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What you get for $1000 — Mac mini & MacBook Air versus iPad Pro

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If you're in the market for a new Apple device and you're working on a budget, you may have more options than you think. Here is our helpful guide on how you can get the most bang for your buck.

While we've often tut-tutted those who say that Apple products are prohibitively expensive in the past, there is a faint air of truth to it. At one grand, you're not going to be able to buy yourself one of Apple's higher-end products, like the MacBook Pro. Nevertheless, if you don't need a high-end machine, there's no real reason to spend the extra money for the power you won't use.

You can absolutely get a quality Apple computer or tablet for $1000.

What you're not going to get

At $1000, there's quite a bit you're going to have to do without. Most of what you're going to sacrifice is storage — those gigabytes can add up to some serious dollars. Yet, with a plethora of cloud storage options available, including Apple's own iCloud storage subscription plans, that doesn't mean you're going to be hurting for storage.

You'll also take a hit on processing power. For those who are using professional design, video, or audio editing software, this may be a no-go. However, for the average user, you don't need to spend extra for what you won't use.

Choosing a MacBook Air

MacBook Air

The MacBook Air is a perfect introductory machine for those new to Mac. It's also great for students and those who travel frequently. Causal computer users who are just looking for something that will allow them to watch videos and browse the internet will also appreciate the lower price point of the MacBook Air.

Sure, it's not a MacBook Pro, but no one was expecting it to be. If you're not using any high-end programs, like Final Cut Pro or Logic Pro, you probably don't need a MacBook Pro. And even if you are, the MacBook Air will still get the job done, if you're willing to wait a bit longer.

For $999 — before taxes, of course — you can get yourself a base model MacBook Air. You'll get to pick between Space Gray, Silver, or gold for your finish. It has a 13-inch Retina display with True Tone color technology, Touch ID, a Force Touch trackpad, backlit Magic Keyboard, and Intel Iris Plus Graphics. Two Thunderbolt 3 ports allow you to keep it charged and hook in any peripherals — such as external hard drives or monitors — that you might need.

At base, it comes with a 1.1GHz dual-core i3 Processor that features a Turbo Boost of up to 3.2GHz — more than enough power for browsing the internet and streaming video. For an additional $100, you can get yourself an Intel Core i5 processor, which isn't a bad idea if you're willing to break the budget a bit.

You'll get 256GB of storage, which could be a bit tight if you're storing a lot of pictures or music. Our solution for that is to check out the iCloud Storage plans offered by Apple. For $0.99 a month, you can get 50GB of additional storage. At $2.99 per month, you'll get 200GB of storage. Because it's Apple's own cloud storage system, it'll integrate seamlessly with your MacBook Air — and all your other Apple Products.

Included in the $999 base configuration is 8GB of 3733MHz LPDDR4X memory, which again, is more than sufficient for most casual users. This isn't meant to be a high-end gaming rig, nor is it intended as a creative professional's computer. But the more memory you have, the more apps you can run simultaneously, and the better your Mac will perform. Upgrading to 16GB of RAM is pricey, though, and will cost you an additional $200.

Tip: If you're shopping on a budget, deals on closeout MacBook Air models can bring you well under the 2020 MacBook Air's $999 starting price.

Choosing a Mac mini

2018 Mac mini

If you're not concerned with portability, the Mac mini is a first-rate choice. Its small footprint means it can fit alongside just about any desk, and the ability to easily upgrade the RAM on your own gives you some options for later.

If you already own a keyboard, mouse, and monitor — as many of us already do — you'll even get a bit extra to play around with. If not, it's entirely possible to snag all the needed peripherals and still slide in under $1000.

If we assume you'll need to buy the extras, your best bet is to go with the $799 base model. It's no-frills, but for the average user, it's an excellent little machine.

Included in the price tag is a 3.6GHz quad-core 8th generation Intel Core i3, which is perfect for browsing the internet, streaming video, and moderate gaming and software use. Sure, you're not going to be running Logic Pro and Final Cut together at the same time at any level of performance, but if you're budget-shopping for a Mac, the odds are you weren't going to be doing that anyway.

It also comes with 8GB 2666MHz DDR4 RAM, which is adequate for most tasks, and if you want, you can upgrade it up to 64GB of RAM on your own in the future.

The base model has a 256-gigabyte SSD, which could fill up quickly if you were to store plenty of music or photos on it. However, as with the MacBook Air, we suggest checking out the iCloud storage plans offered by Apple.

If you already own a monitor, keyboard, and mouse, the Mac mini has some upgrades that you can choose from that still put you below your $1000 budget.

