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Both the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro 13 were updated in 2020. So which one should you get?
While both have Retina displays and even fall into a similar price range, there are some significant differences in the specs and features that set the two devices apart. There’s even a 16-inch MacBook Pro out there if you’re looking for a larger, top-end model. Not to mention rumors of a revived 12-inch MacBook, an 11-inch MacBook Air with a bigger screen and thinner bezels.
In this guide, we’ll compare the MacBook Air with the 13-inch MacBook Pro to see which is the best. Would you like to buy one of these MacBooks? Check out our guide to the latest MacBook deals on Apple’s flagship devices.
Luke Larsen / Digital Trends
The 13-inch MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro have an aluminum finish. Both offer space gray and silver color options, while the MacBook Air adds a third gold option. Apart from that, the two devices look almost identical.
Both devices offer retina displays with a native resolution of 2560 × 1600 or 227 pixels per inch. Although similar, the brightness levels between the two laptops couldn’t be more different. The MacBook Air’s display, while decent, isn’t as bright or impressive as that of the MacBook Pro. It only manages an overall brightness of 389 nits – while it’s better than the 291 nits of the previous version, it lags well behind the 500 nits of the MacBook Pro. Color accuracy is very high, but again, the MacBook Pro is a better option for photographers and graphic designers.
For the 2020 MacBook Air, Apple ditched its troubled butterfly keyboard for one with traditional scissor-based switches after the keyboard switch was introduced in the 16-inch MacBook Pro. The 13-inch upgrade to the MacBook Pro saw the same change. The large, clickable trackpad, shared by both, is perfect for selecting text, dragging windows, or using multi-touch gestures. The processing quality remains excellent – a typical strength for Apple.
Both the Air and the Pro offer Thunderbolt 3 compatible USB-C ports. These ports perform a variety of tasks including charging and high-speed data transfer. In the air, you’ll only see two on the left, so you’ll need to purchase USB-C hubs for additional connectivity. The 13-inch MacBook Pro offers either two or four functions, depending on the CPU, while the larger 16-inch MacBook Pro offers four functions in all configurations.
Both laptops have 720p webcams, stereo speakers and a 3.5 mm headphone jack. When sound is particularly important, the MacBook Pro’s high dynamic range tends to offer better audio. The MacBook Air, on the other hand, has additional microphones to make Siri easier to pick up your voice.
Finally, the MacBook Air still doesn’t include a touch bar. After the mixed reception from the Touch Bar, Apple has apparently decided to focus on other functions for the air, like the Touch ID security and login buttons. In the meantime, the 13-inch entry-level models got the Touch Bar in July 2019, which means that every Pro model comes with it as standard.
Luke Larsen / Digital Trends
The under-the-hood specs and pricing for the MacBook Air indicate big differences between the MacBook Pro and MacBook Pro. Although the MacBook Pro 13 was recently upgraded to 10th generation Intel processors, only a high-end model will get this newer chip. The two entry-level models of the MacBook Pro 13 are still based on 8th generation Intel processors. Prices start at $ 1,299.
You’ll have to spend $ 1,799 to get a new processor – as we said in our MacBook Pro 13 review, that’s halfway between the entry-level prices of the MacBook Pro 13 and MacBook Pro 16, but nowhere near up halfway in terms of performance.
Apple’s high-tier MacBook Air, priced at $ 1,299, features Intel’s 10th generation quad-core i5-1030NG7 chip that clocks at 1.1 GHz (base) and 3.5 GHz (max). The key to success here is the 10nm process technology that is used to manufacture this new CPU. It promises better performance and energy efficiency compared to similar 14 nm chips.
However, when we tested the MacBook Air, we found that the quad-core i5 is a bit disappointing. The entry-level MacBook Air offers twice as many cores as the i3 CPU, but only offers 27% additional performance for multi-core tasks and an increase in single-core workloads of only 8%. This is due to the low 9 watt power consumption of these chips, which leads to performance limitations. If you need power, the MacBook Pro is your best bet, despite its older processor.
And when you’re ready to spend a little more, the high-end MacBook Pro 13 models will perform even better. For example, we tested the MacBook Pro 13 for $ 1,799. In our tests, it encoded a 4K video in Handbrake to H.265 in just over 3 minutes. In benchmarking tools like Cinebench R20 and Geekbench 5, the MacBook Pro 13 beat most of its competitors, although the Dell XPS 13 did better here.
