Compared: buying a 13-inch MacBook Air versus a 13-inch MacBook Pro

Posted:
in Current Mac Hardware edited November 24
Now that Apple has finally updated MacBook Air, a lot of people are trying to figure out if they should buy the new model over the comparably priced 2017 non-Touch Bar MacBook Pro. AppleInsider shows you all of the benefits and shortcomings of each model, so you can make your decision today.


External differences

The new MacBook Air finally gets a Retina display, which is great, but compared to the MacBook Pro's display it's a lot dimmer. The Pro's screen supports P3 Wide-color gamut, which the Air does not, making it much more color accurate as well.






In terms of portability, the Air weighs a quarter of a pound lighter than the Pro, and stacking them on top of each other, they're basically the same size. From the side, the Air has more of a wedge shape when compared to the Pro, tapering from back to front.

A brightness comparison of the 2018 MacBook Air and the 2017 MacBook Pro
A brightness comparison of the 2018 MacBook Air and the 2017 MacBook Pro


Interestingly, at their tallest points, the Air is thicker than the Pro, but the front edge is quite a bit thinner. Because of this, the Air's keyboard slopes downward for a much more comfortable typing experience. The Pro also has sharp edges that can sometimes dig into your wrist when typing.

The 2018 MacBook Air is taller than the 2017 non-Touch Bar MacBook Pro
The 2018 MacBook Air is taller than the 2017 non-Touch Bar MacBook Pro


The Air also gets Apple's third-generation butterfly keyboard, which incorporates a silicone barrier under the keys to block debris from entering the switch mechanism. This thin shield makes the Air's keyboard more reliable and less prone to breakage than the second-generation mechanism found in the Pro.

The trackpad on the MacBook Pro is significantly larger, even though the notebooks are practically the same size.

Comparing the trackpad sizes of the 2017 MacBook Pro and the 2018 MacBook Air
Comparing the trackpad sizes of the 2017 MacBook Pro and the 2018 MacBook Air

Features

The speakers on the 2017 MacBook Pro are quite a bit better than the audio components in the new MacBook Air. Played side by side, the Pro's speakers are clearly better.

Beyond design, the MacBook Air has a leg up on the Pro in a few key areas. First off, it comes with Touch ID, which is really useful for logging in and using Apple Pay.

Registering Touch ID on a 2018 MacBook Air
Registering Touch ID on a 2018 MacBook Air


It also comes with Apple's T2 security chip, which enables Hey Siri and takes care of a lot of tasks on behalf of the processor, such as automatic file encryption.

The MacBook Air is rated at 12 hours of battery life compared to 10 hours on the MacBook Pro, but unfortunately, it only gets a 30-Watt charger compared to the 61-Watt charger Apple supplies with the Pro model. That means it could take a little longer to charge the MacBook Air.

That said, one of the reasons the MacBook Air gets such great battery life is because its processor and GPU are not designed for performance. In Geekbench 4's multi-core test, the Pro scored quite a bit higher, and we saw the same thing in Cinebench R15's CPU test.



The MacBook Pro is around 50 percent faster in Geekbench 4 graphics testing, which is its biggest advantage. The extra horsepower makes tasks like professional video editing possible.

Breaking it down

If you care about performance, especially graphics performance, and you sometimes use your MacBook outside, go for the MacBook Pro.

If you absolutely must have the best battery life, then the MacBook Air is the obvious choice. It's also the better option if you do a lot of typing every day, since it's more comfortable and more reliable. To me, the front edge on the MacBook Pro isn't bothersome and I love the larger trackpad.

Comparing the overall size of both models
Comparing the overall size of both models


If you're a fan of loud and clear speakers, the MacBook Pro is your best bet.

Touch ID and the T2 chip are nice, but personally, those features are neither dealmakers nor dealbreakers.

