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M3 MacBook Air vs M4 iPad Pro

The fight is real!

M3 MacBook behind iPad Pro

My M3 MacBook Air must be wondering what it’s done wrong!

Apart from the times that called for the grunt of my workhorse – the M1 Max MacBook Pro I’d been reaching for the Air over the past few months.

The battery goes on for what seems like forever, the 15-inch Liquid Retina Display is gorgeous and the keyboard is a sheer delight. What’s not to love? And of course, it runs macOS, which I’ve grown up with and am at home with.

Everything was rosy for the MacBook Air until the arrival of its nemesis almost two weeks ago – the 13-inch M4 iPad Pro. Suddenly I’m not reaching for the MacBook Air anywhere near as much – and in truth, I’m not missing it that much either.

The MacBook Air slayer

I didn’t think I would embrace iPad life as quickly as I have – after all iPadOS is shocking isn’t it? For as many years as I can recall that’s all I had ever heard.

Part of the reason that I wanted this iPad was so that I could make my mind up about what shortcomings iPadOS had – if any! And that’s where the bones for today’s quick story came from.

Last night having just got in from the studio I realised that I’d not unlocked or opened my MacBook Air for a couple of days. It seems actions were speaking louder than words – there weren’t that many gaping weaknesses with the iPad after all.

Admin days

Much of the time I reached for my MacBook Air it was for general day-to-day tasks.

Accounts work, replying to readers’ and viewers’ comments and writing were the mainstay for the MacBook – all of which can be comfortably done on the iPad. With these kinds of tasks, there is no difference between working on a Mac or an iPad.

Some iPad apps don’t feel quite as fluid as they do on a Mac but Safari feels surprisingly familiar – and that familiarity is part of what made switching to the iPad as easy as it’s been.

I use Notes and Reminders a lot throughout the day and of course, they feel just fine on the iPad. One thing that surprised me though was the iPad accessories.

Bits and bobs

You’ll know that I’ve often written about how good the keyboard on the M3 MacBook Air is. I think in part it’s because I’ve come from having used a Magic Keyboard for years and that feels dated, not as tactile or as agile & nimble as the keyboard on the MacBook Air.

But if I thought that keyboard felt good – geez, it has been surpassed by the iPads Magic Keyboard. It says it all when I can say that it almost warrants the ridiculous price tag of £350 – but it is that good. From the metal palm rests, to gentle backlit keys – to the star of the show – those function keys!

Although Stage Manager has worked well enough for me, the Exposé function key is at risk of being worn out if I carry on using it at this rate. But all the function keys make using this iPad Pro so inviting – Spotlight Search, Volume and Brightness all get a good look in. How they’ve not been on an iPad keyboard before I’ve no idea.

Although I’m not a huge user of the Pencil Pro it too is starting to grow on me – the tap, the squeeze – and why is the hover feature so damned addictive, or is that just me?

It’s not all lightweight

If you think I’m talking about the physical weight, I wasn’t – although for reference there are only a few hundred grams between them – no, I was talking about productivity.

This is an area that iPads have taken a beating over – but is it just and fair? The making of the iPad Pro is that Thunderbolt port. Using it begins to unlock the powerful side of the iPad Pro. That’s where the magic happens.

Editing in Final Cut Pro is now more of a realistic option as you can edit directly from an external SSD. Although I’ve only had limited time to play with it, the app feels robust enough that you could turn out a basic yet professional project on it.

Using Lightroom on the iPad is a breeze too because of that USB-C port. It allows me to use my SD card and import RAW image files into Lightroom for iPad. Although watered down from the full macOS version that I can run on my MacBook Air, it does enough – and feels better and almost more natural due to using the pencil. The pencil makes it feel more creative as if you are in touch with the image – and just like on the iOS version, you can add white borders to your exports on the iPad version, which as far as I’m aware you can’t do in the Lightroom for Mac.

Living the life

Now I’ve got rid of the nano texture this display is hypnotically good to consume content on.

The rich blacks have to be seen to be believed – treat yourself and go take a look at one in-store. The sharp contrasts and bold, defined colours just draw you to it – it’ll blow your mind, I promise you!

The speakers are decent as well – put it this way, I’ve been working on the iPad all day today playing Apple Music and it hasn’t jarred.

For content consumption, the iPad wins hands down over the MacBook.

MacBook days – are they numbered?

As I said earlier the main driver for me over the past few years has been the MacBook Pro – it was bought and spec’d very much with that in mind. It’s never had a bad day in the 3 years I’ve used it but…

There are odd signs when compared to what I’ve seen of M4 Apple silicon in my iPad Pro that you can see signs it is starting to age. By the time M4 makes its way to MacBooks later this year, I might have to think seriously about trading up.

The iPad somehow feels more nimble and quick. There is an argument that the iPad has more power than it needs – but then again, isn’t that also true of Macs? How much of your day are you pushing your MacBook hard? It’s almost like having a car with a large engine – most of the time you won’t use it, but it’s great to know the extra horses are there for when you need them most.

Much is expected from this year’s WWDC but even if we don’t get as many fancy toys as we are anticipating in June – we know they are coming and this M4 iPad with its unbinned chip, 16 GB of memory and 1 TB of storage is armed and ready.

Are the MacBook days numbered – maybe not just yet, but you know what, as future generations come through who have only ever used an iPhone you’d be a brave person to rule out that iPads are the future is looking good. Maybe this has been Apple’s long-term plan all the while…

If I can work a complete day on an iPad without missing my MacBook or macOS, that must surely say something.

The changing of the guard maybe?

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