If you’re looking for portable power in the Apple ecosystem, the MacBook Pro immediately leaps out. But the iPad Pro is also a very capable contender for your attention, especially after its 2020 update. The new compact frame, beefy processor, Apple Pencil support, and Magic Keyboard cover all make it a very strong choice for working on the go.
Apple often touts its iPads as computer replacements, but how true is that when the iPad Pro is put up against the MacBook Pro? That’s a score we aim to settle.
The MacBook Pro and iPad Pro have vastly different designs, each with its own considerations. Let’s start with the iPad Pro.
The top-of-the-line iPad comes in 11-inch and 12.9-inch sizes, along with space gray and silver color options. The company completely redesigned the iPad Pro in October 2018 to feature much thinner bezels and a flat-edged chassis. Apple refined that new design even further in March 2020, bringing Magic Keyboard and trackpad support to its top-end tablet.
Currently on the back is a 10-megapixel ultra-wide camera, a 12MP wide-angle camera, and a lidar sensor. Along the flat edge is Apple’s magnetic Smart Connector for attaching accessories like external keyboards. This flat edge allows the second-generation Apple Pencil to magnetically attach for a wireless recharge. In older models, the Apple Pencil awkwardly stuck out of the Lightning port like a sword.
The iPad Pro is 0.23 inches thick, making it Apple’s thinnest iPad. Weighing between 1.04 pounds and 1.42 pounds (depending on size and configuration), it’s light enough to throw in a backpack and take wherever you go.
The MacBook Pro is a very different beast.
The MacOS-based laptop comes in 13.3-inch and 16-inch sizes. Compared to the iPad Pro, those larger dimensions mean the weight increases, too, tipping the scales at 3.0 pounds and 4.3 pounds, respectively.
Like the iPad Pro, the MacBook Pro has an all-metal chassis. Both devices are extremely well-made and feel truly premium — no flimsy plastic casings here.
There are other similarities, too, such as how both use USB-C ports. For instance, the iPad Pro only provides one port that supports transfer speeds of up to 10Gbps. The MacBook Pro supplies two or four — depending on display size and configuration — supporting Thunderbolt 3’s super-fast transfer speeds of up to 40Gbps along with external graphics.
Unfortunately, neither device allows much in the way of modularity or component changes after purchase. While that may be unsurprising for a tablet, it’s slightly more unusual for a laptop. Changing any component in a MacBook Pro, from the memory to the solid-state drive, is a pretty involved task requiring various tools and plenty of patience.
Whichever device you choose, make sure you’re happy with the configuration before making a purchase.
The iPad Pro’s key feature is, unsurprisingly, its display. Apple has not skimped here, equipping its top-tier tablet with a superb screen that’ll make working on the go a joy. We said the recent 2020 model was “the best version of the best tablet you can buy” in our review, and it’s easy to see why.
For starters, the display’s True Tone feature automatically adjusts its white balance according to the surroundings, making viewing easier on the eyes and a more natural-feeling. It doesn’t sound like much, but it really makes a difference in use.
The iPad Pro also uses the same Liquid Retina tech seen in the iPhone XR. The display has a 2732 x 2048 resolution in the 12.9-inch model and 2388 x 1668 in the 11-inch device. Apple’s ProMotion tech automatically adjusts the refresh rate up to 120Hz — double the refresh rate of the MacBook Pro. The result is a super-smooth experience and an incredibly natural feel when using the Apple Pencil.
Apple overhauled the Apple Pencil alongside the iPad Pro in 2018. It now features a flat edge, so it magnetically clips to the tablet’s flat edge to receive a charge. It essentially turns the iPad Pro into a digital notebook — just double-tap it on the screen to change from a pencil to an eraser, for example. It’s great for hands-on drawing and writing tasks.
Moving to the MacBook Pro, both sizes feature IPS Retina displays. The 13-inch model offers a 2560 x 1600 resolution, whereas the 16-inch model bumps up to 3072 x 1920. Both models have the same True Tone tech offered in the iPad Pro.
Apple discontinued its failure-prone butterfly keyboard in late 2019 starting with the 16-inch MacBook Pro. In its place is Apple’s superior Magic Keyboard, which we found to be the best Mac keyboard to date. The company did the same with its refreshed 13-inch MacBook Pro in May 2020.
Both MacBook models have an oversized trackpad that works with a huge range of MacOS gestures. While the trackpad feels clicky, it doesn’t physically move when pressed — it simply uses haptic feedback to simulate that clicky movement. It’s superb and easily the best and largest currently available on a laptop, beating its Windows rivals.
There’s also the Touch Bar to consider. It replaces the function keys with an OLED strip that presents interactive shortcuts to various common tasks. These shortcuts change depending on the app. Mac owners can even customize the Touch Bar to add or remove buttons as needed.
