Macbook or Ipad?
November 10, 2010 10:44 PM   Subscribe

Should I buy a macbook or an ipad? I travel for work pretty frequently and would mostly be using the computer for internet, downloading books and video, things like that, which makes the ipad tempting. I own another laptop, but it's older, so my concern with buying the ipad is that if my current laptop breaks, having ONLY an ipad might not be smart. Would it be worth buying a macbook air because of that? Also, this would be my first mac/ipad, so are there other pros and cons of which I should be aware?
posted by odayoday to Computers & Internet (30 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Is there a reason you aren't considering a far cheaper netbook that can run Windows or Ubuntu?
posted by tra at 11:03 PM on November 10, 2010

Response by poster: I've had some virus issues in the past, and mainly just want to see how I like the mac OS. Money is not the main factor in the purchase, but if there are light laptop options with Windows, I'd definitely consider them.
posted by odayoday at 11:06 PM on November 10, 2010

If it's mostly for books, movies and internet browsing, I'd recommend the iPad. It's good for all of the things you have listed. The battery on it outlasts any laptop I've ever owned. Note also that you don't have to separate out your iPad from your bag when you go through the security line. The portability of an iPad is beyond comparison even to very small laptops.

As for laptop issues, I guess it depends on what you do on your laptop that you don't think you can do on an iPad.

I have never used a MacBook Air before.
posted by jabberjaw at 11:27 PM on November 10, 2010

I'm a dyed-in-the-wool Windows power user and I just bought, and am typing to you from, the new MacBook Air.

The MBA is an incredibly expensive (some might say overpriced) piece of kit that consists of absolutely gorgeous industrial design, great battery life, and fantastic speed for browsing, word processing, watching videos, and basic usage like that. (Perhaps not the best for massive Photoshop or video editing/rendering, but that much is obvious.)

I bought the MBA instead of a highly-powered-yet-still-far-cheaper PC-based netbook because I type fast. I type fast and I type a lot, and it was more important to me than most to have a full-sized keyboard. Netbooks are pushing 92% keyboard sizes, which are nice in theory, but in practice, they hurt my rather large hands, and managing such a small device is actually more cumbersome and less efficient than I'd like.

I decided I'd give OS X a real shot, despite having annoying experiences with it any time I'd used it for seconds at a time before. I wanted to keep it around this time because the gesture support for the trackpad is, to my knowledge, unmatched on Windows 7, and fantastic. I also wanted to see what the fuss was about, though I don't have virus issues on Windows, and know it backwards and forwards. With a few clever third party tools, I've got some great gestures built in, like three-finger-swipe-down to close tabs in Chrome, swipe-up to open new tabs, three-finger-tap to advance tabs, four fingers to reverse tabs, etc. It's really efficient and frankly, pretty fun.

My MBA cost nearly $1,500. It's the 13" version, and when I looked at the 128 GB version and saw that it cost $1450 once I factored in AZ taxes, I started looking around a bit. Amazon had the 256 GB version, but not the 128, for $1,549, or $50 off the standard $1,599 price for it. When I factored in taxes, free shipping, and the fact that I had $110 in Amazon gift certs banked up, it ended up being just $40 more for me to buy the 256 GB version vs. buying the 128 GB version in the store. I did that. (Now, they're selling the 128 GB for about retail, but with Amazon's lovely tax avoidance, so that's nice, but it also appears out of stock...)

Overall, I'm really happy with the machine. It's incredibly beautiful. You marvel at the design and the thinness and just how well-built and put together the whole thing is. Seriously, you just look at it, and marvel. And I say this as someone who hates the Cult of Mac, and all fanboyism. This device is just too dead sexy not to say that about.

It's speedy. Though it's running a slightly underpowered Intel Core2Duo, it is surprisingly quick at almost everything I've thrown at it, courtesy the SSD drive. The sleep/awake cycle will blow your mind-hole. Seriously. You'll question if the computer *really* went to sleep, or if it's just lying to you. It takes about as long as you would expect a MONITOR to take when waking up, not the entire computer. My Win 7 desktop can usually show the login screen in about 5-10 seconds, but sometimes it stutters and that doesn't happen. The MBA shows up before I can finish counting "one-one-thousand". (The wifi usually reconnects incredibly quickly as well, but this is the one potential stuttering point.)

