The M1 MacBook Air that launched in late 2020 was the first Mac to feature an Apple silicon chip, and at just $999, it delivers incredible price-to-performance that Windows laptops can’t match. Fast-forward two years, and Apple is now offering the same Apple silicon M1 chip in the iPad Air, which costs around half as much.
Does this move from Apple make the M1 MacBook Air obsolete? Or does the iPad Air pack too much power for the software it runs? Here, we’ll pit the M1 MacBook Air against the M1 iPad Air so that you can make an informed decision.
Since the price is the deciding factor for most people, we’ll start with that. As we briefly mentioned earlier, the iPad Air costs roughly half as much as the MacBook Air. But that’s not the whole story, especially if you plan to use it as a laptop replacement.
For $599, you get the 64GB iPad Air with Wi-Fi, but that’s not enough to replace a laptop. All you’re getting for this price is the tablet. To get a laptop-style experience, you need a keyboard accessory at the very least. And the best one that Apple offers is the Magic Keyboard for the iPad, which costs $299—half as much as the iPad Air itself.
Now, when you factor this in, the total cost of your iPad Air suddenly becomes $898, making you wonder if it’s worth spending an extra hundred bucks on the MacBook Air. And don’t forget the optional $129 Apple Pencil if you intend to draw on it.
At $999, the MacBook Air is a complete package. You don’t need to spend extra money on accessories to get the ideal laptop experience. Plus, you get 256GB of storage, which is four times the space you get on the base model iPad Air.
The operating system is a massive differentiating factor between these two devices, but the best option for you mostly comes down to personal preference. Do you prefer a full-fledged desktop operating system or are you happy with a lighter, mobile-based OS?
The M1 MacBook Air runs macOS, an operating system designed from the ground up for desktops and laptops. On the other hand, the M1 iPad Air runs iPadOS, which is basically iOS on steroids to take advantage of that large screen.
As a result, the iPad Air limits you to software available on the App Store, whereas you can install any desktop application on your Mac. Also, you can even install supported iPhone and iPad apps on your M1 MacBook Air from the Mac App Store.
Apple’s iPadOS may seem pretty limited for existing Mac users, but if you haven’t owned a Mac before, you’d probably be happy with the iPhone-like experience you get on a much bigger screen. In terms of software, I believe the M1 MacBook Air is the more versatile machine of the two, especially since M1 Macs can run some useful iPad apps natively, like LumaFusion.
We already know that both these devices pack Apple’s impressive M1 chip, but does that mean they both deliver identical performance? Theoretically, yes, but it’s hard to compare since they run different operating systems.
It’s worth noting that the base model MacBook Air packs a binned M1 chip with a 7-core GPU, whereas the iPad Air packs a full-fledged 8-core GPU. Of course, there’s a slight theoretical difference in GPU performance, but it barely translates to real-world use.
Both the MacBook Air and the iPad Air deliver more performance than you’ll need for their prices. However, if you plan to run CPU and GPU-intensive tasks on your Mac with production software like Final Cut Pro or DaVinci Resolve, you’d be better off buying the higher-end 14-inch MacBook Pro with the M1 Pro chip.
Whether you buy the MacBook Air or the iPad Air, you get 8GB of RAM, so you’re not making any sacrifices here. However, you can custom-configure the MacBook Air to have 16GB of RAM if you really need it.
Also, keep in mind that iPadOS and macOS manage system resources differently. Apple only lets iPad apps use up to 6GB of the available RAM, leaving the rest to core system functions. However, macOS has no such limit on memory usage for apps.
Until very recently, laptops (including MacBooks) didn’t have high quality cameras, especially when compared to tablets and mobile phones. However, video calling has become increasingly popular since the COVID-19 pandemic, making camera quality a top priority for many people.
The MacBook Air sports a 720p HD camera for FaceTime calls, which is mediocre at best. So, if you plan to do a lot of video calls or participate in online meetings, this might be a deal-breaker. The M1 iPad Air, on the other hand, features a 12MP ultra-wide camera that supports up to 1080p/60fps for buttery smooth video calls. On top of that, it supports Apple’s Center Stage feature to keep you in the frame as you move around.
Don’t forget that the iPad Air is a tablet, and just like other tablets, it packs a more powerful, 12MP primary camera that can shoot great pictures and record video at 4K/60fps. Sure, most people wouldn’t take photos using their tablets, but it’s handy for scanning documents.
The MacBook Air and the iPad Air are highly portable machines and, therefore, you’d want them to last as long as possible while traveling. Thankfully, the Apple M1’s efficiency has significantly improved the battery performance of the new MacBooks over the previous generation.
While the iPad Air’s 10-hour battery life for web browsing is great for a tablet, the MacBook Air delivers up to 15 hours of web browsing or 18 hours of video playback in the Apple TV app. This laptop is in a league of its own in terms of battery performance, and only the heavier, more expensive 13-inch M1 MacBook Pro can outperform it in that regard.
The screen size may be another big factor that influences your purchase decision. It comes down to whether you want more screen real estate or a more portable device, as the panel quality is nearly identical on these two machines.
The iPad Air features a 10.9-inch IPS display with a resolution of 2360×1640 pixels at 264 pixels per inch, whereas the MacBook Air packs a 13.3-inch IPS screen with a 2560×1600 resolution at 227 pixels per inch. Both displays support P3 wide color gamut and True Tone. However, the iPad Air can get a tad brighter with a max brightness of 500 nits, compared to 400 nits on the MacBook.
M1 Laptop vs. M1 Tablet: Know the Differences
Before you decide on one of these devices, it’s essential to know exactly what you intend to do with them. Although the iPad Air is a tablet running a mobile-based operating system, it’s still better than the MacBook in some use cases, like taking notes, video calling, and consuming media. But for most people, the M1 MacBook Air is a safes bet and a more convenient work horse, giving you the best value for your money.