MacBook Air M3 13-inch vs. iPad Pro M4: Is Apple's new tablet more powerful?

macbook air m3 vs ipad pro m4
(Image credit: Laptop Mag, Apple)

Apple just announced the iPad Pro M4 as its first device to feature the company's powerful new M4 chip. With that announcement comes the widespread debate of which is more powerful: the MacBook Air M3 13-inch vs. the iPad Pro M4.

The company's iPad Pro M4 is the first tablet — from Apple or otherwise — that could actually serve as a laptop replacement. The M4 chip is a modern marvel, made with second-generation 3nm technology that supports dynamic caching, hardware-accelerated mesh shading, and a slew of other features. 

The M4 chip features a minimum 9-core CPU, 10-core GPU, and 16-core Neural Engine combination, making it Apple's most powerful chip to date. In performance, it easily surpasses the latest MacBook Air's M3 chip. 

When deciding between Apple's 13-inch MacBook Air M3 and its iPad Pro M4, you'll want to consider each device's performance capabilities, form factor, display, battery life, and of course, what you want most out of a portable computer.

MacBook Air M3 13-inch vs. iPad Pro M4: Specs

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Header Cell - Column 0 MacBook Air 13-inch M3iPad Pro M4
Price$1,099 (starting)$999 (starting)
ColorsMidnight, Starlight, Space Gray, SilverSpace Black, Silver
CPU8-core CPU10-core CPU with 1TB/2TB of storage; 9-core CPU with 256GB/512GB
GPU8-core GPU, 10-core GPU10-core GPU
Neural Engine16 cores16 cores
Display13.6-inch Liquid Retina display (2560 x 1664, 500 nits)11-inch (starting) Ultra Retina XDR display (OLED, 2420 x 1668, 1000 nits), 13-inch option (2752 x 2064)
Unified Memory8GB, 16GB, 24GB16GB with 1TB/2TB of storage; 8GB with 256GB/512GB
Storage256GB, 512GB, 1TB, 2TB256GB, 512GB, 1TB, 2TB
Ports2x Thunderbolt / USB-4, 1x MagSafe, 1x headphone jack1x Thunderbolt / USB 4
Webcam1080p12MP ultra-wide
Size11.97 x 8.46 x 0.44 inches9.83 x 6.99 x 0.21 inches (starting), 11.09 x 8.48 x 0.20 inches
Weight2.7 pounds1 pound (starting), 1.28 pounds

MacBook Air M3 13-inch vs. iPad Pro M4: Price

For the MacBook Air M3's $1,099 starting price, you'll get 8GB of RAM, 256GB of SSD storage, an 8-core CPU, 8-core GPU, and a 13.6-inch Liquid Retina display. To max out the 13-inch MacBook Air M3 with 24GB of RAM, 2TB of storage, and a 10-core GPU, it'll cost you $2,299. 

Apple's iPad Pro M4 starts at $999, which gives you 256GB of storage, 8GB of RAM, a 9-core CPU, a 10-core GPU, and an 11-inch Ultra Retina XDR display. Maxing out the 11-inch model with 2TB of storage, 16GB of RAM, a 10-core CPU, a 10-core GPU, and nano-texture display glass would cost you $2,099.

A maxed-out 13-inch iPad Pro would cost $2,399 and have all the same specs as the maxed-out 11-inch configuration above, except for the larger 13-inch display. 

Adding the new Magic Keyboard to your iPad Pro M4 setup would cost an extra $299 or $349 for the 11-inch or 13-inch version, respectively, and adding the new Apple Pencil Pro would cost $129.

MacBook Air M3 13-inch vs. iPad Pro M4: Design

The biggest design difference between Apple's 13-inch MacBook Air M3 and the iPad Pro M4 in either size is simply a debate about form factor: laptop vs. tablet.

MacBook Air 13 M3 review

(Image credit: Laptop Mag/Sean Riley)

If you'd prefer an all-in-one machine, the MacBook Air M3 is the choice. Its display, keyboard, and trackpad are all in one easy-to-pack-away design, and you can easily whip the laptop out in a coffee shop or on a plane to continue working.

On the other hand, the iPad Pro M4 offers a modular workstation. You can work on just the tablet by itself with the new Apple Pencil Pro, or pair it with the new Magic Keyboard to create a gorgeous floating display over a comfortably sized keyboard and trackpad.

Screenshots from Apple "Let Loose" event May 7 2024

(Image credit: Apple)

Another major design difference to consider is each device's available ports. The iPad Pro M4 comes with a singular Thunderbolt/USB 4 port (which you can use to connect an external display), while the 13-inch MacBook Air M3 offers two Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports and a headphone jack.

