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 MacBook Pro. Though they both share Retina Displays, keyboards, and even fall in a similar price range, there are some significant specs differences and other changes that distinguish the two devices.

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

Design

Macbook Air (2018) Review
Riley Young/Digital Trends

In terms of design, both the 13 inch-MacBook Air and 13 inch-MacBook Pro share an all-aluminum finish, but the new Air comes in new gold and silver colorways, in addition to Apple’s standard Space Gray. Outside of that, the two devices look very, very similar. Outside of the slight wedge shape the MacBook Air retains, these two laptops are hard to distinguish from a quick glance.

Both devices also pack Retina displays, coming with a total resolution of 2,560 x 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 quite like the display on the MacBook Air and found that it doesn’t get as bright or impressive as the MacBook Pro. The new Air only gets up to a total brightness of 291 nits, which is quite well off 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.

In our other testing, we found that there were no panels, creaks, bends, and friction points on the MacBook Air, making it something that was definitely last long. The keyboard and trackpad between the two devices are also similar, with Apple carrying over the same third-generation butterfly keyboard and larger trackpad from the Pro to the Air. The trackpad is perfect enough for selecting text, dragging windows, or using multi-touch gestures.

There is still no Touch Bar above the keyboard on the new MacBook Air, though it’s not something we see as an important feature anyway. On the MacBook Pro, you have an option for it or without, though the option without has older 7th-gen processors. Apple did, however, bring over the Touch ID sensor to the MacBook Air, which makes for seamless logins and payments on the web.

Performance

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Digital Trends

The specs under the hood and the pricing on the MacBook Air make the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air very different. The base model of MacBook Air is slightly cheaper at $1,200, whereas the base model of the MacBook Pro (without Touch Bar) comes in at $1,300.

For the $100 difference in price, 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 for $1,500 for the upgrade.

The MacBook Air comes with the newer 8th generation 1.6GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 Y-series processor, Turbo Boost up to 3.6GHz. This is different from what is on other laptops since it is lowered powered runs at 5 watts for better performance. In our testing, we found that the processor made for good enough for basic multitasking on the MacBook Air, and our daily workflows. 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 isn’t meant for doing a few too many things at once. The difference in pricing between the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro accounts for a slight jump in performance, with the MacBook Pro having a faster-clocked processor and more cores when compared to the MacBook Air. That is likely better for power users who depend on tasks like video editing and graphics design.

Portability

Macbook Air (2018) Review
Riley Young/Digital Trends

Steve Jobs famously pulled the original MacBook Air out of an envelope back in 2008, and that still can attest to how light and portable the Air is over the MacBook Pro.

The MacBook Pro comes in at 0.59 inches in thickness, and 11.97 inches in width, whereas the MacBook Air comes in at a mere 0.16–0.61 inches in thickness and the same 11.97 inches in width. Obviously, the MacBook Air is the thinner and lighter option for traveling.

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 ten hours and 24 minutes of battery life in our video loop testing, and five hours and three minutes in web browsing, falling to Apple’s claims of 10 hours of battery life. 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 eight hours in light web browsing, and 10 hours in video playback which is a bit disappointing though still better than the Pro.

Finally, in terms of ports, both the MacBook Air and the Pro share Thunderbolt 3 USB-C ports. Yes, you’ll still need to embrace dongles to connect your accessories to the Mac, but the ports are modern compared to USB-A or HDMI and good enough on both models for connecting dual displays.

You’ll also find the 720p FaceTime webcams, stereo speakers, and a 3.5 mm headphone jack on both devices. However, the MacBook Pro packs high dynamic range speakers, for a more loud, clear, and immersive audio experience. The MacBook Air also packs three microphones, for better connectivity with Siri.

The MacBook Air Wins

Macbook Air (2018) Review
Riley Young/Digital Trends

The difference between the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro is subtle. Between the $1,200 MacBook Air and the $1,300 MacBook Pro, the Air is the better buy over the Pro. It comes with an 8th-gen Intel processor, updated keyboard (that protects against dust), 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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