You can leave the MBA unplugged and come back to it 24-48 hour later with it losing just a percent or two of battery life. This is impressive for a lot of reasons, not least of all because you don't have to have it tethered to the power cord every second it's not in use, like my last laptop.

The MBA is more than capable, visually impressive, and a conversation piece. Fast wakeups, thinness, and otherwise speedy performance will get stares and start people talking. The keyboard is also a delight, which I really appreciate. The chiclet keyboard has the right amount of spring back and is lovely to use.

That said, the MBA is INCREDIBLY expensive. Seriously, this costs $1,300-$1,500. For a laptop. Now, I could never consider an iPad. I couldn't handle having a work/travel computer handicapped by the lack of a built-in real keyboard, and typing on 50% of the device while trying to read on the other 50% is just ridiculous to me, for any real typing. Carrying around a keyboard attachment doesn't strike me as particularly more usable, frankly.

Worse, the lack of real multitasking is just not an option for me on any full-time work device. I have tabs, chat, email clients, and word processing open all at the same time just as part of my normal way of doing things, and I don't think that's particularly frenzied. iOS does NOT handle those apps in a reasonable way for multitasking, and for that, you'll find yourself sorely disappointed when you try to do any real, actual work. The iPad always strikes me more as a novelty, grandma computer, which is fine: it's great to pull up websites, show off photos, and use tons of built in apps. But I write a lot for work, I have a lot going on at once, and I could never use one for travel/work.

The MBA also has a built-in front-facing cam, which means instant Skype/Facetime ability, something the iPad is currently lacking.

Switching to OS X has been an interesting endeavor. There are some things that drive me nuts to no end. OS X doesn't maximize windows the same way (unless you hold shift, or get a 3rd party tool to force it). OS X doesn't *really* allow for easy "always on top" window behaviors, which drives me nuts. (A program called afloat can help with that, but not in the same way.) It also doesn't appear terribly dock-friendly, so my chat client Trillian doesn't hug the side of my screen, which drives me nuts, though I could conceivably use screen corners to trigger it if I was feeling particularly adventurous.

The way Windows 7 handles the "super bar" as they call the new task bar, is near perfection for me. Previews on hover, stacked program icons, jump lists on right click to show recent documents, able to pin items, clean, and VERY functional. The OS X dock does some of those things, but misses others, and is a fundamental shift in quite geting what's where and how to move around. It bugs me, but I've just been using this for two weeks, so I'm not willing to write t off.

Expose is really cool, but I wish I could do things like close windows directly from it. Fortunately, you *can* close from the command-tab switcher by pressing Q, but I wish it would preview windows for me instead of showing icons...

Installing apps is typically way easier, though that's less a problem for Windows 7 users nowadays. It's a bit confusing at first: mount the image (dmg file), and it usually starts up a launcher that shows you an icon and a diagram to drag that icon to the Applications folder. That always strikes me as weird, but when you do it, bam, it's installed. Cool. Some applications still have wizards and they install just like you're used to with Windows. No more insane registry or horrible DLLs at least, but I've installed a few apps to be confronted with the reality that I have NO idea where they are or how to access them. (Most show up in the Applications folder after their install wizard, and are accessible from Spotlight.)

Spotlight is really nice. The indexer on OS X seems way more sane and useful than on Windows, whose indexer goes into runaway-crazy mode on me more often than not, though that's usually on systems with large drives already existing.

The preview feature is really cool. Hit space on any document in the "Finder" (think Explorer) and a preview window opens up and shows you the document. So, an image, or a PDF, or a Word doc, or text file, or info about a song, etc. It's nice because it doesn't launch Adobe Reader or Word for those times when you just need to take a damn peek at a specific file, and it's way more useful than you'd otherwise think.

The command vs. ctrl buttons still drive me a bit nuts, as do the lack of a definitive home or back key, and the lack of a "character map". Small gripes that you get used to with time, and you can remap some keys, but it's just a bit confusing. I move around text blocks VERY quickly with the ctrl or ctrl + shift and arrow keys, on Windows, and that's trickier on OS X to just jump over to, but the options still exist, and again, small potatoes.

Overall, I'm happy with my purchase, I feel like I can get things done, the screen is gorgeous, battery life is great, the mic is... SHOCKINGLY good, considering it's just buried on the left side, the speakers are totally decent for laptop speakers, even more impressive, considering they're under the keyboard, and the Air is just dead sexy. I bought a fantastic case from Speck for it for $24 on Amazon and I'm thrilled about that, and happy with my purchase for travel and business work.

