iPad Pro 2021 (M1) vs MacBook (M1): what are the differences?

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iPad Pro 2021 (M1) vs MacBook (M1): what are the differences?
The new iPad Pro 2021 edition comes with the same M1 chip as Apple's Macbook lineup, meaning that we have finally reached a point where the much more portable iPad has the same performance as a laptop computer, but what are the differences and which one should you choose?

Apple has been adding features to the iPad to make it more like a Macbook, and it has been adding support for mobile apps on the Macbook to make it more like an iPad, but the fundamental difference remains: while the new 2021 iPad Pro family with M1 is just as powerful as a Macbook, it still runs on iPadOS, meaning that it lacks the power user apps like Final Cut Pro, Logic and Xcode that professional users rely on to get work done. So this automatically makes the iPad more of a lighter use device, but do keep in mind that rumors suggest Apple might add support for professional apps to the iPad soon, and finally elevate it to a true laptop replacement.

Still, if you don't really need those macOS apps, and want a device that is portable and fast, you might be wondering which one to buy: an iPad Pro M1 or a Macbook?

Here are the main things that you should take into consideration.

iPad Pro 2021 (M1) vs Macbook (M1) main differences:
  • Software: iPadOS doesn't have pro grade apps like Final Cut Pro and Logic
  • iPad is lighter and more portable, but you need to buy a $350 keyboard separately and it uses a magnetic connection that is not as strong
  • Both keyboards have trackpads, but the one on the Macbook is bigger; both keyboards have the same 1mm key travel
  • iPad has newer Mini-LED screen tech for improved contrast
  • iPad has far superior sound: its speakers get a lot louder
  • iPad supports Apple Pencil, Macbook does not
  • iPad Pro is more expensive: 12.9" model with keyboard starts at $1,450, compared to $1,000 for Macbook Air M1

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You can order the new iPad Pro M1 from Apple here:

Nothing has changed on the software front and the iPad is still an iPad, meaning that it cannot run none of the pro grade apps that Macs are known for. You can edit videos and probably whole movies with Final Cut Pro on a Macbook, you can create songs with Logic, you can code and compile with Xcode, and yeah, you cannot do that on an iPad.

So if you are a professional user, an iPad is probably still just a fancy toy for you, one that those people that just browse the web and look at photos use. It's not for you.

Recent rumors have floated the idea that Apple might change this and bring professional apps to the iPad in the near future, but this will not come earlier than the fall of 2021, if at all.

We should also say that multitasking is a lot easier on a Macbook and even though you can put apps side to side and even float apps, the iPad is better but not on par in that regard.

iPad Pro vs Macbook Keyboard

Apple will charge you $350 for iPad's Magic Keyboard, which is... expensive!

When you pay $350 dollars for a keyboard, it better be good. Yes, that will be your total for the Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro which looks cool, snaps to the iPad magnetically so that it kind of levitates in the air while you type. It's a comfortable size with big and clicky buttons that actually have the same key travel as the keyboard on the Macbooks.

One important difference though: the Macbook keyboard uses a solid connection, so you cannot snap it off, but it is way sturdier and seems to withstand abuse more easily. Plus, the trackpad is much bigger. Also, the Macbook keyboard has Touch ID in the top right corner, while the iPad keyboard does not becuase... well, because the iPad uses Face ID and it doesn't need that.

Last but definitely not least, the power users should know that shortcuts will simply not work on the iPad for the simple reason that... it uses iPad OS! Sorry!

iPad Pro vs Macbook Screen Quality

iPad has the better screen, but do you really need better than the already great screen on the Macbook?

The signature feature of the 2021 iPad Pro 12.9" model is the display. It uses the brand new Mini LED screen tech (you get a regular LCD screen on the 11" iPad Pro). This Mini LED screen is great, essentially it has much tinier backlights that are separated in nearly 2,600 dimming zones, dozens of times more than on a regular screen, so you can turn off very specific parts of the screen and get deep blacks and great contrast, almost like an OLED screen. This is particularly noticeable when you watch HDR movies or videos, but is this alone a worth reason to upgrade?

It's hard to say because the M1 Macbooks already have great-quality LCD screens. But you will get a brighter screen on the iPad which hits 600 nits typically versus 500 nits of peak brightness on the Macbook Pro M1, and 400 nits of peak brightness on the Macbook Air M1. You should only really care about these numbers if you use your device outdoors where the conditions are more challenging and you need to use a screen at its maximum brighntess to be able to see it properly.

And in terms of resolution, the iPad is very slightly ahead at 264 pixels per inch (ppi) versus 227ppi on the Macbook, not a massive difference.

One key advantage, however, that you should not forget about is ProMotion. Yes, you get a 120Hz smooth refresh rate on the iPad, while the Macbook runs at a 60Hz which just doesn't feel quite as smooth while scrolling.

