Watch: Apple's 2016 MacBook vs. 2015 13" MacBook Air in head-to-head comparison

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in Current Mac Hardware edited May 2016
Apple's latest 12-inch MacBook refresh brings better battery life and a faster processor to the ultraportable platform, but in some respects is outperformed by last year's 13-inch MacBook Air. Is the ultimate in portability worth concessions like a single USB-C port and slower CPU? Find out in AppleInsider's head-to-head comparison.






In our last video comparison we pitted Apple's second-generation MacBook with Retina display against its predecessor, finding the new model only marginally better in terms of performance. But how does the new 12-inch ultraportable stack up against the company's aging, yet ever popular, MacBook Air?

If you're in the market to buy a thin and light MacBook, but are having a hard time deciding between the recently updated 12-inch Retina MacBook or a 13-inch MacBook Air, we don't blame you.

Both machines are considerably thin and light, and while there doesn't seem to be a huge difference on paper, handling the laptops in person is where the MacBook stands out as the superior machine in regards to portability. That portability does come at a cost.

With the MacBook, you only have one USB-C port that is used for both charging and as a data connection. This is where the MacBook air really shines, with the dedicated MagSafe charging port we love, along with two USB 3 ports, a Thunderbolt 2, and an SD card reader. One benefit of the USB-C connector on Apple's 12-inch MacBook is that it can charged with a cheap USB battery bank, which is very convenient.

If you work with photos and video, you'll know how convenient it is to have that SD card slot. But for that same crowd, the MacBook Air's screen is a letdown. Other than being larger, it's inferior to the 12-inch MacBook's Retina display in every other way. The viewing angles, contrast, and color accuracy is much worse, and the resolution isn't even "Full HD," giving you less screen real estate to work.

Even though the MacBook Air has a more powerful processor that requires a fan to stay cool, the fan-less Retina Macbook is only slightly behind in performance, so you won't notice a big difference in real world speed between these two models. The larger size of the Macbook air does afford it a more capacious battery which yields two extra hours of web usage.




In creating the ultra-thin 12-inch MacBook, Apple had to redesign the keyboard and trackpad. The keyboard has much less key travel which takes some getting used to. But thanks to the wider and more balanced butterfly keys, once you get used to the feeling you can type just as fast and accurately as with the MacBook air that has a typical Apple keyboard that is loved my many. The new thinner Retina MacBook keyboard is also lit by individual LEDs, giving it a sharper look with less backlight bleed.

The Force Touch trackpad is an improvement over the MacBook Air. Even though it feels like you're actually pressing down, Apple is using haptic feedback motors that simulate the click. This makes the trackpad thinner and provides uniform feedback no matter where you press. The design also gives you flexibility in adjusting feedback strength and sound.

With all the concessions made to make MacBook as slim as possible, you would expect the speakers to be less powerful and lacking adequate fidelity. While the 12-inch MacBook does lack a bit of low-end punch, its speakers are actually better sounding and slightly louder than those in the larger MacBook Air.

One area where MacBook Air takes a lead is its FaceTime HD camera. While neither machine provides great image quality, the FaceTime shooter in the 12-inch MacBook maxes out at a resolution of 480P, the same as the very first MacBook webcam. Which by the way, was released 10 years ago.

If you're looking for a portable machine in the $1,200-plus price range, and the lack of expansion ports doesn't bother you, go with the 12-inch MacBook. If you need the flexibility of Thunderbolt and the other ports the Air offers, and the low quality screen isn't an issue, the MacBook Air is the best pick for you.
techloverbrakken
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 36
    christopher126christopher126 Posts: 4,365member
    Interesting article, thx. Is it just me or is the MacBookAir looking a little dated next to the MacBook?

    I think the MacBook design is the future of what the entire Apple laptop line is going to look like...thin, less ports to attach ungainly cables to and Rose Gold, Baby!
    edited May 2016
  • Reply 2 of 36
    macplusplusmacplusplus Posts: 2,081member
    What is the point in comparing a Retina machine to a non-Retina one? The Retina screen is a huge difference in terms of battery and computing power, not a negligible one.
  • Reply 3 of 36
    appexappex Posts: 687member
    Toshiba SSD RAID 0 inside MacBook? There are no current Toshiba offerings for SSD with such speed unless in RAID 0 (or from other manufacturers at such price).
  • Reply 4 of 36
    TEAMSWITCHERTEAMSWITCHER Posts: 112member
    Or better yet ... look for a great deal on the Early 2015 13" MacBook Pro.  Best Buy was selling them for $300 off a couple weeks ago, making the 256GB and 512GB model $100 less than the new MacBook.  But you get lots of ports, a Retina display, and way better all-around performance.  The ONLY downside is that it's heavier.  All things considered - I think it's the best balance of power, connectivity, and portability ever achieved.  I can't wait to see what Apple does with the next 13" MacBook Pro!
    techlovermdriftmeyerbrakkencnocbuiwaverboy
  • Reply 5 of 36
    irelandireland Posts: 17,751member
    I'd choose Retina over non-Retina, but in Ireland the MacBook starts at €1,499 for that same price you can get a 2.2 Ghz MBA MacBook Air with RAM and hard drive parody. For me the biggest pluses of the Air over the MB are 1. Battery life (I can stretch it to over 15 hours in a real push while writing) 2. 13" is better than 12"—12 is too small for me to watch a film for example. 3. Greater power. 4. MagSafe. 5. A few ports.

