I have just returned from a conference where I ran R and Python code on my 11" MacBook Air. It did the job well; Mountain Lion's Full Screen and Mission Control features add real value to this small screen lightweight laptop.
So for this trip the Air was a great device. For most trips though, a full sized iPad with a Logitech keyboard case would be a better work option.
Curiously, this has nothing to do with the touchscreen; it's about other hardware and iOS design decisions. The iPad's advantages include:
- iOS is a fairly good Exchange/ActiveSync client . OS X is not.
- Many iOS apps work in offline mode, OS X apps expect a network connection.
- iOS multitasking is constrained. In OS X many apps may simultaneously jump on a network connection, sucking bandwidth and power alike. (Heck, backup may start!)
- iOS is, in general, less demanding of a network connection.
- iOS and the iPad are designed from the 'ground up' to use less power. That's why an iPad can last for hours, receive a power boost from a mere Morphie Juice Pack, and charge off a meager USB connection. Even the best laptops, like my Air, can't do this.
- The iPad can be purchased with an LTE chip, the MacBook cannot.
- iOS bandwidth consumption is harder to track than it should be, but it's easier than tracking OS X bandwidth use.
Travel is characterized by limited power and limited bandwidth. The AIr is a lovely laptop, but compared to the iPad it's built for a world of ample power and bandwidth. Today, even excluding the touch interface, the Max iPad is a better traveling device for most use cases.
Apple could make the choice harder though. They could make a future version of OS X a much better bandwidth consumer, and they could provide an option to throttle multitasking. The iPad would still have a large power advantage, but this make for a great OS X upgrade.
- Gordon's Notes: MacBook Air vs. iPad: waiting for the keyboard 11/2012 - I was waiting for the Mini keyboard, but initial reviews suggest the Mini isn't as good a match to an external kb/mount as the Maxi.