Both the 12-inch MacBook and iPad Pro offer a lot for road warriors. But which delivers all of the goods?
I have used Apple's AAPL -2.13% newest ultraportable MacBook and its biggest iPad interchangeably for almost two months. What follows is a mini-review and my verdict on which does what better — and which (in my opinion) is the best ultra-mobile computer overall. (Disclaimer: I don’t, by any means, pretend to speak for all use-case scenarios. I can only speak for myself and my requirements.)
iPad Pro: This is the best iPad yet. The speed (courtesy of the A9X processor) and extra screen real estate (12.9 inches) makes it infinitely easier to use than the iPad Air.Being productive: Word, Excel, and other Microsoft MSFT -4.08% Office apps (as one prominent example of a productivity suite) are very usable on the Pro. The on-screen virtual keyboard works well — and is bigger and more versatile than the iPad Air’s version. Multitasking, iOS style, is also viable because of the larger screen. Now for the productivity bad news:  iOS can stop your workflow. Cold.  (Despite CEO Tim Cook’s declaration in November that the iPad Pro is the “only product I’ve got” when traveling.) I can’t count the times that I would get stuck on something that was easily doable on the MacBook. There are just too many instances to recount here. Suffice to say, iOS is not OS X. Consuming content: this is where the Pro’s big screen wows. The first time I watched video backed by the quad-speaker system, I was stunned. That alone could sell you on the iPad Pro. And the iPad Pro (for me) is the dream platform for Web browsing, social media, and streaming content. Again, that could be enough to sell many on the Pro. From $799; from $968 with optional Smart Keyboard. Verdict: productivity 3 stars, consumption 5 stars.
12-inch Retina MacBook: As I’ve written before, this is the closest that Apple has come to making a tablet or 2-in-1 for OS X. Yeah, its basic design is a non-touch clamshell (a time-tested design that still works fine for most people, by the way). But it’s hardly your conventional laptop. Taking it out of my bag , it feels (at only 2 pounds) like a tablet. And the keyboard (maybe the single most important component next to the display), is as thin as add-on tablet keyboards like Microsoft’s Surface Type Cover. Being productive: I had no problem typing away on the keyboard all day. To me, the keys don’t feel hard despite the short travel. The bigger key caps help too. AndApple’s trackpad is so good that it renders a touchscreen irrelevant. Speed: it runs OS X fast enough that I can be just as productive as I am on my 13-inch MacBook Pro Retina. The 12-inch MacBook’s Intel INTC +0.00% Core M “Broadwell” processor gets a boost from the standard 8GB RAM and a fast 256GB flash drive. Display: The 12-inch screen is more cramped than my 13-inch Pro Retina but by setting the resolution on “more space” it was fine for me.Consuming: Not a lot to say about content consumption. The 12-inch MacBook works fine but doesn’t hold a candle to the iPad Pro for reasons stated above. From $1,299. Verdict: productivity 4.5 stars, consumption 3 stars.
Comparison: If I had to choose one, I would recommend the MacBook despite the higher price. It has the portability of an iPad but the productivity that only OS X can deliver.