air vs pro

MacBook Pro vs MacBook Air: Which should you buy?

MacBook Pro vs MacBook Air: What’s the difference?

Last October, Apple appeared to confirm that it’d stop updating its MacBook Air line, concentrating instead on its MacBook Pro line. The Air is still on sale, though, which means comparing the two is more important than ever.

Instead, there’s a couple of versions of new MacBook Pro and Apple will keep on selling the older MacBook Air.

With Windows laptops getting better all the time – notably the Surface Book and Dell’s XPS 13 – Apple’s lighter portables have felt stale for a long time. Yes, we’ve had the smaller 12-inch MacBook, but little else and frankly who can survive with just one port?

But what’s new? And which is right for you? Let’s take a look and see.

Related: MacBook Pro 13-inch

MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro: Touch Bar and Touch ID

One of the fanciest features Apple showed off last year was the Touch Bar new touch sensitive OLED strip that replaces the function keys and sits just below the screen. Returning for the 2018 line-up, the Touch Bar is now a standard feature of the MacBook Pro range – no longer will you get to opt for a cheaper version with function keys. It’s TouchBar or nothing.

As well as replacing volume, brightness and contrast settings and replacing physical function keys, the TouchBar also adds extra functionality to select apps like QuickTime, Final Cut Pro and Spotify. In Safari, it’ll show your bookmarks and a search field, in Photos you can scrolls through pics. It looks fantastic, and frees up space on your display for other things. There’s also auto-correction and it’ll show you suggested words when you’re typing, too – a bit like SwiftKey, but for a laptop.

Related: Best laptops

touch bar

While it’s mainly first party apps that work best with the TouchBar, it looks like it’s here to stay for the foreseeable. Hopefully this means we’ll see more devs getting to grips with it now they know it’s to be a regular feature.

You’ll be able to buy a version of the MacBook Pro with or without the Touch Bar, but of course the MacBook Air doesn’t come with anything similar.

As with the 2017 MacBook Pros, the 2018 line-up also saw the return of Touch ID. Thanks to a new Apple T2 chip, you can quickly and securely make iTunes purchases with your fingerprint. On top of this, the Touch ID scanner lets unlock your laptop more quickly, too.

MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro: Display size and design

Those longing for the return of the fabled 17-inch MacBook Pro should turn away, Apple’s biggest laptop display still stands at 15-inches. The 2018 MacBook Pros come in two sizes; 13 and 15-inches, just like before.

It also looks like a mash-up between the old MacBook Pro and the smaller MacBook, with the same butterfly mechanism for slimmer keys, a larger trackpad and Force Touch (tap to click) enabled by default.

The body is still constructed from aluminium and you certainly will be able to tell it is an Apple laptop.

The MacBook Air has become iconic, but the tapered look and relatively large bezels is starting to look and feel dated. It hasn’t been freshened up in years and Apple leaving it alone once again feels like it’s the end.

As you can see from the table below, the smaller MacBook Pro isn’t far off the MacBook Air in terms of weight, so even one of the MacBook Air’s supposed key benefits – lightness and portability – is pretty moot in 2018.

Device 13-inch MacBook Pro (2018) 15-inch MacBook Pro (2018) MacBook Air (2017)
Dimensions 14.9 x 304.1 x 212.4mm 15.5 x 349.3 x 240.7mm 3-17 x 325 x 227mm
Weight 1.37 kg 1.83 kg 1.35 kg

 

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But nothing betrays the age of the MacBook Air more than the display. The Air has a 1440 x 900 resolution panel, which didn’t quite cut it in 2017.

It certainly doesn’t cut it now, especially when compared to the Retina displays of the MacBook Pros – 2650 x 1600 (13-inch) or 2880 x 1800 (15-inch), respectively. The displays of the updated Pros also boast over 500 nits of brightness, wider colour gamuts (100% of the sRGB gamut in our tests) and a version of the True Tone ambient light colour correction software Apple introduced with the 9.7-inch iPad Pro – better in every possible way.