    What I'm looking for is a MB-like 14" Retina Mac with a keyboard with a least the travel of the "magic" keyboard and MacSafe and at least 2 UBS ports. And if an SD Card would fit it should include this also. Chief among my wants for this machine would be a stated battery life of at least 15 hours for web browsing at 60% brightness.

    Mainly very long battery life, a larger display and Retina though. With power that exceeds current 13" MBA.
    edited May 2016 brakken
  • Reply 6 of 36
    bkkcanuckbkkcanuck Posts: 857member
    appex said:
    Toshiba SSD RAID 0 inside MacBook? There are no current Toshiba offerings for SSD with such speed unless in RAID 0 (or from other manufacturers at such price).
    You are getting boring, we fully discussed this on another thread.  It appears it is two SSD chips driven by one controller chip with a PCIe interface which instead of reading one chip or the other chip can read them both at the same time.  There is a limit to what one chip can hold and the same scenario will be in all SSDs that are made up of more than one chip, just that this one the controller is better and thus more performant.  In any case, one chip dies and all the SSD dies - but since it is solid state that if the manufacturing is done correctly should happen a fraction of the time.  It is no different than the difference between a 6Gbps SATA drive one read/write head vs a 6Gbps SAS drive with multiple read/write heads.  The SAS one is more advanced and performs better even though both of them are running at 7200RPM.

    In this article the are actually comparing two computers each with SSDs so they would be the same in both... which really makes your post pointless.
    edited May 2016 williamlondonchia
  • Reply 7 of 36
    the macbook is my next computer (unless I switch to solely using iPad) but it's not really there yet plus my 2012 base config 11" air is doing fine
    williamlondon
  • Reply 8 of 36
    bkkcanuckbkkcanuck Posts: 857member
    the macbook is my next computer (unless I switch to solely using iPad) but it's not really there yet plus my 2012 base config 11" air is doing fine
    What is it not "there yet" with the Macbook.... the connectivity limitations?  

    I have one, it is great - but still need a better computer for my main one.... Still hoping they bring back an HQ/HK or the Xeon mobile version of a Mac Mini (that can drive 3 monitors or 2 x 4K ones - does not have to be high performance, just drive the monitors for normal use).  If they did that then it would be powerful enough for me when I need to replace my main computer - a 2008 Mac Pro (8 core).  

    As a mobile device the Macbook is an amazing computer.... and for most people more than enough.  
    williamlondon
  • Reply 9 of 36
    techlovertechlover Posts: 879member
    Good article and video AI.

    I wouldn't mind seeing more of this kind of thing.

    Even thought most people who comment here may be familiar with most of Apples line-up, these kinds of comparison videos are helpful for average people who may not always have time to visit an Apple Store.

    Thumbs up.
    bkkcanuckwilliamlondon
  • Reply 10 of 36
    bkkcanuck said:
    the macbook is my next computer (unless I switch to solely using iPad) but it's not really there yet plus my 2012 base config 11" air is doing fine
    What is it not "there yet" with the Macbook.... the connectivity limitations?  

    I have one, it is great - but still need a better computer for my main one.... Still hoping they bring back an HQ/HK or the Xeon mobile version of a Mac Mini (that can drive 3 monitors or 2 x 4K ones - does not have to be high performance, just drive the monitors for normal use).  If they did that then it would be powerful enough for me when I need to replace my main computer - a 2008 Mac Pro (8 core).  

    As a mobile device the Macbook is an amazing computer.... and for most people more than enough.  
    I absolutely love, love, love the design of the rMB, I'm such a size freak, I love the diminutive devices best. Currently, I've got an 11" MBA (mid-2012) which actually acts as my main desktop machine (plugged into external monitor and keyboard/mouse). I stopped throwing that in my bag for "on-the-go" in favour of my gen 1 iPad Air in Zagg folio/keyboard, because it's even smaller and iOS (today) does everything I need on the road (and the screen is awesome).

    When I replace my MBA, I'm with you, I'd love to see a decent Mac Mini that can drive a couple of monitors for the desk setting, and then I'll get either the latest rMB or stick with my iPad keyboard combo and upgrade that to a Pro version (can't decide which I like better rMB or iPad/keyboard combo - they're both more than capable for my away from home needs), unless of course (and here's my fantasy) Apple comes along and makes an iOS version of the rMB using a non-touch version of iOS that blows the pants off Intel's fanless M-series chip in performance, in a form factor as genius or better than the rMB, at a price point that most likely would cost less.

    Don't care about the so called rMB connectivity "limitations," there's expansion opportunity built right in, and in the world of today (meaning the future for many people and complainers alike), everything is wireless, which is a perfectly sane trade-off for those of us who hold size above almost everything else in a (it's a super duper portable, duh!) machine. Like you, the rMB couldn't (I don't think) perform equally as my MBA does (which is an odd main machine I admit), but for a "throw it in your bag for everything on the go machine," I can't imagine one better if you've got performance at home forming a strong foundation of a computing environment (assuming needs are heavy on tech, as many of us here have).

