iPad Pro vs MacBook: Which to buy and why

Weighing getting a svelte MacBook against an iPad Pro? I just went through the decision tree myself. Here's what I learned - and bought.
Written by Robin Harris, Contributor

When I noticed my 13-inch MacBook Air was getting heavy, I decided to look at lightening my load. The two obvious choices were an iPad Pro or the latest MacBook.

Why not a Windows Ultrabook? Simple: I'm invested in both of the Apple operating systems. I have Windows 7 and 10, and have run them on my Macs, but I prefer macOS. Plus, Apple's machines are more reliable.


I'd want the larger screen with an almost full sized keyboard, so I looked at the 256GB 12.9-inch iPad Pro model, which starts at $999. Add the $169 Smart Keyboard, and you're at $1168.

The MacBook starts at $1299 for the 256GB with 8GB. For less than 10 percent more, price wasn't a critical difference. And with the MacBook you can upgrade to very fast 500GB SSD and an m2 or m3 Intel processor.


The combined large iPad+Smart Keyboard combo weighs in at 2.33 pounds (1.06Kg) while the MacBook comes in at 2.03 pounds (0.93 Kg). Not quite a deal breaker, but a definite plus for the MacBook.


At 264 dpi, the iPad Pro beats the MacBook's 226 dpi. I've recently gotten massively improved vision thanks to lens implants, so for the first time I could appreciate the Retina displays. Score one for the iPad Pro, but both displays are excellent.

Battery life

A wash at 10 hours each.


As a writer the keyboard is important. The Smart Keyboard relies on a fabric covering to provide the springs for the keys, while the MacBook keyboard has a very low profile butterfly mechanism that has engendered some criticism.

I'm a touch typist but not a purist. I could get used to either keyboard, but I liked the MacBook keyboard better. The MacBook has very clear backlighting, and, of course, there's none on the iPad's Smart Keyboard.

Verdict: MacBook keyboard.


The Unix-based macOS is pretty robust, although I experience more file corruption than I'd like (none would be fine). Of course, iOS is also Unix-based, but much more buttoned down, to make it harder for users to get into trouble.

As a writer, my main writing apps (Scrivener and Simplenote) are available on both. But I often open a dozen or more browser tabs for research, and in my experience macOS handles that - along with more RAM on Macs - better than iOS.

Also: How I saved nearly $7,000 on Apple gear this year | Apple tries to save the iPad, but it's too little, too late | iPad Pro review: A killer creative canvas with laptop-replacement dreams (CNET) | Apple MacBook (2016) review: Improved minimalist laptop is more tempting than ever

I also do photo and video editing, and here, for me, macOS has the edge. Because I'm most used to Final Cut Pro, I find iMovie too clunky. And I prefer the photo apps on macOS for their greater flexibility.

Verdict: macOS wins.


No contest. The MacBook's 10Gb/sec USB 3.1 port has way more capability than iPad I/O, even though the iPad's Lightning port is USB 3.0 capable, it isn't currently supported.

The Storage Bits take

I finally concluded that the two machines serve different users. If I were an artist I'd choose an iPad Pro and Apple Pencil. And if I hadn't spent the last 40 years playing with computers, I might also prefer iOS for daily work.

But for me, a writer, the keyboard, OS/apps and weight moved me to choose the MacBook.

What surprised me is that, for similar capabilities, Apple charges about the same price. Assuming the margins are similar, that may be the problem Apple has with declining iPad sales.

For the cost of an iPad Pro with Smart Keyboard, you can get a real computer, with the flexibility to run multiple operating systems and pro applications. If the 12.9-inch iPad has been a disappointment for Apple, that's almost certainly why.

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Courteous comments welcome, of course. I'll be reviewing the MacBook in detail soon. And for a different take look here.

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