M2 MacBook Air vs M1 iPad Pro: Make the right choice [Video]

M2 MacBook Air vs M1 iPad Pro: Make the right choice [Video]

After using the M2 MacBook Air for over a week, I’m happy to share how it compares to the M1 iPad Pro. Here’s everything you need to know.

While the M1 iPad Pro is a powerful machine, I still find myself using a MacBook Air for those 5% of tasks that I can’t easily do on the iPad. However, I still use both devices for everything from creative work for YouTube and professional work on corporate suites like Microsoft to custom CRM software and much more.

Because of this, I feel like I’m perfectly positioned to give some detailed insights into which “computer” is a better buy for you and your workflow to help you decide between the M1 iPad Pro and the new M2 MacBook Air.

For comparison, we will talk about the M1 iPad Pro with 256 GB of storage. The basic MacBook Air will set you back around $1,200. That’s with the latest M2 chip, 256GB of storage, and 8GB of RAM. The 256GB iPad Pro has 8GB of RAM and is also $1,200 for the same configuration. In order to truly compare the M1 iPad Pro and the M2 MacBook Air, we’ll also need the Magic Keyboard accessory for the iPad Pro, which will add another $350 to the base price.

Adding that $350 accessory brings the M1 iPad Pro to $1550, and the optional Apple Pencil is an additional $130. Fortunately, there are third-party Bluetooth accessories that are much cheaper and work with the iPad. As with most Apple products, for the best usability and functionality, you simply need to get the Magic Keyboard.

See the table below for a full price comparison:

MacBook Air M2 M1 iPad Pro (Wi-Fi only)
Price Storage RAM Price Storage RAM
$1,199 256GB 8GB $1099 128GB 8GB
$1,399 512GB 8GB $1199 256GB 8GB
$1,599 1TB 8GB $1399 512GB 8GB
$1,999 2TB 8GB $1799 1TB 16 GB
$2,399 2TB 24GB $2199 2TB 16 GB

Comparing the M2 MacBook Air directly to the M1 iPad Pro is unfair given that the tablet needs a bit of extra hardware to be considered a “computer” in the same way: think Bluetooth keyboard and mouse.

The iPad Pro has some hardware features that could justify the price increase depending on how you use the tablet. First up is the 12.9-inch miniLED screen. The 120Hz ProMotion display has a base brightness level of 1,000 nits and a maximum brightness level of 1,600 nits. Because of this, you don’t have to worry about using the iPad Pro in bright or sunny environments. Plus, iPad Pro’s miniLED display remains the cheapest way to get up to Apple’s Pro Display XDR level of quality. This puts the screen in a league of its own.

Comparatively, on the MacBook Air M2, you get a 13.6-inch IPS Retina LED display. In its own right, it’s great. When compared directly to the iPad Pro display, you’ll easily notice the 60Hz refresh rate and 500-nit peak brightness.

M2 Macbook Air left, M1 iPad Pro right

When it comes to cameras, the iPad Pro easily takes the win. While you may not be using the dual rear cameras, you still get access to capable photo and video sensors. Even if you don’t initially intend to use the rear camera setup, it’s there as an option and more than capable if you need to use it.

Obviously, the MacBook Air M2 does not have rear sensors. The new MacBook Air has a completely new and improved 1080p webcam, and while it’s a nice upgrade, the selfie camera on the iPad still works circles around the MacBook Air’s camera. On top of that, the iPad has Center Stage built in. For security, the iPad benefits from FaceID, but the MacBook Air M2 includes Touch ID. Both biometric security options are very fast, but FaceID is passive and requires no user action to unlock the device.

Hear it for yourself in the video below, and you can hear that the iPad’s speakers are fuller, louder, and provide more bottom line than the MacBook Air. Both technically have a quad speaker system, but the iPad is simply a better speaker system.

If you value ports and expansion, the MacBook Air M2 is the obvious choice. Apple has reintroduced MagSafe on the MacBook Air, and that frees up an extra Thunderbolt port. This means that you can have two devices or accessories connected, whereas on the iPad you only have access to one port. This is to be shared with power and data pass-through, but can be expanded with compatible USB-C hubs.

If you choose the Magic Keyboard, it’s worth noting that there’s a port for power. However, it can only be used for power access and cannot be used as an additional access or expansion port for iPad Pro. Although there are two ports, the MacBook Air only supports one external display up to 6K resolution. The same goes for iPad Pro, thanks to the addition of Stage Manager with iPad OS 16.

iPadOS 16 Stage Manager
iPadOS 16: Stage Manager

When it comes to charging, battery life is one area where you’ll notice the biggest difference. The MacBook Air is an absolute champion when it comes to battery life. Apple’s website states that the M2-powered laptop has a maximum of 18 hours of battery life. In our tests, we didn’t get the full 18 hours, but after a full day of heavy use with third-party apps like Google Chrome and Microsoft Suite, the MacBook Air has no issues. With this use case, we were still able to end the day with around 50% battery remaining. In our opinion, you can take this for a weekend of heavy use and you don’t need to bring a charger.

Sadly, the iPad Pro can’t compete here when it comes to lifespan. With heavy use of the Magic Keyboard, we typically manage five to six hours before needing to reach for the charger.

When it comes to raw battery life, the MacBook Air M2 is a clear winner. Also, the maximum charging speed of the iPad Pro is 33W compared to the MacBook Air, which can charge up to 67W via MagSafe.

iPad Pro with the optional Magic Keyboard combo makes iPad heavier and thicker than MacBook Air. Although heavier, it’s hard not to look to the iPad Pro, at least in terms of overall versatility and portability. It is not only a tablet for entertainment purposes, but it is also starting to become a powerful work tool for many.

In many ways, the iPad remains the “must have” device on the market. Having owned the iPad since 2018, I personally made this decision based on aesthetics. It is incredibly light, slim and powerful. In many ways, it still seems too good to be true. Sure, the MacBook Air’s new design is amazing in its own right, but something about the iPad when combined with the Magic Keyboard, and its unique floating-hinge design, feels like a better package.

So from a pure hardware perspective, price aside, I think the iPad Pro has the upper hand. With great versatility, better built-in cameras, and an arguably better screen, it’s a top-of-the-line piece of tech, and that’s why Apple dominates this section of the market.

In conclusion, which device is right for you is still based solely on preference and price. In my opinion, I’d go with the iPad Pro because of its portability, usability, and the fact that it’s generally more fun to use. You have millions of apps on the App Store to choose from, so you can always find something useful or entertaining. It’s just more versatile: it’s a tablet, digital notepad, computer, and game console all in one.

It’s hard to argue with the fact that many people just want a laptop that’s familiar, works with everything from work to productivity, can be used on a daily basis, and has great battery life. For this group, I’d typically recommend the MacBook Air solely for its cost-performance and familiarity.

If you can afford both, then the iPad Pro M1 and MacBook Air M2 complement each other perfectly thanks to features like the sidecar, universal remote, and the Apple ecosystem.

Although the iPad Pro M1 is a great option for me, if I had to recommend a computer to use exclusively for the next five years, it would be hard to pass up the MacBook Air M2. It offers powerful desktop-level performance in a portable chassis, with true desktop applications, a great keyboard, touchpad, and external display support without compromise.

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