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Which MacBook Should You Buy? MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

Update Nov. 15: Our 16-inch MacBook Pro review is live, and the new Magic Keyboard lives up to the hype.

Now that Apple has retired the 12-inch MacBook and older MacBook Air, Apple's laptop lineup is 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. Between the MacBook Air, the 13-inch MacBook Pro and 16-inch MacBook Pro, we’ll help you decide which laptop is worth your money by comparing price, features, performance, battery life and more. Here are the pros and cons of each model.

Don't want to pay full price? Check out our Black Friday MacBook deals page for big discounts all the way through the holiday season.

MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro: Specs Compared

Best for MostMost Speed for $For MultitaskingFor Power Users
MacBook AirMacBook Pro 13(Entry Level) MacBook Pro 13(Premium)MacBook Pro 16
Price$1,099$1,299$1,799$2,399
CPU1.6-GHz 8th gen Core i51.4-GHz 8th gen Intel Core i52.4-GHz 8th gen Core i5 quad-core2.6-GHz 9th gen Core i7 6-core
RAM8GB8GB8GB16GB
Display13.3 inches (2560 x 1600)13 inches (2560 x 1600)13 inches (2560 x 1600)16 inches (3072 x 1920)
Ports2 Thunderbolt 32 Thunderbolt 34 Thunderbolt 34 Thunderbolt 3
Touch BarNoYesYesYes
GraphicsIntel UHD Graphics 617Intel Iris 645Intel Iris Plus 655AMD Radeon Pro 5300M (4GB)
Storage128GB128GB256GB512GB
Battery Life (hrs)8:5110:488:4111:00 (rated)
Weight2.75 pounds3 pounds3 pounds4.3 pounds

*Starting configurations listed.

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

Pros: The new MacBook Air delivers almost 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.

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 Y Series 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 decent at 8 hours and 51 minutes, but other utlraportable laptops last longer on a charge. There's two Thunderbolt 3 ports on board. 

Cons: 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 the entry-level, 13-inch MacBook Pro if you want more speed. 

We 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. Lastly, the Retina display could be a bit brighter, as it registered less than 300 nits on our tests.

See our full MacBook Air 2019 review

Best MacBook for Most People: MacBook Pro 13-inch (from $1,299)

Pros: The 13-inch MacBook Pro crams a lot of power into a slim and light 3-pound chassis. This machine is only a bit heavier as the MacBook Air, but you get a faster 8th-generation Core i5 U series processor and more powerful Intel Iris graphics. For a round-by-round breakdown of which 13-inch MacBook is best, check out our MacBook Pro vs Air (2019) face-off.

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 along with powerful speakers.

Cons: Unfortunately, you'll have to pay an extra $200 for 256GB of storage; 128GB is skimpy at a $1,299 starting price. You’ll also 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. 

See our full 13-inch MacBook Pro (2019) review

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.

The 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.

See our full MacBook Pro 13-inch with Touch Bar (2019) review

Best for Power Users: MacBook Pro 16-inch ($2,399)

Pros: It all starts with the new keyboard. Yes, Apple finally ditched the Butterfly-style keyboard in favor of a more traditional scissor mechanism. The new keys not only offer better travel but they also feel soft yet clicky. Apple will likely update other models with the new keyboard, but, so far, only the 16-inch MacBook Pro sports the new keys. 

Like the 15-inch model (which this version replaces), the 16-inch MacBook Pro should provide exceptional performance whether you're editing gobs of RAW photos, tackling 4K video editing projects or compiling code. The laptop comes equipped with your choice of three 9th Gen Intel CPUs: a 6-core Core i7 (2.6Ghz), an 8-core Core i9 (2.3GHz) or an 8-core Core i9 (2.4GHz) chip.  

The base configuration packs an AMD Radeon Pro 5300M graphics card (with 4GB of VRAM), which can be upgraded to a Radeon Pro 5500M GPU with either 4GB or 8GB of memory. Similar to its predecessor, the MacBook Pro has four Thunderbolt 3 ports onboard for plugging in peripherals.

Apple's Retina displays are consistently beautiful but the new MacBook Pro's 16-inch, 3072 x 1920-resolution panel could be the best yet. We'll run benchmarks for our full review, but the display impressed with bright colors and impressive brightness (500 nits) during our hands-on time with the laptop. We were drawn to that gorgeous image thanks to the 16-inch MacBook Pro's slim bezels, which makes content feel more immersive. 

Another perk is a 6-speaker system with force-canceling woofers that offers incredible sound quality, perhaps the best of any laptop. We haven't tested the 16-inch MacBook Pro's battery life but, with a rating of 11 hours, the laptop should last longer on a charge than its predecessor. 

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

Cons: Photographers might be miffed that they can’t plug in an SD card; instead, they’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.

While the base model 16-inch MacBook Pro comes with more storage --- 512GB --- for the same price as its predecessor, a $2,399 starting price is still hard to ignore. 

The machine is also heavier and thicker than the 15-inch MacBook Pro and there is no Face ID for unlocking the device using facial recognition. 

See our full 16-inch MacBook Pro hands-on review

To find out more about how much longer Apple will keep your MacBook healthy, read our comprehensive Apple Warranty Check guide.

Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptopmag.com, 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.