New iPad Air or MacBook Air – which should I buy?

They may have the same processor inside, but they're still very different Apple devices

iPad Air (2022)
(Image credit: Apple)

The new iPad Air 2022 is very similar to the MacBook Air: it has the same system on a chip, the Apple M1, and that means it's the most powerful iPad Air ever. If you're in the market for new Apple kit that means the choice between it and the MacBook Air is tougher than ever. So how do you choose? I think you should ask yourself a few quick questions.

How much do you want to spend?

The iPad Air is £569 / $599 and the MacBook Air is £999 / $999. But there's more to it than that. Taking the iPad's storage to the same 256GB takes the price up to £719 / $749, and Apple's Magic Keyboard is another £279 / $299. Of course you could buy a non-Apple keyboard to save money, but the Apple option is the most elegant.

Where are you going to use it?

The MacBook Air isn't available with integrated 5G, but the iPad Air is: it's an extra £150, though, so for occasional use you'd be better using the personal hotspot feature in your iPhone – and your MacBook Air could use that too. But for go-anywhere portability the iPad is the clear winner here: it's a third of the weight of the MacBook, and its sleek case makes it eminently bag-friendly. It's also easier to find space for on a cramped commuter train or economy flight, and it's much more comfortable when you're sprawled on the sofa.

The big downside here is that if you want to use the iPad like a desktop you're going to want at least a keyboard stand, and ideally an external monitor too. We wouldn't want to multi-task for long without a bigger display. On the subject of which... 

What do you want to connect to it?

Both devices support a single external monitor but while the iPad Air only has a single USB 3.1/DisplayPort/Charging port the MacBook Air has two, both of which are also 40Gb/s Thunderbolt 3 ports for super-fast devices such as speedy external storage. Don't assume that something with a USB port will work on the iPad Air or the MacBook Air, though: some devices, notably music hardware and older kit, doesn't get on well with iPads or Apple Silicon. 

What are you going to do on it?

The iPad can do almost anything the MacBook Air can, but there's a big but there: some heavyweight apps, such as Logic Pro X and Final Cut Pro X, aren't available for iPad – although you might be surprised by how good iPad versions of apps such as Photoshop and rivals such as the Affinity apps are, and there are some genuinely brilliant iPad music and video editing apps. However, while many apps are available for both devices the operating system they'll run on is different, so if you're big on multi-tasking or use apps that depend on lots of plugins the Mac is going to be better than the iPad. 

The other big difference, of course, is that the MacBook Air doesn't have a touchscreen or Apple Pencil compatibility – so while you might not want to use an iPad Air for music production, it's much better for illustrators than a MacBook Air. It's also great for spaces where a normal laptop just doesn't work, such as when you want to scribble handwritten notes.

When do you intend to buy it?

If you need it right now, be aware that as a newly launched device the likelihood of seeing the iPad Air 5 among the best iPad Air deals is pretty slim for the foreseeable future – and you also need to be aware that the MacBook Air is about to be replaced with a newer model. We don't know exactly when and we don't know if the current model will be completely replaced or if the new model will supplement it, but either way you'll be able to pick up the current one more cheaply the longer you wait. We'd strongly recommend looking for the best MacBook Air deals so you don't pay top dollar for a model that may soon be replaced.

As for the iPad, it's just been launched so don't expect a replacement until at least 2024. That makes it a safe buy.

Writer, musician and broadcaster Carrie Marshall has been covering technology since 1998 and is particularly interested in how tech can help us live our best lives. Her CV is a who’s who of magazines, newspapers, websites and radio programmes ranging from T3, Techradar and MacFormat to the BBC, Sunday Post and People’s Friend. Carrie has written thirteen books, ghost-wrote two more and co-wrote another seven books and a Radio 2 documentary series. When she’s not scribbling, she’s the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR (havrmusic.com (opens in new tab)).