If you are trying to decide between an iPad vs laptop, then you need to make sure that you fully understand the pros and cons of each, so that you don’t make an expensive mistake.
Having used both iPads and laptops (both Mac and Windows) extensively, I have a good handle on the key differences between an laptop or iPad, and the uses that each is best suited for, and can help you to answer the question, “Is an ipad better than a laptop?”
In general, an iPad is better suited for touch screen applications like drawing or photo editing, as if you wanted a laptop for either of these, then you would also need a drawing tablet to get that fine control that a mouse or laptop touchpad can’t deliver.
However, a laptop has much more power than an iPad, so is better suited for high performance computing, such as 4K video editing, or editing larger photo files.
There is really a huge amount of overlap in what a laptop or iPad can do though, so it’s not completely straightforward to determine which is better: laptop vs iPad.
This article covers all of the major advantages and disadvantages of each, giving a general iPad versus laptop comparison, but also more specific model comparisons, like the MacBook Pro vs iPad Pro and an iPad vs MacBook Air comparison.
iPad or Laptop: Key Differences
You know that iPads and laptops obviously look different, with the iPad being much smaller than the laptop, but let’s get into the specifics and the parts you can’t necessarily see with your own eyes.
How you grade these differences will entirely depend on how you are wanting to use your device. Video editors might value outright computing power the most, while students might value a light weight as the most important characteristic.
The key differences between the laptop and iPad are:
This is the most noticeable difference between a laptop and an iPad. An average laptop weighs about 5 pounds, while iPads are only two to three pounds.
This makes iPads more portable which is great for those who like to, or have to, work on the go. And they fit snugly in a small backpack too. That’s a nice little benefit. You can do that with some laptops, but not all.
Of course if you are going for a smaller, lighter laptop like the 13-inch MacBook Air, then weight is much closer to the iPad, but you also lose a lot of the other benefits of having a laptop that are covered below.
However, a laptop being bigger or heavier is not necessarily a strike against it. These devices have more storage capacity, they come with a bigger screen and also a lot more computing power when compared to an iPad. That brings us to the next parameter.
A laptop has a more powerful CPU, more RAM and sometimes a dedicated GPU when compared to an iPad, which makes it more powerful and increases its speed on a wide variety of tasks. But this increases the need to have bigger cooling mechanisms, like noisy fans, and that’s what adds to its size.
Laptops, as you would imagine, are excellent for those who need to multitask. If you are more likely to use two or three apps at the same time, you want to have a laptop and not an iPad.
Laptops also have better graphics compared to an iPad which means you want to pick these if you are a gamer or are trying to perform video editing tasks on your device. iPads are good if you need to execute simpler tasks like streaming music or movies, use social media or browse the internet.
iPads really struggle when it comes to 4K video editing, although the iPad Pro is something of an exception to this.
This is often a big factor when it comes to purchasing. Depending on the brands you look at, there will be some overlap between the prices of laptops and iPads.
But more often than not, laptops are more expensive than iPads. So, while iPads can cost you anywhere from $300 – $1,000, laptops range from $400-3,000.
If you are wondering why the range is so wide, it is because budget laptops and used devices are also being taken into consideration. This is about the overall picture of both devices and not specifics. That comes in just a moment.
Whatever you use them for, iPads are typically four times lighter and three times thinner than a laptop. They come from 7.9 to 12.9 inches if you are looking at the diagonal size of the screen. Laptops, on the other hand, range from 11 to 17 inches. iPads are like bigger phones. Laptops, not so much.
iPads also have touchscreens, which is a massive bonus for anyone that needs to draw, or who would make use of the Apple Pencil. To replicate this with a laptop, you would need an additional drawing tablet which would really add to the weight and cost of your setup.
Note that if you are not drawing or photo editing, a touchscreen is far less relevant and is more of a gimmick. You can also get laptops with touchscreens, although they tend to be in the higher price bracket.
Ease of Use
You can open up an iPad and start using it right away, but if you want to work on a laptop, you will have to wait for it to boot up. But once you do, you can get a lot more done on a laptop than an iPad. This is, of course, a bit of a generic statement, but it’s still true – laptops offer more complex controls, but this comes at the price of needing extra clicks and extra menus to perform the same tasks as on an iPad.
