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An iPad or a Laptop? Only One of These is Worth Buying

Choosing between an iPad and a normal laptop is still a common question, pushed by the introduction of iPadOS which has brought the two product categories closer than ever.

I would say that there are three different categories of people who would consider this question. So, instead of focusing on one use case I have divided this article into 3 sections, feel free to jump to the one that is most relevant to you, but if you want the full picture then read each section.

  1. Students.
  2. General usage.
  3. Professional needs.

Since I’m a big fan of hearing the conclusion upfront in articles videos, I’ll adopt that style and say that in almost every case it just makes more sense to get a laptop instead of an iPad, especially if you’re a student where you want the best value for your money.
(oh and just a small disclaimer that in this article I focus on comparing the MacBook but of course the same info applies to equivalent Windows laptops like the Dell XPS line and the high-end HP laptops.


a: Does your course need a specific software? — If you take a course in graphic design or physics then your decision is already made by the software you need to use.
Often times there simply isn’t an iPad version of desktop software so it’s best to check your course to see if there are any software requirements and make your decision from that. If so, you will almost always have to chose between MacOS or Windows so you can safely remove the iPad from consideration.
b: NEED for the Apple Pencil — Arguably the biggest distinguishing feature between a MacBook and iPad is the ability to use an Apple Pencil. If you are aware of your main computing need in your degree is a device on which you can electronically draw on, definitely go for an iPad — its probably the most versatile drawing tablet available today.
See also:
Best drawing apps for iPad
c: more general use — Most students such as those taking courses like English, law or languages simply need a computer to research and type essays so have the most freedom of choice. Now, you may think that this is an ideal use case for an iPad but I would still argue that it makes more sense to get a laptop

  • This is for a number of reasons, the most important one being practicality. A normal iPad has a screen that is simply too small for what I would call normal multitasking such as typing and research and storage that is too small for long term use. Most laptops are at least 13 inches which may not sound very different from the 10.5 inches of the iPad Air, but trust me, it makes a big difference when you use them for a long period of time.
  • If you want an iPad with a laptop screen size you can only chose the 12.9 inch Pro which already costs nearly £1000 with half the storage compared to the equivalently priced MacBook Air. You then have to buy a keyboard for a decent typing experience which is another 200. The on screen keyboard isn’t the most convenient thing to use, especially since it occupies half of the already small screen. If you decide to go for a cheaper alternative to the official Apple keyboard case, it’s something extra to carry around, charge and is not nearly as convenient as a laptop with a built in keyboard and trackpad.
  • Considering that most students typically need a computer to type and research, it makes sense to choose a device with the most usable screen (one that is larger) and a a nice keyboard (one that isn’t on screen).
  • iPadOS is also just a less versatile operating system than MacOS or Windows, at least at the time of writing. Everything just feels slower, like it’s an extra step or two away. For instance, I use the files app for documents which unlike Preview on the Mac doesn’t have any way of searching through a PDF unless you engage a third party app. It just feels cumbersome in some situations.
  • Also minor stuff, like charging and using a USB stick isn’t possible on the iPad without a hub or the £300 Magic Keyboard and iPad Pro combination.
  • A monitor is another thing that many people think is worth investing in to increase computing efficiency and at the moment iPadOS just isn’t working well with them. Most apps are just mirrored, there is no option to expand your screen, and it doesn’t even fill the entire screen. This absence of future versatility makes the iPad less ideal for a long term use.

One more thing. There are also more students who are starting to use the iPad and Apple pencil to go paperless with apps such as GoodNotes. This is awesome and I know it works for the vast majority of students but its not something that I would use for all my notes.
This is because I don’t want to be stuck if I break my iPad.
If your documents are backed up from your laptop then you could use a college computer but if your notes are all handwritten and something goes wrong then it becomes more difficult to continue unless your willing to print all your notes and start hand writing on paper which defeats the whole purpose of digital note taking.
So, if you know that hand writing on the iPad with apple pencil is ideal for you then by all means, get the iPad but i would definitely take some time to think about whether this system is actually something you’ll want to sustain in the long term.

General Use:

Now, for general use such as just a home or work computer, more of a case can be made for buying an iPad rather than a MacBook. If you know that you will only use your computer to do light web browsing, deal with emails and watch videos on YouTube, then an iPad may certainly suit your needs.
However, at the risk of appearing like a broken record, the same shortcomings that I mentioned earlier still apply. The display is simply smaller than laptops unless you buy the £1000 12.9 inch iPad Pro. The storage is also limited compared to equivalently priced laptops. Therefore, if you don’t use cloud storage and you want to store all your photos on your laptop, you’ll need to fork out some extra money for more storage.

The cheapest iPad comes with 32GB of storage so you’d want to upgrade to the 128GB version and at that point you’re nearing the price of the iPad Air which is an overall better device (better screen, speed and cameras) but only has 64GB of storage.
A MacBook Air with education discount costs about £900 and although it is certainly more expensive than most iPads, I think its value over time makes it cheaper than an iPad. This is because I believe that you can use a laptop for a long period of time before you feel like you want to upgrade than an iPad.
Actually, you can purchase another monitor afterwards and boost your computer productivity or even an external graphics card if you want to do some video editing. These future ‘improvements paths’ are simply impossible with the iPad.
The iPad that you purchase now is the iPad that you will always have until Apple decides to mak iPadOS even more similar to the fully featured MacOS operating system.

The iPad is obviously a useful device, but if you have to chose between a laptop and an iPad then I would still suggest going for the laptop.

Professional Use:

In this case, if you’re a professional who has a demanding use for their computer then you are probably aware of the limitations of the iPad and iPadOS. You might already be aware that if it’s hardware and software can be used in your workflow to complete your work.
See also:
I Ditched the Mac for the iPad – Here’s how it Went
While there are some equivalents to desktop software on the iPad such as the full version of Photoshop, most don’t feature the same functions. This is mostly used because the iPad is a touch first device so everything is designed with your fingers as the method of interaction rather than a mouse and keyboard which reduces the level of granular control possible.
As a professional you know more about your assignment so my recommendation wouldn’t help. I would just say to not be influenced by how revolutionary it looks to do your work on such a thin slab of metal and glass.

Signing off:

The iPad is undoubtedly the best tablet out there and it can definitely be used to perform most tasks that an average person needs computer to do. However, I would still maintain that it is more of a companion device which is seen by the fact that it can literally be used as an external display for your MacBook with SideCar.So if I were asked to pick one device then I would certainly go for a laptop.
The larger screen, more storage, and built in keyboard and a more versatile operating system makes it a more compelling option for the vast majority of people. You can get a lot of computer things done with an iPad but at the moment the reality is that you can just get the things you want to get done faster and with fewer workarounds on a laptop.
See also:
Don’t buy a Laptop, Buy a MacBook: Here’s Why
Thank you for reading. If you have any question or feedback,, please let me know in the comments section below.

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