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How does the iPad 2 compare to the "Late 2010" MacBook Air models available when the iPad was released?
Please note this Q&A compares the iPad 2 to the "Late 2010" MacBook Air models that were available at the time of its introduction. The "Late 2010" MacBook Air models have been discontinued, but a 16 GB configuration of the iPad 2 still is available new from Apple. This Q&A can be particularly useful for anyone considering an iPad 2 or a MacBook Air in general as well as these models specifically on the used market.
When the original iPad was announced on January 27, 2010, readers immediately began to ask if the iPad could be a substitute for a Mac notebook. Consequently, EveryiPad.com compared the iPad to the entry-level MacBook as well as the "thin and light" MacBook Air models available at the time. When the "Late 2010" MacBook Air models were introduced on October 20, 2010, EveryMac.com compared this MacBook Air line to the original iPad as well.
As noted each time before, some additionally viewed the iPad as a potential complementary purchase to a desktop Mac and were considering buying a powerful desktop Mac for "heavy lifting" work and an iPad for light "on the go" tasks rather than purchasing a MacBook Pro and trying to perform all of their computing needs with a single -- and perhaps less than optimal -- computer.
Photo Credit: Apple, Inc. (iPad 2)
Nevertheless, just as for the original iPad, the iPad 2 remains best suited for those who primarily use a computer to surf the web, write a modest amount of e-mail, play music, present photos, and watch non-Flash videos, and only sometimes type documents, use spreadsheets, and prepare presentations.
Although, Apple also has prepared iPad versions of iMovie and Garage Band and has placed more emphasis on creation of fun content for the second revision of the device.
Photo Credit: Apple, Inc. (MacBook Air - 11-Inch Left, 13-Inch Right)
A MacBook Air, on the other hand, is a better choice for those who write quite a bit of e-mail and type documents, use spreadsheets, and prepare presentations all the time as well as surf the web, play music, present photos and watch a variety of video formats (but still not do very technically demanding tasks like heavy photo work or high-end video editing, for example).
Those only interested in the shortest answer may choose to stop reading at this point. However, for those interested in an in-depth answer of differences between the iPad 2 and the "Late 2010" MacBook Air line, the following can be quite worthwhile.
The iPad 2 models -- the iPad 2 (Wi-Fi), iPad 2 (Wi-Fi/GSM/A-GPS), and iPad 2 (Wi-Fi/CDMA/A-GPS) -- have a 9.7-Inch 1024x768 LED-backlit IPS glossy touchscreen display with an onscreen "soft" keyboard (and external keyboard options at extra cost), run iOS 4.3 (and iOS applications, but cannot run Mac OS X or Windows applications), and have the option of 3G GSM or CDMA wireless and A-GPS.
For connectivity, they only have a 30-pin USB-based iPod dock port and a headphone jack as well as 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi. They also have an accelerometer, a three-axis gyroscope, an ambient light sensor, digital compass, a speaker, front and back "FaceTime" webcams and a built-in mic.
By contrast, the "Late 2010" MacBook Air models -- the MacBook Air "Core 2 Duo" 1.4 11-Inch and MacBook Air "Core 2 Duo" 1.86 13-Inch -- have non-touchscreen displays that are much higher resolution for their physical dimensions (1366x768 for the 11-Inch and 1440x900 for the 13-Inch) -- and can run Mac OS X 10.6.4 and higher as well as Windows 7 and higher (as well as Mac OS X and Windows 7 applications, but they cannot run iOS applications). They also have "traditional chiclet" MacBook keyboards, but lack backlighting, and also have glass "no button" trackpads with "inertial scrolling" support.
The MacBook Air's connectivity is modest compared to many other Macs, but nevertheless significant compared to the iPad models. Both MacBook Air models have AirPort Extreme (802.11a/b/g/n), Bluetooth 2.1+EDR, dual USB 2.0 ports, analog audio out (that also supports an iPhone/iPod touch headset with microphone), and a Mini DisplayPort that supports an external 30-Inch display (2560x1600) as well as a side mounted internal microphone. A 10/100Base-T Ethernet adapter is available for US$29. The 13-Inch model additionally has an integrated SD Card slot. Both MacBook Air models likewise have integrated stereo speakers and an integrated "FaceTime" webcam.
