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my ipad air 2

July 1, 2017

I have a confession to make. I have two iPads, an iPad Air 2 from 2014 as well as the 2016 Pro. I purchased the Air 2 in November 2014, right before my annual trip to Japan in support of Yama Sakura. I’d purchased the Air 2 for the express purpose of moving my photography post processing over to an iPad and away from a 17.3″ Samsung notebook running Windows 8 that I’d also carried with me to Japan. The biggest reason for the Air 2 was its gorgeous Retina Display. The Air 2’s display was the killer feature for me on that device. It just blew the display on the Samsung notebook completely away. In addition to all of that hardware, I still had my Samsung Galaxy S4 phone. I carried every bit of it in a backpack from Orlando to Tokyo, which was where Yama was held that year.

The Air 2 was the second major Apple purchase I made. The first was a refurbished mid-2012 Mac Mini Server. I used the Mini as my initial OS X development platform. I’d purchased a refurbed Mini because by that time Apple had dumbed down the Mini. The refurbed unit came with an Intel quad core i7 and a pair of 1TB drives. Furthermore it came with an easily removable base, which allowed me to boost the initial 4GB of DRAM to 16GB six months later.

Up to the point where I purchased the Mac Mini I was pretty anti-Apple. My wife owned a MacBook, then a modest MacBook Pro, but I stuck to my Linux and Windows systems. But there was something about the design of the Mini Server that I appreciated, and the overall system’s small size but mighty capabilities struck a chord with me. The purchase of the Mini opened a chink in my personal armor against Apple. The Air 2 finished the job by blowing that armor away. I was so pleased with the Air 2 that the next year, when it came time for me to upgrade my Android phone to something more current for the time that I elected to switch to Apple’s iPhone Upgrade Program, starting with the iPhone 6s Plus. Then later came the purchase of the 15″ MBP and the retirement of the Samsung Windows notebook to my shelf (the way Windows 10 came to the Samsung played a role in that decision as well).

It was with the Air 2 that I came to fully appreciate iOS and the various tools, especially Pixelmator for still images and RePlay for simple videos built from those stills. RePlay was later purchased by GoPro and folded into Quik, but not before I paid to fully unlock RePlay’s capabilities (Quik is now free). I’d also purchased a Pencil by 53 Software, and had the app installed on the Air 2. It was something really cool to work with, back before Apple released their own Apple Pencil. I still use it, but not quite as much.

I’ve included the Air 2’s Geekbench 4 numbers in the table from the last article. At first blush the numbers look rather modest, but I can assure you that the Air 2 was (and still is) a fast and capable iPad. I accomplished and created quite a bit on the Air 2, and I’m still so attached to it that I refuse to give it up.

MBP mid-2015 iPhone 7 Plus 2016 iPad Pro 2016 iPad Air 2 2014
CPU Single-Core 4462 3457 3017 1811
CPU Multi-Core 16005 5872 5082 4297
Compute 38117 12296 14764 7646
Processor Intel Core i7 Apple A10 Fusion Apple A9x Apple A8x
Max Frequency 2.8 GHz 2.34 GHz 2.26 GHz 1.50 GHz
OS macOS 10.12.5 iOS 10.3.2 iOS 10.3.2 iOS 10.3.2

There has been talk for some time about how Apple devices running iOS are contenders for replacing standard Intel architecture computers, such as MacBook Pros. Since I have a number of Apple devices, I thought I’d install Geekbench 4 (version 4.1) and run it across three of my Apple devices. I’ve put the results in a simple table below, with the results in the first three rows.

