I wouldn't buy the new MacBook Pro as a student – I'd get an iPad

People using an iPad
(Image credit: Marko Geber via Getty Images)

Apple dropped a bunch of new MacBooks this week with practically no notice, and as usual, there’s a mad scramble for people desperate to get their hands on one. The new Macs are now equipped with shiny new M2 chips that promise processing power that’ll likely put them at the top of our best laptops list. 

But the Pro models are ‘pro’ for a good reason! They sport a whole load of features that you’ll likely never need as a student holed up in the library or your dorm rooms, like the 8K video playback and support for up to four external displays. Not to mention the hefty price tag attached to the new MacBooks are enough to make your heart stop (particularly if you’re in the UK). In the US the 14-inch model will run you $1,599 for the base configuration alone, and if you’re trying to deck out your 14-inch MacBook Pro with an upgraded CPU, storage, and RAM, you’re looking at a cool $6,299. Whew. 

As a (very recent) former student I can assure you that you’ll probably never need to buy a laptop that costs that much money, no matter what kind of programs you need. Plenty of courses won’t see you doing much more than word processing, answering emails, and perhaps making the odd slideshow. And to be honest you don’t need a laptop even close to the MacBook M2 or even the M1 to fly through university. You don’t need to have a laptop at all - if you have an iPad for taking notes in lectures, you’ll be good to go in most cases.

I went through university with an iPad, a keyboard, and a dream and you can (and should) too. We’ve all seen the TikToks of MacBook users obnoxiously clicking away at their pricey laptops and you don’t wanna be that person. You’re a studious individual that wants to ace their classes without turning their wallet to ashes. So, I’m going to talk about why you should get an iPad instead.

Down to business (to defeat... the huns?)

It goes without saying that nine times out of ten, getting an iPad will always be cheaper than springing for a new MacBook. You may be thinking “that’s rubbish, you could trade in your current device and get some money off”, but looking at the new MacBook launches, you’re probably going to get a trade-in offer that’s valued at next to nothing.

So, to set you up for success you’ll be looking for a powerful iPad at the fraction of the price of an all-new MacBook. The cheapest iPad you can get off the Apple website is the 9th-gen 10.2-inch iPad which will cost you about $329 (about £369 or AU$658) at baseline configuration, not too shabby.  This is quite a light-intensity load iPad, I would say, and a little on the smaller side so perhaps not perfect, but a good choice if your budget is tight.

The second best option in my opinion is the iPad Air (2022). When I was at university, I used one of these, and while it’s a bit more expensive (starting at $599/£569/AU$929), it has better capabilities that carried me through my course. I used the 2020 version of the iPad Air, which cost about the same as the most recent model. I only needed to charge that thing two or three times a week if I was taking notes in lectures, and when assignments and exam season rolled around that charging frequency bumped up only by a little. I could take it everywhere with me and work or read papers on the go.  

If the iPad Air is still on the expensive side (understandably so, it took a university grant and some scrimmaging to get mine) I would highly recommend the newest model from Apple, the 10th-gen iPad. The iPad starts at $499 (£499 or AU$ 720) and comes with Apple’s signature Liquid Retina display, compatibility with the Apple Pencil and several folio keyboards, and is the perfect size for any bag. I would say this is your best choice if you’d like to go with an iPad if you don’t mind a slightly smaller screen size than the iPad Air. 

All the extra kit 

Let’s talk accessories. You’ve got your iPad, now all you need is a keyboard and a pen and you’re good to go. I know it sounds daunting if you’re on a budget and you have to buy a few more things on top of your device, but I assure you it’s still going to end up far cheaper than the new MacBook Pros by a long shot. While you can buy the accessories right from Apple, like their different folio keyboards and the Apple Pencil you’ll do fine buying those from most other places.

Logitech does great cases, pens, and keyboards for iPads at a fraction of the cost. I bought the Logitech Crayon for $70 (£70/AU$55) rather than the $129 (£139/AU$104) it would have cost to get the Apple Pencil, and as far as folio keyboards go there’s a range you can find on Amazon. Logitech offers both folio and stand-alone Bluetooth keyboards that start at $39 (£39/AU$70) and go up, so whatever your budget you’ll definitely have a keyboard ready for the new semester.  We’d generally recommend going for third-party peripherals where possible, since they’re almost always cheaper - and the Apple Pencil just sucks.

It can be hard to resist the urge to spend money on the latest, greatest bit of kit when you’re looking to start university. You want a machine that will carry you through the exciting world of assignments, presentations, movie nights, and long video calls with friends - the assumption that the most expensive device must be the best one is an easy one to make. 

Technology has come a long way in a very short time and a lot of what you can do on your MacBook you can do on an iPad, without making your wallet cry. I had a great time in university with my iPad and converted a few friends into the cheaper, more portable lifestyle. I still have my iPad Air now and it holds a lot of memories, like watching cartoons with strangers while standing up on the bus or always fitting on every too-small desk on campus and in my dorm. 

Muskaan Saxena
Computing Staff Writer

Muskaan is TechRadar’s UK-based Computing writer. She has always been a passionate writer and has had her creative work published in several literary journals and magazines. Her debut into the writing world was a poem published in The Times of Zambia, on the subject of sunflowers and the insignificance of human existence in comparison.

Growing up in Zambia, Muskaan was fascinated with technology, especially computers, and she's joined TechRadar to write about the latest GPUs, laptops and recently anything AI related. If you've got questions, moral concerns or just an interest in anything ChatGPT or general AI, you're in the right place.

Muskaan also somehow managed to install a game on her work MacBook's Touch Bar, without the IT department finding out (yet).