If you’re looking to buy a new MacBook, you now have two tiers to choose between: the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro, both of which received updates in 2019.
Here we’re comparing the two, focussing mainly on the 13in models since this is the common size offered by the Pro and Air. Although the form factor might be similar, there are still various decisions to make when considering a purchase. Would you rather a lighter, more portable laptop? How much power do you need? How much are you happy to spend?
We’re going to break down the differences and similarities between the two laptops step by step to help you decide which is right for you. Should you want something a little larger, then Apple has also introduced a new 16in MacBook Pro with plenty of upgrades under the hood and prices to match.
Price is one area where there’s a stark difference between the MacBook Air and the 13in MacBook Pro, the latter of which is much more expensive.
MacBook Air pricing
The MacBook Air is available in two default configurations. The base 1.6GHz Dual-core 8th-Gen Intel i5 model comes with 8GB of RAM and 128GB SSD storage for £1,099/$1,099. While the higher-spec option is identical except for an increased 256GB of SDD storage and the £1,299/$1,299 price tag.
MacBook Pro pricing
Apple has updated the MacBook Pro so that every single model now has the Touch Bar. This makes things less complicated than it used to be, even if the Touch Bar isn’t the greatest laptop innovation.
The 13in MacBook Pro starts at £1,299/$1,299 and then moves to £1,499/$1,499, £1,799/$1,799 and £1,999/$1,999 depending on what specs you want. The latter two being the model that was already updated earlier in 2019.
This is interesting as now the dearest Air and cheapest Pro models cost the same.
If you’re tempted with a larger screen and more power then the MacBook Pro 16in is available in two configurations. The 2.6GHz 6-core 9th Gen Intel i7 model which will set you back £2399/$2399 or the 2.3GHz 8-core 9th Gen Intel i9 variant that doubles the storage to 1TB SSD and costs £2799/$2799.
Options to consider
For £1,099/$1,099 you get the following 13in MacBook Air:
- 1.6GHz dual-core 8th-generation Intel Core i5 processor
- 128GB SSD
- 8GB 2133MHz RAM
- Intel UHD Graphics 617
- Touch ID
- Two Thunderbolt 3 (USB‑C) ports
- 720p FaceTime HD camera
For £1,299/$1,299 you get the following 13in MacBook Pro:
- 1.4GHz quad-core 8th-generation Intel Core i5 processor
- 128GB SSD
- 8GB 2133MHz RAM
- Intel Iris Plus Graphics 645
- Two Thunderbolt 3 (USB‑C) ports
- 720p FaceTime HD camera
- Touch Bar
The key difference with the new 2019 models, apart from the Touch Bar, is that the Pro has a quad-core processor vs a dual-core in the Air although the Air has a higher base clock speed. The on-board graphics on the Pro are also better.
If you aren’t on such a tight budget, there are a lot of build-to-order options to consider for both machines. Each can be customised with a higher-spec processor, more memory, more storage and so on. Of course the Macbook Pro 16in is a step up again with six and eight-core processors and even stronger graphics performance.
Before you decide on the MacBook Air because you’re looking for a cheap Mac, be sure to read our best MacBook deals roundup to see if there are any current bargains to be had.
Also, check the Apple Refurbished Store to see if you could pick up a discounted Mac with better specs than the MacBook Air offers.
Dimensions and weight
When it launched in 2008 the MacBook Air was the lightest laptop available. Over the years that followed, the weight of the MacBook Pro has also declined, so the difference is a lot less than it was. That said, the 2019 MacBook Air still weighs less than Pro; at 1.25kg compared to 1.37kg.
As for size, the 2019 MacBook Air is 30.41cm x 21.24cm, and 15.6mm thin, tapering to 4.1mm at its narrowest point. The 13in MacBook Pro is 30.41cm x 21.24cm so it has the same footprint but is a little thicker overall at 14.9mm as it doesn’t taper. For comparison, the MacBook Pro 16in is 35.79cm x 24.59cm with a thickness of 16.2mm and a 2kg weight.
- MacBook Air: 30.41cm x 21.24cm x 15.6/4.1mm; 1.25kg
- MacBook Pro 13in: 30.41cm x 21.24cm x 14.9mm; 1.37kg
- MacBook Pro 16in: 35.79cm x 24.59cm x 16.2mm; 2kg
Both styles of laptop come with Touch ID and things like the Force Touch trackpad, but the Touch Bar on the Pro is really the major design difference between the two. Whether or not you’ll find it useful comes down to a combination of personal preference and what software you use.