Where to buy

Apple's 2018 MacBook Air and 2017 MacBook Pro are both on sale for the Black Friday weekend. Adorama currently has the standard 2018 MacBook Air on sale for $1,049 and the 256GB model discounted to $1,249 with coupon code APINSIDER. Both are record low prices.

Apple's standard 2017 13-inch MacBook Pro with function keys is also marked down, this time by $200, with coupon code APINSIDER.

More info, including how to redeem the coupon code, can be found in this Black Friday roundup. And to find discounts on every Mac, visit our Apple Price Guide.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 26
    Like all of Apple's best Macs, the 2017 escape won't be around for much longer get one while you can!
  • Reply 2 of 26
    Which one would you recommend for an average user that probably wouldn’t notice too much of a difference between the two?
  • Reply 3 of 26
    What about disk speed? Since the SSD controller is the T2 chip in MBA, I want to know if that makes a difference in non-encrypted regular use. May you run please a Blackmagic test ?

    Also a 4K export test is needed. The T2 chip in the Mac Mini includes the 30x faster HEVC encoder but it is not clear from Apple's press releases whether it is included in the T2 of MBA or not.

    https://www.apple.com/newsroom/2018/10/all-new-macbook-air-takes-flight/
    https://www.apple.com/newsroom/2018/10/new-mac-mini-packs-huge-punch/
    edited November 24 watto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 26
    fallenjtfallenjt Posts: 3,930member
    Mike149 said:
    Which one would you recommend for an average user that probably wouldn’t notice too much of a difference between the two?
    Air for sure.
    cornchipEcky-ThumpMike149
  • Reply 5 of 26
    I believe the Air is probably the true "mid-tier", while both MacBook and MacBook Pro are the best in their own way.  MacBook was built to maximize the notebook experience with fanless, portability and design, while the Pro optimized for the best performance possible.  The new Air doesn't have many aspects like it didn't use the terraced battery, nor is maximized in specs compared to its size, but meant to be built like a middle-of-the-road with the most affordable price.

    In short, it's like in 2008-2009 when MacBook Air was announced, but this time it got swapped around with the MacBook.
    edited November 24 radarthekatwatto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 26
    MplsPMplsP Posts: 774member
    I wonder what the battery life comparison would be if the brightness was equivalent (i.e. if you turned down the brightness on the pro to match the Air's?)

    The keyboard alone would be enough to push me to the air. I have a 2017 MacBook Pro and started noticing issues with the keyboard within a month after I got it. I got a silicone cover that does a great job of protecting keyboard but makes an already poor typing experience even worse.

    I've found the touchpad to be thoroughly underwhelming, but touch ID is definitely nice to have, especially when you combine it with things like 1Password. It's too bad the brightness is worse on the Air. For many people, the graphics capabilities aren't paramount, and you can use an eGPU if you're at a desktop, so the Air would be a perfect machine for many people. 
    edited November 24 chiaradarthekatwatto_cobrabluefire1
  • Reply 7 of 26
    I love my 13 inch MacBook Pro that I got this summer, but if I would have realized the iPad Pro and Mac mini were going to be upgraded the way they were, I probably would have either gotten an iPad Pro and a Mac mini or an Air and a Mac mini, they would have cost the same but I'd be less worried about taking my incredibly expensive laptop out when I go writing.
    radarthekatwatto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 26
    entropysentropys Posts: 1,374member
    It certainly is a dilemma. My daughters’ MBAs are getting on, and maybe new machines would make good Christmas presents. If the MBP had a third gen keyboard (thus theoretically more reliable for life in a school bag) and a current gen processor it would not be a debate. 

    They would miss the light up logo regardless.

    i am also sorely tempted to make the leap to windows for a spectre. Built like a Mac even though it is win10 and has a crappy trackpad in comparison to a Mac.  But it’s selling points are it isn’t compromised when it comes to price, ports and CPU power.
    edited November 24 williamlondon
  • Reply 9 of 26
    entropys said:
    It certainly is a dilemma. My daughters’ MBAs are getting on, and maybe new machines would make good Christmas presents. If the MBP had a third gen keyboard (thus theoretically more reliable for life in a school bag) and a current gen processor it would not be a debate. 

