MacBook Air vs. iPad 3 - Herbietown

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.





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.

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Comments 10

  1. Lancesimmons wrote:

    Wouldn’t it be great if they would just make an Air with retina display + touch screen (and backlit keyboard) so this would be an easy desicion? Pinche Apple…

    Posted 31 Mar 2012 at
  2. Christopher Herbert wrote:

    I couldn’t agree more.  Touch screen + Retina and I’d be done.  Keep your backlist keyboard if you want.  But the guy in the store, who seemed incredibly young and hipsterish, said it wasn’t likely.  “Poor user experience” he said.   Huh.  

    Posted 31 Mar 2012 at
  3. Delisa52 wrote:

    Like you said, you write this for yourself…but I am kind of blown away that a person who owns BOTH ipads AND a Mac desktop still needs another Apple toy. how about keeping what you have until there is a practical need for a new one and saving money for retirement or a vacation?

    Posted 21 May 2012 at
  4. Christopher Herbert wrote:

    Delisa52 – that’s exactly where I’ve ended up. Sometimes the best way to get over Apple lust is to write about it extensively and in great detail. List all the reasons you want it, list all the reasons you don’t. Eventually the lust, like all lust, will fade. I still want a MacBook Air, but the wiser choice is to wait until the new ones are released. For now, I’ll gently pine away, and see whether my new level-headedness can find other uses for the cash.

    Sent from

    Posted 22 May 2012 at
  5. R.A. Leslie wrote:

    incredibly helpful and all your efforts and work put into this for “yourself” actually helped me–someone else! so thank you for doing the leg work for me. still not sure which one to go with.

    Posted 29 May 2012 at
  6. Monguesto wrote:

    You missed one point. Ipad effectively has twice the battery life of the air. I went the ipad, zagg route-makes me very happy. Especially when I use an app to connect to my pc for heavier duty (like office)- but can still handle lightweight functions on the ipad excel manipulation for example.

    Posted 26 Jun 2012 at
  7. Christopher Herbert wrote:

    Can you really do Excel on the iPad? Is that via Numbers or by connecting to your PC?

    Posted 26 Jun 2012 at
  8. Steve wrote:

    Based on your use –with the exception of battery life, the Air is the device for this type of use.

    I LOVE the iPad. However, the one thing it just doesn’t do well that you mention a lot of above (and this is my opinion based on my experience) is taking notes. I don’t know what kind of notes you’re taking.

    When I take notes, it’s usually when someone is speaking quickly and is not going to slow down for me. I have tried lots of apps, but they all fail in taking important notes when compared to the trackpad/cursor user interface of a laptop. A MacBook Air is also only 1 pound heavier than an iPad (the 11″) and it’s not much bigger. Plus, it’s less fragile. I feel like I could (in the worst case scenario) drop the Air and it wouldn’t die, but the iPad feels fragile and has no case. Of course, the air closes. Also, for storage space, the 64 GB iPad is $699. For $300 more, you can get the air.

    The reality is that these devices are not comparable at all. It’s like saying, ok, I have a car. Now, I want a new toy. Should I get a boat or a motorcycle? And then, you’re already talking about how you’re going to use them the same way you use your car. You will use them differently because they are totally different.

    I think the Air is way more practical. But, I LOVE the iPad. If someone were to pry on of the devices from my cold dead body, I hope they’d at least leave the iPad.

    I find that the majority of my device usage is in consuming media e.g. reading, browsing. For this, I prefer the iPad. I even love iPad’s apps for writing. But not for note-taking. Reading PDFs and books on the iPad is totally outstanding. Annotating PDFs on the iPad is very good to just good.

    I’m typing this up on an Air because the internet just isn’t quite ready for realtime typing and posting. I only trust the iPad for this purpose when I type up stuff in Pages or something and then later copy/paste it into a window like this.

    Buy both. I did.

    Posted 02 Jul 2012 at
  9. Mark D. wrote:

    I became consumed by the same lust and spent months trying to rationalize the iPad3 over the 13″ Air, going so far as to create the following spreadsheet, but like you I finally decided to hold off until October-November of this year to see what Apple may pop for the holidays. Still undecided, still lusting:


    Mark D.

    Posted 16 Oct 2012 at
  10. David Thomson wrote:

    iPad is the best friend I’ve ever got just Hold it in your hand and you are hooked by its size, feather weight and sheer quality. Apple was late with the iPad mini but in my view they really have hit the spot.

    iPad 2 case

    Posted 02 Mar 2013 at

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