Since the last time the iPad versus MacBook Air 11” comparison was brought up, both products have improved and evolved tremendously, the iPad more so than the Air. It’s easy to dismiss even making the connection (because who here actually cross-shops a high-end ARM tablet with a mid-range ultraportable, raise of hands please) but I think there are enough shared attributes to make a discussion worthwhile, especially considering the similarity in terms of form factor and now battery life. If I was looking for an extremely compact, thin, light, and long-lasting companion device to bring on a trip, they’re both completely valid answers. But which would I actually take?

The short answer would almost always be the Air, for a variety of reasons, but I’ll get there. This basically goes back to the tablet versus notebook conversation for various usecases. The iPad is awesome as a travel device, as are most tablets in general, and you can see evidence of this in any airport terminal. Especially after the screen upgrade last year, the iPad is hands down one of the best content consumption devices on the market. It’s also my absolute favorite digital platform for reading. I’ll actually save lengthy articles, like some AnandTech reviews and other long-form content from other websites I enjoy, to read on my iPad. Between the sharpness of text on the Retina display and the physical closeness you have with the words, it’s about the closest you can get to a paper reading experience on an LCD. (This also holds true for any high-DPI tablet, including the Nexus 7.2, Nexus 10, Surface Pro, and others). Also, the ability to use a tablet with only one hand, not needing a platform of some kind, and general versatility of physical handling adds a convenience factor that’s hard to get from a notebook.

But when the tablet doesn’t have an inherent advantage in terms of size or battery life, it’s a lot harder to justify skipping the sheer versatility and power you get out of a real notebook computer, even a small one, for reasons that amount to the tablet being easier to use while standing up. The notebook is basically better at everything other than reading, and there’s far more computing horsepower at your disposal. You have far more control over everything that happens—media, browsing, documents, you name it. And there’s a real, physical keyboard, so in terms of productivity, there’s just not a conversation. To some degree, that’s always been something that held tablets back for me and I suspect the other editors on staff. Admittedly, our usecases typically involve a lot of writing and email, neither of which is easy at all without a hardware keyboard, so we’re probably not the right target demographic to judge tablets by.

The capabilities of a Core i5-based ultraportable are so far beyond that of an iPad or Nexus 10 though, which is part of what makes this on the surface a somewhat odd comparison to be making. Obviously the tablets are cheaper, though it’s worth pointing out that a 128GB iPad (WiFi) is only $200 less than a 128GB Air 11”, and as noted earlier the iPad keyboards typically run $100. I don’t know why anyone would need that much storage on an iPad, maybe if you had a ton of 1080p video content that you really needed to carry with you everywhere. The 16 and 32GB iPads, at $499 and 599, are obviously far more accessible and probably more sensible investments.

I’m not trying to recommend that people buy the Air over the iPad, just that it’s possible to do so with very little compromise. It wasn’t really something you could do until now simply because of battery life, but with Haswell ULT boasting similar or better power efficiency than high-end ARM SoCs in light everyday CPU-driven workloads, it’s certainly something to think about. I think the best of both worlds situation is yet to come, possibly with something that looks like a thinner, Haswell-based Surface Pro with Windows 8.1 and significantly better battery life than we’ve seen out of Ivy Bridge tablets in the last year.

Display Quality Final Thoughts and Discussion


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  • teiglin - Friday, August 9, 2013 - link

    Minor correction: I believe the Vaio Pro 11 has a 31Wh battery (spec page says 4125mAh, pretty sure it's 7.5V).

    I hadn't realized the Vaio Pro had come down already--and the Sony website is having a most upgrades discounted--only $120 to go from 128->256GB SSD is especially appealing. If you include the rebate, an 8GB/256GB Vaio Pro 11 is only $1250 compared to $1300 for the same configuration of 11" Air. There is certainly an argument to be made in favor of the Air's body over the flexible carbon fiber Vaio Pro, and the Air certainly has the advantage in battery, touchpad, and GT3; in my opinion, though, a 768p TN panel has no place in a $1000+ device any more.
  • ananduser - Friday, August 9, 2013 - link

    GT3 is not all that it could have been since it's hampered by the 15W TDP of the SKU. HD4400 has proven faster in certain areas when paired with a faster CPU than what the MBA sports. I believe Anand showed this in the original MBA13" review. Reply
  • Glindon - Friday, August 9, 2013 - link

    If I recall correctly the CPU turbo boost is the same on 4600 and 5000 models. So unless you are using the graphics at full bore the CPUs should be comparable. I'd rather have better graphics. Reply
  • ananduser - Saturday, August 10, 2013 - link

    At low frequencies a 300MHz-500MHz increase is noticeable. Again I point to Anand's review of the faster 13" MBA. Thus the CPUs are not comparable and it is this that allows the the HD5000 to underperform in certain areas compared to HD4400. Reply
  • iwod - Friday, August 9, 2013 - link

    I would love to get a bigger screen with the Current 11" MBA. Which is still leaving quite lot of bezel space left and right. The Size of 11" MBA is perfect. But Just that slightly larger display would do. The same goes for 13" where it could actually fit in a 13.9" or 14" LCD instead.

    Other then that, Anand has already covered there are lot of space left in the MBA circuits which means next generation Broadwell CPU will get that redesign along with even bigger battery. Along with better software and Video Decode. So i think the MBA this year is good. The next one is going to be Great.
  • DesktopMan - Saturday, August 10, 2013 - link

    Totally agree about the bezel. Could probably fit a 12 inch display there. Reply
  • EnzoFX - Saturday, August 10, 2013 - link

    Of course it can. Since the current display is 11.6". =p
  • Daniel Egger - Friday, August 9, 2013 - link

    Why would Apple want to radically change a proven chassis design? Just because it looks aged? Sorry but that is bollocks. I would even go so far as to say this is by far the best design in the market and as long as no one (including Apple) can come up with a better package they should stay with this one and make incremental changes, like getting rid of the bezel around the screen and have a matte gorilla glass screen going edge to edge. Reply
  • GekkePrutser - Friday, August 9, 2013 - link

    In my opinion it's not that it looks aged, the only thing that looks out of place is the large bezel (especially on the 11")

    But the problem is that it no longer pushes the envelope. When Apple released the 2010 model it was the smallest and lightest you could buy for the price (not including much lower-specced netbooks).

    Now everyone is doing unibodies and they're all at the same point, most of them are doing it better than Apple (e.g. Samsung with their small bezels and better screens). I think Apple should keep pushing forward, and push the 'ultramobile' thing to the max again. I'd love to see something similar to this: a 870g/1.9lbs 13" laptop..
  • nerd1 - Friday, August 9, 2013 - link

    Huge bezel, terrible resolution (and TN screen), heavier than others (compared to series 9 / vaio pro etc which are almost 25% lighter) Reply

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