MacBook Pro vs MacBook Air - Which is the better buy?

Posted:
in Current Mac Hardware edited July 28
A few weeks ago, Apple launched a pair of machines in direct competition with each other. Let's take a look at the differences between Apple's new entry level MacBook Air, and the new base model 13-inch MacBook Pro with two Thunderbolt 3 ports. Which one should you pick up?

2019 MacBook Air (left) and 2019 MacBook Pro 13-inch (right)
2019 MacBook Air (left) and 2019 MacBook Pro 13-inch (right)


A couple of weeks ago, Apple decided to kill off its 12-inch MacBook with its single USB-C port and replaced it with the 13-inch MacBook Air with Retina Display.




Air versus Pro

This new MacBook Air now starts at $1099 which packs a 1.6GHz dual-core processor that turbo boosts up to 3.6GHz, 8GB of RAM, 128GB SSD, and Intel's UHD 617 Graphics.

2019 MacBook Air
2019 MacBook Air


The new base model 13-inch MacBook Pro with two Thunderbolt 3 ports starts at $1299 and that gets you a 1.4GHz quad-core i5 processor that turbo boosts up to 3.9GHz, 8GB of RAM, 128GB SSD, and the Intel Iris Plus 645 Graphics.

Superb build quality, similar design

In terms of overall design, both devices look incredible. The MacBook Air, like its name, is very thin and light. It's the most portable Mac you can carry with you. We've seen this same exact design for the MacBook Pro since the 2016 debu of the style, and the 13-inch model is still very portable, but not as light as the MacBook Air.

Both the Air and Pro also feature Apple's newly updated butterfly keyboard which we've covered in length in the past, but to reiterate our review of this new keyboard, it's a little bit better to type on versus the first gen keyboard, there's little to no key travel, but we're not completely sold on whether or not this will end up breaking in a few months.

2019 13-inch MacBook Pro
2019 13-inch MacBook Pro


One of the major differences between these two models and their keyboards however is the Pro's Touch Bar versus the Air's Function Keys with Touch ID. Personally, I prefer the MacBook Air's function keys over the Pro's Touch Bar because they are physical buttons I can press, and in my opinion is the more reliable option. Of course, others -- even within the AppleInsider editorial team -- have differing opinions on the Touch Bar. It is a hotly debated piece of tech that Apple now has throughout the entire MacBook Pro lineup.

Those who are champions of the Touch Bar love the familiar shortcuts and app-specific controls that can be displayed. Safari, mail, Final Cut Pro X, and many more apps all take advantage of the Touch Bar to various degrees.

2019 MacBook Air (left) and 2019 MacBook Pro 13-inch (right)
2019 MacBook Air (left) and 2019 MacBook Pro 13-inch (right)


I feel Apple hasn't yet fully realized the potential in the Touch Bar by themselves. Now that every MacBook Pro comes with the Touch Bar and not function keys, perhaps developers who haven't embraced it yet will devote some additional resources to fleshing it out.

Great displays, but one is clearly better

Both devices also feature True Tone display which adjusts the color temperature of your display to the environment you're in to give you a much better viewing experience. The MacBook Pro's display features P3 wide color gamut, versus the Air's sRGB so colors and contrast ratio is much better on the Pro.

2019 MacBook Air (left) and 2019 MacBook Pro 13-inch (right)
2019 MacBook Air (left) and 2019 MacBook Pro 13-inch (right)


But one of the biggest differences between the devices is how much brighter the MacBook Pro can get. The Air's display can go up to 400 nits of brightness, versus the Pro's 500 nits of brightness. On paper, it may not sound all that drastic, but in person you can tell which display looks better and brighter.

Dual-core versus Quad-core

When it comes to performance and day to day usage, the MacBook Pro is the clear winner here. We've tested both machines and ran several benchmarks to showcase how these base model MacBooks perform.

Geekbench 4 results
Geekbench 4 results


In Geekbench, the MacBook Pro received a single core score of 4761 and multi-core score of 16932, while the MacBook Air's dual-core i5 processor scored 4310 in single core, and received a multi-core score of 7871. It shouldn't come as a surprise that a quad-core processor will deliver a big jump in multi-core performance.