The iPad 2 models are 9.50 inches by 7.31 inches by 0.34 inches and weigh around 1.3 pounds. The MacBook Air models are not quite as small or as light as the iPad, but the 11-Inch model comes fairly close. Both are 0.11 of an inch at the front and taper to 0.68 of an inch at the rear, but the 11-Inch model is 11.8 inches by 7.56 inches when closed and the 13-Inch model is 12.8 inches by 8.94 inches when closed to accommodate the larger display. The 11-Inch model weighs 2.3 pounds and the 13-Inch model weighs 2.9 pounds.
Battery life is estimated as 10 hours for the Wi-Fi only iPad model and 9-10 hours for the Wi-Fi/3G-equipped iPad model (the lower estimate reflecting use over a 3G network as well as Wi-Fi). Battery life for the MacBook Air models is estimated as 5 hours and 7 hours for the 11-Inch and 13-Inch model, respectively. Neither MacBook Air has 3G networking support.
Internal technical differences are substantial -- the iPad 2 models use a 1 GHz "Apple A5" processor with 512 MB of RAM and 16 GB, 32 GB or 64 GB of internal flash memory for storage and the MacBook Air models use Intel Core 2 Duo processors of varying speed with 2 GB of standard RAM (upgradable at the time of purchase to 4 GB for US$100) and 64 GB, 128 GB or 256 GB of internal flash memory for storage. Neither series has a hard drive or an optical drive. However, the MacBook Air can be configured with an external optical drive for US$79 and like all other Macs can be used with any external USB hard drive. The iPad does not support an external optical drive or hard drive.
MacBook Air 11"
MacBook Air 13"
|Trackpad:||Touchscreen||Inertial Multitouch||Inertial Multitouch|
|Original OS:||iOS 4.3||Mac OS X 10.6.x||Mac OS X 10.6.x|
|Windows:||No||Windows 7||Windows 7|
|Processor Speed:||1 GHz||1.4 GHz*||1.86 GHz**|
|Processor Type:||Apple A5||Intel Core 2 Duo||Intel Core 2 Duo|
|Standard RAM:||512 MB||2 GB||2 GB|
|Maximum RAM:||512 MB||4 GB†||4 GB†|
|Storage:||16, 32, 64 GB||64 GB, 128 GB||128 GB, 256 GB|
|Optical Drive:||None||External (Opt)||External (Opt)|
|Data Networks:||3G†† & Wi-Fi||Wi-Fi||Wi-Fi|
|Ext Disp Support:||1024x768||2560x1600||2560x1600|
|WebCam:||Yes (2)||Yes (1)||Yes (1)|
|SD Card Slot:||None||None||Yes|
|Max Battery Life:||9-10 Hours||5 Hours||7 Hours|
|Dimensions (In):||9.50 x 7.31 x 0.34||.11-.68 x 11.8 x 7.56||.11-.68 x 12.8 x 8.94|
|Weight (Lbs):||1.33, 1.35, 1.34||2.3||2.9|
|Intro Price:||US$499-US$829††||US$999, US$1199||US$1299, US$1599|
* The MC506LL/A configuration of the 11-Inch MacBook Air, which has 128 GB of storage, can be upgraded to a 1.6 GHz Core 2 Duo (SU9600) processor as a US$100 option at the time of purchase.
** The MC504LL/A configuration of the 13-Inch MacBook Air, which has 256 GB of storage, can be upgraded to a 2.13 GHz Core 2 Duo (SL9600) processor as a US$100 option at the time of purchase.
† Either MacBook Air can be upgraded to 4 GB of RAM at the time of purchase. This RAM is soldered in place and cannot be upgraded after purchase.
§ The MacBook Air models provide Ethernet via an external Apple 10/100Base-T Ethernet adapter as a US$29 option.
Ultimately, if your mobile needs lean more toward consuming content and creating fun content that does not require a great deal of typing, an iPad 2 possibly could be ideal. If you need to produce content, particularly text-heavy content, while on the go -- but still have modest technical requirements -- a MacBook Air is a better choice. As always, however, the decision is up to you.