The Great Portable Debate: iPad vs Laptop

When Apple released the M1 iPad Pros, I decided to give a go at using an iPad in the place of my laptop (which, at the time, was a 2018 13″ MacBook Pro). I was already using my 2017 10.5″ iPad Pro a lot – like, more than my laptop – but I didn’t have a keyboard for it. I ordered the 11″ and 12.9″ versions and quickly decided the 12.9″ was too big/heavy for a tablet, even though it was nicer as a laptop, so I returned that one and have been using the 11″ M1 iPad Pro with a magic keyboard ever since.

Before I get into the “debate” part of this too heavily, I just want to cover a few things about the iPad. The magic keyboard is actually really great, but it’s stupid expensive. I got it on sale for half price ($150) which is honestly the top of what it should actually cost at retail. I have several mechanical keyboards and pay attention to that market, and $150 will get you a really solid mech, whereas $300 will get you a ridiculously high-end artisan board. Apple produces the iPad Magic Keyboard en masse, and there’s quite frankly no reason or excuse for it cost what it does. But it is a great keyboard. Better than what was on my 2018 MacBook Pro or any of Apple’s old butterfly switch keyboards.

Anyway, I used the iPad like a laptop for over a year (the MBP went unused for like 6 months or so, then I sold it 😅). If you know me, you know I write quite a bit, so when I say I used the iPad for writing, I do mean that I wrote something like 50-70k words on it plus a ton of editing, all in Microsoft Word.

To be totally honest, it wasn’t a terrible experience, but it also wasn’t great. I knew when I sold my MacBook Pro that I wasn’t just not going to have a personal Mac, but the value of Intel Macs was dropping pretty rapidly, so the plan was to eventually buy an Apple Silicon Mac.

The redesigned M2 MacBook Air fit the bill perfectly, so I ordered one in Midnight (against tech YouTubers’ advice) on launch. Yes, the Midnight color shows fingerprints more than lighter colors. No, it’s not nearly as problematic as some made it seem. Just like all my other devices that I touch, I use the thing and wipe the fingerprints off if and when they become too noticeable.

The M2 Air is fantastic. The screen, keyboard, trackpad, design, battery – the whole package is exactly the laptop I was looking for. There were no compromises like with my 2018 MBP, which means I could then compare optimal laptop versus optimal iPad for my use cases. And that’s what I’ve been doing for the past several months.

First, I still find myself using my iPad more often when just chilling on the sofa. I switch between Discord, iPad games, and web browsing a lot, which the iPad is great for. Yes, it is a better experience to, say, use Discord on my laptop, but in that specific case, the convenience of doing everything from one device outweighs the benefit of switching over to my laptop for that one task.

I was never really uncertain about that, though. For me, it was always a question of “can I write novels on an iPad?” And truthfully, the answer is “yes, I can and have.” But the experience is worse, and compromises are needed.

  • Selecting individual words is just so much harder, which makes:
    • Spelling errors harder to fix
    • Getting definitions difficult
      • I cannot tell you how much I miss CMD+Ctrl+D on iPad OS
  • Grammar plugins not available for Word on iPad OS.
    • No, I am not changing my entire on-screen keyboard for this, it’s a bad compromise
  • Multitasking is just harder.
    • I switch between Word, OneNote, and my browser quite a bit while writing initial drafts.
    • Yes, iPad OS has some multitasking features, but they’re nowhere near as good as a real desktop OS.

Most of those compromises could be resolved by Apple perfectly emulating the Mac experience on the iPad, or even just Microsoft making Word work more like the desktop app, but that isn’t where the iPad is currently at.

There’s also a really difficult to describe intangible factor that really makes each device appealing to me. I’m typing this on the M2 Air right now, and it just feels right. Nothing objective at all about that, but if I’m trying to be productive or creative, this Air is the better device for me.

Should the rumors of touchscreen Macs be true, that’s definitely going to require an update down the line.

1 comment

  1. I typed in when I saw the last name DiStefano at work. Lo and behold, you finally got it lol!

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