MacBook Air M3 13-inch vs. iPad Pro M4: Display

The 13-inch MacBook Air M3 features a Liquid Retina display with a 2560 x 1664 resolution and 500 nits max brightness. While this is a great display, the iPad Pro M4's new OLED display is better.

MacBook Air 13 M3 review

(Image credit: Laptop Mag/Sean Riley)

Both the 11-inch and 13-inch iPad Pro M4 are equipped with a Tandem OLED Ultra Retina XDR display, capable of reaching 1000 nits max brightness for SDR and HDR content and up to 1600 nits brightness with HDR content.

While the new tablet's max brightness will undoubtedly contribute to the display's overall vibrancy, its OLED panels will do more, producing rich, true blacks and vivid colors in games, TV shows, and artwork. For 1TB and 2TB models of the iPad Pro M4, an optional nano-texture display glass will help reduce glare "by scattering ambient light."

ipad pro m4 display

(Image credit: Apple)

The iPad Pro M4 has a clear edge over the 13-inch MacBook Air M3 simply because of its OLED display tech. This is the first device from Apple to debut an OLED display, and we can't wait to see it in person.

MacBook Air M3 13-inch vs. iPad Pro M4: Performance

MacBook Air 15-inch M3 next to MacBook Air 13-inch M3 on a side table

(Image credit: Laptop Mag/Sean Riley)

We don't have our hands on the iPad Pro M4 yet, and no Geekbench 6 scores have leaked for it either. That said, we imagine its 10-core CPU and 10-core GPU makeup will likely produce a higher score than the 13-inch MacBook Air M3 8-core CPU and 10-core GPU configuration's already impressive Geekbench 6 score of 12,087.

The MacBook Air M3 sports a fanless design, like other Air laptops and the iPad Pro, and yet we noted it stayed cool to the touch under high performance. With the M4 touting better performance and efficiency, the iPad Pro M4 will also probably stay cool with many open tabs and programs.

MacBook Air M3 13-inch vs. iPad Pro M4: Features

The 13-inch MacBook Air M3 has a 1080p webcam that's better than most of its competition, but it pales compared to the iPad Pro M4's 12-megapixel front-facing camera. 

You can take sharp selfies on the iPad Pro 4 or even record professional-looking videos, whereas the MacBook Air M3's webcam is just okay for video calls.

Screenshots from Apple "Let Loose" event May 7 2024

(Image credit: Apple)

The iPad Pro M4 also features a rear camera array that gives it photo — and video-taking capabilities that the MacBook Air M3 lacks. Its rear camera setup includes a 12-megapixel main camera with a five-element lens and Smart HDR 4 support, a LiDAR scanner, and Adaptive True Tone flash.

The MacBook Air M3 and the iPad Pro M4 feature a four-speaker system with spatial audio, which likely produces similarly great audio. 

However, the iPad Pro M4 wins slightly when it comes to microphones, but it might not make much difference in application. The iPad Pro features a "studio-quality four-mic array," while the 13-inch MacBook Air only has a "three-mic array with directional beamforming."  

iPads used to be limited in terms of apps compared to MacBooks, but that gap has narrowed greatly in the past few years. The iPad Pro 4 can support Final Cut Pro, Logic Pro, and Steam Link, to name a few.

MacBook Air M3 13-inch vs. iPad Pro M4: Battery life

In our Laptop Mag battery test, which involves continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi with the display set to 150 nits brightness, the 13-inch MacBook Air M3 lasted a whopping 15 hours and 13 minutes. 

We don't yet have our hands on an iPad Pro M4 to put it through our battery test, but when we do, we'll update this post with the results. That said, Apple estimates the iPad Pro M4 to last up to 10 hours while "surfing the web on Wi-Fi or watching video." 

MacBook Air M3 13-inch vs. iPad Pro M4: Which is more powerful?

While we haven't officially tested Apple's new Pro tablet yet, there's no doubt about it: on paper, the iPad Pro M4 is more powerful than the 13-inch MacBook Air M3.

This new chip boasts greater performance capabilities while requiring less system power. With the M4, Apple's new iPad Pro can do everything the MacBook Air M3 can, and then some. 

Compared to the 13-inch MacBook Air M3, the 13-inch iPad Pro M4 has a better display thanks to OLED tech, a better camera and microphone setup, a more compact and lightweight design, and stronger, more efficient performance. 

If you're looking for a modular computer experience that lets you choose when to use a tablet versus when to set up a workstation, complete with the redesigned Magic Keyboard, the iPad Pro M4 is the obvious choice. And honestly, even if you only plan to use the iPad Pro in laptop mode, it's still a better value for your money than the 13-inch MacBook Air M3.