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Macbook vs iPad: 8 things tablets can do for students that laptops can’t

Macbook vs iPad
(Image credit: Apple)

So, you’re a student and need some tech for college or university. Maybe you even know about Apple’s yearly Back to School discounts (opens in new tab) on all kinds of Apple devices. For those of you already in higher education, you probably know how ubiquitous iPads and Macbooks are on campus. And if you’re only just heading there this year, you’ll see soon enough. So the question becomes: if you’re a student, should you get a laptop or computer; a Macbook or an iPad?

The answer here is actually more complicated than you might think because while Macbooks are generally more powerful and more expensive pieces of tech than iPads, there are actually a bunch of reasons (at least seven, actually) why you might want to opt for an iPad instead.

So sit back, strap in, and check to see what this semester’s tuition is going to run you because we’ve got a list of the seven things an iPad can do for students that a Macbook can’t…

1. Easier to carry, use and transport on the go 

Macbook vs iPad

(Image credit: Apple)

This won’t shock you, but iPads are actually smaller, lighter devices than Macbooks. A Macbook Air comes in at around 2.8 pounds / 1.3kg, while an iPad Pro weighs just 1.5 pounds / 0.7kg. Of course, a Macbook takes up more surface area with its keyboard than an iPad does as a tablet, too. When you’re walking between classes with a bag strapped to your back, keeping that load light is a priority, especially if you’re stuck with having to carry around textbooks, too. 

Yes, it’s true that Apple’s obsessed with thin-and-light designs for their laptops, but nonetheless, a Macbook still isn’t as easy to bring with you as an iPad is, and if you’re just looking for something to take notes on and maybe use to not pay as much attention to the professor as you should, then an iPad can get the job done without the bulk.

2. Turns into a laptop when you want it to 

Macbook vs iPad

(Image credit: Apple)

Typing on a touchscreen is fine. We all do it; we’ve all got phones. However, sending a text is a lot different than generating a long document of notes from a multi-hour class, so you might want a keyboard and maybe a mouse for that. The good news is that an iPad can effortlessly (and wirelessly) connect to Bluetooth keyboards and mice (opens in new tab) without a problem.

Simply toss a keyboard or a mouse in your bag with you (and don’t worry, companies make small, portable versions of these perfect for using on the go) and in just a few seconds you’ll be set up on your iPad-turned-laptop at your desk. Plus, you can get yourself a little case/stand for your iPad to make it a more ergonomic device to prop up, look at, and type on with a keyboard.

Don’t feel like you have to spend extra on a Macbook you’ve got to lug around just so you can type on a keyboard and use a mouse.

3. Excellent apps perfect for ultra-mobile use 

Macbook vs iPad

(Image credit: Apple)

Macbooks run macOS which by design has a ton of overlap with iOS and iPadOS. Apple’s been trying to make the user experience of all its products uniform for quite a while now, but no class of device has benefited more from this push than iPad. Of course, you can get all the apps you’d like on a Macbook, no problem, but you can (in most cases) get that on the go in a slimmer-but-still-full-featured package. 

Tablet software is maturing at a rapid rate, and today, you can download Photoshop, the Microsoft Suite, the Google Suite, Slack, video editors, messaging apps, productivity tools, notetaking apps, and almost everything else under the sun directly to your iPad and have largely the same experience you would on a Macbook.

4. Really easy to charge 

Macbook vs iPad

(Image credit: Apple)

With a Macbook, you’re going to need to bring your power brick around, and you’re going to need an outlet to really make regular use of one. Sure, a modern Macbook has about 10 hours of battery life, which is about what modern iPads can do, but an iPad is a lot easier to charge than a Macbook is, especially on the fly. And we all know that it’s easy to forget to fully charge your devices before you go somewhere.

Grab yourself a little powerbank (opens in new tab) that you can drop into your backpack without taking up nearly any space at all, and you’ll have an easy way to massively extend the battery life of your iPad wherever you go, and you won’t be tethered to having to find an outlet anymore, being forced to try to find that one seat in the classroom with the perfect power access.

5. Doesn’t cost an arm… and a leg 

Macbook vs iPad

(Image credit: Apple)

I hate to break this to you, but Apple products aren’t cheap. Even Apple fans will tell you there’s really no need for tablets and laptops to be as fabulously, exquisitely engineered as Apple tends to want to do. However, you don’t have to near four figures to get an iPad, while MacBook Airs start out at £959 / $999.

The natural state of the college student is to be broke, so the starting £569 / $599 / AU$929 price tag of an iPad Air can be quite appealing, considering you’ll be able to do essentially everything you can on a Macbook on your iPad. Why blow a few weeks’ worth of groceries on a more expensive laptop when all you need is an iPad you can also watch movies on, in bed comfortably?

6. Could be the best device for designers 

Macbook vs iPad

(Image credit: Apple)

If you’re an illustrator or some kind of more technical artist, the iPad (surprisingly to some) has a host of best-in-class apps, many of which pair elegantly with the Apple Pencil, another beloved and widely-used design accessory. If you’re in this particular world, an iPad might not even be the better choice but actually an essential purchase.

Now, if you’re an English major, you probably won’t have much of a need for bespoke, high-end drawing apps and the like, but if you’re in need of Procreate, Adobe Fresco, Linea Sketch, Paper, Affinity Designer, Sketch Club, Astropad Standard, Pixelmator, or anything else, an iPad is going to be a great choice.

7. Offers 120Hz gaming for cheap 

Macbook vs iPad

(Image credit: Apple)

Apple’s laptops and computers haven’t ever really been great gaming machines, though that is slowly changing as the years keep coming. If you’re a gamer, you’ll know how important a high refresh rate is, but the unfortunate reality is that only Apple’s more expensive Macbook Pros come outfitted with ProMotion 120Hz displays.

However, you can get an iPad Pro, maybe a year or two older than the most recent one, much cheaper, and you can still enjoy a buttery-smooth 120Hz refresh rate. Not only does this radically improve a gaming experience – which you can have with a Bluetooth controller on iPad, so increasing responsiveness – but it makes simply browsing the web and using apps all the more pleasant, too.

8. Easier to download movies and TV shows

Macbook vs iPad

(Image credit: Apple)

So, you've got your streaming service student discount and are ready to binge to your heart's content. But whether it’s off Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, Prime Video, or anything else, chances are you won’t be able to (legally) download movies and shows for offline viewing on your Macbook. Usually, this functionality is limited to tablets and mobile devices, so with an iPad, you can take full advantage of streaming service downloads for whenever you expect not to have a solid internet connection.

Sure, usually you’ll probably be connected to the internet, but this is a handy feature if you need a device to bring along with you on a long trip or flight where you’ll want to be able to enjoy some entertainment without having a stable internet connection. Unfortunately, doing this with a Macbook is just a bit more complicated, giving another edge to iPad.

MORE:

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Ruben Circelli
Ruben Circelli

Ruben is a Staff Writer at What Hi-Fi? and longtime consumer technology and gaming journalist. Since 2014, Ruben has written news, reviews, features, guides, and everything in-between at a huge variety of outlets that include Lifewire, PCGamesN, GamesRadar+, TheGamer, Twinfinite, and many more. Ruben's a dedicated gamer, tech nerd, and the kind of person who misses physical media. In his spare time, you can find Ruben cooking something delicious or, more likely, lying in bed consuming content.