We use cookies to provide you with a better experience. If you continue to use this site, we'll assume you're happy with this. Alternatively, click here to find out how to manage these cookies

hide cookie message

MacBook or iPad: What should you buy?

Key differences difference between MacBooks and iPads

MacBook or iPad

If you're not sure about whether to get a MacBook or an iPad, don't worry, we're here to help. Here we go through the key elements of what a MacBook or iPad can and can't do, so you can make an informed decision as to which device is right for you.

The first thing you need to know about MacBooks and iPads is that they are two completely different computers. A MacBook is an Apple laptop. MacBooks are generally among the best laptops you can buy. iPads as you probably know are Apple’s take on the tablet PC, and very good tablets at that.

We should make it very clear that an iPad, as good as it is, cannot be used as a laptop replacement. For example, iPads cannot be used to watch a DVD or to burn CDs, also they are limited in terms of multitasking or doing any sort of work that requires a lot of processing power. Editing videos for example is an area where an iPad would struggle, but a MacBook would excel. Even word processing on am iPad is a chore - you'd probably want a hardware keyboard, for a start.

One final thing that you should remember is that there are different types of MacBooks and iPads. On a very loose scale, each MacBook and iPad does roughly the same thing, however there are significant differences that are worth considering. Don't worry, we'll cover the differences between each MacBook and iPad model in the sections below.

MacBook or iPad: Price

The easiest place to start, is with the prices of the MacBook and the iPad. But even this is a little confusing as there are two different types of MacBooks you can buy, and three different iPads.

The MacBooks that are on offer are the MacBook Pro and the Macbook Air. However, things get more complicated when you look at the different types of spec you can get with the Air and the Pro, in total there are 12 different types of MacBook you can buy.

MacBook Air prices

The cheapest Macbook Air you can buy is the 11-inch 64GB model that costs £849, and the most expensive is the 13-inch 256GB MacBook Air.

MacBook Pro prices

The cheapest MacBook Pro you can but is the 13-inch 2.5GHz model that costs £999, while the most expensive is the 15-inch 2.6GHz with Retina display machine that costs £2,299.

iPad prices

Similarly there are a quite a few different iPads you can buy, 14 in fact.  These fall under three categories; which are the iPad mini, the iPad 2 and the iPad with retina display. [See image for prices and storage/connectivity options]

iPad prices

Right, now that the we've covered what's on offer and the prices of the MacBooks and iPads we can get into the interesting stuff... what the MacBook and iPad can actually do.

MacBook or iPad: Movies and TV

iPads are great for watching movies on the go. Simply download the film/show you want to watch when you're connected to your home/office Wi-Fi and you have a portable TV that is lightweight and has a battery life capable of lasting two reasonably lengthy films.

The iPad is definitely a solo video-viewing device though, while you can share it with another person at a push, it will soon gets cramped and uncomfortable. But if you're not looking to share then iPads are great as there are great movie/TV apps that you can download such as BBC iPlayer, Sky Go, ITV Player and Netflix - as well as Apple's own iTunes - which make them great for when you want a bit of "me time". Be careful if you're looking to stream over 3G as some of these apps are incredibly data thirsty.

If you're looking for a device on which you can enjoy watching movies and videos on with your friends, then a MacBook offers a bigger screen for watching videos and also improved sound, but it's still far from what you would get on your TV.

It’s worth mentioning that you can also connect your MacBook to your TV with either a HDMI lead and an Apple adapter, or via Apple TV. This will enable you to watch internet TV websites such as BBC iPlayer, Sky Go, Netflix, etc. fully scaled onto your TV. The iPad can be mirrored to a TV too, but certain apps, most notably Sky Go, have blocked the ability to work when connected to a TV.

Finally and perhaps most obviously, iPads do not have optical drives, which ultimately means you cannot watch DVDs on them. Ripping a movie from a DVD and then copying it to your iPad to watch later is still a grey area legally and something we cannot advise. You should bear in mind that only MacBook Pros have optical drives, MacBook Airs do not.

So the question you need to ask yourself is where/when will you be using the device to watch videos?

MacBook or iPad: Movies and TV

MacBook or iPad: Music

When it comes to enjoying music, there’s not a huge amount of difference between the MacBook and the iPad. Both can be used to access and download music from iTunes; and both have 3.5mm auxiliary jacks, into which 99 percent of headphones will fit, as well as low powered speakers on which to listen to the music.

