Comparing the 13-Inch MacBook Pro to the MacBook Air and iPad Pro

In the last two months, Apple has refreshed the 13-inch MacBook Air, the 13-inch MacBook Pro, and the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, all of which have similarities in performance and functionality.


In our latest video, we went hands-on with all three of Apple's new machines for a detailed performance comparison to give MacRumors readers some insight into which device might be the best purchase for their needs.

In This Comparison

We're comparing base model devices from Apple, with specs and price points below:

  • 12.9-inch iPad Pro With Magic Keyboard ($1,350) - A12Z Bionic chip, 6GB RAM, 128GB storage.
  • MacBook Pro ($1,299) - 1.4GHz 8th-generation quad-core Intel Core i5 processor, Intel Iris Plus Graphics 645, 8GB 2133MHz RAM, 256GB SSD.
  • MacBook Air ($999) - 1.1GHz 10th-generation dual-core Intel Core i3 processor, Intel Iris Plus Graphics, 8GB 3733MHz RAM, 256GB SSD.

Note that the ‌iPad Pro‌ is priced at $999, but the Magic Keyboard is a necessary purchase to put it on par with Apple's laptops as it adds a full keyboard and trackpad. The Magic Keyboard is $350.

The ‌iPad Pro‌ is also available in a smaller 11-inch model that we did not use for this comparison, and pricing on that model starts at $799 for the tablet and $299 for the keyboard.

Design

The ‌MacBook Air‌ and the MacBook Pro are similar in terms of design (and we have a full comparison here), featuring a unibody aluminum casing, dual Thunderbolt 3 ports, 13-inch Retina displays, Magic Keyboards with scissor switch keys, Force Touch trackpads, T2 security chips, and Touch ID.

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The MacBook Pro has a brighter display and a Touch Bar, while the ‌MacBook Air‌ has an hour more battery life and it supports up to a 6K display.

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The two machines are close to the same size, though the ‌MacBook Air‌ has a tapered design and weighs 2.8 pounds compared to the 3.1 pounds of the MacBook Pro.

MacBook Air Top
The ‌iPad Pro‌, of course, is radically different because it is a tablet with a touch screen that morphs into a laptop-like design with the addition of the Magic Keyboard. The Magic Keyboard also has scissor switch keys and a trackpad, though it's smaller and doesn't use Force Touch.

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The ‌iPad Pro‌ uses Face ID instead of ‌Touch ID‌, and when paired with the Magic Keyboard, it weighs in at 3 pounds, so it's just about the same weight as the MacBook Pro. It's a lot more versatile than either the ‌MacBook Air‌ or the MacBook Pro though because it can be used without the Magic Keyboard, dropping the weight down to just over a pound.

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Benchmark Comparisons

We used Geekbench 5 on all three machines to test the overall performance, and unsurprisingly, Apple's ‌iPad Pro‌ is the fastest of the bunch. Apple's modern A-series chips beat out many similar Intel processors, and while Apple is working on Arm-based Macs, we still have a year or so until those are ready to launch.

Geekbench Table Titled 1
The ‌iPad Pro‌ earned a single core score of 1116 and a multi-core score of 4686, which was quite a bit higher than the MacBook Pro's single-core score of 859 and multi-core score of 3621.

Both the ‌iPad Pro‌ and the MacBook Pro outperformed the cheaper ‌MacBook Air‌ with its Core i3 processor when it came to multi-core performance, but the ‌MacBook Air‌ won out over the MacBook Pro in single-core performance. The ‌MacBook Air‌ earned a single-core score of 1076 and a multi-core score of 2350.

Geekbench Graph
It's worth noting that the 13-inch MacBook Pro is using older 8th-generation chips that have not been updated, while the ‌MacBook Air‌ has Intel's latest 10th-generation chips. There are MacBook Pro models that use the new chips, but only in models starting priced at $1,799, which is quite a bit more expensive.

The ‌iPad Pro‌ has Apple's A12Z chip, which is similar to the A12X chip used in the 2018 iPad Pros, though an extra GPU core has been enabled in the new model to boost performance up just a bit.