This is another major difference between the two devices. iPads do not come with a keyboard out of the box, and are entirely touch screen devices, which is tricky if your work needs you to type a lot. But if you’re browsing the internet or using social media passively, it’s pretty useful – just like a bigger phone.
Now, iPads give you a keyboard option on the screen, but it’s not like having a full-sized one, especially if you’re used to those. And if you get a Bluetooth keyboard, you will be carrying an extra item that defeats the purpose of portability.
Battery life is different for both devices from the get go. iPads have a rechargeable lithium-ion battery which is great for the purpose of the device. The battery takes a lot of space inside the device and it aims to have a long life.
So, a fully functioning iPad will give you about 8-10 hours. A laptop battery, on the other hand, does not take up as much internal space because there are other essential components to give you the performance you want.
So, an average laptop can only give you about 4-5 hours before you need to find a place to charge it.
Storage is a key factor. iPads are not great in this area because they are meant to be smaller and cheaper devices. For the device to be portable, the manufacturer has to make some compromises and after performance, storage is the next thing to be reduced.
Typically, you will find iPads with 16 – 256 GB storage, while laptops offer so much more than that. They are meant to perform better and more efficiently. So, laptops have a storage capacity of 500 GB to 4 TB.
After storage, there’s software. iPads come with a lot of software that are not usually present in a laptop. They also have cool features like fingerprint sensors and better built-in cameras. There’s more and we’ll get into the specifics next.
iPad vs Laptop Pros and Cons
We’ve covered the key, general differences between iPads and laptops above, but it’s more helpful to look at the specific laptop vs iPad pros and cons, to see how they compare in the areas that matter to the average user.
iPad Pro vs Laptop: Pros and Cons
Now, if you were to look at an iPad Pro, it is said to pack a lot of power because it is faster than many laptops out there, which is a new distinction for an iPad. With the addition of the Magic Keyboard (seen in the image above), comparing the Pro iPad with keyboard vs laptop results in a close-run race. Here are the advantages of having an iPad Pro.
Advantages of an iPad Pro over a Laptop
- If you look at weight, a 11-inch iPad Pro is 1.04 pounds while the lightest 11-inch laptop still weighs 2 pounds. And the 12.9-inch iPad weighs 1.41 pounds while the average 12-13-inch laptop weighs 2-3 pounds.
- Then there’s storage. The iPad Pro has 6 GB RAM which is much better than many basic laptops and even some high-performance ones.
- And if you look at battery life, the iPad Pro will give you 10 hours if you’re watching videos and surfing the web. Laptops usually last 4-5 hours if you have a cheap laptop and 10-12 hours if you have the best laptop.
But you have to ask yourself, how likely are you to really care about a few hours difference in battery life after purchase?
- The iPad Pro also has a powerful SSD which is one of the most compact and also fastest in the market. And it has an M1 CPU that is lightning fast on optimized programs and it is more than what a lot of laptops have to offer.
- The iPad 12.9-inch Pro is said to be the “the most powerful” model and it is only about half the price of a Macbook Pro matching those specs. Even with a wireless mouse and Magic keyboard, it still wins. But if you want a cheap laptop, you should look at the iPad’s portability versus the laptop’s performance.
Cons of an iPad Pro
- You won’t find the kind of proprietary software for an iPad as you would for a laptop. You will have some luck with web broswers and email clients but there is not a vast range of software available as there is for a laptop. If you want to edit videos with Final Cut Pro or use a full version of Photoshop, iPads are not the best choice, yet.
- iPads are also not the best if you are a gamer. If you want to try out games like World of Warcraft or League of Legends, tough luck with an iPad. But the iPad Pro does have M1 chips which can beat out some models of laptops. It’s definitely getting up there. So, look at the specs carefully.
iPad Air vs Laptop: Pros and Cons
Now, this one is also not for everyone and blanket statements can be dangerous, but if you are looking to replace a laptop with an iPad Air, here’s what you should consider.