As a video creator, I was curious how these two machines compare in Final Cut Pro X. So we imported five minutes of 4K h.264 footage in our timeline, added color correction, adjusted the saturation, and added some contrast to the overall image. We exported this five minute timeline with background rendering on and off.

On the MacBook Air with background rendering on it exported the video in 4 minutes and 22 seconds, and with it off, it exported the video in 14 minutes and 12 seconds. The MacBook Pro exported the video in 2 minutes and 45 seconds. And with it off it did it in 10 minutes and 26 seconds.

Final Cut Pro X results
Final Cut Pro X results


Testing out the SSD speeds on these two machines we noticed that both devices are about on the same playing field averaging around 1275MB/s on its read speeds and around 600MB/s on write speed. Effectively, a dead heat between the pair.

MacBook Pro is a more performance-oriented choice

The extra $200 you'll be shelling out on the Pro could go towards AppleCare or accessories if you were to choose the base model MacBook Air, but in the long run, we think you'll be much happier with the Pro's better looking display, and overall raw performance.

If you're looking to grab a MacBook Air just for its weight and portability, the difference between the two laptops is very small. The 13-inch MacBook Pro is still very much a lightweight and portable Mac, and we believe it's the best bang for the buck Apple portable you can buy at the moment.

If you're looking for the best prices on the new MacBook Air or the base model MacBook Pro we'll leave a link down below to AppleInsider's Price Guide where you can find the best deal on these new laptops.

Where to buy and save on these new laptops

Both the 2019 MacBook Air and the new 13-inch MacBook Pro are eligible for instant and/or promo code savings at Adorama. All CTO models are up to $150 off with coupon code APINSIDER. Details on how to reedem the code can be found in our savings guide.

And for the lowest prices across all models, be sure to check out our 2019 MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro Price Guides.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 54
    arlorarlor Posts: 502member
    I agree I wouldn't buy the Air just for the weight difference. The fractional differences in weight just really aren't all that exciting anymore. It was great when laptops went from 7-10 pounds to 3-5 pounds, but they're already more than light enough not to be a nuisance. 
    rezwitschiatyler82watto_cobra
  • Reply 2 of 54
    rezwitsrezwits Posts: 623member
    If you're a person who uses iMessage to chat with multiple friends while working on your Mac all day (you should), the Touch Bar is amazing.  The Touch Bar essentially turns your typing experience into an iPhone/iPad experience while typing.  Spell checking is a plus, and emojis are great too, but spell checking with the "suggestions" is addictive!  I actually install pseudo Touch Bar "emulators" on my other machines, so IDK, oh and 4 cores vs 2 cores?!? please no question! go for it!
    Solichiafastasleepradarthekatpscooter63StrangeDayswatto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 54
    crowleycrowley Posts: 5,997member
    I bought the Air. Don’t want no stupid Touch Bar.
    dougdstevenozRealDavidGurneywilliamlondonpscooter63anantksundaramwozwozchemengin1
  • Reply 4 of 54
    dougddougd Posts: 270member
    I would pick the Air for one reason....no stinking Touch Bar
    RealDavidGurneywilliamlondonpscooter63anantksundaram
  • Reply 5 of 54
    k2kwk2kw Posts: 1,767member
    crowley said:
    I bought the Air. Don’t want no stupid Touch Bar.
    Are there any catalyst iPadOs/MacOS apps that use the Touchbar.  Can you program the touchBar via Catalyst?  If not I think it will go away.
     I’m not interested in the TouchBar but would buy a MBP that had both the physical function keys and a Touchbar .
  • Reply 6 of 54
    canukstormcanukstorm Posts: 1,961member
    k2kw said:
    crowley said:
    I bought the Air. Don’t want no stupid Touch Bar.
    Are there any catalyst iPadOs/MacOS apps that use the Touchbar.  Can you program the touchBar via Catalyst?  If not I think it will go away.
     I’m not interested in the TouchBar but would buy a MBP that had both the physical function keys and a Touchbar .
    I'm not convinced.  If the Touch Bar was going to go away, Apple would not have implemented it on the entry-level MBP.
    chiaGeorgeBMacpscooter63StrangeDayswatto_cobra
  • Reply 7 of 54
    seanismorrisseanismorris Posts: 1,043member
    crowley said:
    I bought the Air. Don’t want no stupid Touch Bar.
    I agree the Touch Bar doesn’t add a lot of value, at least not worth paying more for it. But, neither does the slightly lower weight of the Air.

