Most creatives will look at the title and scoff. Of course you should go with an iPad over a Chromebook for creative work!
Hear me out.
Which hardware/software you use to create is as subjective as the art you’re creating with it. There are people that still do amazing things using nothing more than pencil and paper. Just as discussed in the productivity focused article, anything that’s possible to do on an iPad is possible on a Chromebook. The major difference is how you accomplish those things.
Because of that, most of this article won’t be about which is better than which, but whether there are options for what you want to do.
Let’s look at how both these platforms handle creating and consuming media.
Before we get into the apps, we have to talk about the screens. This is what you’ll be looking at all day, and creative work often demands a high color range with accurate reproduction. Here’s the range on the srgb color gamut (Higher is better):
- iPad air: 102
- Lenovo Duet: 104
- Lenovo Flex 5: 65
- Galaxy Chromebook: 224
So, if you’re in for a good screen, the Flex 5 might not be the best choice. But if you’re like most creators, you’ll probably be plugging this into a better monitor, anyway. If that’s the case, the devices that work the best with external monitors are the Galaxy Chromebook and the Flex 5. With the Air and Duet, you’ll have to deal with condensed screen resolutions and ratios. None of the screens come close to the Galaxy’s 4k AMOLED display.
With that out of the way, how about the apps?
The iPad has some fantastic writing apps, Ulysses being my favorite. I’ve done a lot of Medium writing from there, since it supports direct export to the site for final edits and publishing. An exceptional workflow that doesn’t slow me down. It also helps writers ignore the terrible Files app since you can grab photos from your device/the cloud without leaving the text editor.
Apps that work as well as Ulysses does are part of the allure of iPadOS. It doesn’t feel like a desktop OS, but it can sometimes accomplish desktop tasks.
There’s even a mobile version of my favorite writing app, Scrivener. Too bad Scrivener for iOS lacks some desktop features and doesn’t receive much support. Making even the Windows version superior. Because Chrome OS is so malleable, you can install that version on most Chromebooks.
If you’re looking for a Ulysses-esque experience, I love Jotterpad. It’s an Android that’s expanded to the web as a PWA.
It’s clean look, Markdown features, and Final Draft export makes it a great alternative.
If you’re compiling a book, the aforementioned Scrivener works. So does the Reedsy web app for simpler composition. And, as usual, there are the more powerful Linux options, Calibre and Scribus. Because Vellum doesn’t work on iPadOS, and it doesn’t look like inDesign is coming either, the iPad has to make do with Pages.
Where you want to write ultimately comes down to your preference. A feature-packed word processor doesn’t make you Ernest Hemingway, so you could use a txt editor to get your writing done.
Both platforms have great options, but Chrome OS has more options for putting a document together.
Again, no app on either platform is going to make or break an artist.
The App Store is loaded with great drawing apps. The most “professional” of which seem to be Clip Studio Paint and Affinity Designer. Many people also like the clean UI experience of Procreate.
On Chrome OS, there are Play Store apps that enable similar drawing experiences to anywhere else. Krita is probably the most exciting, but I found it to be less functional on Chromebooks than on Galaxy tabs. Instead, I’d recommend using the Linux version.
If you prefer cleaner UI drawing apps like Procreate, then I recommend Artflow. I bought the app and use it for my digital art lessons.
Apps like Gravit Designer and Inkscape are great for vector drawings and graphic design. And since I always have to throw some 3D in there, check out the previous article to see how Sketchup and Blender fare on Chrome OS.
Where pen experience is concerned, I love the feel of the Apple Pencil in optimized apps. And I’d say the same about the Galaxy’s S-pen. Both work really well and I see them as equals.
I can’t say the same about USI pens. The technology is still working out the kinks, but I‘m not impressed so far.
I drew the ball above on the Flex 5, and it’s been a decent experience overall. But drawing and taking handwritten notes on the Duet has been anywhere from good to excruciating. Most of the time, it performs as expected, but phantom clicks and strange interactions abound.
Just look at that!
I have to reiterate the Duet’s amazing starting price, though. Because it’s a secondary device, and is priced accordingly, I can’t fully count it out.
As I said in my original review, if you buy the Duet, you’ll need at least a laptop to cover your bases when it fails you. In the drawing department/pen experience, it definitely failed me.
Of course, this is art, so please take my opinions with a grain of salt. But a cursory search online will show you what kind of beautiful art people are creating on iPadOS, Android, and Chrome OS. Really, anything is possible here.
It’s nice having full touch capabilities when working on a photo, and the App Store has some great photo-editing programs. But Photoshop on the iPad is not the real Photoshop. Affinity Photo and Darkroom are some impressive substitutes instead.
I’d say Chrome OS keeps up. Not only are GIMP and Darktable an option on the Linux side, but there’s also my personal favorite, Photopea. It’s a browser based Photoshop that’s free with ads. I didn’t include it under the drawing section, but it’s perfectly capable in that department too. You can import brushes (.abr) and work on .psd files all in a Progressive Web App package.
On a baffling side-note, the iPad Air 4 is too weak to run this web app. Don’t believe me? I tried opening a .psd with 5 layers of a 3,549 x 1,959 JPEG. The iPad buckled where even the Lenovo Duet could handle the app.
