iPad Pro M4 vs MacBook Air M3: Which Should You Buy in 2024?

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iPad Pro and MacBook Air are two Apple products that have always been in close comparison to each other, despite being entirely two different devices. At least, we all know one is a tablet and the other a laptop.

With Apple introducing an enhanced, laptop-like Magic Keyboard that can be configured for the iPad Pro, we can now have a fair playing field to compare the iPad Pro vs. MacBook Air.

With the M4 chip in the iPad Pro 2024 outpacing the current top-of-the-range MacBook Air M3, the seesaw has lurched heavily — specs and performance-wise — from the MacBook Air in favor of the iPad Pro.

Techopedia explores key factors such as design, price, performance, and functionality of the iPad Pro M4 and MacBook Air M3 to help you make an informed decision on which device best meets your needs. It’s not so obvious anymore.

Key Takeaways

  • We explore and compare the iPad Pro M4 and the MacBook Air M3 — especially now that the tablet beats the laptop in terms of processing power and display quality.
  • However, it is not a slam-dunk: the MacBook Air M3 has significantly longer battery life and is more affordable, especially considering the cost of accessories for the iPad Pro M4.
  • The iPad Pro M4 is a better option for AI-related tasks and creative work, while the MacBook Air M3 is better suited for general productivity and professional software use.

iPad Pro vs. MacBook Air: Specs

iPad Pro M4 is the one Apple device that can potentially serve as a laptop replacement. Here is how the 13-inch iPad Pro M4 compares to the MacBook Air 13-inch M3 in terms of specifications.

Specs iPad Pro M4 (13-inch) MacBook Air M3 (13-inch)
SoC M4 chip M3 chip
CPU 9-core and 10-core with 4 performance cores and 6 efficiency cores 8-core with 4 performance cores and 4 efficiency cores
GPU 10-core 8-core and 10-core
Dimensions 11.09 inches x 8.48 inches x 0.2 inches 11.97 inches x 8.46 inches x 0.44 inches
Neural Engine 16-core Neural Engine (120GB/s memory bandwidth) 16-core Neural Engine (100GB/s memory bandwidth)
Display 13-inch Ultra Retina XDR display (OLED, 2752 x 2064, 1000 nits) 13.6-inch Liquid Retina display (2560 x 1664, 500 nits)
RAM 8GB, 16GB 8GB unified memory, 16GB or 24GB
Colors Space Black, Silver Silver, Starlight, Space Gray, Midnight
Storage 256GB, 512GB, 1TB, 2TB 256GB, 512GB, 1TB, 2TB
Ports 1x Thunderbolt / USB 4 2x Thunderbolt / USB-4, 1x MagSafe, 1x headphone jack
Webcam 12MP Ultrawide camera 1080p FaceTime HDR camera
Operating System (OS) iPadOS 17 macOS Sonoma
Wireless Wi-Fi 7 and Bluetooth 5.3 Wi‑Fi 6E, Bluetooth 5.3
Weight 1.28 pounds 2.7 pounds
Battery 38.99-watt-hour rechargeable lithium-polymer battery 52.6-watt‑hour lithium‑polymer battery
Price Starts at $1,299 Starts at $1,099

Our Pick for Processing Power: iPad Pro M4

iPad Pro vs. MacBook Air: Display

When it comes to display power, the iPad Pro M4 wins outrightly over MacBook Air M3. The Introduction of dual-layer Tandem OLED Ultra Retina XDR display panel in the iPad Pro 11-inch and 13-inch results in an even brighter and better contrast resolution than the Liquid Retina screens found in both the 13-inch and 15-inch MacBook Air.

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With a maximum brightness of up to 1600 nits for HDR and about 1000 nits for SDR content, the iPad Pro M4 display provides exceptional visibility and clarity, even in brightly lit conditions.

The MacBook Air M3 is equipped with just a standard Liquid Retina display with 2560 x 1664 and 2880 x 1864 resolutions and 500 nits maximum brightness for the 11-inch and 13-inch, respectively.

Depending on your user needs, the iPad Pro M4 should be the right pick if you want a device with a better display that produces rich, true blacks and vivid colors in games, artwork, and TV shows.

This doesn’t mean that MacBook Air M3 lacks a good color display, but iPad Pro M4 is a better choice—it is the first Apple device to feature OLED display technology.

Our Pick for Display Power: iPad Pro M4

iPad Pro vs. MacBook Air: Battery Life

The MacBook Air M3 has a better battery life than the iPad Pro M4 due to a larger lithium polymer battery.

