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

With Apple recently launching a new MacBook Air, you might be wondering how it stacks up against the base-model Apple MacBook Pro. Though they both share Retina Displays and similar keyboards, and even fall in a similar price range, there are some significant specs differences and other changes that differentiate the two devices.

In this guide, we stack the two up against each other to help you decide which is best for you.

Design

Macbook Air (2018) Review
Riley Young/Digital Trends

Both the 13-inch MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro share an all-aluminum finish, but the new Air comes in gold and silver colors, 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 for 227 pixels per inch. Though initially looking the same, 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 multi-touch 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, however, 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 to just one, assuming you are also charging the Mac.

Both laptops also have 720p webcams, stereo speakers, and a 3.5mm 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

how to change the background on a mac macbook pro 2016 hero 1500x1000
Digital Trends

The specs under the hood and the pricing on the MacBook Air point to big differences between the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air. The base MacBook Pro comes with the 7th-gen 2.3GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor, and with Turbo Boost of up to 3.6 GHz. You can opt for the new six-core 8th-gen processors, but you have to pay $1,500 for the upgrade.

The MacBook Air comes with the newer 8th generation 1.6GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 Y-series processor and Turbo Boost up to 3.6GHz. This chip runs at 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 in thickness, and 11.97 inches in width, whereas the MacBook Air is a mere 0.16 to 0.61 inches in thickness and the same 11.97 inches in width. Obviously, the MacBook Air is 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 in light web browsing, and 10 hours in 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.

If you opt for one of the $1,500+ MacBook Pro configurations and need the extra processing power, those are the better options. But if your budget and needs are closer to $1,200 and $1,300, buy the new MacBook Air:

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