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MacBook Pro vs MacBook Air: Which should you buy?

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MacBook Pro vs MacBook Air: Which should you buy?

MacBook Air or MacBook Pro? We explain what each of the Apple laptops offer so you can decide which is the best for your computing needs

Yes, we might have ticked over into 2016, but Apple's laptop line still looks the way it did in 2015. That means you've got three choices: MacBook, MacBook Air and MacBook Pro.

We'll be looking at the latter two here, but we've got you sorted if you want to see MacBook vs MacBook Air. So, do you go Pro or Air? Well, there are quite a few differences and it entirely depends on your use cases.

Do you want a bigger display? More choice with your internals? Or something slimmer and less harsh on the wallet?

Let's compare the latest 2015 MacBook Pro with its MacBook Air cousins to see which one is best for you.

Related: Best OS X Yosemite tips and tricks

MacBook Pro vs Air 2015: Design

All of Apple’s MacBook laptops have great aluminium bodies. The bottom, the lid and the keyboard surround are all-metal. MacBook Airs and Pros all feel great.

Their contours are a bit different, though. There are 15-inch and 13-inch versions of the MacBook Pro, and both have fairly blocky bodies. Both are 18mm thick.

Go by the dimensions alone and the Pro laptops don’t seem all that much chunkier than the 11-inch and 13-inch Airs, which are both 17mm. All that fuss for 1mm?

Well, in reality the MacBook Airs do seem significantly slimmer because their bodies are much more tapered. At their thinnest the Air laptops are only 3mm thick, and you can really feel it when you pick them up.

In pure practical terms, what matters more than just the feel is weight. Here’s the weights of the various models available in 2015:

MacBook Pro 15: 2.02kg

MacBook Pro 13: 1.58kg


MacBook Air 13: 1.35kg

MacBook Air 11: 1.08kg

The only one of these MacBooks you probably wouldn’t want to lug around every day is the 15-inch MacBook Pro. However, every little helps when it comes to portability. The 11-inch MacBook will pretty much sink into your bag without trace. In a good way.

All of these laptops only come in one shade, silver. While the new MacBook comes in Space Gray, Gold and Silver rather like Apple’s iPhones, the old guard laptops don’t.

It’s actually the MacBook Airs that are ageing a bit in design terms, though. They have contoured screen bezels rather than fully-flat screens, and quite obvious rubber protectors around the display. It's clearly a design of a few years ago.

Related: Best Laptops, Ultrabooks and Hybrids

MacBook Pro vs Air 7

MacBook Pro vs Air 2015: Screen

One of the most important differences between the Air and Pro laptops is screen quality. To put it simply, MacBook Pros have great displays. MacBook Airs do not.

While Apple has announced new MacBook Air 11-inch and 13-inch versions for 2015, both have rather dated screens. Many were hoping for Retina screens for the next Air refresh, but we didn’t get them.

MacBook Pro vs Air 11

Instead, both Air models have fairly low-resolution screens using TN panels rather than the IPS kind now being used widely in higher-end laptops. Here are the specs of the MacBook Air pair:

11 inch: 1,366 x 768 pixels, TN LCD

13 inch: 1,440 x 900 pixels, TN LCD

There’s a bump up in pixels for the larger-size laptop, but both suffer from fairly clear pixellation. Most Windows laptops at the price get you better resolution.

The TN LCD panels also come with their own set of image quality issues. Colour reproduction isn’t that great and brighter areas of images can appear washed-out.

For a screen of this type they are great, but then laptops have started to move on to better screen technologies. Viewing angles are limited too. When you tilt the display back or forwards much, contrast shift sets in, as it always does with TN screens.

Related: Apple MacBook (2015) vs Surface Pro 3

MacBook Pro vs Air 5

Here's what contrast shift looks like

The MacBook Pro twins, on the other hand, are totally different. Both have excellent screens that are ‘Retina’ grade. One again, here are those specs:

13.3 inch: 2,560 x 1,600 pixels, IPS LCD

15.4 inch: 2,880 x 1,800 pixels, IPS LCD

All of the issues with the Air twins are solved in the Pros. Images look far more rich, viewing angles are just about perfect and colour performance is way, way better.

MacBook Pro vs Air 3

MacBook Pro vs Air 2015: Connectivity

As generally happens with laptops, the bigger you go the better connectivity you get. The 11-inch MacBook Air has pretty limited connections while the 13-inch and 15-inch MacBook Pros have the same, pretty complete, array of connections.

That full load-out consists of two Thunderbolt 2 ports, two USB 3.0 ports, an SD card and a full-size HDMI port. Sure, an extra USB would come in handy, but it’s otherwise pretty good.