Apple specified that the 13-inch iPad Pro M4 has a built-in 38.99-watt-hour rechargeable lithium-polymer battery which can last for up to 10 hours of surfing the web on Wi-Fi or watching video and about 9 hours of surfing the web using cellular data network.

On the other hand, MacBook Air has a 52.6-watt‑hour lithium‑polymer battery that lasts for 18 hours using the Apple TV app movie playback or 15 hours of wireless web browsing.

Our Pick for Battery Power: MacBook Air M3

iPad Pro vs. MacBook Air: Price

When placed side by side on a laptop use case, MacBook Air wins outrightly in pricing, since it’s considerably cheaper than the new iPad Pro.

iPad Pro M4 pricing starts at $1,299 for the 13-inch model which comes with a 256GB SSD and 8GB RAM.

MacBook Air M3 13-inch undercuts this pricing by $200, starting at $1,099 for the same configuration.

Again, let’s not forget that the iPad Pro doesn’t come with a keyboard. For a fair comparison, we should add the extra cost of the Apple Magic Keyboard — $349 for the 13-inch version — which will further push the iPad Pro price to $1648.99.

At that price, this writer would rather buy a MacBook Air with 1TB of storage and 16GB of RAM.

Our Pick for Price: MacBook Air

iPad Pro vs. MacBook Air: Software

Before you make a purchase, it is important to understand the differences between the software ecosystems and operating systems of the iPad Pro M4 and MacBook Air M3.

The iPad Pro runs on iPadOS, while the MacBook Air runs on macOS.

iPadOS offers a touch-centric interface and supports features like Stage Manager and Split View, which encourages multitasking and productivity on the iPad Pro.

However, one limitation the iPadOS has is that it doesn’t support all macOS applications. Apps like Logic Pro, Final Cut Pro, Adobe Lightroom, and Microsoft Excel all have limited functionality or compromises on the iPads compared to the Mac.

On the other hand, MacBook Air gives you a familiar desktop computing experience and can run almost all apps found on iPad OS. This can be very advantageous if you rely on certain professional software that is only available or fully featured on the macOS.

Our Pick for Software Versatility & Compatibility: MacBook Air M3

iPad Pro vs. MacBook Air: Use Cases

The iPad Pro has for some time now been considered a possible laptop replacement device with its Smart Folio and Apple Magic Keyboard extension options.

It can happily serve as a tablet and a laptop at the same time if you’re willing to pay for the extra costs of the Magic Keyboard and the Apple Pencil Pro, and can then have a laptop-like typing experience.

The new M4 SoC also brought some artificial intelligence capabilities to the iPad Pro, which can help you perform tasks like video editing, graphic design, note-taking, drawing, and document markup.

In contrast, the MacBook Air M3 is more naturally designed for laptop tasks. If you’re looking for things like general productivity or a PC for office work duties, then MacBook Air is more suitable.

Should I Wait For The MacBook Air M4?

With all the good iterations the M4 chip has brought to the iPad Pro line, there are many reasons to think of waiting for the MacBook Air M4.

However, no one knows for sure when this M4 chip will finally land in the MacBook Air — potentially October or November 2024, but that is still some months away before Apple is expected to start overhauling its entire Mac line, a process continuing across 2025.

So, it all depends on if you’re willing to wait longer for a MacBook M4 or start with the already-released iPad Pro M4.

The Bottom Line

When the MacBook Air M4 is released, we will have a new comparison to make, but for now, these are your top-of-the-range choices on Apple.

All the buzz surrounding the iPad Pro M4 has been centered on the powerful M4 chip, which brought many capabilities to the iPad.

The MacBook Air, on the other hand, still has the M3 chip; its power, speed, and performance cannot be compared to those of the M4 chip, nor can features like the OLED Ultra Retina XDR display.

But the MacBook Air is ahead in battery life, GPU, storage and some other areas.

Depending on your user preference, you can buy the iPad Pro if you need to perform more AI-related functions, have a brighter display, and be portable.

If you need a good laptop for heavy-duty applications, I suggest you go for the MacBook Air. It is cheaper and can give you general productivity without compromising on apps or software.

FAQs

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Franklin Okeke
Technology Journalist
Franklin Okeke
Technology Journalist

Franklin Okeke is an author and tech journalist with over seven years of IT experience. Coming from a software development background, his writing spans cybersecurity, AI, cloud computing, IoT, and software development. In addition to pursuing a Master's degree in Cybersecurity & Human Factors from Bournemouth University, Franklin has two published books and four academic papers to his name. His writing has been featured in tech publications such as TechRepublic, The Register, Computing, TechInformed, Moonlock and other top technology publications. When he is not reading or writing, Franklin trains at a boxing gym and plays the piano.