This week, Apple announced a new 13-inch MacBook Pro. Last month, Apple announced a new 12.9-inch iPad Pro and Magic Keyboard dock. Sure, there’s a new 16-inch MacBook Pro and an 11-inch iPad Pro, but since this is a comparison I’m sticking with what’s most comparable.
Because, frankly, I wasn’t originally going to do this video. I mean at all. I felt like it was too Apples to… Apple’s other Apples.
But you kept asking, you kept saying you had money to spend on one of Apple’s new 13-ish inch pro portables, you were just having trouble deciding on which one. And I’m here for you, always, so I’m doing it.
The MacBook Pro is a classic laptop. It has the guts of a full on portable Mac stuffed beneath the keyboard, with a sleek, incredibly thin display permanently hinged on top.
The iPad Pro with the Magic Keyboard is the exact opposite. It has its guts stuff behind the display, which then opportunistically and magnetically grafts itself atop the kinda thin, but also kinda heaving keyboard dock.
The end result is that, with the MacBook Pro, you have a solid base and, because the display is so light and can’t become dislodged or detached, the ability to angle it and use it on pretty much any surface and from pretty much any position. You can open it wide without tipping it back, and it’ll stay totally stable on your lap. Of course, you can’t take that display off and walk away with it whenever you want either.
The iPad Pro has a fairly strong, albeit magnetic connection to the Magic Keyboard dock and, while that allows for unrestricted positioning from closed to open, the weight of the iPad Pro itself only lets it functionally open so far. And, while it totally works on the lap, the same extra weight on the top likewise makes it a little less — please don’t make me say lappable — that devices literally called laptops. But, when you don’t need the keyboard, you can just tear the iPad Pro off and use it like the full-on, ultra light weight tablet it is, the way nature and Jobs intended. Something you can’t do with any MacBook.
So, if you prefer the traditional computer clamshell, with heavy base locked to super light lid, you’ll prefer the MacBook Pro.
If you prefer the tablet but occasionally want to do traditional typing in a mostly traditional way, you’ll prefer the iPad Pro with Magic Keyboard.
The MacBook Pro has a 13.3-inch LCD panel. It’s Retina density, which in general means an average person from an average viewing distance shouldn’t be able to see individual pixels. In this case, it also specifically means 2560‑by‑1600 pixels at 227 pixels per inch at up to 60Hz. It’s bright, at 500 nits, and digital cinema P3 gamut, which means the color space is wide enough for richer reds and deeper greens. It also has TrueTone, so it adjusts to the color temperature of your environment for whites that don’t look too blue or too yellow but proper paper white.
The iPad Pro has a 12.9-inch LCD panel. It’s also Retina density, but 2732-by-2048-pixel resolution at 264 pixels per inch, so even denser than the MacBook Pro. It’s also P3 gamut, but brighter at 600 nits, and TrueTone, but instead of being limited to 60Hz, it can go all the way up to 120Hz for silky smooth scrolling and, more directly aligned with my interests, ramp down to 24 to show movies the way nature and Hollywood intended.
The MacBook display is also square and has about the same amount of bezel as it’s had since 2016. The iPad Air has rounded edges and had a good portion of its bezels taken away in 2018. They’re actually not that different in terms of ratio, but change elicits excitement so the iPad feels more modern and fresh, especially considering the 16-inch MacBook Pro went even more edge-to-edge last year.
The biggest difference, though, is that the Mac does not have multitouch or any ability to take touch input, built into the display. All of that is handled through the Touch Bar and trackpad. The iPad, though… well, it was born of multitouch.
More on that in a minute.
The MacBook Pro has slightly better speakers than before, with a stereo, high definition, wide, spatial audio, Dolby Atmos compatible pair that sit on either side of the keyboard. They’re nowhere near the almost HomePod quality of the 16-inch MacBook Pro speakers introduced last year, but they still sound loud and clear.