If you’re new to it, the Touch Bar is a multi-touch strip replacing the F keys that can provide different contextual controls depending on the application open – though it doesn’t yet have universal support. We don’t really think that the feature itself is worth buying the Pro for. Read about what you can do with the Touch Bar.
Processor and RAM
Although both Air and Pro come with 8th-generation Intel Core i5 processors, they are different models. The Air might have a more impressive speed of 1.6GHz but it’s only dual-core and Turbo Boosts to 3.6GHz.
The Pro meanwhile is 1.4Ghz quad-core and can Turbo Boost to 3.9GHz. This means it’s more powerful overall, hence being chosen for the Pro, while the chip in the Air is more about balancing power and efficiency. Moving to the two more expensive Pro models, you get a 2.4GHz quad-core Intel Core i5, with Turbo Boost up to 4.1GHz.
It’s worth noting that only the Pro can be configured to a couple of different Core i7 processors so is the better choice if you need as much power as possible. The Air only has that one chip.
For the truly power-hungry the Macbook Pro 16in offers 9th-gen Intel processors with either six or eight-cores and AMD Radeon graphics cards.
All the standard models come with 8GB of 2133MHz RAM so there’s no difference there but you can configure to 16GB if you need to on either laptop. The larger Pro starts with 16GB as standard, but this can be configured up to a maximum of 64GB.
When it comes to storage, the MacBook Air and Pro both start at 128GB and then double to 256GB for the next model up. The Pro then goes to 512GB if you get the most expensive standard model.
As usual, you can configure all models when purchasing if you need more, with the Air going up to 1TB. However, if you’re in need of as much storage as possible the Pro goes even further at 2TB. The 16in model starts at 512GB and moves up to 1TB for the i9 variant. This can also be upgraded to a maximum capacity of 8TB if you have £1980/$1980 to hand.
Where processor speed is clearly in the MacBook Pro’s favour, another potentially critical feature is battery life, and this time it’s the MacBook Air that wins – though not by much.
The company claims that the Air can handle 12 hours of wireless web browsing and 13 hours of video playback – essentially a full day. That’s compared to 10 hours of each from the 13in Pro; and 11 hours for the 16in Pro; less, but not by a huge amount.
The display was previously an area where the Air and Pro were quite different, but Apple has brought them much closer in 2019. This is thanks to an upgrade on the Air to a Retina Display with True Tone.
They both have 13.3in LED-backlit displays with IPS technology at a resolution of 2560×1600 making them 227ppi. The only difference now is that the Pro boasts a 500nit brightness level and wide colour (P3), but does not quote these for the new Air.
The 16in Pro features the same technology as the 13in Pro, but the larger area means it can display resolutions of 3072×1920 with a PPI of 226 again at 500nits.
As usual, Apple does not offer touch screens.
Graphics and gaming
Unlike the higher-spec 16in models, the 13in MacBook Pro follows the Air in exclusively using integrated Intel graphics – though they’re not identical.
The first two Pro models use Intel Iris Plus Graphics 645 then step up to 655 for the more expensive models. In contrast, the MacBook Air uses the lower grade Intel UHD Graphics 617.
As these are all integrated in the processor and it’s a similar story of more power with the Pro and a more balanced solution on the Air. If you need some extra grunt then you can plug in an eGPU via Thunderbolt on either laptop – or you can opt for the 16in MacBook Pro which has Intel UHD Graphics 630 and AMD Radeon Pro discrete graphics cards.
Read about how to use an eGPU with your Mac.
Ports and peripherals
Laptops used to come with a range of ports but Apple has gradually moved to a very simple approach using USB-C (which supports Thunderbolt 3 and DisplayPort) on MacBooks. Things like full-size USB (Type A) and even SD card slots are long gone.
The cheapest two MacBook Pro models have exactly the same setup at the 2019 Air so you get two USB-C ports along with a headphone jack. Bear in mind that one will be needed for charging.
The two most expensive 13in MacBook Pro models come with four USB-C ports instead of two, which might come in useful depending on what you need the laptop for. This matches all the 16in Pro models.
It’s worth remembering that there are plenty of USB-C adapters and accessories on the market to expand the ports, allowing you to use HDMI, VGA, USB 3.0 and more.
With the upgraded MacBook Air for 2019, the range is closer than it was before thanks to an upgraded screen and new processors. Of course, the Air is the best choice if you’re looking for the cheapest MacBook but if you have more budget then things get quite tricky – especially as one Air model is the same price as a Pro.
If the Touch Bar doesn’t sway your decision then we can broadly say that the Pro is more suited for those who need more processing and graphics power. Meanwhile, the Air is better if you’re looking for an all-rounder which balanced, power, portability and battery life.