Real-World Testing

We also did some real world testing to see how those benchmarking scores translate into actual performance, because how a device performs when being used for everyday tasks is more important than how it benchmarks.

Transferring a 1.3GB video file took five seconds on the ‌MacBook Air‌ and the MacBook Pro, and a whopping 50 seconds on the ‌iPad Pro‌ just because the file management on the ‌iPad Pro‌ isn't as robust as file management on Apple's Macs.

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Exporting a 4K five minute video in Final Cut Pro on the MacBook Pro took 4 minutes and 10 seconds. On the ‌MacBook Air‌, it took 5 minutes and 30 seconds, which is no surprise given that it has a slower CPU and GPU.

There is no Final Cut Pro software on the ‌iPad Pro‌ of course, so there's no direct comparison to make, but exporting a 4K five minute video in Luma Fusion took just three minutes, which is faster than both the MacBook Pro and the ‌MacBook Air‌.

Software and Feature Considerations

The ‌iPad Pro‌ is more powerful than both the ‌MacBook Air‌ and the MacBook Pro (when it comes to base models) but that doesn't matter when the ‌iPad Pro‌ just can't do what some people need.

As mentioned above, for example, there's no Final Cut Pro on the ‌iPad Pro‌ for video editing purposes, and the same goes for Logic Pro. There's no Xcode on ‌iPad Pro‌ for app developers, and while the ‌iPad Pro‌ supports multitasking, it's limited to two apps open and used side by side at one time.

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Video quality on the ‌iPad Pro‌ is much, much better because Apple hasn't upgraded the 720p camera on the MacBooks for years now, which is nice for Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, and other video interactions, though it's kind of a hassle to use the front-facing camera with the Magic Keyboard attached because it's located at the top of the ‌iPad Pro‌.

The ‌iPad Pro‌ has a major advantage when it comes to activities like note taking, reading textbooks, making flash cards, and more, thanks to the Apple Pencil integration and the ability to use it in either landscape or portrait mode.

The ‌Apple Pencil‌ is ideal for taking handwritten notes with diagrams and sketches, and reading textbooks is easier in portrait mode than it is on a wider screen.

magickeyboard6
Creative work can be done on any of the machines, but again, the ‌iPad Pro‌ has an edge for artists because of the ‌Apple Pencil‌ support. Video and audio editing are more limited on ‌iPad Pro‌ for those who are used to software like Final Cut Pro or Logic X, but there are some comparable apps.

Photo editing and graphic design can be done on an ‌iPad‌ using apps like Photoshop and Lightroom, so there are many alternative workflows for people who need to do creative tasks using the ‌iPad‌'s tools.

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When it comes to writing documents, browsing the web, and similar tasks, the Magic Keyboard elevates the ‌iPad Pro‌ to the level of the ‌MacBook Air‌ and the MacBook Pro and is vital for those who want a laptop-like machine that's much more versatile.

Bottom Line

If the ‌iPad Pro‌'s shortcomings in software and multitasking don't impact your workflow, it's the most capable of the three, given that it converts from a laptop-style machine to a tablet, supports ‌Apple Pencil‌, and has the fastest performance.

The ‌MacBook Air‌ is the best value of the three because of its $999 price point. It's the perfect machine for every day tasks like document creation, writing, and web browsing, plus it can also handle video editing, photo editing, and similar tasks (though it's not the machine to get if you're looking at exporting large videos all the time or doing super system intensive work).

The MacBook Pro is a more robust machine better suited to tasks that need more CPU and GPU power, but to really take advantage of the MacBook Pro's capabilities, you'd probably need to step up to the $1,799 machine rather than relying on the entry-level model with its older processor.

What are your thoughts on these three machines? Do you have one? Which did you choose and why? Let us know in the comments.

Top Rated Comments

Nuno Lopes Avatar
11 months ago
These kinds of comparisons in my view are missing the point and youtubers should get their perspectives checked.

Take for instance the reviewers case. I bet that all his editing is done on that Desktop behind. Given this why would he buy another computer that does precisely the same thing that not only offer a worst experience on the desk but also it’s far slower? Its all hypothetical!