    Conceptualizing the Pro vs Air:

    + $100 for better screen
    + $100 for better performance 

    That makes the Pro the better value...  my “thesis” is with the Pro, people will keep it an additional year, and that’s worth the additional $200.
    dtb200williamlondonGeorgeBMacpscooter63
  • Reply 8 of 54
    user847user847 Posts: 1member
    To me a bigger difference would be that for the price of the MBP you can get the air with double the storage at 256GB and get the whole thing in gold. 
    That’s a way better deal than slightly faster and slightly better screen. 
    chiamacpluspluswatto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 54
    macplusplusmacplusplus Posts: 1,888member
    user847 said:
    To me a bigger difference would be that for the price of the MBP you can get the air with double the storage at 256GB and get the whole thing in gold. 
    That’s a way better deal than slightly faster and slightly better screen. 
    Yes, this is an approach as valid as the opposite. What matters here is how long you will keep it. At the end of four years MBP can still perform reasonably, while the MBA begins to show its age.
    radarthekatwatto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 54
    zyztemzyztem Posts: 1member
    Neither. Both still have the butterfly keyboard ☹️
    RealDavidGurneywilliamlondonGeorgeBMacpscooter63
  • Reply 11 of 54
    fastasleepfastasleep Posts: 3,108member
    crowley said:
    I bought the Air. Don’t want no stupid Touch Bar.
    dougd said:
    I would pick the Air for one reason....no stinking Touch Bar
    What a surprise. Have either of you ever even used it? It’s a helluva lot more useful than a Launchpad button and other junk that was up there. 
    tyler82chiawilliamlondonpscooter63StrangeDayswatto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 54
    seanismorrisseanismorris Posts: 1,043member
    zyztem said:
    Neither. Both still have the butterfly keyboard ☹️
    Apple threw in the 4 year extended warranty on the keyboard.

    The price to get it fixed (out of pocket) was a legitimate concern, but not so much now...

    So, is it “no MacBooks” regardless of pricing?  That’s a lot of hate for the keyboard “feel”.

    With the direction Apple has gone emphasizing size, even if Apple switches back to a scissor design, it’s not going to feel like a Lenovo...

    You’ve pretty much declared yourself  “Windows Forevermore”.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 54
    entropysentropys Posts: 1,811member
    It is a dilemma. I would want to buy MBPs for my daughters, but I am sure the younger one would probably want the gold MBA. Maybe the money and weight saved would go to a USB hub so when inevitably one of her friends want to give her something on a USB stick she can actually use it.


    on the touchbar issue: I think adoption would be easier if Apple actually went all in. Where is the magic keyboard with a Touch Bar? Will the Mac Pro, iMac pro and the iMac end up with the touchbar? because i suspect one reason there is still grief about it (apart from raising the cost of the notebook) is it isn’t universal enough for a critical mass of developers to bother taking advantage of it.
    edited July 28 watto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 54
    chiachia Posts: 701member
    entropys said:
    It is a dilemma. I would want to buy MBPs for my daughters, but I am sure the younger one would probably want the gold MBA. Maybe the money and weight saved would go to a USB hub so when inevitably one of her friends want to give her something on a USB stick she can actually use it.

    on the touchbar issue: I think adoption would be easier if Apple actually went all in. Where is the magic keyboard with a Touch Bar? Will the Mac Pro, iMac pro and the iMac end up with the touchbar? because i suspect one reason there is still grief about it (apart from raising the cost of the notebook) is it isn’t universal enough for a critical mass of developers to bother taking advantage of it.
    As someone who six months ago, purchased a refurbished 2018 4 port MacBook Pro 13", after ten years of using a 2008 Metal Unibody MacBook, I'm very glad for the much lighter weight of the new computer when lugging it around: it's much lighter, even when you're carrying around together with a USB-C hub that's about the size and weight of a disposable cigarette lighter.  I'm very happy with the total flexibility in port functionality that ThunderBolt 3 provides; I've had to buy adaptors each time I've changed my Mac over the years, in fact when going from my desktop Performa to an iBook with the newly introduced USB ports I even had to ditch peripherals too: a printer and a Zip drive.  If anything, I've had to get the least number of adaptors with my most recent transition, only a USB-C hub and a USB-C to DisplayPort cable, to be able to fully use all my existing equipment.