Pros of Using an iPad Air
- It weighs about 1 pound, which is a lot less than most laptops out there.
- iPad Air has a minimalist design which makes portability easy.
- This model is also cheaper than many laptops out there.
- Like the iPad Pro, this one also gives you 10 hours of battery. And the considerations when compared to the average laptop remain the same.
- The iPad Air also has a liquid retina display which gives you a detailed display even though it has a smaller screen compared to many laptops.
Cons of Using an iPad Air
- This is not the best choice for those who want a high-performing CPU.
- The smaller screen size and lack of a full-sized keyboard will always be a strike against it if your work involves a lot of typing.
- If you want to use more than one app at a time, you will need more computing power and that does not come with an iPad Air.
So, the iPad Air works well for everyday operations like streaming music or videos. It also has some interesting features like compatibility with the Apple Pencil for those who create digital art, and of course, there’s Siri. This one is not the same as having a laptop but it can be a good choice depending on your priorities, particularly if you are on a lower budget, but still want something ultra-portable.
iPad Advantages Over a Laptop
So we know what the pros and cons are of the iPad or laptop, so how does this translate into the advantages of iPad over laptop?
If you are looking for a lighter device, obviously an iPad will win over a laptop. They are at least a pound lighter than the lightest laptops. So, that’s a clear winner.
In terms of size and portability, iPads are thinner and lighter than Macbooks which makes it easy to carry them around. All the tasks that can be done on a phone can be performed on an iPad with a lot more ease. That’s completely different from opening a laptop to do the same.
In terms of OS design too, iPads are better than the older laptop models. It is easier to navigate the interface, especially because they are primarily touchscreen. The interface of an iPad is also intuitive and suitable for people of all levels of tech savviness and age.
Laptop Advantages Over an iPad
But there are quite a few areas where a laptop wins too. Laptops have a larger screen which includes wider display areas. This makes it better for you if you are going to use it for long hours.
Comparing an iPad vs MacBook, you also don’t need to hold it the way you would have to hold an iPad. You can make an iPad stand but it’s not the same as having the benefit of a keyboard with a laptop.
Laptops are also better if you are producing music or editing pictures or videos because of the bigger screen and better computing power. The same is even more true for gaming because a lot of games like PUBG cannot be played on an iPad.
Laptops are also superior in terms of graphics and give you the option of an upgrade, which you will certainly benefit from if you intend to keep your device for more than two or three years. iPads don’t give you that choice.
And finally, laptops come with more components like a better processor and more RAM for better performance, and a keyboard and trackpad, which make using it easy. They are also good for multitasking, unlike iPads.
Which is Better iPad or Laptop?
This question is more subjective because it depends on your priorities. Let’s take an overall quick look based on what we have discussed so far.
- Has a bigger screen
- Better processor which makes multitasking and gaming possible
- Comes with more features like a keyboard which make it easy to use
- Great for those who want to use proprietary software
- Has better storage capacity than iPads
- Heavier and thicker than iPad and hence not as portable
- Takes time to boot and get started
- Does not have as much battery life as an iPad
- Lighter, thinner and easy to carry around
- Inherently great display thanks to the liquid retina tech
- Great if you want to create digital art or want to browse the internet
- Better battery life than many laptops
- More secure than laptops
- Does not come with a keyboard or mouse which must be bought separately, but having them compromises the portability aspect
- Does not have powerful graphics or a processor when compared to a laptop
- Does not run the software that laptops do, which usually are more feature rich than what the iPad apps have to offer
Should I Buy a Laptop or iPad?
A final decision on should I get a laptop or iPad is of course something that you must decide for yourself. But for my money, a laptop is a more sensible investment if you only have the funds for one. Something like a MacBook Pro, or even a MacBook Air, will last for at least five years, if not ten when well looked after, and will still be usable with modern programs.
A five or ten year old iPad will be essentially unusable, as modern apps will be unlikely to be compatable, and it is so underpowered when compared to a laptop.
The only place where iPads can be better than laptops is for photo editing, thanks to the touchscreen and stylus support.
For further reading, check out some detailed reviews of specfic laptops and iPads to see which is really right for you.