MacBook Pro vs Air 9

Scale down to the MacBook Air 13-inch and you lose one Thunderbolt port and the HDMI socket. It’s slightly less versatile, but you can do an awful lot with that one Thunderbolt port, including hooking up the laptop to an external display.

Move one step down again to the 11-inch MacBook Air and you lose a pretty serious element, the SD card slot. This is not good news for camera enthusiasts.

In the past, the MacBook Air laptops have also lost out on a few wireless connectivity standards, but now they are on-par with the MacBook Pros. All four laptop styles have Wi-Fi ac, USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt 2.

MacBook Pro vs Air 2015: CPU, GPU and RAM

There’s an awful lot of variance in power and processor between the various MacBook models. The only set with consistency are the MacBook Air models. Both the 11-inch and 13-inch Airs use dual-core Broadwell Intel Core i5 CPUs clocked at 1.6GHz, which can be upgraded to 2.2GHz dual-core Intel Core i7 CPUs.

While these processors are pretty powerful, they’re also designed for high efficiency rather than max performance.

The Pro models get you a level-up in power terms, and are the better choice if you want a serious computer as well as one that’s pretty portable. That said, the 13-inch MacBook Pro still uses dual-core CPUs that care an awful lot about efficiency.

Related: 12-inch MacBook (2015) vs MacBook Air

It’s only when you step up to the 15-inch Pro model that you get full-blooded quad-core laptop CPUs. While at present the 15-inch Pros use 4th-generation Haswell processors rather than the Broadwell CPUs seen in the other models, they are still far more powerful.

Still, if you’re looking at a 15-inch model you might want to wait a bit to see what Apple comes up with in the next MacBook refresh: it probably won’t be a year away. The 15-inch MacBook Pro is also the only one that comes in a gamer-friendly configuration too. For £2,000 you can get a laptop with an Nvidia GeForce GT 750M card.

Now, for that sort of money you could get a ‘proper’ gaming laptop with far, far greater gaming power. But it’s a pretty good variant of that card with 2GB GDDR5 RAM.

Bringing up RAM introduces a whole other element to consider. These laptops don’t have the same kind of main system RAM either.

The MacBook Pro 13 has 1866MHz LPDDR3 system RAM where all the others have slower 1600MHz RAM. That includes the 15-inch MacBook Pro.

What will affect people more, though, is the amount of RAM. MacBook Airs come with 4GB RAM by default while all MacBook Pro models now have at least 8GB RAM. That extra bump-up gives you far smoother general performance when, for example, you have a half-dozen applications running and about five zillion browser windows opened.

Upgrading to 8GB RAM in an Air costs £80. We strongly recommend upgrading to this if you’re going to do any heavy image or video editing.

MacBook Pro vs Air 2015: Storage

All MacBook Air and Pro models use SSDs for their storage, which are way faster than the hard drive you have had in your last laptop or desktop. The problem with SSDs is what while prices are gradually coming down, unless you’re willing to spend big they don’t have anywhere near the capacity of HDDs.

MacBook Airs and Pros both start off with 128GB SSDs. That’s not a great deal for laptop. All sizes of Apple laptop can be upgraded to 512GB, while Pro models can go all the way up to 1TB. However, going from 512GB to 1TB will cost you an eye-watering £400.

One way to get more storage one the cheap is to buy the old, outdated 13-inch MacBook Pro, the model that sells for £899/$1099. It has a 500GB hard drive. However, we don’t recommend it as the processor is quite old and its screen is nowhere near as good as the more up-to-date Pro laptops.

MacBook Pro 21

MacBook Pro vs Air 2015: Keyboard and Trackpad

All MacBooks use pretty good slimline chiclet keyboards. And all of them including the 11-inch MacBook Air, have full-size keys. They are pretty great to type on, every one, but if you want something to act as a ‘main’ computer, we suggest opting for one of the 13-inch or larger models.

They feel that bit more steady, and give you a bit more room to work with. It’s not so much about the spaciousness of the keys (they’re pretty much the same), but the 11-inch MacBook does have a smaller trackpad and cut-down function keys. These make up the top row of the keyboard. The keyboard surround is also way smaller, which is what makes the 11-inch model feel a bit more cramped.

MacBook Pro 9

All MacBooks have backlit keyboards, though, making it easy to type away in the dark.

The MacBook Airs and 15-inch MacBook Pros use the same tech for their trackpads, with a hinged glass-top pad. However, the 13-inch MacBook Pro has a new Force Touch pad that is a bit different.