MBP mid-2015 iPhone 7 Plus iPad Pro 2016
CPU Single-Core 4462 3457 3017
CPU Multi-Core 16005 5872 5082
Compute 38117 12296 14764
Processor Intel Core i7 Apple A10 Fusion Apple A9x
Max Frequency 2.8 GHz 2.34 GHz 2.26 GHz
OS macOS 10.12.5 iOS 10.3.2 iOS 10.3.2

The MBP I own is a 15″ Retina MBP with 16GB of memory and the 2.8GHz quad-core i7. I wasn’t surprised to see the MBP be the leader across the board, particularly in multi-core scoring. The MBP is certainly the brawniest of the three with its Intel processor and eight times the memory over both the iPhone and iPad. Keep in mind that the MBP is the oldest of the three devices.

What I found rather interesting is the GPU-based Compute score. The iOS version of Geekbench uses Metal, the graphical framework that’s a part of iOS. Geekbench on the MBP uses OpenCL and because I’m too cheap to buy a copy, the built-in Iris Pro on the i7 processor was used instead of the beefier¬†AMD Radeon R9 M370X. So even though I’m using the “lesser” graphics processor and “poorer” graphics software framework, the MBP still scored a solid two to three times faster than either iOS device. Of further note is the sizable performance lead of the iPad over the iPhone, even though the iPhone’s CPU is clocked faster and it’s using a more current Apple SoC.

So, am I ready to trade in the MBP for either iOS device? It all depends on the use case.

For general uses involving reading content and typing, I could easily switch to the iPad Pro. I use it with a Logitech keyboard-and-cover in landscape mode, which, when attached to the iPad using the Smart Connector gives me a decent keyboard with back-lit keys. It’s not as efficient and comfortable as the MBP keyboard, but it’s more than serviceable especially over a period of hours. I can do writing and other types of textual creation, as well as fairly sophisticated graphical content creation and photo/video post processing. There are, however, limits to the iPad Pro.

For the ultimate web experience I prefer the MBP and my selection of browsers, which includes Chrome, Firefox, and Vivaldi. I am not a fan of Safari on either iOS or macOS, and I don’t think I ever will be. What makes web browsing on iOS truly annoying is Apple’s insistence of forcing every other browser to use the Apple web engine used by iOS Safari; it is buggy and poorly performant.

When I need to develop software I much prefer the MBP. When I need to do light code editing on the iPad Pro I use Textastic with Working Copy. I have iOS Terminus that allows me to ssh into machines around my home running Linux and macOS (nothing like that for Windows, unfortunately). Under ssh I tend to use vim with extensive vim customizations and colorizations. And I can use scp and git to move things around that need moving. So the iPad Pro makes a pretty decent work platform when I don’t want to fire up the MBP, especially when I need to put it down due to interruptions.

I haven’t even mentioned the iPhone, but it’s decent enough that it can fill in for the iPad when all I can carry with me is just the iPhone. I use a Microsoft Folding Bluetooth keyboard to type on, and I have an SDHC to Lightening card reader for reading JPEG and RAW files produced by my Olympus cameras. The same apps I would use on my iPad to post process work just fine on the iPhone 7 Plus. And when I don’t want to, or can’t have, my Olympus camera, then the iPhone 7 Plus camera is just fine.

Finally, there’s the truly heavy lifting that the MBP is called upon to do. For example, I have a number of Linux virtual machines I power up to perform testing and development in parallel with work on the MBP. I use Xcode to develop iOS applications, as well as Android Studio to develop Android applications. If I want to develop using a full Javascript stack starting with node.js, then the MBP is the only way to go. If I want to develop in Java or Python or Go or Rust, only the MBP allows me to do that.

And the 15″ screen on the MBP is the easiest of all the screens to read, which is important due to my poor eyesight (20/700 and near sighted).

There is no easy answer to the original question, except to say it all depends. As long as I can choose which to use for which task, I will choose all three based on the work at hand that needs to be done.

But I am impressed with what the Apple SoCs can accomplish. While the MBP rules them all, for single core scoring all three devices are fairly close together, compared to multi-core and compute. This bodes well for Apple’s continued evolution of its ARM-based processors, and if I were Intel, I really would be looking over my shoulder at ARM in general and Apple in particular.