them.

The cheapest MacBook that Apple currently makes, the 13-inch MacBook Air, starts at $1,099, which isn’t cheap. On the other hand, the least expensive iPad on offer at the time of writing, the 10.2-inch iPad, starts at just $329.

It’s clear that the iPad is a lot better if you’re on a budget. In addition, there are more iPad variants available at different prices. The iPad Air starts at $599, while the iPad Pro is available from $799. If you’re looking for a tiny device, Apple offers the iPad Mini beginning at $399.

Obviously, a $400 iPad can’t match the capabilities of a $1,100 MacBook. If you already have a solid desktop computer, the iPad might make for a better complementary device.

iPad vs. MacBook: What Will You Decide?

In the end, the most important factor to help you decide between an iPad and a MacBook is what style of device you feel more comfortable with.

If you’ve worked with laptops in the past and want a professional desktop experience, then you just won’t get that on an iPad—a MacBook is best suited for you. But if you love the simplicity of iOS on your phone and want a slight sprinkle of laptop capabilities, plus unrivaled portability, then an iPad is all you need. Also, if you’re money-conscious, an iPad is clearly better.

Hopefully, this helped you decide which device is right for you. For the next step, check out our MacBook model comparison MacBook vs. MacBook Pro vs. MacBook Air: Which MacBook Is Right for You? Which MacBook is the best? Our comparison of MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, and MacBook will help you pick the right one for you. Read More or iPad buying guide Which iPad Should You Buy? Find the Best iPad for You Wondering which iPad should you buy? Here's our handy guide to all of Apple's iPads to help you decide. Read More to nail down a specific model for your needs.

Related topics: Buying Tips, iPad, MacBook.

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  1. Tom Foremski
    May 27, 2020 at 3:42 am

    These comparisons never mention the iPad family’s robustness — you can accidentally sit on one, you can use them as a frisbee. MacBook screens are incredibly delicate. I’ve had to replace three in my time and it’s $400 each time. You should add $400 to your lifetime cost of ownership for MacBooks for the inevitable screen replacement. Yet iPads do not need to be mollycoddled and their high res screens toughen it out in any situation. I have never seen a cracked iPad screen. I’ve seen plenty of iPhones cracked.

  2. LDY
    February 4, 2020 at 7:05 pm

    I own both, an iPad and MacBook. I find the the iPad is a great choice for content consumption, but for content production, I much prefer a MacBook. I can't type as quickly or accurately using the on-screen keyboard on an iPad, so I use a rechargeable, lightweight bluetooth keyboard with the iPad if I am traveling and don't need to haul my laptop. This setup works great for responding to emails, editing WP files, etc.