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iPad Air vs MacBook Air: Which is better for you?

The first generation of iPad Air launched in November 2013 and has continued to be part of Apple’s more premium tablet offering (though not as premium as the iPad Pro.) In comparison, the MacBook Air series first launched back in 2008 and has come a long way since. 

Aside from sharing a similar name, are the iPad Air and MacBook Air really similar devices? As the iPad Air is a tablet and the MacBook Air is a laptop, is one better than the other? 

We’ve put together this comparison guide, highlighting the differences between the iPad Air range and the MacBook Air range, so you can decide which one is better suited for you and your needs. 

This guide will be comparing the iPad Air and MacBook Air ranges as a whole, rather than solely focusing on specific models.

Pricing and availability

Direct from the Apple website, the cheapest available MacBook Air is the 13-inch M2 model which starts at £999/$999 and the most expensive is the 15-inch M3 model which starts at £1699/$1699. 

Similarly, the cheapest iPad Air that’s available on the Apple website is the latest 11-inch M2 model for £599/$599 and the most expensive is the 13-inch for £799/$799. At the time of writing the iPad Air M1, which only launched in 2022, is not available directly through Apple.

It’s also worth considering the price of the Magic Keyboard accessory, which is required to use the iPad Air as a makeshift laptop. This Magic Keyboard has a starting price of £299/$299, which means you’d need to pay a total of at least £898/$898 in order to buy the iPad Air with the keyboard accessory bundled in.

Design

In its simplest form, the biggest difference between the iPad Air and MacBook Air is that the former is a touchscreen tablet and the latter is a laptop. However the iPad Air has always been compatible with either a generic Bluetooth or Apple’s own Magic Keyboard, which means you can create your own makeshift touchscreen laptop if that’s what you’d prefer. 

The MacBook Air has usually had larger options to the iPad Air, varying from 11-inches up to 15-inches, whereas the iPad Air has ranged from 10-inches and only recently reached to 13-inches with the new iPad Air 6.

While both the MacBook Air and iPad Air have a front-facing camera, and have for the last decade or so, the iPad Air has previously favoured a portrait-positioned camera rather than the landscape-positioned camera that’s found on the MacBook Air. However, the recent launch of the iPad Air 6 saw Apple switch to a landscape camera for the first time in an iPad Air model.

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Screen

Naturally as a tablet, the iPad Air has always been a touchscreen device and doesn’t need a trackpad or external mouse. Even so, the iPad Air is compatible with Apple Pencil, which was introduced alongside the iPad Air 3rd Generation to make using the touchscreen easier, especially if you’re a digital designer or just enjoy doodling and hand writing notes. 

In comparison, the MacBook has never had a touchscreen display and always included a trackpad on the device. 

Both iPad Air and MacBook Air have a Liquid Retina display and are equipped with True Tone, an Apple display technology designed to make images appear more natural in different lighting situations. 

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Performance

Since 2020, all new MacBook Air models have run on one of Apple’s desktop-level M-series chips. Starting with M1 and going up to M3, the MacBook Air has promised speedy performance and a long-lasting battery life.

Impressively, the two most recent iPad Air offerings have also run on Apple’s desktop level M chip, with the iPad Air 5 running on the M1 and the newest iPad Air 6 running on the M2. This should give the latest devices from each range a similar performance, although older iPad Air models used to run on the A-series chip instead, which offer a performance more equivalent to an iPhone than a MacBook.

The two devices also run on different operating systems, iPadOS and macOS, with the former having more in common with iOS which the iPhone runs on. While Macs are able to run iPadOS apps, iPads aren’t able to run macOS apps. 

Battery life

While the iPad Air can compete with the MacBook Air in terms of speed, it’s not quite the case for battery life. In our testing of the iPad Air (2022), the tablet lasted around 10 hours of video streaming. For comparison, the MacBook Air M3 lasted around 18 hours of video playback, offering far better stamina.

These results will of course differ for different products in each range, but expect the MacBook Air to still offer better battery life than an iPad Air since its larger size is able to accommodate a bigger battery.

In terms of charging, the iPad Air made the switch from a 30-pin connector to USB-C, skipping the Lightning connection entirely. In comparison, the latest MacBook Air laptops now use Apple’s own MagSafe technology.

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