The real difference here between the MacBook and the iPad is what you can do with your music on each device. The iPad is very limited, and although it offers some apps to manage and lightly edit your music library, other than listening to the music there isn’t much else you can do on the iPad.

MacBooks take no prisoners where music is concerned though. Not only can you store more MP3s than you can on an iPad, but you can also use a MacBook to sync songs to your iPod/MP3 player, something that your iPad cannot do.

Another feather in the MacBook’s cap is that it comes with GarageBand installed. This is a great desktop application that lets you turn your Mac into a recording studio, with an incredibly easy to use interface. With this you can learn to play, record and edit music you’ve created. There is an iOS touch GarageBand app available for the iPad that costs £2.99, but it’s very fiddly and ultimately a long way off the high quality desktop app.

MacBook or iPad: Homework/Office work

If you’re thinking about buying a MacBook or iPad for homework/office work, then there really is no comparison to be made here. The MacBook wins hands down. The simple reason is because “work” is exactly what a MacBook is designed to do, whereas the iPad is much more or a playful entertainment device.

That’s not to say that word processing is not an option for the iPad, because it is. You can even buy Bluetooth keyboard for the iPad, but ultimately it’s a fiddly experience and time consuming one, if you need to correct errors in your work and/or frequently switch apps while working. On the other hand a MacBook has a full QWERTY keyboard and responsive mouse track pad and enough processing power, RAM and storage to handle anything the average student/officer worker will throw at it.

MacBook or iPad: Homework/Office work

MacBook or iPad: Internet and social media

The iPad is really good to use for surfing the internet and social networking. Its built-in web browser is one of the fastest on any tablet, and it will handle most things that websites throw at it with ease. That said, it sitll cannot - and will never be able to - play Flash, but sites that rely on Flash are now pretty rare. In terms of social networking the iPad has apps that are built specifically for the device. Facebook, Twitter and Instragram are all very quick and easy to use on the iPad.

How does that MacBook shape up? Well it’s a high-end laptop by design, so very well. Surfing the web on a MacBook is as good as it gets, with all major web browsers available to download including Chrome, Firefox and Opera.

You can also buy iPads that come with 3G connections, allowing you to surf the web on the go. While this is not available for MacBooks, you can buy 3G USB dongles that offer the same thing.

MacBook or iPad: Portability

In terms of portability you cannot really beat what the iPad offers. It comes in two sizes and while neither can de described as cumbersome, the iPad mini is very nearly a pocketable device. It won’t take up a lot of room in your hand luggage or workbag and is ready to use at the press of a button – the iPad boots (starts up) instantly. If you’re looking for something small and convenient then the iPad has a lot to offer.

There’s no denying that the MacBook is bigger and heavier than the iPad. However, MacBooks are still extremely portable. The MacBook pro is a little bulkier, measuring in a 13-inches and 15-inches. But the 11-inch MacBook Air really is only a little bigger than an iPad…(the 13-inch is obviously a little bit bigger again).

The MacBook Air is no slouch either, with impressive boot times thanks to the latest all-flash storage. The Ais is designed to be as portable and as fast to use as any laptop on the market, and ranks highly in our ‘what’s the best ultraportable laptop’ group test.

MacBook or iPad: Verdict

Hopefully by now, you’ve got an idea of just how different MacBooks and iPads are. But in attempt to succinctly advise what’s right for you, it really comes down to what you’re looking to get. If you’re looking for a device to watch videos on and surfing the web, then an iPad might be the right choice for you. However if you’re looking to do more than just watch videos and light internet browsing then a MacBook would be more suitable as there is very little you cannot do on Apple’s laptops. It is worth nothing that MacBooks are at the higher end of laptop RRPs.

So if you’re not willing to spend around £1,000 for a MacBook but still want a laptop, then we can’t suggest strongly enough that you take a look at our laptops buying advice page. Here you will links to articles that will tell you everything you need to know when buying a laptop.

IDG UK Sites

Best January sales 2015 UK tech deals LIVE: Best New Year bargains and savings on phones, tablets,...

IDG UK Sites

Chromebooks: ready for the prime time (but not for everybody)

IDG UK Sites

Best Photoshop Tutorials 2014: 10 inspiring step-by-step guides to creating amazing art,...

IDG UK Sites

Complete guide to iPhone and iPad settings: Get to know iOS 8 Settings UPDATED