At the end of the day, the iPad, and particularly the iPad 12.9", clearly has the better display quality over the Macbook, but the difference is not that of a good and a bad screen, instead it's a difference between incredible (the iPad) and excellent (the Macbook).

iPad Pro vs Macbook: Battery Life

Macbooks have a bigger battery capacity, but in real life they last a tiny bit less than iPad Pros

Both the iPad and Macbook use Apple's fantastic new M1 chip, which has record performance per watt. Compared to previous Macbooks that used an Intel chip, the difference the M1 makes is massive with up to three times more efficient performance.

So... what about battery life? First, the 11" iPad Pro 2021 model has the smallest battery capacity of just 28.6Wh, while you get a bigger battery on the 12.9" model at 40.9Wh, and then the battery capacity on the Macbook Air M1 is 49.9Wh, just marginally bigger, while the Macbook Pro M1 has the largest battery of the bunch at 58.2Wh.

Okay, okay, the Macbooks have the larger batteries, that's quite obvious, but what about the battery life? For this, we turn to Apple's official battery testing and here are the numbers:

  • iPad Pro 11": 10 hours surfing the web or watching videos over Wi-Fi
  • iPad Pro 12.9": 10 hours surfing the web or watching videos over Wi-Fi
  • Macbook Air M1: 15 hours wireless web
  • Macbook Pro M1: 17 hours wireless web

Okay, so these are the official Apple numbers and they are not quite comparable because they are measuring different things. So let's talk from experience, which is that in casual use the iPads get around the promised 10 hours of real-life use, while Macbooks don't hit the above numbers in real-life, and you should expect around 8 hours on a single charge for the Macbook Air M1 and 9 hours on the Macbook Pro M1. Not a huge difference, but technically, the iPad should last a bit longer in real life scenarios.

iPad Pro 2021 vs Macbook for College

So... if you are a student in college, you might be wondering whether to go for iPad Pro or a Macbook?

In a nutshell, here is what we would consider: the more solid form factor of a Macbook makes it the better machine for typing and most power user tasks will be much easier done on a Macbook. Things like photo editing, video editing, connection with other peripherals like a solid state drive, the professional software... all those are the advantages of a Mac.

There are, however, two main reasons to get an iPad instead: portability and the Apple Pencil. An iPad is much lighter: the 12.9" iPad Pro weighs just 1.41lbs vs double that at 2.8lbs for the Macbook Air M1, so an iPad is definitely easier to carry around and take to class. If you draw or study architecture, the Apple Pencil will be a hugely helpful tool that will also swing your choice towards an iPad. If those two things are not so important, however, a Macbook will be the cheaper and probably more versatile option for most students.

iPad Pro 2021 vs Macbook for Gaming

Apple devices are just not made for serious gamers, so if you are that person, a Windows laptop would be the obvious choice (if you want portability that is, you can always get a PS5, if not). PC gamers have the Steam store with a much wider selection of titles on Windows, so gamers probably should not bother with a Mac or iPad.

However, if you are happy with the limited selection of games, or just want casual gaming, our advice would be to go for the Macbook as it supports all iOS games AND then some "real" games like World of Warcraft and GTA that play natively on the M1 chip.

As for mobile games and Apple Arcade, not all iPadOS mobile games are available on the Mac, but all Apple Arcade games are. Another thing a Macbook doesn't have is the portability of the iPad, so it's much easier to take an iPad to bed for gaming.

iPad Pro M1 2021 vs Macbook M1: Price

iPad Pros are more expensive than Macbooks, especially if you count all the peripherals for them 

After all of that, it's time to take a detailed look at the prices, and you might be shocked to learn that an iPad 12.9" with a Magic Keyboard actually costs nearly 50% more than a base Macbook Air M1 model!

So here is a quick breakdown of iPad Pro M1 prices:

  • iPad Pro 11": $800 for 128GB model ($900 for 256GB, $1,100 for 512GB, $1,500 for 1TB, $1,900 for 2TB)
  • iPad Pro 12.9": $1,100 for 128GB model ($1,200 for 256GB, $1,400 for 512GB, $1,800 for 1TB, $2,200 for 2TB)
  • Add $200 on top of the price of each model for cellular connectivity
  • $350 for Magic Keyboard
  • $130 for Apple Pencil 2

And here are Macbook M1 prices:

  • Macbook Air M1: $1,000 for 256GB model, $1,250 for 512GB
  • Macbook Pro M1: $1,300 for 256GB, $1,500 for 512GB

So, when you draw the proverbial line in the sand, the iPad Pro M1 is the most powerful iPad ever made (duh!), but it's also still... an iPad! It still has iPad advantages and iPad limitations. It's light-weight, but doesn't run pro apps; it has a touchscreen, but the Magic Keyboard doesn't feel as solid and the multitasking is just not as good, and the list goes on and on.

Is there a better device? Not really, but now you know the areas where each of them excels.

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