    Any chance you think we might see that Mac Mini of which you hope to see, or something similar, in the near future? Speculate? It's overdue for a refresh, no? :smile: 
    edited May 2016 bkkcanuckredgeminipa
  • Reply 11 of 36
    bkkcanuckbkkcanuck Posts: 857member
    I would think that both the Macbook Pro and Mac Mini would be prime candidates to update during June.... both being popular with developers. I have no idea about whether they will bring back the quad-core -- but thought the Xeon mobile processor would fit nicely in a Mac Mini.  We just have to sit and and wait and hope.   A quad-core Mac Mini with TB3/USB-C and an SSD would be a tremendous workhorse of a machine -- especially for it's size.... it would actually be more powerful than my 8-core Mac Pro from 2008 (just with less graphics processors)....
    williamlondonpulseimages
  • Reply 12 of 36
    isteelersisteelers Posts: 738member
    I think the MacBook is a beautiful machin and will indeed replace the Air in a few generations. Apple may appease those who wish for multiple ports and TB3 on the next redesign which will probably be a year or two out.  I agree with the poster who said that this is going to be the future of Apple's notebook designs and wouldn't be surprised if the new MBPs took design cues from this machine.
    edited May 2016 williamlondon
  • Reply 13 of 36
    linkmanlinkman Posts: 1,014member
    What is the point in comparing a Retina machine to a non-Retina one? The Retina screen is a huge difference in terms of battery and computing power, not a negligible one.
    Yes, the retina screen is a big product differentiator, but these two machines compete for the same customers. Lots of people are torn between the two when purchasing. My wife and daughter both got MBAs recently in spite of the benefits of the pixel count. Built-in ports were the big factor for them.
    baconstang
  • Reply 14 of 36
    bkkcanuckbkkcanuck Posts: 857member
    isteelers said:
    I think the MacBook is a beautiful machin and will indeed replace the Air in a few generations. Apple may appease those who wish for multiple ports and TB3 on the next redesign which will probably be a year or two out.  I agree with the poster who said that this is going to be the future of Apple's notebook designs and wouldn't be surprised if the new MBPs took design cues from this machine.
    Macbook will likely receive frequent updates since it is the future.... but I suspect the Macbook Pro line will absorb the Macbook Air (wider range).... and be a bit thinner/lighter with molded batteries and a retina screen with more ports.  If the Macbook Pro was just going to be refreshed as is they would have done that already, I see the delay more of a positive sign that they are doing some major redesigns on that one.
    williamlondonbaconstangchiapulseimages
  • Reply 15 of 36
    macplusplusmacplusplus Posts: 2,081member
    linkman said:
    What is the point in comparing a Retina machine to a non-Retina one? The Retina screen is a huge difference in terms of battery and computing power, not a negligible one.
    Yes, the retina screen is a big product differentiator, but these two machines compete for the same customers. Lots of people are torn between the two when purchasing. My wife and daughter both got MBAs recently in spite of the benefits of the pixel count. Built-in ports were the big factor for them.
    Right choice. MBA and and Retina MBP will merge and MBA customers will be handled by the Retina MBP series. MBA has no future, when you try to design a future to it you end up with the Retina MBP.
  • Reply 16 of 36
    linkman said:
    Yes, the retina screen is a big product differentiator, but these two machines compete for the same customers. Lots of people are torn between the two when purchasing. My wife and daughter both got MBAs recently in spite of the benefits of the pixel count. Built-in ports were the big factor for them.
    MBA has no future, when you try to design a future to it you end up with the Retina MBP.
    Or perhaps it becomes the first A-series laptop running not OS X, but a non-touch version of iOS. ;)
  • Reply 17 of 36
    sphericspheric Posts: 2,092member
    MBA has no future, when you try to design a future to it you end up with the Retina MBP.
    Or perhaps it becomes the first A-series laptop running not OS X, but a non-touch version of iOS. ;)
    That's the definition of OS X. 
  • Reply 18 of 36
    bkkcanuckbkkcanuck Posts: 857member
    spheric said:
    Or perhaps it becomes the first A-series laptop running not OS X, but a non-touch version of iOS. ;)
    That's the definition of OS X. 
    No that is the definition of Darwin.....  :open_mouth: 

  • Reply 19 of 36
    baconstangbaconstang Posts: 780member
    MBA has no future, when you try to design a future to it you end up with the Retina MBP.
    Or perhaps it becomes the first A-series laptop running not OS X, but a non-touch version of iOS. ;)
    Or.... maybe it will run either OSX apps or iOS, and maybe, just maybe have a touch screen for those iOS apps.
  • Reply 20 of 36
    swedevbswedevb Posts: 6member
    When I travel, which is a lot, I have to plug in a USB aircard & USB smartcard reader.  Wanted the rMB, but is a non starter.  More ports Pls!
    baconstang
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