Another notable difference between the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro is memory. The 16-inch MacBook Pro was launched with vanilla DDR4 sticks – not the low-power versions – and clocked at 2,667 MHz. The MacBook Air, updated in early 2020, uses LPDDR4X memory clocked at 3,733 MHz. These latter chips aim for low power consumption without sacrificing the incredibly high bandwidth. As with processors, the entry-level MacBook Pros get a tough deal as they rely on older LPDDR3 memory at 2,133 MHz, while the high-end versions of the MacBook Pro 13 get faster LPDDR4X RAM at 3,733 MHz. Keep this difference in mind as you lean towards the MacBook Pro, and don’t forget to look for the faster storage when you need it.
If you want a gorgeous MacBook without breaking the bank, the $ 999 entry-level MacBook Air is a decent machine. It is the only model that offers Intel’s 10th generation i3-1000NG4 dual-core CPU. However, you should consider getting the i5 quad-core CPU for an additional $ 100.
If you need a bit more power, you can go for the 16-inch MacBook Pro with Intel’s 9th generation six-core processor, but you pay for the privilege as it starts at $ 2,399. Ouch.
The MacBook Pro is 0.61 inches thick and 11.97 inches wide, while the MacBook Air is only 0.16-0.63 inches thick and 11.97 inches wide. That makes the MacBook Air (very) slightly thicker than the MacBook Pro, but it’s lighter at 2.8 pounds than the MacBook Pro at 3.1 pounds. In all honesty, you won’t know the difference between the two unless you break off the tape measure or scale. If anything, the only crucial visual difference between the two is the added golden hue of the air and the lack of a touch bar.
As far as the battery life of the two models goes, the 2020 MacBook Air is a little below the competition, but is still decent. The MacBook Pro gave us a battery life of 6.5 hours in our web browser workflow, which is about an hour and a half longer than the previous version we tested. It’s squashed by 1080p laptops like the XPS 13 or the Specter x360, with the former giving you about 4 hours of extra juice. However, when you compare the MacBook Pro 13 to 4K laptops, things are a little closer. Apple’s laptop lasts about 45 minutes longer than the 4K XPS 13.
In comparison, the MacBook Air lasted about 9 hours 30 minutes surfing the web, 10 hours playing video, and 3 hours doing more intense tasks. An average day with lots of Chrome tabs, web apps, Slack, and Spotify had around 6 hours of battery life. Overall, this roughly corresponds to the MacBook Pro. None of the laptops are battery champions, but they should be fine unless you’re doing very intensive tasks.
Apple claims the 16-inch MacBook Pro can surf the web or stream video for 11 hours. However, our standard workload, including Slack, Spotify, and dozens of browser tabs, only got us through about five and a half hours.
The MacBook Air is the best option
Luke Larsen / Digital Trends
After updating theand refresh them In early 2020, it will be difficult to choose one over the other given the similar prices.
However, there are a few noticeable areas that set the two apart. The superior display and performance of the MacBook Pro make it much better suited for professional tasks like video production and photo editing where accurate color screens and low render times are important. If this sounds like a familiar workload to you, the MacBook Pro should be your Apple laptop of choice.
For everyone else, the MacBook Air is probably the best choice. While the 2020 update for the MacBook Pro improved the playing field in some ways – introducing the Magic keyboard, doubling the memory, and introducing new processors and faster memory – not every MacBook Pro 13 has received these improvements. While you can buy a MacBook Air with all of these features for just $ 999, you’ll have to pay at least $ 1,799 if you want all four on the MacBook Pro 13. That’s a big difference.
When you need something bigger and price doesn’t matter, the 16-inch MacBook Pro is your power entry ticket. You can equip it with a ninth generation Intel i9 processor with eight cores and beefy discrete Radeon Pro graphics, but be prepared for a hefty starting price.
If you’re looking to save money, the $ 999 entry-level MacBook Air is worth considering, even if we’re not thrilled with the dual-core chip in the base model.
It’s worth noting, however, that there are some additional MacBooks that are supposedly coming out soon. This can change the mix when you choose between Pro and Air. In fact, Apple is working on its own ARM-based silicon for its MacBooks, as was confirmed in the summer of 2020.
These could take place at an event on November 10, 2020 via a 12-inch MacBook, with the price rumored to be $ 750. It is even said that a new 11-inch MacBook Air with the silicone inside and a larger screen with a thinner bezel could be introduced. We’ll have to wait for this to work, but if developer test kit test benchmarks say anything about Apple’s custom silicon, these new Macbooks might give the Pro and Air a try.