Herbietown - MacBook Air vs. iPad 3

MacBook Air vs. iPad 3

I am agonizing.

I want a new toy.  I have money in the budget for a new toy.  But I can’t decide which one to get – the MacBook Air or the new iPad.  I realize how incredibly boring it is to read about someone else’s technology decision-making process, especially for Apple products, but I don’t write for you, I write for me.

So eat it.

MacBook Air 11 inch

The new iPad

The 7 primary use cases for this new toy will be, in order of priority:

  1. Blogging during my commute on Metro North (writing in Evernote, surfing the web occasionally for photos, and publishing via WordPress),
  2. Taking notes constantly throughout the day at work (Evernote)
  3. Managing my email inbox: writing messages, reading and filing messages
  4. Managing my to-do lists for both work and home stuff (Toodledo)
  5. Consuming news, mainly via the WSJ app in the morning, but also by following links in email, twitter, and RSS readers
  6. Writing in coffee shops on the weekends (Evernote, Web, WordPress)
  7. Managing work documents (Excel, Powerpoint)
So, I need both mobile connectivity and I need offline access.  Also, note that I already own 2 iPads.   The iPad 2 is my primary device right now and I have a keyboard case that goes along with it.  I love it.  I want something new because I am a man and I am very susceptible to advertising and jealousy.  But this is important because I could easily carry around both devices if necessary.
Here are the 7 issues I see between the two devices:

1. Typing:
Zagg and Adonit are the leading vendors and both offer something for $99-$129, with new models the iPad 3 coming out in a few weeks.

Zagg Keyboard Folio

Adonit Keyboard & Case

Still, a real keyboard is better.  The Air has backlit keys that are spaced more comfortably, and I do a lot of writing so this is important.


2. Connectivity

The speed of 4G is appealing, but only in Manhattan and parts of the boroughs (far as I can tell).  Verizon and AT&T offer coverage maps (Verizon’s is far better).  Mossberg at WSJ says that Verizon LTE is the only one offering true 4G with super-fast speeds, and the maps seems to show decent coverage in southwestern CT and Manhattan where I spend my time.

Verizon’s 4G Coverage Map – looks promising for Connecticut

AT&T 4G coverage map (telling that they only show Manhattan and boroughs)

HOWEVER,  and this is important, my contacts at Metro North all tell me AT&T is better on the trains, better in Grand Central, better at handoffs between towers.

Twittersation with @stationstops

It’s too confusing.  I could take a risk (and extra expense) and give Verizon 4G a try, but I’m starting to think I’d rather stick with my AT&T iPhone 3G hotspot for $15/month and wait until more evidence comes out.  I will definitely be getting the iPhone 5 when it comes out – maybe it will be 4G and offer hotspot capabilities, which either device could take advantage of.


3.  Offline Access

Because the connectivity along my commute isn’t always perfect, I need offline access for my most used services.  You would think the Air would crush the iPad in this category, but you would be wrong.  There are great apps for WordPress, Evernote, Toodledo, Mint, and WSJ.  I think the Mac has solutions for WordPress, and Mac’s Evernote app is great, but Toodledo, Mint and WSJ would require an internet connection or that I switch devices back to my iPad 2.

On other hand, there are tons of other programs on the Air that I could use, like iPhoto, Word, etc, that would probably start to replace my app usage over time.  And let’s face it, if I’m trying to be a writer, I should be focusing on writing.  I live and breathe in a newsroom so I am inundated with all the news I could ever want.  It would actually feel good to cancel that WSJ iPad subscription. (plus, $17.99 * 12 = $216)

ADVANTAGE: iPad (but not by a huge margin)

4. Work Email
No great solutions for my work email on the Mac.  This is a large percentage of my train time on some days, so this one is critical.  We have a great iPad app though.  I hear something is in the works but it could take awhile.  If I go with the Air, work emails would need to be banged out on my iPhone, or I would have to carry both devices with me.


5.  Touchscreen

I love the touchscreen on the iPad.  It is so intuitive and fun to use.  The Air has that trackpad thing, which we love on our Mac Desktop (did I mention we got one of those last year?), but it’s still not quite the same as the iPad touchscreen.  On the other hand, I would still have my iPad 2 for when I wanted to go into pure content consumption mode via Instapaper or the Businessweek app.

Multitouch gestures


6. Cost

The Air would costs 3x the iPad, or an extra $1008.  Ugh.

The Air costs $1,540 all-in.  I would get the 11 inch model with 128 GB RAM and 4GB memory, plus Apple Care plus tax.  The iPad would be the Wifi-Only big one (64GB), and I would sell our first gen iPad for $268 on Amazon.  Net cost for iPad: $531.  Here’s the google spreadsheet with the details.


7. Dev Cycle

The Air is due for an update this summer. The iPad has probably 12 months of shelf life as the latest and greatest. Can I wait until the summer?  I’m also told that there is a new MacBook Pro in production right now, which will be significantly lighter and which will probably drive down the prices on the Air.  So this is really about waiting a few months.  Given the Apple lust in my loins, this will be very, very difficult.

From MacRumors.com


8. Work Files
The iPad is amazing but you still can’t get really involved in a Excel/PPT/Word files. I will still stick with Evernote for notes and writing, but sometimes work requires the full functionality.

Advantage: AIR

To summarize:

  1. Typing: AIR
  2. Connectivity: Push
  3. Offline access: iPad
  4. Work email: iPad, though carrying 2 devices would mitigate this
  5. Touchscreen: Push, though I’d have to carry 2 devices
  6. Cost: iPad, 3x more expensive!
  7. Dev Cycle: iPad, but only if I insist on buying new toy now
  8. Work Files: AIR
So iPad wins 4-2, with 2 pushes.  And there’s a strong argument that I should wait for new MacBook Air this summer.  Temper my lust, let the dust settle, see how pacing vs. the budget progresses.  Deal with myself.  It’s going to be hard.