    They would miss the light up logo regardless.
    Heavens.
    I am also sorely tempted to make the leap to windows for a spectre. Built like a Mac even though it is win10 and has a crappy trackpad in comparison to a Mac.  But it’s selling points are it isn’t compromised when it comes to price, ports and CPU power.
    Yeah instead it just runs a crappy OS and has crappier features. Just as good as a Mac... 

    How does using standard, non-proprietary USB-C ports now make the MBP “compromised?” It used to be the case that haters and pundits criticized Macs for using proprietary ports, how times have changed. 

    The price isnt compromised, either. As a working professional I pay for premium tools. The TCO is lower as numerous corporate white papers and my own experience has shown. Crappy commodity PCs give what you pay for...
    watto_cobramacpluspluschiaRayz2016williamlondonpscooter63
  • Reply 10 of 26
    entropys said:
    It certainly is a dilemma. My daughters’ MBAs are getting on, and maybe new machines would make good Christmas presents. If the MBP had a third gen keyboard (thus theoretically more reliable for life in a school bag) and a current gen processor it would not be a debate. 

    They would miss the light up logo regardless.
    Heavens.
    I am also sorely tempted to make the leap to windows for a spectre. Built like a Mac even though it is win10 and has a crappy trackpad in comparison to a Mac.  But it’s selling points are it isn’t compromised when it comes to price, ports and CPU power.
    Yeah instead it just runs a crappy OS and has crappier features. Just as good as a Mac... 

    How does using standard, non-proprietary USB-C ports now make the MBP “compromised?” It used to be the case that haters and pundits criticized Macs for using proprietary ports, how times have changed. 

    The price isnt compromised, either. As a working professional I pay for premium tools. The TCO is lower as numerous corporate white papers and my own experience has shown. Crappy commodity PCs give what you pay for...
    Except for the MacBook Ait is not a professional laptop, and students are not working professionals. MacBook Air needs to start at $999 and the hugest-end model with a 512 GB drive and 16 GB SSD should be $1399. That would make it appealing to non-professionals. Otherwise, it’s an overpriced low-end laptop. 
    philboogiewilliamlondon80s_Apple_Guy
  • Reply 11 of 26
    sirozha said:
    entropys said:
    It certainly is a dilemma. My daughters’ MBAs are getting on, and maybe new machines would make good Christmas presents. If the MBP had a third gen keyboard (thus theoretically more reliable for life in a school bag) and a current gen processor it would not be a debate. 

    They would miss the light up logo regardless.
    Heavens.
    I am also sorely tempted to make the leap to windows for a spectre. Built like a Mac even though it is win10 and has a crappy trackpad in comparison to a Mac.  But it’s selling points are it isn’t compromised when it comes to price, ports and CPU power.
    Yeah instead it just runs a crappy OS and has crappier features. Just as good as a Mac... 

    How does using standard, non-proprietary USB-C ports now make the MBP “compromised?” It used to be the case that haters and pundits criticized Macs for using proprietary ports, how times have changed. 

    The price isnt compromised, either. As a working professional I pay for premium tools. The TCO is lower as numerous corporate white papers and my own experience has shown. Crappy commodity PCs give what you pay for...
    Except for the MacBook Ait is not a professional laptop, and students are not working professionals. MacBook Air needs to start at $999 and the hugest-end model with a 512 GB drive and 16 GB SSD should be $1399. That would make it appealing to non-professionals. Otherwise, it’s an overpriced low-end laptop. 
    It is not for students, it is for corporations, to be sold by lots of ten thousands. What low-end is that with a custom CPU for security and Thunderbolt 3 ???!!

