MacBook Air vs. MacBook Pro

Should you buy the affordable MacBook Air, or is the MacBook Pro worth the price?

Macbook Air (2018) Review
Riley Young/Digital Trends

After the launch of Apple’s new MacBook Air in 2018, an important question to answer is how it stacks up against the base-model Apple MacBook Pro. Though they both boast Retina displays and similar keyboards, and even fall in a similar price range, there are some significant differences in specs and features that differentiate the two devices.

In this guide, we pit the MacBook Air versus the MacBook Pro to see which is best.

Interested in buying either of these MacBooks? Check out our guide to the latest great deals on Apple’s flagship devices.

Design

Macbook Air (2018) Review
Riley Young/Digital Trends

The 13-inch MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro share an all-aluminum finish, but the new Air comes in gold and silver, in addition to Apple’s standard Space Gray. Outside of that, the two devices look very similar.

Both devices also pack Retina displays with a total resolution of 2,560 × 1,600 or 227 pixels per inch. Though similar on that front, the brightness levels between the two laptops couldn’t be more different. We didn’t like the display on the MacBook Air and found that it doesn’t get as bright or impressive as the MacBook Pro’s. The new Air only gets up to a total brightness of 291 nits, which lags the MacBook Pro’s 500 nits. Still, the color accuracy comes in at high levels, which makes it a decent option for photographers and graphic designers.

We found that there were no flex, bends, and friction points on the MacBook Air — typical of Apple design, and a sign that the Air is built for durability. The Air now has the third-generation butterfly keyboard and larger trackpad of the Pro. The trackpad is perfect for selecting text, dragging windows, or using multitouch gestures.

Both the Air and the Pro offer Thunderbolt-compatible USB-C ports. These ports can accomplish a wide variety of tasks, including charging and high-speed data transfer. The Pro offers two of the ports on each side for a total of four. The Air has only two on the left side, which limits how many accessories you can use at any one time.

Both laptops have 720p webcams, stereo speakers, and a 3.5mm headphone jack. If sound is particularly important to you, the Macbook Pro’s high dynamic range tends to offer better audio. The MacBook Air, on the other hand, comes with additional microphones so that Siri can pick up your voice more easily.

Finally, there is still no Touch Bar above the keyboard on the new MacBook Air. After the mixed reception to the Bar, Apple apparently decided to focus on other features for the Air, like an option for Touch ID security and login. The Pro, however, still has an option for the Touch Bar.

Performance

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The specs under the hood and the pricing on the MacBook Air point to big differences between it and the MacBook Pro. The base Pro comes with the 7th-gen 2.3GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor, which boosts up to 3.6 GHz. You can opt for the new six-core 8th-gen processors, but you have to pay for the privilege, with the price starting at $1,800.

The MacBook Air comes with the newer 8th-generation 1.6GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 Y-series processor that boosts to 3.6GHz. This chip runs 5 watts lower than the previous version, helping to save power and keep the Air cool. However, our tests found it was still a bit sluggish for more demanding tasks like watching videos on a secondary 4K monitor. The two cores on board the Intel processor in the MacBook Air simply aren’t meant for doing too many things at once.

Portability

Macbook Air (2018) Review
Riley Young/Digital Trends

The MacBook Pro comes in at 0.59 inches thick and 11.97 inches wide, whereas the MacBook Air is a mere 0.16 to 0.61 inches thick and 11.97 inches wide. That makes the MacBook Air the thinner and lighter option for traveling, although you should make sure you find a case that fits.

As for the battery life across the two models, the MacBook Air falls a bit short of competitors but is still decent. The MacBook Pro netted us 10 hours and 24 minutes of battery life in our video loop testing, and 5 hours and 3 minutes in web browsing. With the MacBook Air, Apple promises up to 12 hours of wireless web browsing and up to 13 hours of iTunes movie playback. In our testing, we got to 8 hours of light web browsing, and 10 hours of video playback: This is a little better than the Pro and arguably the best battery life of any available MacBook, but still fails to meet the stated specs.

Keep in mind that one of the changes Apple made to the 2018 MacBook Air was a battery that’s easier to replace, although you will still want to take it into the Apple Store for the process. In the long term, this may give the Air a bit more longevity if you find that the battery is dying.

The Air soars above the Pro

Macbook Air (2018) Review
Riley Young/Digital Trends

The difference between the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro has grown significantly since the 2018 update. Between the $1,200 MacBook Air and the $1,300 MacBook Pro, the Air is the better buy. It comes with an 8th-gen Intel processor, updated keyboard (that protects against dust), Touch ID, and a lighter and thinner chassis. For most people, that’s enough to make it a better value over the slightly faster MacBook Pro, which is more expensive.

That paradigm is much the same in the more expensive models and with the new versions of the MacBook Pro too. Those 2019 models upgrade the hardware, but their price tags are higher. They’re worth considering for now, but until we get our hands on a new version and can properly put it through its paces, we’re still recommending the Air, unless you absolutely need the extra power and don’t mind the added price.

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