Which MacBook Should You Buy? MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro

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Update July 9:  Apple has just discontinued both the 12-inch MacBook and older non-Retina MacBook Air. The company has also updated the new MacBook Air with a True Tone display and lowered the price. Finally, the entry-level MacBook Pro is getting 8th gen Intel Core processors along with a Touch Bar and Touch ID. 

Apple's laptop lineup just got significantly smaller. But as a shopper, it can still be tough to decide which notebook to get.

That’s where our MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro face-off comes in. We’ll help you decide which MacBook is worth your money by comparing price, features, performance, battery life and more. Here’s the pros and cons of each model. There are also rumors that Apple might be launching a 16-inch MacBook Pro in 2019.

Apple has come under fire for the quality of its Butterfly keyboards, though the company has a new and improved version of its keyboard available on select models. But if you're still looking for good MacBook alternatives, check out our Best Ultrabooks roundup and Best Laptops overall, as well as our review of the Dell XPS 13

MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro: Specs Compared

  Best for Most Most Speed for $ For Multitasking For Power Users
  MacBook Air  macbook pro 13 no touchbarMacBook Pro 13
(Entry Level)
macbook pro 13 touchbar MacBook Pro 13
(Premium)
macbook pro 15 touchbarMacBook Pro 15

 

Price $1,099 $1,299 $1,799 $2,399
CPU 1.6-GHz 8th gen Core i5 1.4-GHz 8th gen Intel Core i5 2.4-GHz 8th gen Core i5 quad-core 2.2-GHz 9th gen Core i7 6-core
RAM 8GB 8GB 8GB 16GB
Display  13.3 inches (2560 x 1600) 13 inches (2560 x 1600) 13 inches (2560 x 1600) 15 inches (2880 x 1800)
Ports 2 Thunderbolt 3 2 Thunderbolt 3 4 Thunderbolt 3 4 Thunderbolt 3
Touch Bar No Yes Yes Yes
Graphics Intel UHD Graphics 617 Intel Iris 645 Intel Iris Plus 655 AMD Radeon Pro 555X (4GB)
Storage 128GB 128GB 256GB 256GB
Battery Life (hrs) 9:32 9:50  8:41 10:20
Weight 2.75 pounds 3 pounds 3 pounds 4 pounds

*Starting configurations listed.

Best for Most People: New MacBook Air ($1,099, $999 for students)

Pros: The new MacBook Air delivers pretty much everything you could want in an Apple laptop. It's lighter and thinner than the original MacBook Air and does away with those unsightly thick bezels.

new macbook air 2018

The screen is much sharper, too, with a resolution of 2560 x 1600 pixels, up from just 1440 x 900 on the previous model. The latest version of the Air also adds True Tone, which adjusts the color temperature on the display based on ambient lighting conditions.

Another welcome new feature is Touch ID, which makes it easy to unlock the system, make secure payments and replace passwords.

Powered by a 8th-gen Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM and 128GB of fast flash storage, the baseline specs for the new MacBook Air should provide enough oomph for everyday computing tasks. The battery life is very good at 9 hours and 32 minutes, but other utlraportable laptops last longer on a charge. There's two Thunderbolt 3 ports on board. 

Cons: The starting price is cheaper than before at $1,099. We also wish the base model came with 256GB of storage instead of 128GB. The flat Butterfly keyboard offers fast typing, but some may wish for more travel.

The Y Series Intel processor isn't sluggish, but other Windows laptops come with Intel's more powerful U series chips. You'll want to step up to a 13-inch MacBook Pro if you want more power. Lastly, the Retina display could be a bit brighter, as it registered less than 300 nits on our tests.

MORE: New MacBook Air - Full Review and Benchmarks

Good Speed for the Money: MacBook Pro 13-inch ($1,299)

Pros: The 13-inch MacBook Pro crams a lot of power into a slim and light 3-pound chassis. This machine is the same weight as the MacBook Air, but you get a faster 8th-generation Core i5 U series processor and more powerful Intel Iris graphics.

MacBookPro

Apple has also brought its Touch Bar to the entry-level MacBook Pro, as well as a Touch ID sensor.

The 13-inch MacBook Pro also offers a brighter display than the MacBook Air and powerful speakers, plus two Thunderbolt 3 ports for the fastest possible transfer speeds. 

Cons: You’ll have to live with two ThunderBolt 3 ports, versus 4 ports on the pricier MacBook Pro 13-inch. You'll also get less power and less storage compared to the pricier Pro.

Best for Multitaskers: MacBook Pro 13-inch with 4 Thunderbolt ports ($1,799)

Pros: If you’re willing to spend $1,799, the MacBook Pro 13-inch with Touch Bar (2019) is the fastest laptop in its class, packing a blazing 8th-gen, quad-core Core i5 CPU, 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. In our testing, this MacBook Pro wiped the floor with Windows laptops on both the Geekbench 4 benchmark and especially our SSD benchmarking.

This model also offers a bright and colorful True Tone display that adjusts its color based on ambient lighting, and more important, a keyboard with a new mechanism that's designed to prevent reliability issues.

MacBook Pro 13-inch Touch BarThe Touch Bar screen above the keyboard provides all sorts of contextually relevant buttons and controls as you use various apps, but it's not as good as having a full touchscreen.

This version of the 13-inch MacBook Pro also offers two more Thunderbolt ports than the $1,299 model, as well as faster Intel Iris graphics.

Cons: This version of the 13-inch MacBook Pro is pricey. The battery life, at 8 hours and 41 minutes, is decent; however, other ultraportables last longer on a charge. We'd also like to see Apple make the design a bit lighter while trimming down the screen bezels.

MORE: Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch with Touch Bar (2019) - Full Review

Best for Power Users: New MacBook Pro 15-inch ($2,399)

Pros: Whether you edit gobs of RAW photos, tackle 4K video editing projects with silky smooth performance or compile code, the 15-inch MacBook Pro 2019 is a beast. It offers your choice of two 9th-gen Intel processors: a 6-core Core i7 Intel CPU or an 8-core Core i9 chip.

You get 256GB of storage to start but the $2,799 model starts with 512GB. You can get up to a 4TB SSD. Apple includes 16GB of memory but you can configure up to 32GB.

MacBook Pro 15-inchThe standard configuration comes with powerful Radeon Pro 555X graphics, but you can upgrade to Radeon Pro 560X. Or you can step all the way up to Radeon Pro Vega 16 graphics or a Radeon Pro Vega 20 chip. There's four Thunderbolt 3 ports on board for plugging in peripherals.

The 15-inch MacBook Pro also sports the sharpest resolution you can get on a Apple laptop at 2800 x 1800 pixels, and it offers a True Tone display that offers realistic colors in any lighting conditions. Other perks include a super-large Force Touch trackpad and loud and rich stereo speakers.

Another plus is the battery life. The 2018 version 15-inch MacBook Pro lasted 10 hours and 21 minutes on the Laptop Mag battery test.

Cons: Photographers might be miffed that they can’t plug in an SD card; instead, you’ll have to use a card reader and plug it into one of the four ThunderBolt 3 ports. You also don't get full-size USB ports.

The graphics performance from the AMD Radeon Pro 560X is swift, but it's not the best for gaming. Also, charging $2,399 for just 256GB of storage is not cool. It's an extra $200 for 512GB.

MORE: 15-inch MacBook Pro (2019) Review

Author Bio
Mark Spoonauer
Mark Spoonauer, LAPTOP Editor in Chief
Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptop Mag and Tom's Guide, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.
Mark Spoonauer, LAPTOP Editor in Chief on