    There is 12” Macbook for students. They can do well with USB-C and can store whatever they like on its 256 Gb SSD, with a USB-C drive in their back pocket.
    edited November 24 Rayz2016williamlondonpscooter63
  • Reply 12 of 26
    entropysentropys Posts: 1,374member
    Your kidding right? For the last six or seven years the MBA has been the most common student laptop. I think I’ve seen one kid with an rMB. In our schools it’s all BYOD.  It’s MBA and then daylight to old Dell pavilions, HPG2 (there was a huge discount a year ago), XPS, Spectres, the occasional MBP, and then a bunch of also rans. Heck Heavy gaming laptops in the school bag are more common than an rMB.
    But at these prices and restricted choice in ports MBA leadership in schools may not, it won’t, stay that way.
    edited November 24 GeorgeBMac
  • Reply 13 of 26
    One thing to keep in mind if you keep your computers for a while:

    The MacBook Air has a replaceable battery. 

    It's not considered "user" replaceable, but there will likely be third party batteries, and you'll probably be able to do it yourself if you've ever replaced your own iPhone battery. 

    The "Pro" battery is glued to the top case with very strong adhesive, and would be VERY difficult to replace.  The Apple procedure is to replace the entire top case assembly, keyboard and all.  It's expensive.
  • Reply 14 of 26
    I'm now the happy owner of the new model Air.

    13" MBP desperately needs an upgrade to the better keyboard and a touch ID.

    The screen, trackpad, speakers and i5 on the new Air, are perfectly acceptable for the majority of users.  While that extra battery life is a big bonus.
    baconstangchiawilliamlondon
  • Reply 15 of 26
    entropys said:
    Your kidding right? For the last six or seven years the MBA has been the most common student laptop. I think I’ve seen one kid with an rMB. In our schools it’s all BYOD.  It’s MBA and then daylight to old Dell pavilions, HPG2 (there was a huge discount a year ago), XPS, Spectres, the occasional MBP, and then a bunch of also rans. Heck Heavy gaming laptops in the school bag are more common than an rMB.
    But at these prices and restricted choice in ports MBA leadership in schools may not, it won’t, stay that way.
    Students will love the new MBA even more, because it is their familiar companion now in a smaller footprint and with a better display. Some of those MBAs you mention were 11” ones and the 12” Macbook now perfectly replaces them. Also MBA was common because it was the only model at that range until the release of 12” Macbook in 2015. Integration is the way Apple goes regarding ports, there is no restriction of port choices. Thunderbolt 3 means PCIe, USB, Ethernet, DisplayPort on a single port. I understand the dongle issue but I believe an integrated port may appeal more to students than a multitude of ports of seldom use. There is nothing in the new MBA that will alienate students, but there are enhancements that will appeal to them. With a PS4 or Xbox at home, with even some desktop PC, an iPhone in their pocket and MBA in their backpack, students are not newcomers to technology.
    edited November 25 chiawilliamlondon
  • Reply 16 of 26
    It’s also worth considering an Apple certified refurbished 2018 MBP with Touch Bar, which doesn't cost much more than the Air (especially at equal storage), has T2 and Touch ID, and a far, far more powerful processor.

