Deciding on an iPad or a MacBook Air When Your Money is Tight

Web/Tech / Saturday, December 11th, 2010


So, you’re trying to figure out how to best satisfy your need for the latest Apple technology for both business and pleasure and you have your eye on the iPad and the new MacBook Air? Both are good decisions for portable computing but one can be better than the other depending on your overall needs for leisure or portable productivity.

In either case, understand that this is a premium purchase and you’re going to spend more money than you would otherwise spend on any number of other less stylish choices and varying degrees of functionality.

Let’s look at each one separately and summarize a comparison.

iPad: Released April 2010 in Wi-Fi and W-Fi+3G Models. Updated to iOS 4.2.1. in November 2010.

You can’t beat the iPad for portability and convenience for Ebooks, casual internet surfing, social networking, videos, media consumption. You simply pick it up and take it with you; when you want to use it you turn it on and go. If you’re really pressed for cash, when you compare the cost, a Wi-Fi iPad with moderate memory is half the cost of the least expensive MacBook Air. The iPad has a traveling dream of ten hours of multi-media battery life so you don’t have to worry about being plugged into an outlet every few hours.

People who want an extremely portable device for light productivity, web surfing and multi-media content enjoyment anywhere will love having an iPad. It’s less of a computer and more of a tool or appliance for interacting online, consuming media content, and capturing thoughts. It’s as handy as a favorite magazine or slim book that does everything you need when you’re handling your business while away from home for short trips anywhere.

The iPad simply is not a workhorse or replacement for your primary computer. It’s not ideal for extended productivity requiring a keyboard and multi-tasking switches between multiple windows or applications although you can make it work if you have to, you just won’t enjoy it for projects that require a few hours to research or complete.

The iPad is a single slate tablet device that is ultra-thin, and lightweight (1.5 lbs), It features a high resolution 1024×768 multi-touch screen, a 1GHz custom-Apple, low power processor, and models that differ by offering Wi-Fi or Wi-Fi plus 3G with memory capacities at 16GB, 32GB or 64GB. The iPad has no USB drive but has some adapters for SD cards and video projectors. Future models may include dual video cameras but that’s not an option as of the time this article was written.

Macbook Air: New model released October 2010

The MacBook Air excels at mobile and web-based productivity. It is my device of choice for blogging; multi-platform, simultaneous social networking; forum management; website updates and server management; as well as email management between multiple online accounts. All of my desktop office suite applications are available to me on the Macbook Air because it uses the full OSX operating system and not the iOS specific to the iPad and the iPhone. The Macbook Air has a built in webcam for video calls and conferencing.

People who need a full but extremely portable computer for on-the-go productivity but who are not heavy-duty graphics professionals or who desire extended gaming use. This is an extremely capable computer that allows you to work anytime and anywhere that has minimized some of the concerns about carrying a laptop (weight, battery life, speed, portability).

Cost: One MacBook Air equals two iPads and more than one of a whole lot of other stuff at a base price of $999. Battery life is 5 hours–good for a laptop but not great so you’ll need to take your power adapter with you on longer trips. The MacBook Air does not have 3G built in and requires a WiFi connection like most other laptops so this isn’t a big deal but a difference between this computer and the iPad. As the MacBook Air has been designed to optimize battery life as much as possible in its ultra-slim profile, the use of flash web animation decreases battery life and each user will need to decide if he or she wants to use flash based applications or websites when a power connection is not readily available for extended use.

The MacBook Air is an ultra-thin laptop computer that weighs less than 2.9 pounds for the 13″ model and 2.3 pounds for the 11″ model. It has the highest resolution screen of any laptop of its size. Processor speed is dependent upon model ranging from 1.4 GHz to 1.86 GHz. Models feature full keyboards, two USB ports, a headphone jack and an SD card slot on the 13″ models. 64GB, 128 GB or 128 GB internal flash memory is offered which results in super-fast boot times and application access. Each MacBook Air features Apple’s widely acclaimed multi-touch trackpad.

Not relevant for this comparison but good to know: The MBA is not ideal for extensive video editing or processor hungry applications but is tons more powerful than a netbook computer. It has no netbook hardware or software limitations such as slow graphics, low resolution screens, slow hard drives, or under-powered processors but is not as powerful as a professional laptop or a faster/larger memory desktop computer. It gets the job done when you are away from home for extended periods of time in a package that you don’t mind carrying and having ready to go when you need it.

Both are essentially satellite devices. The iPad is a more of a remote device for on-the-go use that requires a computer for synchronization and updates. The Macbook is a stand-alone computer but more of a secondary, portable machine given some of its hardware limitations. Either machine will likely require a primary computer–a must for the iPad and highly encouraged for the MacBook Air–whether the main computer is a larger memory or faster notebook or desktop computer that will be your file headquarters for documents, music, pictures, video and other digital stuff that you collect over time. At the very least, the MacBook Air can be used by itself but you would need an external drive for backups and file sharing. Your primary machine will be where you backup and transfer files between your satellite devices.

Both are nice and they can exist together if you have the money to splurge. If leisure if your thing, get the iPad and enjoy grab-and-go entertainment and social media. If you need to work while on the go, get the MacBook and rest assured that you can stay productive with the sleekest and most portable computer on the planet.

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