With both the MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro recently refreshed, it's about time we took a new look at which is the better buy for an Apple laptop: the cheaper, lighter option or the more expensive, powerhouse option? We'll explain everything you need to know.
Of course what's right for one laptop buyer isn't necessarily right for another, and so we'll break down the differences between these two ranges so you know exactly what you're looking at. You'll also need to decide how you're going to be using your new computer.
Macbook Air vs Macbook Pro: design and display
The MacBook Air is the smaller and lighter laptop of the two... hence the name. When closed, at its thinnest point it's 0.41 cm thick, compared with 1.49cm (0.59 inches) for the 13-inch MacBook Pro and 1.55 cm (0.61 inches) for the 15-inch MacBook Pro. It weighs in at 1.25 kg (2.75 pounds), compared with 1.37 kg (3.02 pounds) for the 13-inch Pro and 1.83 kg (4.02 pounds) for the 15-inch Pro.
The comparison is closer when it comes to the display. Both the MacBook Air and the smaller MacBook Pro have a 13.3-inch screen running at a 2,560 x 1,600 resolution – though the Pro does use a wider colour gamut, and is slightly brighter (500 nits versus 400 nits). The larger MacBook Pro sports a 15.4-inch screen running at a 2,880 x 1,800 pixel resolution (with the wider colour gamut and extra brightness).
In terms of overall aesthetics, there's not too much that's different here – the MacBook Pros have the slightly thicker keyboard sections, and include a Touch Bar which hasn't yet been added to the MacBook Air line. The bezels around the size of the displays are broadly comparable, as are the keyboard and trackpad designs.
The 15-inch MacBook Pro finds room for noticeably bigger speakers than you get on either the MacBook Air or the 13-inch MacBook Pro, and there are some differences in terms of the ports you've got available, which will get on to shortly. Finally, while all these laptops come in either silver or space grey, only the MacBook Air offers a gold option.
Macbook Air vs Macbook Pro: specs and options
Apple gives you a plethora of options when it comes to kitting out the latest MacBook Airs and MacBook Pros. The MacBook Air first: you start off with a 1.6GHz dual-core 8th-gen Intel Core i5 processor (Turbo Boost up to 3.6GHz), 8GB of RAM, and 128GB of storage. You can up that to 16GB of RAM and a maximum of 1TB of storage, if needed. Graphics are provided by an integrated Intel UHD Graphics 617 chip across the board.
The 13-inch MacBook Pro is the next step up in power. At its cheapest, you get a 1.4GHz quad-core 8th-gen Intel Core i5 processor (Turbo Boost up to 3.9GHz), 8GB of RAM, 128GB of storage, and integrated Intel Iris Plus Graphics 645. At its most expensive, you can get up to a 2.8GHz quad-core 8th-gen Intel Core i7 processor (Turbo Boost up to 4.7GHz), 16GB of RAM, and 2TB of storage, plus Intel Iris Plus Graphics 655.
The top-end 15-inch MacBook Pro configurations start out at a 2.6GHz 6-core 9th-gen Intel Core i7 processor (Turbo Boost up to 4.5GHz), 16GB of RAM, 256GB of storage, and Radeon Pro 555X graphics. If you really want to trick the laptop out, you can go all the way up to a 2.4GHz 8-core 9th-gen Intel Core i9 processor (Turbo Boost up to 5.0GHz), 32GB of RAM, a massive 4TB of storage, and Radeon Pro Vega 20 graphics.
The attached prices shoot up accordingly, of course. That top-end 15-inch MacBook Pro is an absolute beast, but overkill unless you're rendering video or doing something equally demanding – for most casual computing use, the lower specs on the MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro will do you just fine.
Macbook Air vs Macbook Pro: features and ports
Remember all these MacBooks are going to come running the latest versions of macOS – and that includes macOS Catalina when it rolls out in September 2019 (or thereabouts). From a software point of view, they all have the same features and capabilities, and access to the same applications.
The lightness and less powerful components of the MacBook Air equal longer battery life: Apple quotes 12 hours of wireless web use and 13 hours of iTunes video watching. That beats out the quoted 10 hours of wireless web use and 10 hours of iTunes video watching for the MacBook Pro models.
The MacBook Air features two Thunderbolt 3 (USB‑C) ports, plus a 3.5mm headphone jack. That matches the 13-inch MacBook Pro, but you can buy that 13-inch Pro model with four Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) ports (and a headphone jack) instead. With the 15-inch MacBook Pro, the only option is four Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) ports, plus that headphone jack. You might need a dongle or a hub (or two) whichever model you opt for.
It's worth noting that while the MacBook Pros include the Touch Bar (for app shortcuts, volume control and so on), and the MacBook Air doesn't, both these laptop ranges include Touch ID built into the keyboard. That makes life much easier when you're verifying your identity on a website or inside an app.
Macbook Air vs Macbook Pro: pricing and verdict
Both the MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro will give you a very good Apple laptop experience – it's just a question of how much power you're going to need (and how light you want your laptop to be while you're lugging it around).
At the top end, the 15-inch MacBook Pro can be kitted out with some serious power, and it gives you that extra screen real estate to work with as well. The 13-inch model offers an impressive level of performance too, though you don't get the discrete graphics options that you do with the bigger laptop.
On the other hand the MacBook Air is lightweight and a little bit cheaper too (check out the widgets on this page for the latest prices). If you're more of a casual computer user then you can save yourself some money with a cheaper option – remember the macOS software is the same on all these models.
The scale of price and performance is clear to see as you move up from the MacBook Air to the MacBook Pro, and the good news is that there are plenty of configuration options along the way, so you should be able to find an Apple laptop that meets your needs.