    in terms of peerformance for the form factor, it may be Apple’s best ever.
    chiapscooter63GeorgeBMac
  • Reply 17 of 26
    wood1208wood1208 Posts: 1,633member
    2017 13" Function Keys Macbook Pro needs upgrade like touchbar version. There is a need for a Function keys 13" Macbook Pro between new Air and touchbar MBP  Make buyers/users happy who care less touchbar and care lower price point.
    edited November 25
  • Reply 18 of 26
    wood1208wood1208 Posts: 1,633member
    entropys said:
    Your kidding right? For the last six or seven years the MBA has been the most common student laptop. I think I’ve seen one kid with an rMB. In our schools it’s all BYOD.  It’s MBA and then daylight to old Dell pavilions, HPG2 (there was a huge discount a year ago), XPS, Spectres, the occasional MBP, and then a bunch of also rans. Heck Heavy gaming laptops in the school bag are more common than an rMB.
    But at these prices and restricted choice in ports MBA leadership in schools may not, it won’t, stay that way.
    Students will love the new MBA even more, because it is their familiar companion now in a smaller footprint and with a better display. Some of those MBAs you mention were 11” ones and the 12” Macbook now perfectly replaces them. Also MBA was common because it was the only model at that range until the release of 12” Macbook in 2015. Integration is the way Apple goes regarding ports, there is no restriction of port choices. Thunderbolt 3 means PCIe, USB, Ethernet, DisplayPort on a single port. I understand the dongle issue but I believe an integrated port may appeal more to students than a multitude of ports of seldom use. There is nothing in the new MBA that will alienate students, but there are enhancements that will appeal to them. With a PS4 or Xbox at home, with even some desktop PC, an iPhone in their pocket and MBA in their backpack, students are not newcomers to technology.
    13" MBA needs no less than 3 ports(two on left, one or two on right) and more processor power. By doing so, Apple can get away by not offering function keys 13" Macbook Pro upgrades in future. Many who like MBP but don't see much of usefulness for touchbar and feel pain of paying extra for. If Apple ever offers upgraded 13" function keys MBP, than that will sell lot more than equivalent touchbar 13" MBP. Gauranteed.
    edited November 25 bigpics
  • Reply 19 of 26
    What happened to all of the analyst’s predictions that the MacBook Air would be eliminated from Apple’s lineup.
    That’s right: they were wrong. 
    GeorgeBMac
  • Reply 20 of 26
    wood1208 said:
    entropys said:
    Your kidding right? For the last six or seven years the MBA has been the most common student laptop. I think I’ve seen one kid with an rMB. In our schools it’s all BYOD.  It’s MBA and then daylight to old Dell pavilions, HPG2 (there was a huge discount a year ago), XPS, Spectres, the occasional MBP, and then a bunch of also rans. Heck Heavy gaming laptops in the school bag are more common than an rMB.
    But at these prices and restricted choice in ports MBA leadership in schools may not, it won’t, stay that way.
    Students will love the new MBA even more, because it is their familiar companion now in a smaller footprint and with a better display. Some of those MBAs you mention were 11” ones and the 12” Macbook now perfectly replaces them. Also MBA was common because it was the only model at that range until the release of 12” Macbook in 2015. Integration is the way Apple goes regarding ports, there is no restriction of port choices. Thunderbolt 3 means PCIe, USB, Ethernet, DisplayPort on a single port. I understand the dongle issue but I believe an integrated port may appeal more to students than a multitude of ports of seldom use. There is nothing in the new MBA that will alienate students, but there are enhancements that will appeal to them. With a PS4 or Xbox at home, with even some desktop PC, an iPhone in their pocket and MBA in their backpack, students are not newcomers to technology.
    13" MBA needs no less than 3 ports(two on left, one or two on right) and more processor power. By doing so, Apple can get away by not offering function keys 13" Macbook Pro upgrades in future. Many who like MBP but don't see much of usefulness for touchbar and feel pain of paying extra for. If Apple ever offers upgraded 13" function keys MBP, than that will sell lot more than equivalent touchbar 13" MBP. Gauranteed.
    I would buy such a MBP, and the introduction of a laptop without the Touch Bar but with Touch ID makes it more plausible. Meanwhile if the lack of Touch Bar wouldn’t bring much price difference maybe it is best to leave it as is. I don’t understand why it is a dealbreaker whilst no one complains about the multiple shortcut button rows on the PC laptops: two on the left and right of the  keyboard, at least two on top of the keyboard and yet these exist since decades, almost since the introduction of the PC laptops !! Those clicky lights PC users look to see whether their wifi is on or off I mean, not F keys. I saw no one complaining about those. When Apple introduces a more advanced and beautiful version of these shortcut buttons then that is Apple’s doom ! This is just a managed campaign, nothing else.
    edited November 25
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