I even opened this same file with the Acer 315. That sub $200 Chromebook runs on a Celeron processor! Talk about unimpressive.
To be fair to the iPad though, I threw this same project into the official (but weak) Adobe Photoshop app; it was smooth as butter.
This is another case of the selective nature of the iPad’s power. It can accomplish almost anything, but only in its own way. If you go outside of Apple’s narrow focus, effective design & photo apps like Figma and Photopea are just not usable.
Since there’s no obvious difference in what you can/can’t do on either platform, there’s no winner here. It all depends on how you like to edit your photos.
Oh, and if you’re in the filters only crowd, VSCO is available on both platforms.
Here, the iPad’s catered workflow comes to the rescue. While there are plenty of web apps that offer premium video editing (which are not available on iPads I might add), I’ve found none that offer prices as low as typical Play/App Store editors.
As I talked about in my Galaxy Tab S7+ vs iPad Air 4 article, the iPad has some great editing apps on the App Store and an adequate stock option in iMovie.
The closest Chromebooks come to a stock editor is Google Photos. As an example of why that’s a terrible option for most people, I tried the same “Baby Goat” video test using this app. It wasn’t too bad duplicating the clip, adding a soundtrack, etc. But, the real trouble started on export.
Once you start the render, there’s no feedback on the operation. The only way to tell it’s not done is by trying to save the video, which will fail until it’s done exporting.
This 10:16 video took 3 HOURS, 42 minutes, and 15 seconds to export in 1080p. And if you want the video offline, you also have to account for the upload/download time.
I’ve shown how video editing on low, or mid-ranged Chromebooks is a mixed bag. That said, they’re able to hold their own in 1080p-1440p video editing. And Chromebooks definitely have more flexibility in this field. Since Apple is pulling a bunch of tricks to make their A processors speed through video editing, they can’t work with Pro-Res. While not officially supported, you can actually edit Pro-Res on Chrome OS using Shotcut.
Still, since most people editing are just looking for a quick and easy solution, I can say that Chromebooks don’t provide nearly the seamless experience the iPads do. Especially not the iPad Air 4. While both have tools here, I have to give this to Apple.
Finally, we have to kick back and relax on these devices. How do these differ when it’s playtime?
I’ve complained about this before. Apple Arcade sucks. In fact, gaming on every Apple device sucks. Why would I want to play Final Fantasy 15 mobile if I could just play the full one on a similar device?
Apple has continued to prevent AAA gaming on their platform, creating a need for workarounds to everything.
Nvidia GeForce Now and Amazon Luna use web-specific tools to circumvent the App store, and Stadia and xCloud will soon follow suit. But why is it so hard to game on this platform? Isn’t the iPad more powerful than all Android, Windows, and Chrome OS device combined?!
Apple hyperbole aside, there’s no reason that consumers and developers have to jump through hoops to get a good AAA gaming experience. It’s ridiculous.
Apple doesn’t care about gamers on any of their platforms, and since they’re touting the integrated chip on their M1 processors as a viable solution, it doesn’t look like they ever will.
Between Steam, Android games, and Cloud Streaming support, Chrome OS wins this round easily.
This goes back to the screens. I’ll take the Galaxy Chromebook’s screen over any of the others. The downside to it is that Netflix, Disney Plus, and other apps don’t allow 4k in the browser or Android apps.
That means that the only time I’m really wowed is by downloaded media or YouTube. But it’s still beyond the iPad or Lenovo screens, so it doesn’t really matter. The difference between 4K AMOLED and LCD has to be seen to be understood, but the Galaxy Chromebook is like a blown-up version of a great phone panel. It just makes everything look amazing.
When it comes to play, I would call the platforms equal if not for the limited gaming options on the iPad. Since there’s not yet an iPad with an OLED screen, they just don’t really keep up here.
You can use either a Lenovo Duet/Flex 5 combo, or a Galaxy Chromebook to do more than the iPad Air is capable of. That’s really all there is to say.
I don’t own an iPad Pro, but seeing as how the software suffers the same limitations, and the hardware is pretty equal, it wouldn’t make a difference.
Some might gawk at this and say that the iPad experience is far more optimized. But it isn’t always smooth. The “Walled Garden of Apple” comes crashing down when you’re face to face with developers that simply won’t cave to Cupertino’s will. This is on display in a couple of the smaller examples I gave, but becomes glaring when you look at the iPad experience on Facebook’s Instagram and Epic Games’ Fortnite. Even Photoshop, a mobile app exclusive to iPads, has latency and feature issues.
iPads are very fun to use. They often require workarounds that would make Chrome OS roll its figurative eyes, but they have a nice feel to them.
In my case, I really want the speed and immediacy of a mobile OS without the cramped and controlled nature of one. That means that Chrome OS is the ultimate winner here for me. Whether I’m feeling creative or have to get work done, I always reach for a Chromebook because I know they have the flexibility to do anything. The same just can’t be said about an iPad.
On Chrome OS, I have to use a sub-optimal app from time to time, but ALL platforms require that. With that in mind, an iPad Air 4 is a great device if you’re willing to bend to its will.
But for the asking price, that’s a big ask.