MacBook Air versus iPad 2

Q. I'm planning to buy a new machine. I'll use the new machine mostly to browse the Web and check email. Maybe I'll watch a few videos. Cost is a factor but not a large one. Convenience is important.

I've decided to move from Windows to Apple. The MacBook Air and the iPad seem like good choices. Which one is better for my purposes?

A. First, note that we're talking about the iPad 2 as opposed to the original iPad.

If you get an iPad, there will be limitations on three important features: transferring files to desktop machines, typing, and running normal software (as opposed to “apps”). If that's not a major concern, the iPad may be better for your purposes. But there's more pros and cons below. Check them out before deciding.

Note: If anybody notices mistakes in the following remarks, feel free to mail corrections.

The iPad offers these advantages: it's slightly smaller, about a third lighter, the battery lasts twice as long, optional 3G support, and it costs about half as much (depending on options such as 3G). The iPad can also run “apps” (iOS programs that can be obtained from the iTunes App Store).

The MacBook Air, on the other hand, has a keyboard, is faster, has a slightly higher screen resolution, runs regular Mac OS X software, has a camera, and supports USB devices. The last feature means that it's easy to transfer files between the MacBook Air and desktop machines. This is possible with the iPad, but it's a complicated process.

One point that's not clear is boot time. There are claims that the MacBook Air boots faster than the iPad but the results may depend on which model of iPad is used. Wake times are a separate issue; both devices wake very quickly.

Summary: These are both good devices. Both will do web browsing, email, and videos. The iPad is more convenient due to smaller size and longer battery life. But it's less convenient due to the file transfer and keyboard issues. The last two points would make a difference to me. However, the iPad wins on cost.

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