Complementing the Touch Bar is a power button with Apple’s Touch ID sensor sitting directly to the right. Touch ID enables quick logins and immediate purchase verifications using just a finger.
Finally, MacOS is a mature system supporting plenty of heavy-duty apps, like Adobe Premiere. It’s built for a computer, so users can install traditional desktop software. The default input is through a keyboard and mouse (or tracked on laptops).
Meanwhile, the iPad Pro runs iPadOS, which Apple spun from iOS. It’s far less established than MacOS and, while a very good operating system in its own right, doesn’t support desktop software. It’s built for mobile, meaning it relies on touch-based input and only offers apps through the App Store. It does, however, now support trackpad gestures, which bring it a little closer to MacOS.
That said, Apple now provides developers with better support for porting their iPad apps over to the Mac thanks to Mac Catalyst and MacOS Big Sur, so things may change. The line separating the two should eventually disappear as Apple moves all Macs over to in-house processors.
Overall, both platforms have app advantages — the iPad Pro has the benefit of the robust iOS app ecosystem, while the MacBook Pro has the professional native desktop apps the iPad Pro lacks.
The “Pro” in iPad Pro isn’t just there for show — this really is a powerful device. Apple produces its own mobile chips, and each one gets better and beefier than the last.
The Pro’s A12Z Bionic system on chip (SoC) absolutely destroys the competition. For example, the 2018 Pro had an AnTuTu 3D score of 717,717 versus the Samsung Galaxy S6 score of 352,209. As we suggested in our iPad Pro review, it’s faster than any tablet currently on the market. Those who want something quicker should consider the MacBook Pro instead.
That said, over the last few years, the MacBook Pro’s real strength lies in its multicore performance, and that’s likely to remain the case, even with a new-gen iPad Pro. Things like video rendering will really benefit from that extra power — not to mention that most high-end apps will be limited to the MacBook Pro due to its OS and hardware.
However, with the latest MacBook Pro 13 from 2020, there is something extra to consider. The $1,299 and $1,499 models now use Apple’s in-house M1 processor rather than an Intel chip. In our review for the M1 MacBook Pro, we called it “the most exciting Mac in years.” And we meant it. The power of the M1 chip combined with the incredible battery life makes for a truly great laptop experience. The MacBook Pro is even capable of gaming thanks to the M1 chip.
Meanwhile, the $1,799 and $1,999 models still use Intel’s 10th-generation processors. They don’t perform as well as the M1 option, but they do offer greater flexibility for external GPUs and multi-display setups. This is critical if you’re a creative pro with a complex workflow or do a lot of rendering. Make sure you choose carefully if the MacBook Pro 13 is on your radar.
The MacBook Pro’s power and flexibility win
Ultimately, any decision you make when choosing between devices like these will be influenced by two factors: Price and software.
So, which should you choose? The MacBook Pro’s performance really does scale well with its price, and the high-end 16-inch model blows the iPad Pro out of the water. If pure power is what you need, it’s worth spending more on a MacBook Pro.
Still, the iPad Pro is an incredibly powerful device that’s undoubtedly the best tablet money can buy. Its display is superb, and its processor can chew up any task you throw at it. Its lightweight, portable nature also makes it ideal for working on the go. Pair it with an Apple Pencil, and you’ll have a tool that’s perfect for digital painting, photo editing, or taking notes.
Moreover, the iPad Pro’s Magic Keyboard makes it an even more compelling purchase. Aside from the floating design, the backlit add-on sports a multitouch trackpad supporting gestures, removing the need to touch the screen. All native apps support the trackpad, while third-party developers continue to add compatibility.
However, with whispers of a new iPad Pro model on the horizon, it may be best to hold off for now. If you’re set on the tablet, the iPad Air functionally does everything the iPad Pro does, has a similar design, and has a more recent A14 chip all for a lower cost. If you’re leaning toward an iPad, that’s the one we recommend until we hear what Apple has in store for the Pro lineup.
Even if you can afford either product, how you will use that product ultimately steers your purchase decision. If you need to run desktop software, then the iPad Pro will be a waste of money. However, if you’re content with everything provided under the App Store banner and want a portable, touch-based device, then the iPad Pro may be ideal.
In the end, we crown the MacBook Pro for its pure power and flexibility. It has a much larger range of options for customization, and the faster Thunderbolt 3 ports expand its capabilities, like adding external graphics cards. We feel it’s the best option for most people.
- The best 13-inch laptops for 2021
- iMac vs. iMac Pro
- MacBook Air vs. iPad Pro
- The best iMac accessories
- Best cheap Best Buy laptop deals for May 2021