Going Even Lighter: Part 3--Can the iPad 2 replace a MacBook Air?

by Bill Fox, MacsOnly.com May 11, 2011

The short answer is not always, for me anyway. But for many people the answer may be yes. Let me explain.

I purchased the iPad 2 (see my review) with the hope that I could travel with it instead of my MacBook Air, making traveling with a computer even easier. I wouldn't have to remove it from my briefcase for the TSA security check, I could keep it in the seat pocket on an airline for takeoff and landing and it weighs only 1.3lbs versus 3lbs. Of course, an iPad 2 is not really a computer in the full sense of the word, lacking a physical keyboard and highly capable software, but it has most of the functions.

To test the iPad 2, I used it almost exclusively while traveling to Spain, Australia and Belgium. I know that in my review I stated that the acid test would be to travel with the iPad 2 alone but I cheated and took my MacBook Air along as well. Before I ever set foot on an airplane I realized that I had to use Microsoft Word with Track Changes capability to collaborate on preparing and editing documents with my colleagues, i.e. when a document couldn't wait until I got back. Neither Documents To Go nor Pages for the iPad has the requisite capability. Drat it! Foiled again by Microsoft's Office monopoly.

TSA and Other Airport Security

Except for once, I had no problem passing through airport security with my iPad 2 in my briefcase. The only time I was asked by airport security to remove it and pass it through the x-ray machine separately was leaving Brussels for Philadelphia. This was surprising since TSA is generally tighter than any security around the globe. Actually, I'm not sure why notebook computers have to be screened separately but if they really do need to do it as opposed to just looking like they are being extra careful, I don't understand why most or even all other electronics are not also screened separately. Although, I am thankful that this is the case. The iPad 2 scored big over the MacBook Air.

On the Airplane

I put my iPad 2 in the seat pocket in front of me upon taking my seat and removed if after landing on each flight segment and never had a problem. It quick and easy to use during all flights and its battery lasted for every waking hour, including on the flights between LAX and Sydney, Australia. On the US Airways flights, my iPad2 worked great with the in-flight Wi-Fi system. Once again, the iPad 2 scored big over the MacBook Air.

Working with Files

I put all my files for the trips into the cloud, i.e. my iDisk. As long as I had access to Wi-Fi, it was easy to pull files down, use them and place any modified ones back on the iDisk. However, I had to think ahead because not every place I went had Wi-Fi. Most places outside the US, Wi-Fi is less ubiquitous and far more expensive. I had to make sure the files (PDFs, Word docs, Pages docs, Keynote presentations, PowerPoint presentations, etc.) that, for example, I needed to use on flights that did not have Wi-Fi were downloaded onto the iPad 2 in the appropriate application's document folder. This was a little more difficult than placing all files in a folder and transferring them enmass onto the desktop on my MacBook Air.

Browsing documents in a meeting is much easier on a MacBook Air. Not only does its 13" screen show more of the document, but its multiple windows are much easier to flip through as needed than the single window on an iPad 2. Flipping through paper documents is still the easiest and the iPad 2 is as far on the difficult side of using a Mac with electronic documents as paper is on the easy side, maybe even further.

Typing short documents and using email for the most part was just as easy as on a Mac. However, working with longer documents, the nod clearly goes to the MacBook Air with its full size keyboard and 13" screen. The MacBook Air easily edged out the iPad 2 in file handling but except for using Track Changes in Word, file handling on the iPad 2 is acceptable.

Making Presentations

Whether using Keynote or PowerPoint, presentations were a snap with the iPad 2 and its VGA adapter. In fact, it was a lot cooler to walk about with the iPad 2 and give a presentation than to have a fixed location MacBook Air. The only drawback is one must take care that the cable from the projector does not pull the iPad's VGA adapter out of its port, something that is too easy to do accidentally. Keynote on the iPad 2 is terrific with its built-in "laser" pointer. I just had to make sure that presentations made on a Mac followed Apple's Keynote for iPad guidelines. Making presentations, especially in PowerPoint, on a Mac is much easier than making them on the iPad 2. So, I give this a draw. Still the iPad 2 performed acceptably.

Entertainment--Games, Reading, Web Browsing

Passing time with a fun or educational activity is where the iPad 2 really excels. There are great games, iBooks and Kindle for iPad are terrific for reading and there are outstanding news and sports apps that put the Mac to shame. Web browsing on the iPad 2's nearly 10" screen is acceptable and much easier than on a Mac. The iPad 2 once again scores big over the MacBook Air.

In Summary

If one has to use Word's Track Changes or has to sit through a long meeting flipping through a lot of different documents not in sequence, the iPad 2 just doesn't make it. But happily, so far those are the only two activities I've found where I still actually need my MacBook Air. For every other activity, my iPad 2 either performs acceptably well or out performs the MacBook Air.

For me, going even lighter with the iPad 2 is feasible much of the time. For the lucky some, it may be feasible all of the time. Using the iPad 2 is a joy...er...magical.

Software Special of the Day: 20 to 50% Off or more!

Get a deal a day from MacUpdate's Software Promo.

Copyright © 1995-2011 by Bill Fox
All rights reserved.

The Macs Only! web site is for informational purposes only. No one associated with Macs Only! assumes any responsibility for its accuracy. The information is subject to change without notice. Any use of, or actions taken based upon any of the information contained on this web site is done entirely at your own risk. Mention of any products or services is for informational purposes only and constitutes neither an endorsement nor a recommendation. Macs Only! and those associated with Macs Only! assume no responsibility with regard to the selection, performance or use of these products.


Apple, Apple Logos, Macintosh, and Mac OS Logos are registered trademarks of Apple Computer, Inc. All other trademarks mentioned belong to their respective owners.

[Back to top of page]



Apple iTunes

Apple Store

Apple Store

Buy a Mac and get a FREE iPod Nano!

Apple Online Store

About Us

Est. Dec. 28, 1995