iPad 3 vs. MacBook Air

Today we will take a look at the question of iPad 3 vs. MacBook Air, something that more and more people are thinking about with the launch of the new iPad. Before we get started, it’s interesting to note that just several years ago this question would not have existed as iPads did not exist. Yet with the launch of the iPad 3, the iPad is even a more formidable laptop competitor than its predecessor. If you know that you want an iPad but aren’t sure which one, take a look at our iPad 2 vs. iPad 3 comparison. Otherwise, keep reading to find out whether a MacBook Air vs. an iPad 3 is right for you.

iPad 3 Pros

Anyone reading this article is likely already familiar with what the iPad does well. The iPad excels at activities such as web browsing, casual emailing, and using apps (games, news, social apps, etc). Swiping through pictures using your finger feels extremely natural, as does pinching to zoom in and out. Steve Jobs was right when he said that this (the iPad) is how the Internet was meant to be experienced. The iPad’s small form factor and incredibly easy to use interface is what has made it a success. Thanks to its lack of a traditional computer hard drive (it uses a old state drive just like an iPhone), the iPad 3 is incredibly thin and starts up in no time. These features make it very convenient to use during activities such as car rides and flights, not to mention on your favorite couch at home.

Another large pro on the side of the iPad 3 is price, which we cover below under MacBook Air cons. The extremely large catalog of apps available in the App Store, most of which can be had for a very small amount of money, is also considered a pro for the iPad.

Another iPad benefit is the 4G capability that enabled iPad models have. For anyone on the go who needs to access data, 4G can be a lifesaver. Although the MacBook Air does not have any models with built in 4G, individuals can purchase 4G dongles (MiFi, Clear, etc.) that will achieve the same result.

iPad 3 Cons

All iPads run the iOS operating system which is considered to be a locked operating system, rather than an open file structure system. For anyone unsure of what this means, OS X and Windows operating systems are open file structure systems. They allow you to create files and folders as you wish, whereas there is no file structure on iPads with iOS. This can be a significant drawback for individuals who are creating large amounts of content such as word processing documents, spreadsheets, and so on. This also makes the storage of photos and videos a challenge. Of course these types of media files can be stored directly on the iPad as well as iCloud, it is just not quite as easy to organize and manage them. For anyone wondering, photos and videos can be imported directly from a camera (or memory card) using the iPad camera connection kit.

Another limitation to the iPad is the availability of professional grade software such as Adobe Photoshop or Solidworks. Although there are iPad versions for many types of professional software, not all of them have the full functionality of their desktop counterparts.

MacBook Air Pros

The MacBook Air is an extremely capable and lightweight laptop, but how does it compare to the iPad 3? Compared to traditional (read: larger and heavier) laptops, the MacBook Air starts up very fast (it also has a solid state drive) and is easy to transport thanks to its small form factor. Many of the cons that the iPad has such as a locked file structure and limited software availability do not exist with a MacBook Air. When it comes to storage, the MacBook Air can have up to 4x as much memory as the iPad when comparing top of the line models (256GB vs 64GB). Although this can be a huge plus for those looking to store large amounts of documents, cloud storage through services such as iCloud, Google, and DropBox have begun to make local storage irrelevant.

The physical keyboard on the MacBook Air is also a benefit for anyone doing a significant amount of typing, whether for email or document creation. It is worth noting that iPads can be connected to external physical keyboards via Bluetooth or physical wired connections, largely negating this benefit of the MacBook Air.

MacBook Air Cons

One of the largest cons of a MacBook Air is price. The Air retails from $999 (for 11″ 64GB) to $1599 (13″ 256GB). This is significantly more than the iPad 3 price points which range from $499 to $829. Another con with the MacBook Air is the fact that it’s form factor, while relatively light and portable for a laptop, still does not have the extreme mobility that an iPad 3 does. Additionally, the touch screen interface of the iPad is better suited in our opinion for casual activities such as web surfing and apps.

The iPad vs. MacBook Air Verdict

So should you buy a the new iPad or a MacBook Air? While only you can truly answer this question for you, we’ll take a stab at it for you depending on your intended use of the device:

  • If you are someone who just wants to browse the web, check email, and use some casual apps (games, Facebook, CNN, etc.), the iPad will probably be right for you. Particularly if you already have a home computer, the iPad is a great addition that will allow you to do many computing¬†activities¬†from the comfort of wherever you choose. Something to keep in mind is how you will handle files, particularly if you do not have a home computer. Again, there is cloud based solutions for this such as iCloud but it’s important to make sure you are comfortable with your options.
  • If you are a professional or anyone needing to generate serious content while traveling and on the go, a MacBook Air is probably the better way to go. Although you will pay a higher price, the laptop form factor with its physical keyboard and open file storage structure will likely be worth it.
Generally speaking, the iPad is the better content/media consumption device, while the MacBook Air is better content creation device. So while there probably is no true single answer to the iPad vs MacBook Air question, the good news is that both devices sport beautiful designs with the rock solid reliability you generally find with Apple products.


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