The iPad Pro has four speakers, two each on the top and bottom, when held in portrait orientation. It’s not quadraphonic, but rather designed to keep the proper stereo sound playing regardless of how you rotate them. And they sound every bit as loud and clear.
There’s a three mic array on the 13-inch MacBook Pro, which is fine. Not what Apple calls “studio quality” though, like on the 16-inch MacBook Pro… and the 2020 iPad Pro. They’re supposed to be more like dedicated USB mics, and something you can use if you forget your pro mics in a pinch.
So, the speakers are pretty much a wash but if you need to record audio on the go, without an external mic, the iPad Pro’s got you.
On the flip side, the MacBook Pro still has its 3.5mm headphone jack, so you can plug in whatever you like. The iPad Pro lost its jack last redesign, so it’s USB-C external only for you.
Speaking of which…
The lower-end MacBook Pro has two USB-C / Thunderbolt 3 ports, both on the left side. The higher-end version has four USB-C / Thunderbolt 3 ports, two on each side.
The iPad Pro has one full on USB-C port, but no Thunderbolt 3 since Apple doesn’t surface PCIe for the interconnect on the iPad. The Magic Keyboard dock has a second USB-C port for power delivery but not for data, since it transits through the smart connector which doesn’t have the same bandwidth, far as I know.
So, if you need more ports or higher speed ports, you’ll need the MacBook Pro.
The MacBook Pro has a tiny, 720p potato of a FaceTime camera mounted top and center, and… that’s it.
The iPad Pro has a proper, 1080p , 60fps selfie / FaceTime camera not just with much better back and low light capabilities, but with a full on set of True Depth sensors for augmented reality and Face ID.
But… it’s mounted on the side, at least when docked to the Magic Keyboard, which is way better but way more awkward.
On the back… the MacBook Pro has nothing and more nothing.
The iPad Pro on the other hand has like an iPhone 11 jr. camera system, with a 12 megapixel, 4K wide angle and ultra wide angle. Also, a LiDAR sensor for instant augmented reality experiences.
Which the MacBook Pro doesn’t have. No ARKit at all. But, you really need to take the iPad Pro off the Magic Keyboard to use it as a camera. Though that’s exactly what it’s meant for.
So, if you want or need cameras beyond your phone or dedicated camera, you’ll want or need to go with the iPad Pro. Even with the goofy angle when docked.
Trackpad and Keyboard
Both the new MacBook Pro and the new keyboard for the iPad Pro are… magic. That’s Apple’s existing, stand-alone Mac keyboard brand re-interpreted for the MacBook and for the iPad dock.
It’s backlit and uses scissor switches, like the old-school MacBooks, but is designed to feel more stable, like the butterfly switches. Like I’ve been saying, best of both keyboard worlds.
One the MacBook, it’s permanently attached. Literally the flip-side of the display. And it has a few things the iPad version didn’t. Like an escape key, a Touch ID-enabled power key, and Touch Bar for easy access not only to shortcuts but to media and settings controls.
The iPad Pro version has no Touch Bar, and no function or media row, but has a dedicated emoji key, so there.
The MacBook Pro trackpad is also much, much, much bigger. Which some people dislike, because of accidental touch events, but others love because of all the room for touch gestures.
The iPad Pro’s trackpad isn’t as big, and is physical rather than Taptic and virtual, like on the Mac. Of course, the iPad Pro has that huge, totally touchable display anyway.
Also, the iPad Pro has an optional Apple Pencil that attaches magnetically to the iPad Pro, charges inductively, and lets you do pretty much any drawing and handwriting you want to, right on the display.
So, the MacBook Pro keyboard is more like a like a traditional keyboard, Touch Bar not withstanding, and the trackpad is bigger with a cursor that’s more precise… because it needs to be.
The iPad Pro keyboard comes off, and is more of an accessory that expands the iPad Pro than the input method that defines it.
Here’s where it gets fun. The MacBook Pro has Intel processors and graphics. 8th generation and Iris 645 on the low end and 10th generation and Iris Plus on the high end.
