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Issue #23: PC vs. iPad

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Hey there!

We did a couple of back of the envelope calculations on the cost of switching to an iPad as your primary (or new) computing device last week. I’d like to expand on that topic this week, talking about traditional PC vs. iPad.

Hardware

A typical Windows laptop that doesn’t completely suck is about $400-500. Now, I know you might disagree on what constitutes as both typical and doesn’t suck, but that’s what I’m going with here. It’ll be a laptop with 8 GB of RAM, some kind of usable graphics chip, and a 256 GB SSD drive. Like this one, from Lenovo.

There’s no iPad that can match that, if you want and need that sort of storage. The standard iPad with 128 GB storage will set you back $429, and that’s without a keyboard. Add the Smart Keyboard and you’re up at $588, which is sort of in the ballpark if you’re okay with half the storage. You could save by going with non-Apple peripherals though, there are some great bluetooth keyboards out there, and then you could squeeze in a mouse or trackpad too.

Not looking so good for the iPad financially, is it? Well, all that being said, there’s no way the actual experience doing things like web browsing, watching Netflix, emailing, and writing (assuming you get a keyboard you like) will be comparable between the two devices. If you want to use an iPad, you’ll be happy with the iPad — it’s snappy and pleasant, and it adds another thing to the mix: A useful (the key being useful) touchscreen.

Thing is, if you’re in the market for an iPad rather than a traditional Windows PC, you clearly value the premium experience. There’s no such thing in a $500 Windows PC. Sorry.

Conclusion: Losing some storage (you’ll use iCloud anyway, right?) but getting the better experience makes the regular iPad a pretty solid choice, compared to a run-of-the-mill Windows laptop.

Now, it’s likely you’re not looking to go from a budget laptop, to a premium Apple device. So let’s say you’ve got a pricier laptop, with touchscreen and stylus, like the Samsung Galaxy Book Flex with 8 GB RAM, 512 GB SSD and a pretty decent Intel processor. It’s $999 on Amazon at the moment, and something that feels more relevant to compare to an iPad.

Storage is the first bump again because the new iPad Air only goes to 256 GB, but it does clock in at $749. Add the Apple Pencil and you’re up at $878, giving you $121 to get a keyboard and pointing device. That’s not quite enough to get the Magic Keyboard (it’s $299 for the iPad Air compatible version), but there are third-party alternatives. I think we can safely say that we’re in the ballpark.

The experience, however, won’t be. There’s no comparing the S Pen with Apple Pencil, it’s night and day, just like it is with Microsoft’s Surface line and the iPad. Apple Pencil is the winner by far. You’ll most likely appreciate the iPad Air’s screen much more than the Galaxy Book’s too.

That does bring us to the matter of screen size. 13.3” is substantially more than 10.9”, and since we’re talking pens here, you might want a larger screen for your drawing. That means we need to go to the iPad Pro 12.9”, and with that we can get 512 GB SSD too. It comes at a hefty price though, at $1299, and then you need to add the Pencil ($129) and at least some sort of keyboard. You’re looking at $550-600 more than the Galaxy Book for this setup, but it’ll be better in just about every way imaginable. Well, except for running Windows, but again, we’re looking to make the switch here so it’s unlikely that’s something you’re interested in anyway.

I think it’s worth mentioning the RAM too. The Galaxy Book comes with 8 GB of RAM, which is more than any iPad has, but it’s not a fair comparison. For a semi-professional Windows device, I’d never consider less than 16 GB RAM. The $999 price point isn’t quite fair, but adding more RAM won’t set you back too much. Still, it’s something if you’re trying to justify the steeper price of an iPad. 

Conclusion: Storage for the iPad is expensive, and screen size might make the switch even more so. That said, while the Galaxy Book in the example above might look powerful, that 8 GB RAM will make it sluggish at times, something that won’t happen to either of the iPad options above.

What if you’re an Apple user then? The new MacBook Air (with the M1 chip), Apple’s most popular computer form factor, starts at $999, which puts it in the same situation as the Galaxy Book above. If you’re comparing to the new MacBook Pro 13” (with M1), you’re looking at a starting price of $1299. That, for once, makes the 12.9” iPad Pro a cheaper alternative because if we’re looking at storage you can get one for $1099. That brings them both in the ballpark when you’ve added accessories.