It looks exactly the same, sure, but no longer has that hinged design. Instead, it barely moves, instead relying entirely on haptic feedback for that classic trackpad ‘click’. The old models use a software-managed click mechanism, but don’t rely entirely on it.

MacBook Pro vs Air

What this enables is a new pressure-sensitive gesture. A standard tap acts like it always does, but you can press down harder to get secondary functions, like seeing web link previews in Safari. It’s pretty neat, especially as the haptic feedback also provides a more meaty second click to ensure it feels right.

As the new 13-inch MacBook Pro trackpads have a slightly less pronounced first click than the other MacBook models it does take a little getting used to, although you can customise this to an extent in the Settings menu.

MacBook Pro vs Air 2015: Battery Life

So far the MacBook Airs look a bit like poor relations of the MacBook Pros. And they are in some respects, but it’s also true that their strengths lie in different areas.

One of the best reasons to buy a MacBook Air is battery life. The 13-inch MacBook Pro lasts for up to 12 hours off a charge. We’ve been using the various models for the past week or so in series, and the stamina difference is obvious.

This is the pay-off of using a more reined-in CPU. Here are Apple’s figures on the battery life of the latest models:

MacBook Pro 15: 8 hours light use

MacBook Pro 13: 10 hours light use


MacBook Air 13: 12 hours light use

MacBook Air 11: 9 hours light use

Related: Best Laptops, Ultrabooks and Hybrids 2015

MacBook Pro 17

As you can see here, the MacBook Air 13 is the clear king of stamina. If you’re just working with emails, documents and so on, you’ll let a long day’s work out of the Air, while we’ve drained down the 13-inch Pro within a day’s graft without much trouble.

As the figures state, the 15-inch MacBook is really designed for those who are going to use it at home as well as out and about. Eight-hour stamina is great for a laptop that size and resolution, but it’s a way off Air-style longevity.

Verdict

Which MacBook should you buy? Well if you want the most up-to-date of the lot, there’s only one choice, the MacBook Pro 13-inch model. It’s the lone laptop to benefit from a Retina screen and the latest Broadwell processors.

Buy Now: MacBook Pro at Amazon from £883

The Airs have seriously ageing screens and the 15-inch MacBook Pro still uses last-generation processors. It’s not what you want when you’re paying upwards of £1000/$1200, is it?

However, if you can’t wait until the Air and 15-inch MacBook Pro either get a more serious update or are outright replaced, they still have their uses. The 15-inch MacBook Pro comes in configs that’ll blow the 13-inch MacBook out of the water, and is the only one that can come with a dedicated graphics card.

Buy Now: MacBook Air at Amazon from £762

As for the Air, its stamina is still unbeatable. If you’re going to be doing work rather than watching movies, the screen quality needn’t be too much of an issue, and both sizes of Air are also wonderfully light.

Jennifer

May 11, 2014, 1:07 pm

Thanks for the article. Still, I'm not sure. I can't make up my mind betwen the MBa and MBPr both intel core i5 8GB and 256 SSD. I'll use it mostly with scrivener, Antidote, Spotify, Scapple and Chrome running all. I kind of guess I don't need extra power but more RAM but I hope to keep it five-six years and if possible still freash and perky. You'd save my day with an advice ^^ (and sorry for my english, french girl here)

Jennifer

May 11, 2014, 1:10 pm

Oh and I forgot, I'll use it for at least 4 hours sessions. Around 2 per day. Experiences taught me it can be more intense.

MattMe

May 12, 2014, 8:30 am

Being as that the software you mentioned has very low requirements in terms of processor specification, you would likely be fine with an Air. For longevity you may want to choose a pro as the better hardware specs will not seem dated so quick. If you carry it around a lot go for the Air, definitely. If the size or weight is not an issue you had may as well go with the Pro.
Basically, what the article says!

Jennifer

May 12, 2014, 7:00 pm

Well, I guess I'll go back test this precious to make up my mind. Never been on the indecisive side but there's a first to everything.
Anyway, thanks for your time

David Shefchik

June 10, 2014, 4:22 pm

I'm a software engineer running very resource-intensive applications constantly. I have the MBA with 8GB and 256GB SSD and could not be happier. The battery life is insane and that i5 turbo-boosted to 2.7Ghz is no slouch. The only thing I wish it had was the retina screen, but the battery, size and weight are a good trade off. The power difference is negligible IMO

Jennifer

June 11, 2014, 10:58 pm

Thanks for your advice. I'm still not sure but the air seems a little bit more attractive. The retina's not really relevant to a writer, or at least to me. It was more of a longevity matter and well, to be able to carry it around in my purse is a plus.