It starts at 1.4GHz quad-core 8th Gen Intel Core i5 and tops out at a 2.3GHz quad‑core 10th‑generation Intel Core i7, with turbo from 3.9 to 4.1GHz.
The iPad Pro has only one processor option, and it’s the A13Z system-on-a-chip with efficiency and performance cores, built-in graphics and neural engine, and a variety of accelerators, security, and controller blocks.
Which is similar, but way more modern, than what the T2 chip does on the Mac.
The T2 is still Touch ID generation tech while the A13Z is Face ID era.
Likewise, while the MacBook Pro is still limited to 802.11ac and has no option for cellular connectivity at all, the iPad Pro has WiFi6 and optional Gigabit LTE.
But… the iPad Pro is limited to 6GB of RAM where the MacBook Pro starts at 8GB and the high-end model can go up to 32GB.
Likewise, the iPad Pro tops out at 1TB of storage where the high-end MacBook Pro goes all the way to 4TB. And it still handles external storage way more flexibly and just downright better. Which can be a meaningful difference.
Now, Apple has been updating their chips far more aggressively and successfully than Intel has over the last few years, to say the least. But silicon doesn’t mean much to people without the software that runs on it, so…
The MacBook Pro runs macOS, which is a fully mature, traditional, mouse and pointer, graphical user interface-based operating system.
And it can run all the traditional, x86 and AMD64-based software that runs on the Mac, from the Mac App Store apps, to the highest end, most niche, most powerful pro and scientific apps, all the multiple decades worth. All that require gobs of RAM and huge amounts of storage.
The iPad Pro runs, as of last year, iPadOS, a still-maturing, multitouch-based operating system.
And it can run all the hundreds of thousands of iPadOS apps in the iPad App Store. Which, in some ways, is far wider, but in others, isn’t quite as deep. Like it’s still struggling with Photoshop and doesn’t have the type of production software used by major studios or in science labs, for example. Especially the stuff that needs Bootcamp or virtual machine capabilities because it runs only on Windows.
Now, iPadOS has just recently gotten full trackpad and pointer support, although it’s not quite the same as macOS.
So, if you want that traditional computer experience and you need to run specific, Mac-only or Windows software, you’re going to want and need a Mac.
But, if you prefer the direct manipulation of an iPad, all the iPad apps, and the ability to use software designed not just for a typing computer but a real tablet computer, you’re going to prefer the iPad Pro.
The low end 13-inch MacBook Pro starts at $1299 U.S. for the 8th gen core i5 and maxes out at $2,499 for the i7, 16GB, 2TB model. The high end model starts at $1,799 U.S. That’s for the 4-port, 10th gen model, which can go all the way up to $3,599 with every option maxed out. Which, yeah, is a lot of money. 16-inch MacBook money.
The low end 12.9-inch iPad Pro starts at $999 U.S for 128GB with Wi-Fi, or $1348 with the Magic Keyboard, and goes all the way up to $1649 for 1TB with LTE, or $1998, maxed out.
So, MacBook Pro vs. iPad Pro — they’re such fundamentally different devices that they’re really not directly comparable.
That means, you have to ask yourself a series of questions:
- Do you want or really need a traditional computer that runs traditional computer software, including legacy production or Windows software, in a very traditional way, with massive amounts of memory and storage, even if the silicon is uninspiring and the camera will have you reaching for your iPhone at any opportunity.
- Or, do you want a multitouch tablet that offers all the portability and flexibility of a tablet, including full on camera systems and the optional Pencil, but can also dock with the Magic Keyboard for those times where you want a more traditional-style computing experiences.
Also, do you already have an iPad or Mac? If there’s an iMac on your desk, maybe you’re better off with an iPad Pro in your hands. Or, if you have an iPad Air or mini, maybe a MacBook Pro will let you get different things done better.
End of the day, you can get more bang for your buck with the iPad Pro, but only if it’s the kind of bang you really need to get done.