Which M1 Machine Should You Buy?

The M1 MacBook Air launched in late 2020 was the first Mac to feature Apple’s silicon chip, and at just $999, it offers a price-for-performance that Windows laptops can’t match. Fast forward two years, and Apple is now offering the same Apple M1 silicon chip in the iPad Air, which costs about half that price.

Does Apple’s move make the M1 MacBook Air obsolete? Or is the iPad Air packing too much power for the software it’s running? Here, we’ll match the M1 MacBook Air against the M1 iPad Air so you can make an informed decision.

price

Since price is the deciding factor for most people, we’ll start with that. As we briefly mentioned earlier, the iPad Air costs about half the cost of the MacBook Air. But that’s not all, especially if you plan to use it as a laptop replacement.

For $599, you get a 64GB iPad Air with Wi-Fi, but that’s not enough to replace your laptop. All you get for that price is the tablet. For a laptop-style experience, you need at least a keyboard accessory. And the best thing Apple has to offer is the Magic Keyboard for the iPad, which costs $299, half the price of the iPad Air itself.

Now, when you factor this in, the total cost of your iPad Air suddenly becomes $898, which makes you wonder if it’s even worth spending an extra hundred bucks on a MacBook Air. And don’t forget the optional $129 Apple Pencil if you’re going to draw with it.

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At $999, the MacBook Air is a complete package. You don’t need to spend extra money on accessories to get the perfect laptop experience. Plus, you get 256GB of storage, which is four times the amount you get on the base model iPad Air.

Operating System

The operating system is a huge differentiator between these two devices, but which one is best for you mostly comes down to personal preference. Do you prefer a full desktop operating system or are you happy with a lighter mobile based operating system?

The M1 MacBook Air runs on macOS, an operating system designed from the ground up for desktop and laptop computers. On the other hand, the M1 iPad Air runs on iPadOS, which is iOS on steroids to take advantage of that big screen.


As a result, the iPad Air limits you to the software available in the App Store, while you can install any desktop app on your Mac. You can also install the supported iPhone and iPad apps on the M1 MacBook Air from the Mac App Store.

Apple’s iPadOS may seem a little too limited for current Mac users, but if you’ve never owned a Mac before, you’ll likely be happy with the iPhone-like experience you get on a much larger screen. In terms of software, I think the M1 MacBook Air is the more versatile device of the two, especially since the M1 Macs can run some natively useful iPad apps, like LumaFusion.

performance

We already know that both devices have Apple’s awesome M1 chip, but does that mean they offer identical performance? In theory, yes, but it’s hard to compare since they run different operating systems.


It’s worth noting that the base model MacBook Air packs an M1 chip with a 7-core GPU, while the iPad Air has a full eight-core GPU. Of course, there is a slight theoretical difference in GPU performance, but it hardly translates to real-world use.

Both the MacBook Air and iPad Air offer more performance than you need for their price. However, if you plan to run CPU and GPU intensive tasks on your Mac using production software like Final Cut Pro or DaVinci Resolve, you are better off buying a 14-inch MacBook Pro with an M1 Pro chip.

Whether you buy a MacBook Air or an iPad Air, you get 8GB of RAM, so you’re not making any sacrifices here. However, you can configure your 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 allows iPad apps to use up to 6GB of available RAM, leaving the rest to basic system functions. However, macOS doesn’t have such a limit on memory usage for apps.

cameras

Until very recently, laptops (including MacBooks) did not 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 has a 720p HD camera for FaceTime calls, which is average at best. So, if you plan to make a lot of video calls or participate in online meetings, this could be a deal breaker. On the other hand, the M1 iPad Air features a 12MP ultra-wide camera that supports up to 1080p/60fps for seamless video calls. Moreover, it supports Apple’s Center Stage feature to keep you in frame on the go.

Don’t forget that iPad Air is a tablet, just like other tablets, it has a more powerful 12MP primary camera that can take great photos and record 4K/60fps video. Sure, most people won’t take photos with their tablets, but it’s useful for scanning documents.

Battery life

Both the MacBook Air and iPad Air are very portable devices, thus, you want to last as long as possible while you are traveling. Fortunately, the efficiency of the Apple M1 has significantly improved the battery performance of the new MacBooks compared to the previous generation.

While the iPad Air’s 10-hour battery life for web browsing is great for a tablet, the MacBook Air offers up to 15 hours of web browsing or 18 hours of video playback in the Apple TV app. This laptop is in its own league in terms of battery performance, and only the heavier and more expensive 13-inch M1 MacBook Pro can beat it in this regard.

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Screen size may be another big factor influencing your purchasing decision. It comes down to whether you want more screen real estate or a more portable device, as panel quality is nearly identical on these two devices.

The iPad Air features a 10.9-inch IPS screen with a resolution of 2360 x 1640 pixels and a density of 264 pixels per inch, while the MacBook Air has a 13.3-inch IPS display with a resolution of 2560 x 1600 pixels and a density of 227 pixels per inch. Both displays support P3 wide color gamut and True Tone. However, the iPad Air can get much brighter with a maximum brightness of 500 nits, compared to 400 nits in the MacBook.

M1 Laptop vs M1 Tablet: Know the Differences

Before you decide on one of these devices, it is essential that you know exactly what you intend to do with it. Although the iPad Air is a mobile-based operating system tablet, it is still better than the MacBook in some use cases, such as note-taking, video calling, and media consumption. But for most people, the M1 MacBook Air is a safer bet and a more convenient workhorse, giving you the best value for your money.


iPad Air with Magic Keyboard
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