For an additional $200, you can double your RAM from 8GB to 16GB, though it may be more cost-effective to replace the RAM yourself if you're not worried about cracking the machine open.

You can upgrade the storage to 512GB for $200, which may suit some users better than an iCloud storage program. This is especially true if you're going to need to work without an internet connection for any significant amount of time.

For an additional $300, you can bump up the processor to a 3.2GHz 6-core 8th generation Intel Core i7 (Turbo Boost up to 4.6GHz). This will make the Mac mini far mightier. If you plan on using any processor-taxing software, like Adobe's creative suite, Final Cut Pro, Logic Pro, or any 3D modeling programs, this is the upgrade that you should take. It also makes the Mac mini a more viable gaming machine.

Tip: Clearance deals are going on now on 2018 Mac mini models, with prices as low as $629.

Choosing an iPad Pro

Looking at the 11-inch 2020 iPad Pro
The 11-inch 2020 iPad Pro.

Some people might scoff at the concept of choosing an iPad over a MacBook, but plenty of people have found that an iPad can do everything they need it to and slots into their lives much better than a traditional computer.

If you've owned an iPhone for a while, chances are you own plenty of apps that will transfer over to iPadOS, which is one of the best things about the Apple ecosystem. And these days, plenty of developers are creating iPad compatible versions of their desktop software — Microsoft has recently done this with Microsoft Office, and Adobe is porting some of their most popular programs to iPadOS, too.

Many artists, for example, find that an iPad Pro works better for them. Programs like Procreate, Adobe Fresco, Pixelmator Pro, and the Affinity suite of products are every bit as good — if not better — than their desktop counterparts. And, of course, Apple Pencil provides a fantastic on-screen drawing experience for a fraction of the cost of a Cintiq setup.

Students, frequent travelers, and casual computer users may also find that the iPad Pro works every bit as well as a full-feature computer. Even AppleInsider staff writer Wes Hilliard does his work exclusively from an iPad Pro.

If you're already comfortable with the iPad or you think you could make it work for you, you'll have a bit more wiggle room than you would with the MacBook Air.

If you want the most bang for your buck, we highly suggest sticking with the 11-inch iPad Pro. Not only does it have the same specs as its slightly larger sibling, but we're also willing to bet that you won't even miss the extra screen space once you've lived with it for a while.

So let's talk about what sort of iPad Pro you can get for $1000.

11-inch iPad Pro

For $799, you can get an 11-inch iPad Pro with 128 gigabytes of storage. If you wanted to stop there, you'd come in well under budget. This option is also ideal because it leaves you more than enough money to buy a second-generation Apple Pencil, which costs $129. Adding in the Apple Pencil is highly recommended for artists and creative types — there's simply nothing that compares to using the two together.

Depending on the sales tax in your region, you should still safely slide in at under $1,000 for the pair. You may even have enough money left over for a burger and fries.

Don't need the Apple Pencil, but want to expand the iPad Pro's computer-like capabilities even further? You can grab the Smart Keyboard Folio for $179, which pushes the total price $978.00 before taxes — sure, you'll probably go over your budget, but a keyboard turns an iPad Pro into an entirely different machine.

If you decide to hold off on buying the Apple Pencil or the Smart Keyboard Folio, you can upgrade your 128GB 11-inch iPad Pro to include cellular capabilities, perfect for the person who travels, or for those who have cut the traditional cable in favor of a mobile carrier plan. That boosts the cost to $949.00 before taxes, which may be over the $1000 threshold by a few dollars.

If you need the bigger screen, you can get the 12.9-inch iPad Pro 128GB model for $999 before sales tax. It doesn't leave room for any frills, so you'll have to break the budget significantly if you want an Apple Pencil or a keyboard to go along with your purchase.

Tip: Triple-digit discounts are also available on closeout 2018 iPad Pros.

Which choice is right for you?

As with any other analysis of what you should get on for any set dollar value, it all comes down to use case.

If you're a creative, an iPad Pro coupled with an Apple Pencil is hard to beat. It's also easier to use in places where you may not be able to use a laptop comfortably.

If you're going to need to use a wealth of desktop applications, or if you're just more comfortable on a laptop, the MacBook Air is going to work well for you. The Mac mini gets you more power for the dollar than the MacBook Air, but it is tethered to a desktop.

And whichever you buy, Apple's newly announced models can be bargains — when you know which ones are right for you.

For the latest deals on Macs, iPads, and accessories, be sure to check out the AppleInsider Apple Price Guide, which is updated throughout the day.

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