Jennifer

June 16, 2014, 9:53 am

Hi, I forgot about one thing. Does your MBA get hot when used on word processor/web?
Thx

David Shefchik

June 16, 2014, 3:25 pm

It only gets a little hot when I'm gaming (which it's surprisingly decent at) or streaming HD video to my Apple TV. Otherwise it's nice and cool.

Shiva

July 17, 2014, 6:39 pm

I am a developer and using Macbook Air for quite some time. Really impressed with it's performance. I do agree that Macbook Pro is better in terms of performance, but my point is - Air itself is powerful enough to handle anything it is thrown at. Overall my order will be - Air 13.3 > Macbook Pro 13.3 > Air 11 > Macbook 15.6

Why? Because Air is really very portable and so slim to fit in any heavily loaded travel bag. Air also lasts longer in terms of battery (mine runs 10hrs easily with wifi on and moderate use). It consumes less power. And delivers lot of awesome juice. I am loving my experience with this laptop!
Just one con though - Disk space. But with an Apple AirPort capsule it is really not a worry anymore.

ianthetechman

August 21, 2014, 7:38 pm

I use the macbook air and absolutely would recommend it to anyone looking for small compact and pretty powerful not to mention also beautiful.
But i do wish i would have gone with the larger 13" model rather than the smaller 11" one.
But after using for more than a year i have sort of got used to even that now however i still wish for a larger screen sometimes.

Rohit

September 25, 2014, 12:09 pm

Macbook users,I have a Dell Latitude E6430 and an iPhone 5S and I'll soon buy a next generation iPad.I am willing to sell my windows laptop for Macbook because I am tempted with the continuity features and I like the fact the OS X has better productivity apps and Apple productivity apps are easy to use.I'm thinking of getting a Macbook and the main purpose to buy it would be for video editing on iMovie or Final Cut Pro.I would also keep movies and music in it.Which Macbook would be the best for me?

Prem Desai

December 9, 2014, 6:35 pm

Both are bargains compared to the competition - not something you usually associate with Apple.

In my opinion, the 13" pro with the retina screen is the one to go for.

Make sure you find a university student to get maximum student discount and warranty extended to 3 years. Apple's warranty is one of the best in the business.

After getting it, you can even runs windows on it ......

Ivera Uller

January 3, 2015, 1:42 pm

I'm a University student and I'm willing to buy a laptop. I got here searching for an answer to my question of Which one it's better for what I need or which one would work better for me? By reading this I really did not get an answer. The Air model only says from what I understand that is lighter and much prettier and the pro model is like the perfect laptop or desk computer from what I get. So I think that if I'm willing to buy a computer so expensive I need to buy the one I would get more. Can somebody give an advice please?

Ivera Uller

January 3, 2015, 1:45 pm

Does this warranty extension and the student discount works on PR too?

Jozo Saravanja (RazeR)

January 4, 2015, 7:16 pm

hi i want to get in programming and photo (maybe video) editing
i will use lightroom and photoshop and maybe some other programs for photography.
And programs for coding (what programs i need to use)??
maybe also little in music editing,

is OSX better for those two (or 3) or i can use Windows also (7,8.1,or new 10 when it get out)
Im planing to get gaming laptop anyway so i would have power to run all those programs but im confused whats better OSX or Win.

Ishaan Alidina

February 5, 2015, 5:16 pm

I would probably say the macbook pro 15 inch, 512 GB SSD. It has the storage to keep movies and music while having extra for anything else, and the video quality and RAM is great enough to be perfect with videos, and music is great on the side speakers.

LeeTronix

March 28, 2015, 10:53 pm

This site really needs to change its name to Apple Trusted Reviews...it is that obvious....Cannot say anything negative about apple that would be a revenue killer.

So.

Buy the Surface Pro 3 (which I also use), it is far more cost effective, decent battery life, light for sure, flexible as a tablet with a great on screen keyboard or with the detachable keyboard that flips over the screen to make it compact and part of the tablet. Has superb wifi connectivity with micro SD card slot and usb 3, also the charger has usb point built into it as well. While some might not like windows 8.1 which is fair enough the whole set up is very good and works super smooth and windows 10 looks to put OS X (apple) into touch very soon, either way it is by far far far the best value for money and spec's including far a superior screen.

The apple products are as usually greedily overpriced paying a lot more for less material what a con, lack of business external connectivity without SD drive potential, inferior screen and latest OS which looks like it designed by Toys R Us. Why pay for an apple log to be on the back of a device absolutely amazes me. It is sad they dropped the 17" MBP that was in my opinion their best device, but like a fashion model they are obsessed with thinness, smallest proportions and a fixed dress that you can not alter and you pay more for it! It will not be long be for we see the next gen imac's be portable, so it will be imac air, mac air, mac book, mac book pro hehe so stupid... Oh and as kind of already mentioned you cannot upgrade the ram as they are soldered in, what a joke, so they force you to make a choice and remove the freedom of choice at the same time...how so apple of them rotten to the core...