But here’s the thing: The new M1 chip seems to be just as snappy and nice to use as the A-chips in the iPads. It should be, it’s the same sort of architecture, and by all accounts, it’s a resounding success. So, that niceness that puts the iPad so far ahead just about any other computing device when you’re actually, you know, using it, might be there on your M1 Mac too.

Of course, if you’re running an Intel Mac and looking to switch, you’ll find that using the iPad is snappier, albeit not as much if you’re on a powerful machine. But let’s put it this way: I’ve got the latest and greatest (almost) 16” MacBook Pro, but LumaFusion on my iPad Pro beats it for rendering videos, easily. That’s why the M1 Macs, using the same chip architecture as the crazy-fast iPad Pro, are getting people excited. I’ve got two M1 Macs as of a few days ago, and will get back to you on that.

Conclusion: Macs and iPads are less far off, so if you’re a Mac user looking to switch to iPad, price isn’t such a big factor. Performance might be, if an M1 Mac is on the table.

I think we need to move on to software, knowing that both typical budget and premium Windows laptops cost less and offer more storage than the reasonable iPad option, and MacBooks are somewhat comparable.

A word about Chromebooks
I don’t see Chromebooks as an adequate choice, it’s not a capable PC and the only thing they got going for them is price. Sure, they’ll get the job done for some, but the iPad is something completely different, and the comparison is lacking.

Software

Software also costs money, as it were. Some will be the same as on other platforms, whereas others won’t.

Subscription services, like Microsoft’s Office 365 and Adobe’s Creative Cloud offerings, live across platforms. They won’t cost more, or less, if you decide to switch to iPad.

Adobe is an interesting topic, though. They are rolling out what they claim to be fully fledged editions of Photoshop, and Illustrator is coming too, but they’re not on par with the desktop versions yet. They might do for your work though, but if you rely heavily on Adobe’s Creative Suite, you’ll find it hard to fully switch to iPad. At least for now, and at least if you need to use Adobe’s core software. Because there are options, like Affinity’s apps — Designer and Photo — as well as numerous alternatives for photo editing. They come at a ridiculously low one-time price, and suddenly the need for an Adobe subscription is in question. You might, in fact, save money by being forced to step away from Adobe.

The thing is, software you use on your laptop or desktop computer might not exist on iPadOS. There will be some sort of alternative though, and other than a couple of niche cases, it’ll do the job. The new paradigm has resulted in great strides in interface design, which could mean that swapping software will improve your experience.

Price is another factor. Apps for the iPad are generally priced less than their desktop counterparts. Adobe aside, there might be money to save here. Some premium apps have opted for subscription models though, so do the math on a per-app basis.

Then there’s the whole universal apps thing, that now can carry from the Mac to the iPad (and iPhone and Apple TV too) if the developer wants, and not only across iOS-based devices. You might in fact already have a few of the apps you intend to use on your iPad, if you bought them on your Mac (from Mac App Store). It’s a nice bonus when you only have to buy an app once, and get it on multiple platforms.

It’s not a laptop

I touched this in the previous issue but I think it’s worth repeating: An iPad isn’t a laptop. The operating system differs, the apps differ, the whole everything is instant experience differs. The big one, however, is the interaction model. There are PCs that are hybrid, with touchscreens and flippable designs, but they’re heavy and horrible to use. An iPad can be used as is, on a stand, in a keyboard folio, and both portrait and landscape mode. It’s not the same, and that’s the whole point, isn’t it?

You’re interested in making the switch for a reason. It’s probably the stagnated interface of traditional computers, and the want to a more versatile device. We’re not comparing apples and oranges, we’re comparing wheel-barrels with something out of Star Trek. Is everything perfect? No, it’s not, but it is a step forward, rather than an iteration of something that stems from a setup built on, and limited by, an input device from another century.

I prefer my magic slate of glass, thank you very much.


I’ve got more computing devices than I care to admit. It’s no surprise that I prefer my 12.9” iPad Pro, but that doesn’t mean that other devices are without merit. I keep a Windows laptop for gaming, and although I can’t see myself going back to Windows any time soon (or ever), I think it’s good to give it a go now and then. No sane person should keep a computer park like I do, but it’s part of my job, and the benefit is that I can make comparisons. If it’s something you want me to compare for you, just let me know: I’m @tdh on Twitter.

Until next week, take care!

— Thord D. Hedengren


In the wild…