People are so psyched about laptops that forget that an $800 Desktop Computer ouperforms by 3.5 to 1 against a $3200 laptop both at peak loads and sutanable loads (keep that high performance for much longer)... And its more resilient to component aging ....

Now take this proper way of accounting ...

$1340 for the iPad Pro and Magic Keyboard (if you will)
$800 for a Desktop PC
= $2150

And you have the best performance possible. Far more than mine MacBook Pro 16” with 32GB for $3000 and more flexible solution.

What if I’m out and I need to edit 4K in ways not possible in the iPad Pro because apps still lack certain features? One need to ask one self, do you need that really that often when out and about? Or is that a need or a nice to have? You know, like those people that when to go on holidays need to take the entire worthrope otherwise feel unsafe.

If you conclude after all this, even if one already have a Desktop Computer somewhere, that you actually need those features quite often while out and about than ... go for it.

I’m a software dev. I divide what I do in two big activity groups:

- Heavy lifting tasks: such as coding, scripting, testing, debuggin managing cloud services and data center
- Management and Support Tasks: Business management, project planing and management, documentation, team leadership, presentations, meeting, blog posts ....

I’ve found that with the iPad Pro I can do all of the second at the same level as on a laptop if not better at cases. The first, of course can’t do. Still mostely when out of the office and about don’t really engage into this heavy lifting tasks. Even on business trips. And when if for some urgent need I do, I simply remote to Desktop Computer (Jump Desktop) and access more performance than I would have with a maxed out laptop for much less money. Now this might not work for video editing, most people do not make 4K videos for a living!

I wish Apple extended SideCar features to work over the Internet with the iPad Pro. A Back to My Mac tool baked in iPad OS and macOS.

If you see the iPad Pro something between a Phone and a Desktop PC, designed not to replace anything but complement both with mobile computing features while out of the work desk, as well as an extention to both when in proximity than you actually get what are the core design values of this product. You will see that questions “Can the iPad Pro replace the laptop?” entirely miss the point from a productivity and cost perspective.

Cheers.
Score: 30 Votes (Like | Disagree)
snowmen Avatar
11 months ago
Great...

Now please let me install Docker, Xcode, and Android Studio on iPad Pro...
Score: 19 Votes (Like | Disagree)
TravelsInBlue Avatar
11 months ago
As much as I love the iPad because it does have its use cases (I have an 11” Pro), unless your workflow is pretty basic, productivity on the iPad is going to be more hindered with trying to find workarounds to even the most trivial tasks.


Even in K-12 applications, a $129 chromebook provides much more mileage. This constant comparison between macs and iPads just seems contrived and pointless.
Score: 12 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Emanuel Rodriguez Avatar
11 months ago
I don't really understand why you're even bothering with the base-model MacBook Pro. It isn't actually a new laptop, the internals are a couple years old. I'd think starting with the cheapest 10th-gen pro would make more sense.
Score: 11 Votes (Like | Disagree)
bartszyszka Avatar
11 months ago
Do the differences between MacBook Air and MacBook Pro performance become significantly smaller if you'd have an Air with a quad-core processor? If the question is just "what's the best base model", then your review makes sense. But if I'm willing to bump up some of the specs, then the decision becomes more confusing (especially when the difference in weight seems to be pretty minor?). This review also doesn't mention that the Air has faster memory.
Score: 11 Votes (Like | Disagree)
D.T. Avatar
11 months ago

Why would anyone compare an iToy, I mean iPad with a proper computer?
It's not quite Apples to Apple so to speak, but in terms of effective computing device, it's very driven by the use case. I've got two products, one in the Federal space (for investigative services), and one in the clinical analytic sector, and I've done a significant amount of user / usability studies, and the iPad as a handheld, touch device (with a decent, easy to use camera front and rear camera system - and extremely long battery life), supplemented by a keyboard for followup notations, reports, and "office" type workflows is significantly better (and greatly preferred by my user community).

I'm a dev/architect, I "get" the need for certain types of equipment, for specific tasks, but having seen the effectiveness of an iPad in my line of work, I'm not dismissive of it as "toy", when it's helping to do things - better than a notebook - like resolve cases of traumatic brain injury.
Score: 10 Votes (Like | Disagree)

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