    As for USB sticks, it really isn't a problem keeping a cigarette lighter USB-C hub inside your laptop bag for if and when it is needed.  There are also many readily available flash drives that now have dual connectors for USB-C and USB-A:  https://www.sandisk.com/home/mobile-device-storage/ultra-dual-drive-usb-type-c

    I myself love the TouchBar and am surprised by the variety of functions which it conveniently offers: for example, in Safari it shows small graphics depicting the open tabs of a window, enabling the user to rapidly switch tabs with a touch of the finger.  It's useful for word and emoji suggestion in Messages, being able to scrub back and forth through   a movie for playback or editing.  I'm still learning what apps offer as developers start writing more and more for it.

    Six months on, the keyboard for my 2018 model is still going strong.  I've seen how many people criticise the shallow depth and feel of these current keyboards.  Whilst I recall my surprise and dismay as to the feel of the keyboard when I first purchased the MacBook Pro, it is true that you get used to it, and I am currently very happy to type on it, if anything I have found it far more accurate and responsive than the keyboard on my 2008 Unibody MacBook.

    As for the choice presented in this article?  Well, I would have purchased the 2019 MacBook Pro with two Thunderbolt 3 ports and Touch Bar, if it was available six month ago, especially as I rarely use more than two ports on my machine (It's wonderful to be able to plug everything, power,  hub, monitor and external drive all into the single thunderbolt 3 port).
    Nevertheless I'm happy for the six months of use I've already had from this insanely fast but light MacBook Pro, hand on my heart it is the best Macintosh I have ever bought.
    macpluspluspscooter63kestralwatto_cobra
  • Reply 15 of 54
    crowleycrowley Posts: 5,997member
    crowley said:
    I bought the Air. Don’t want no stupid Touch Bar.
    dougd said:
    I would pick the Air for one reason....no stinking Touch Bar
    What a surprise. Have either of you ever even used it? It’s a helluva lot more useful than a Launchpad button and other junk that was up there. 
    While the Launchpad button is probably the least useful, I disagree about the others.  I have used the TouchBar and found it distracting and annoying.  
    williamlondonpscooter63MplsPchemengin1
  • Reply 16 of 54
    entropysentropys Posts: 1,811member
    chia said:
    entropys said:
    It is a dilemma. I would want to buy MBPs for my daughters, but I am sure the younger one would probably want the gold MBA. Maybe the money and weight saved would go to a USB hub so when inevitably one of her friends want to give her something on a USB stick she can actually use it.

    on the touchbar issue: I think adoption would be easier if Apple actually went all in. Where is the magic keyboard with a Touch Bar? Will the Mac Pro, iMac pro and the iMac end up with the touchbar? because i suspect one reason there is still grief about it (apart from raising the cost of the notebook) is it isn’t universal enough for a critical mass of developers to bother taking advantage of it.
    As someone who six months ago, purchased a refurbished 2018 4 port MacBook Pro 13", after ten years of using a 2008 Metal Unibody MacBook, I'm very glad for the much lighter weight of the new computer when lugging it around: it's much lighter, even when you're carrying around together with a USB-C hub that's about the size and weight of a disposable cigarette lighter.  I'm very happy with the total flexibility in port functionality that ThunderBolt 3 provides; I've had to buy adaptors each time I've changed my Mac over the years, in fact when going from my desktop Performa to an iBook with the newly introduced USB ports I even had to ditch peripherals too: a printer and a Zip drive.  If anything, I've had to get the least number of adaptors with my most recent transition, only a USB-C hub and a USB-C to DisplayPort cable, to be able to fully use all my existing equipment.

    As for USB sticks, it really isn't a problem keeping a cigarette lighter USB-C hub inside your laptop bag for if and when it is needed.  There are also many readily available flash drives that now have dual connectors for USB-C and USB-A:  https://www.sandisk.com/home/mobile-device-storage/ultra-dual-drive-usb-type-c

    I myself love the TouchBar and am surprised by the variety of functions which it conveniently offers: for example, in Safari it shows small graphics depicting the open tabs of a window, enabling the user to rapidly switch tabs with a touch of the finger.  It's useful for word and emoji suggestion in Messages, being able to scrub back and forth through   a movie for playback or editing.  I'm still learning what apps offer as developers start writing more and more for it.