But it's $1,400 on the low end. And damn, that's a lot of money. You can buy a pretty amazing netbook for $600 that will do all of this for you as well, with a small formfactor and keyboard. But OS X, a meeting of thin/powerful/cool/LIGHT, and still having the screen and keyboard I need, and I went with the MBA and I'm happy.
posted by disillusioned at 11:45 PM on November 10, 2010 [15 favorites]

If you can afford it, I would go for the Macbook Air. The iPad is perfect for mobile entertainment, but that was, for me, about the only thing it was good for. If you had more confidence in your laptop, I'd say go for it anyway, but if you're worried about the longevity of your laptop, I would go for the Air (well, actually, I would go for a netbook, but if you want to stick with Apple products). As fun and nifty as the iPad is, you really don't want to have to rely on it for everything.
posted by katillathehun at 11:48 PM on November 10, 2010

This is how I would make this decision, all sorta-flow-chart-like.

How easy it is it for me to afford this iPad for personal use? The harder it is, the more you should consider the following:

If I depend heavily on the older (personal) laptop for work and it breaks, am I utterly fucked? Is working via laptop essential? If so...

--> Enough that my employer could step in and provide this resource, or is it a personal preference that's on my dime?
--> If the latter, is the "insurance" that a second laptop would provide more valuable than the personal convenience of the more-appropriate-for-intended-use iPad?
posted by desuetude at 11:49 PM on November 10, 2010

There is definitely a lot more freedom with a laptop than with an iPad.

1. Use bittorrent ever on your laptop? Then an iPad isn't going to work for you.
2. Type long screeds and emails? An iPad is probably not going to be very fun.
3. Do you like having millions of browser tabs open all the time when you're staring at the internet? Browsing on the iPad will probably drive you a little bit crazy.

I have an iPad, I rather like it and continue to use it daily since having purchased it 6 months ago (well past my standard new-shiney-thing burnout time). I use it for idle web-browsing, playing small games (solitaire, bejeweled clones, etc.), looking at email, reading news feeds (although I often prefer my laptop for this due to point 3. issues).

But I really love having it for long airplane trips. I can convert a small pile of movies/tv shows/other videos, put them on the iPad, and have a device full of things for me to watch on a 12-hour flight from Japan to DC. And the battery will last as long as I need it to, without me worrying about it dying mid-flight and having 6 more hours of tortured boredom.

Regardless, you need a computer to sync the iPad to, and if your laptop is your only other computing device, you definitely need to get a laptop, too. But for shorter (or longer) trips where you won't need to be dealing with needing to type lots of documents or make too many things, an iPad seems like a great option.
posted by that girl at 11:49 PM on November 10, 2010

… and mainly just want to see how I like the mac OS.
Then you want a MacBook/Pro/Air, not an iPad.

The laptops and iPad are two difference types of devices - one's a general-purpose computer, and the other's largely a content-consuming adjunct to a G-P computer - and the operational and UI differences reflect that. Sure, in future versions there'll be leakage of interface concepts & UI elements between OS X and iOS but, alarmist fears to the contrary aside, they're not really going to meld and become one in a hurry.

And if I'm wrong about that and they do, I'll bet it'll be because future iPads become more laptop-like, not the other way around…
posted by Pinback at 12:11 AM on November 11, 2010

Another vote for the Air. Disillusioned really captured the appeal of the air above. The one thing I'll add is I really like how quiet it is. It makes hardly any noise at all. Most the time the sound of my typing is the loudest thing about it.

I had the ipad, but ended up giving it to my parents; the trade-offs for iOS devices are fine for iphones but felt limiting on the iPad. The Air is what I hoped the ipad would be. I have no qualms about it being my sole computer.

If you have access to apple store, give both a try. So far two friends at work bought one after trying mine. I can't ever recall that for any other computer I've owned.
posted by lucidprose at 12:44 AM on November 11, 2010

You sound like you are going through the process I just went through and now I sit here typing this from my iPad. When I need to work on a computer I have a lovely desktop Mac at home. When I travel I mainly need email, video, music, books, PDFs and something to take a few notes on. I use apps that easily sync back between the iPad and my desktop. One week of ownership and one trip away, the iPad was perfect.