View now: MacBook Pro at Tesco.com from £1249 

MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro: CPU, GPU and RAM

As the ‘Pro’ in the name suggests, the MacBook Pro is aimed more at professionals while the Air sits as the choice for users who want something more portable to do light work on the go.

Every 13-inch MacBook Pro comes with a quad-core 8th generation Intel Kaby Lake-U Refresh processor running under the hood, while the 15-inch versions have six-core 8th Gen CPUs, with the highest-end option coming with a powerful Intel Core i9 chip.

Related: What is Kaby Lake?

Your memory options vary depending on whether you go for a 13-inch or 15-inch version – you get the option of 8GB or 16GB 2133MHz LPDDR3 RAM with the 2018 13-inch MacBook Pro,  or 16GB or 32GB of faster 2400MHz DDR4 RAM.

Storage options vary greatly depending on the size and in one case the CPU model you opt for. Generally, you can get 256GB, 512GB, 1TB or 2TB of on board storage with all of the 13-inch options, and between 256GB and 4TB with the 15-inch versions.

Related: Best MacBook


Macbook Air 2015

Perhaps needless to say, these are far more powerful machines than the MacBook Airs, but that shouldn’t really come as a surprise. The Air starts with a 5th generation Core i5 CPU and Intel HD Graphics 6000 GPU, with 8GB RAM and a 128GB SSD. You can double that storage if you fancy, though.

Both versions of the 13-inch MacBook Air come with 8GB RAM, while the MacBook Pros can be configured with either 8GB or 16GB RAM.

Related: Best Intel processor

MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro: Battery life

On paper, the new MacBook Pros give you over 10 hours of battery life. In tests, we found that the 13-inch version with the Intel i7-8559U, would give you roughly six hours.

MacBook Airs tend to beat this figure, and Apple claims it should give you 12-hours of wireless web browsing and 30-days standby time and that’s about right in our experience, too.

MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro: You’d better like USB-C

Just like it did with the svelte 12-inch MacBook, the new slew of MacBooks are about USB-C.

The MacBook Pro ditches the separate USB Type-A and Thunderbolt ports and replaces them with four USB-C ports. These are compatible with Thunderbolt too, so all your displays will still work.

While there are more Thunderbolt-compatible monitors, drives and dongles available than ever before, the shift to Thunderbolt and the dongle life will still likely be a pain for some.

Related: What is USB-C?
MacBook Air

The iconic MagSafe port is gone too, so you’ll be charging your laptop through USB-C. We’re going to miss that magnetic safety net, though. The SD card slot is another painful loss. The message from Apple seems to be ‘buy some dongles, or deal with it.’

MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro: Prices and verdict

In the space of an hour Apple’s cheapest laptop went from £749 (for the MacBook Air 11-inch) to £949 for the 13-inch MacBook Air. That’s a frankly outrageous price for a laptop this old. Want 256GB storage? You’re looking at £1,099.

The new slew of MacBook Pros aren’t light on your wallet either, especially if you live in the UK.

The cheapest entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro 2018, with the Core i5 CPU, start at £1749. As ever, storage really sees those prices climb, and at the most, you’d pay £3329 for a fully specced-out 13-inch i5 MacBook Pro. The version of the MacBook Pro we reviewed costs £3599.

If you want a 15-inch model, you’ll pay from £2349 for a 2.6GHz model with 256GB storage, while £2,699 gets you 512GB storage and a 2.7GHz processor.

Buy Now: Macbook Air at Tesco from £949

In short, Apple has all but eliminated good reasons to buy the MacBook Air. It’s running old tech, the screen isn’t great and the price hasn’t dropped by much. But if your budget will only go as far as the MacBook Air, you definitely won’t be able to afford any of the MacBook Pro models. Instead, we have a list of Windows-powered MacBook Air alternatives that might take your fancy.

What do you think of the new MacBook Pros? Let us know in the comments below

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