    Six months on, the keyboard for my 2018 model is still going strong.  I've seen how many people criticise the shallow depth and feel of these current keyboards.  Whilst I recall my surprise and dismay as to the feel of the keyboard when I first purchased the MacBook Pro, it is true that you get used to it, and I am currently very happy to type on it, if anything I have found it far more accurate and responsive than the keyboard on my 2008 Unibody MacBook.

    As for the choice presented in this article?  Well, I would have purchased the 2019 MacBook Pro with two Thunderbolt 3 ports and Touch Bar, if it was available six month ago, especially as I rarely use more than two ports on my machine (It's wonderful to be able to plug everything, power,  hub, monitor and external drive all into the single thunderbolt 3 port).
    Nevertheless I'm happy for the six months of use I've already had from this insanely fast but light MacBook Pro, hand on my heart it is the best Macintosh I have ever bought.
    Sure, for myself carrying around a hub would not be a problem, and for the Miss entropys’ USB stick a Sandisk duo will be the right one to have. No guarantee their friends will have a USB-C stick though, and I would be leery about the reliability of teenage girls to always have a hub with them.

    as for anyone tempted to argue that no one uses a USB stick anymore, I tell you they do. Even if it is just informally between friends.  Teachers may also occasionally to supply stuff on USB, or ask for it. And as for dance, eisteddfods  are not only likely to demand music on a USB-a stick, they will also want it burnt onto a CD, with the USB stick as backup. One per track. Really sucks if each daughter is doing half a dozen solos.
    edited July 28 MplsP
  • Reply 17 of 54
    rossb2rossb2 Posts: 47member
    I think Apple are making too many laptops, with the air. They dropped the 12 inch. But the air that is left, I find it pointless. It is not light enough to really be an air. Plus it is only a 7 watt TDP processor, and only two cores. For those reasons alone I would go with the pro. I feel that Apple should be concentrating on economies of scale with the pro, and just selling that. Splitting your customers off on to the air seems wasteful at this point.
    chia
  • Reply 18 of 54
    macplusplusmacplusplus Posts: 1,888member
    rossb2 said:
    I think Apple are making too many laptops, with the air. They dropped the 12 inch. But the air that is left, I find it pointless. It is not light enough to really be an air. Plus it is only a 7 watt TDP processor, and only two cores. For those reasons alone I would go with the pro. I feel that Apple should be concentrating on economies of scale with the pro, and just selling that. Splitting your customers off on to the air seems wasteful at this point.
    MacBook Air is an excellent corporate laptop to be sold by ten thousands. That is economies of scale...

    baconstangwatto_cobra
  • Reply 19 of 54
    GeorgeBMacGeorgeBMac Posts: 4,961member
    More than anything one image in the video struck me and stuck with me: The Opening Shot of the Two Machines Side by Side: I couldn't tell them apart - there was literally no way to know which was which! Apple needs to break out of its thin, light, minimalist design prison. One way would be to produce a mobile workstation with: Full range of ports GREAT keyboard (not just an acceptable one) with ALL of the keys Cursor buttons on the trackpad Hot swappable battery Replaceable memory Replaceable SSD A real docking station that isn't just a hub lying beside the machine etc... But, instead, they (so far) to continue to create just minor variations of the same old theme. Yawn.... (And that's not to trash the current design. Rather to point out that its not sufficient -- like a car manufacturer who will only produce small, quick, sports cars -- good, but limited. The fact is: The REAL appeal of a Mac is not the hardware (which anybody can easily duplicate and have) but the OS and Apple's ecosystem. But, right now, the power of those things is being artificially hobbled by only having a very narrow hardware line.)
    muthuk_vanalingam
  • Reply 20 of 54
    GeorgeBMacGeorgeBMac Posts: 4,961member
    For the debate over the Touch Bar versus Function Keys:
    We need to remember where the Touch Bar came from:   It was Apple's response to the Touch Screens of other manufacturers.   Apple then did two things:
    1)  Declared that touch screen laptops sucked
    2)  Declared the function keys old fashioned and obsolete.

    So, they set the stage for the TouchBar in order to substitute for the lack of a touch screen.

    Perhaps BOTH TouchBars and TouchScreens suck?   Could it be?
    MplsP
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