I use a new mac pro (that't the black bin looking thing) for my music studio and now I wish I had used a windows PC. While apple OS is good for design and music that is where it ends. It is not good for mainstream business, the OS X software is toy-ish and pretty but not functional for mainstream business. They function well as for a self employed individual maybe but that is as far as it goes for professionals as for an established business or corporate operation they are not capable. I think if I was a student these days an apple would just an over exaggerated expensive fashion statement and so I would really would consider a windows or even a chrome book.

For that matter the Google Pixel is an amazing device that is a chrome book and it surely is a piece of art and a fashion statement that beats the apple hands down with the same price tag. You also get an SD slot, 3 USB connections and excellent WIfi, and a decent battery life, in fact I am typing this on mine right now. Plus you can use any web based solution for business solutions or student projects such word processing etc, it is ideal if your desperate to look good but get a better experience than the apple garbage.

Just think you can do more on a smart phone for £$500-700 than what you pay for a glorified light thin piece of tin ehem apple.

LeeTronix

March 28, 2015, 10:56 pm

Funny how every time its an apple article you get this from Trusted Reviews : Hold on, this is waiting to be approved by TrustedReviews.

Amazingly they will not publish my comments even though they are not offensive in any way but if I dislike an apple product then....not going to happen on here, well lets see maybe you will be reading 2 comments from me on here? haha..you never know!

andyvan

March 30, 2015, 8:41 am

Sorry, they weren't published because it's the weekend and we don't have anyone moderating comments at the weekend.

andyvan

March 30, 2015, 8:53 am

We've reviewed the Surface Pro 3 and really like it -- in fact, you can read the review here: http://www.trustedreviews.com/...

I don't really understand your anger at this piece, though. It's a guide to which MacBook to buy for people who want to buy a MacBook. That's it.

It's not substantially different to this piece where we compared the Surface Pro 3 and Surface Pro 2: http://www.trustedreviews.com/...

LeeTronix

March 30, 2015, 6:03 pm

I Think your right here I am not a fan of apple for sure and maybe I should of been more sensible about things in respect of this article and that is fair enough thanks for the feed back.

Rohit

April 14, 2015, 11:55 am

Thanks Ishaan

Zachary Jameson

May 18, 2015, 3:42 pm

2015 refresh of 15inch macbook pro is in-play with likely announcement at developers conference in June 2015. Within past few days Apple website and resell partners are signaling inventory drawdown of 2014 model by only offering base configurations while some partners such as B&H have already discontinued 2014 model. Don’t hold your breath for any improvements beyond those already announced for 2015 13inch model.
2015 Macbook Pro Chassis will likely to remain the same as 2014 model with boost in battery life from broadwell chip, marginal speed improvement, graphics upgrade, faster flash storage and new Force Touch trackpad. Btw, Higher screen quality of Macbook Pro compared to Air model makes the Pro an easy choice for me.

PD

May 22, 2015, 1:26 am

I think had the macair had a retina screen i would opt for that...
But i want something that is a little more future proof -- ive been using my 15" macbook pro since 2011... i dont need the large size anymore, and certainly dont need high end graphics or quad core... i have upgraded to a SSD harddrive and maxed the ram to 16gb... but with age it is slowing, and the fans are not cooling as well...

So, down sizing to a 13" is my aim - of course i don't want to be spending too much money, hence why i was leaning towards the macair - but the fact the screen and design is old is off putting for me... the new macbook looks beautiful BUT this is too under power (although a nice screen)... i can imagine that they will add the same screen tech, and keyboard to the macpro which will create a slimmer and slighter pro version - but im not keen on waiting another year for that...

So, based on this article and other advice... i think the macbook pro 13" is the one for me - so now i best get saving (although being a teacher helps... i get a discount )

Marie Jacqueline Lee

June 7, 2015, 7:17 am

I've just paid a deposit on a MacBook Air 13" 256GB, but will be changing my order to the MacBook Pro 13", with or without Retina. I prefer the raised keys and the extra features. I've read a number of negative comments about the MacBook Air's screens and I want better value for my financial outlay, even if the MacBook Pro, minus Retina, has an older processor. With 500 GB hard drive, it will serve my needs adequately, while providing me with a diverse range of options should I wish to use them. But I will keep my 2009 white plastic MacBook, which still operates quite well despite its age. The 'latest' model isn't always necessarily the best!

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