Having said all that, if you are more like Disillusioned you had better go for a computer - an iPad is definitely not one (though more than a 'grandma computer!')
posted by meech at 1:03 AM on November 11, 2010

The iPad is a great travel machine. The two things that are best about it are: the battery life and the 3G. Whenever I travel internationally, I buy a new pay and go SIM for $15 or so and I have Internet everywhere. For reading the Internet, books, and PDFs, I find the experience better than a laptop form factor.

My MBA is last-gen, so can't really comment on that. Obviously if you want to write long documents, code, etc, at this point you'd want a laptop.
posted by sesquipedalian at 1:47 AM on November 11, 2010

I hear the iPad plus a bluetooth keyboard is a great combination for travel.
posted by zippy at 1:54 AM on November 11, 2010

Another happy MacBook Air user here. If money is not an issue, go for it and you won't regret it.
posted by BusyBusyBusy at 3:23 AM on November 11, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for the input, everyone! Just to provide a little more information, for my purposes I'd probably get the 3G ipad (approx. $900) or the 11-in screen Air ($1200). Because my primary reason for buying the Air would be to make sure I have an actual computer in case my old one breaks (being able to download programs that might not be compatible with the ipad would be my biggest concern), in theory I could go with the ipad for work travel (I don't typically write long work emails, just short ones, and would mainly use it for entertainment), and if my current laptop breaks, I could buy a less expensive Windows-based laptop to have at home as a backup. Or, is the Air worth it because it's that much better than both other options?
posted by odayoday at 4:08 AM on November 11, 2010

I love my iPad (and am using it right now!), but if you're looking for something as your primary computer then you should get an Air. The iPad can be your main device, but you will occasionally need to do more than it offers and for that you still need a good computer. It pains me to say that, but if you're looking for "one device to rule them all", then the iPad is not enough.
posted by ranglin at 4:15 AM on November 11, 2010

If you want to download anything... Macbook. Period.
posted by darkgroove at 6:11 AM on November 11, 2010

I have a MacBook Pro and love it. It's the cheapest of the aluminum unibody ones, and it's easily the nicest laptop I've ever owned. It's fast, particularly at booting/rebooting, has decent battery live, a beautiful monitor, and an very comfortable keyboard. The gesture support on the large trackpad is so good I miss it when I'm on my iMac (and certainly miss it when I'm on a Windows box). I haven't tried the new Air yet, but, given how much I like it's more humble cousin, I can't imagine not liking it.

I'd say either is a good choice. If it's primarily going to be for travel, and you don't type long things on it (and don't have an iPhone) the iPad would be nice. Pairing it with the Apple Wireless Keyboard and a dock or both in one opens up a lot of possibilities, depending upon the sort of work you do.

I'd still probably go with the Air, though,and buy the iPad later. If your current laptop is getting old, as you say, the benefit of a new laptop will probably outweigh the benefit of the iPad. The perfect solution would be to get the Air now and save up for the iPad later, or vice versa.
posted by wheat at 6:13 AM on November 11, 2010

The Air and I say this as I type from my iPad. I will probably get an Air because I just deal with too much material. The iPad is completely about consumption and not creation. If you wish to create anything you must get the Air.
posted by jadepearl at 6:23 AM on November 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

I recently bought a MacBook Pro. It's my first non-PC, and I like it.

That said, I came very close to buying a Sony Vaio. You mentioned that you would consider lightweight Windows options, so I thought I'd throw this out there. Check out this comparison chart of all their models.

The X series is super light and probably comparable to the MacBook Air. At 3 pounds, the Z series is still light, but it is heavier and bigger -- it's also a more powerful machine that would make a good primary home computer, IMO.

Note: neither of these is cheap. If your only reason for getting a PC would be that they're cheaper than Macs, these might not be for you.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:32 AM on November 11, 2010

Oh. The Mac OS still feels a little weird to me after a few months. It is easy to use, although there are some quirks that drive me insane (there are also some great quirks/features that I didn't have on my old ThinkPad).
posted by J. Wilson at 6:34 AM on November 11, 2010

Keep in mind that the Air is actually a middle ground between the iPad and the MacBook. It's very small and light and fast, but it's also locked into its current specs -- you can't upgrade the memory or the hard drive, for example. And you're paying a premium for its sleek, super-portability.

If you don't need for your laptop to be that tiny, a MacBook is cheaper ($999) and more flexible. It really depends on your needs as a user.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 6:39 AM on November 11, 2010

(to be clear, I mean the regular old plastic Macbook, as seen here.)
posted by Narrative Priorities at 6:41 AM on November 11, 2010

The ipad is for entertainment, or to put it more attractively, for "content consumption." And, the ipad doesn't have any external drives, so as content-consuming device, it's hobbled by the fact that all its content has to be bought or loaded digitally (tho I know it's only a matter of time before the kids are saying "What's a DVD?"). If your current laptop dies, what will you use to rip DVDs?
posted by hhc5 at 7:01 AM on November 11, 2010

The thing about the iPad being "entirely about consumption," not creation, is a myth. It really depends upon what sorts of creation you do, and what sorts of apps, including web apps, are necessary to support it. Besides the iWork apps, which are available for iPad, there are a slew of note taking/text creation apps (Simplenote being my favorite), as well as apps for sketching (Adobe Ideas, Brushes), music creation (SoundGrid, and Everyday Looper, ThumbJam), and project/task management (OmniFocus, Things), just to name a few. Plus, you can do Remote Desktop with it.

Is it limited compared to a MacBook Pro or MacBook Air? Of course it is. Does that mean it's just a really sleek and portable television? Not at all.
posted by wheat at 7:10 AM on November 11, 2010 [1 favorite]

hhc5 has a point that you really need something to serve as the mothership (a laptop or desktop running iTunes so you can sync your data and manage your media) for the iPad, just as you would for an iPhone, hence my recommendation that you go with the MacBook Air (or a MacBook Pro) and add the iPad later, as your solution for times when you value portability over computing power.
posted by wheat at 7:13 AM on November 11, 2010

I don't own an iPad. I do own an iPhone.

I've seen people doing real live work in iWork on an iPad. It would definitely get old quick to do extended writing or spreadsheet work on it. I've got a friend who have used an iPod Touch with no mothership at all, and I've used my iPhone for an extended trip with no access to a computer. It definitely limits you, but it is technically possible. You can't upgrade the OS except by tethering it to a mothership, and there are other things that you just can't do, or will need to figure out workarounds for.

If you buy a Macbook and you find that it's better/faster/nicer than your old laptop, you'll probably wind up mothballing the old laptop, or at least limiting your use of it. Frankly, I find this a preferable scenario—it's simpler. If you get an iPad, you'll still be using your old laptop for a lot of laptoppy things.
posted by adamrice at 9:14 AM on November 11, 2010

Yeah, I tried to work on a manuscript in iWork. It was frustrating, but I got used to it. Then I realized it totally messed up my formatting on a document where formatting was essential, and there's no getting around it. That's just the way it works. So, yes, it can create content too, but just about everything else is better for that. The Air (or a netbook or other laptop) would be a better all-in-one solution.
posted by katillathehun at 9:20 AM on November 11, 2010

I just bought an ipad for basically the same reasons as you: I have a "real" computer at home. My laptop is owned by my company and I can't get it replaced til next year... but the wireless is screwy. I bought the ipad to supplement the laptop, and for travel. I LOOOOOOVE IT. It is so much lighter. It is perfectly easy to do e-mail on it, even without a wireless keyboard. I have only barely started trying to write in a manuscript -- using Docs to go. It's OK, and definitely works in a pinch, but not great. For that I would rec. a wireless keyboard.
posted by kestrel251 at 11:44 AM on November 11, 2010

iPad. I'm a die-hard Windows guy with two desktops and a laptop all running Windows 7, but I recently bought an iPad for travel and I love it. For your use case, it's perfect. Light, portable, very long battery life, and far more convenient to use on a plane than a laptop. It's fine for short emails and light web browsing. The bluetooth keyboard is pretty light and portable too if you need to send longer emails at your destination. But the clincher: the iPad is so much nicer on a plane that even if I have to bring my laptop with me (and usually I don't, the iPad is sufficient), I'll bring the iPad as well.
posted by zanni at 1:37 PM on November 11, 2010

I bought an iPad and carry it around every where.
It has been the best thing for one hand entry on spreadsheets (stopwatch in the other hand).
Text entry is a pain if you're not typing English (HTML, python for example).

I am, however, typing this from the bathtub.
posted by mce at 3:15 PM on November 11, 2010

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