Both the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro 13 were updated in 2020. So which one should you get? Although both have Retina displays and even fall in a similar price range, there are some significant differences in the specs and features that distinguish the two devices. There's even a 16-inch MacBook Pro if you're looking for a larger, top-end model.
In this guide, we'll compare the MacBook Air to the 13-inch MacBook Pro to find out which one is the best. Would you like to buy one of these MacBooks? Read our guide to the latest MacBook offerings for Apple's flagship devices.
Luke Larsen / Digital Trends
The 13-inch MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro have an aluminum finish. Both offer solid 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 in this regard, the brightness levels between the two laptops couldn't be more different. The MacBook Air's display is decent, but not as bright or impressive as that of the MacBook Pro. It only achieves an overall brightness of 389 nits – although it is better than the 291 nits of the previous version, it lags significantly 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 dropped its problematic butterfly keyboard for a sporty traditional scissor-based switch after the keyboard switch was introduced in the 16-inch MacBook Pro. The MacBook Pro's 13-inch update has undergone the same change. The large, clickable trackpad, shared by both, is perfect for selecting text, dragging windows, or using multitouch gestures. The build 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 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, 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 3.5mm headphone jack. When sound is particularly important, the MacBook Pro's high dynamic range tends to provide better audio. The MacBook Air, on the other hand, has additional microphones so that Siri can record your voice more easily.
Finally, the MacBook Air does not yet contain a touch bar. After the mixed reception of the Touch Bar, Apple has apparently decided to focus on other airborne features such as the Touch ID security and login button. 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 technical data under the hood and the prices for the MacBook Air indicate large differences between the MacBook Pro and the MacBook Pro. Although the MacBook Pro 13 was recently upgraded to 10th generation Intel processors, only the two high-end models 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, it's halfway between the entry-level prices of the MacBook Pro 13 and MacBook Pro 16, but it's nowhere near as much halfway in terms of performance.
Apple's high-tier MacBook Air, priced at $ 1,299, has the 10th-generation Intel i5-1030NG7 quad-core chip that is clocked at 1.1 GHz (base) and 3.5 GHz (max.) . The key to success here is the 10 nm process technology 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 little disappointing. The entry-level MacBook Air offers twice as many cores as the i3 CPU, but only offers an additional 27% performance for multi-core tasks and an increase in single-core workloads of just 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 the best choice despite its older processor.
And when you're ready to spend a little more, the MacBook Pro 13's high-end models will give you even better performance. 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 – that's the fastest time we've seen in a 13-inch laptop. With benchmarking tools like Cinebench R20 and Geekbench 5, the MacBook Pro 13 outperformed most of the competition, although the Dell XPS 13 performed better here.
Another notable difference between the MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro is the memory. The 16-inch MacBook Pro with vanilla DDR4 sticks – not the low-power versions – was clocked at 2,667 MHz. The MacBook Air, updated at the beginning of 2020, uses LPDDR4X memory clocked at 3,733 MHz. The latter chips aim for low power consumption without affecting the incredibly high bandwidth. As with processors, entry-level MacBook Pros have a lot to offer as they rely on older 2,133 MHz LPDDR3 memories, while the higher-end versions of MacBook Pro 13 get faster 3,733 MHz LPDDR4X RAM. Keep this difference in mind if you are leaning towards the MacBook Pro, and don't forget to look for faster storage when needed.
If you want a gorgeous MacBook without breaking the bank, the entry-level MacBook Air for $ 999 is a decent machine. It is the only model that offers the 10th generation Intel i3-1000NG4 dual-core CPU. However, you should consider purchasing the i5 quad-core CPU for an additional $ 100.
If you need a bit more power, you can opt for the 16-inch MacBook Pro with the six-core 9th generation processor from Intel. However, 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 to 0.63 inches thick and 11.97 inches wide. This makes the MacBook Air (very) slightly thicker than the MacBook Pro, but it is 2.8 pounds lighter than the 3.1 pound MacBook Pro. Honestly, you will only know the difference between the two if you break out the tape measure or the scale. If anything, the only crucial visual difference between the two is the additional golden color of the air and the lack of a touch bar.
As for the battery life of the two models, the 2020 MacBook Air is slightly below the competition, but is still decent. The MacBook Pro gave us a 6.5-hour battery life in our web browser workflow, which is about an hour and a half longer than the previous version we tested. It is crushed by 1080p laptops like the XPS 13 or 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 managed about 9 hours 30 minutes of surfing the Internet, 10 hours of video playback and 3 hours of more intensive tasks. An average day with numerous Chrome tabs, web apps, Slack and Spotify had a battery life of around 6 hours. Overall, this roughly corresponds to the MacBook Pro. None of the laptops is a battery champion, but they should be fine unless you do very intensive tasks.
Apple claims the 16-inch MacBook Pro can surf the Internet or stream videos for 11 hours. However, our standard workload, including Slack, Spotify, and dozens of browser tabs, only took us about five and a half hours.
The MacBook Air is the best option
Luke Larsen / Digital Trends
After the update of theand refresh the In early 2020, given the similar prices, it will be difficult to choose one over the other.
However, there are some striking areas that differentiate the two from each other. The superior display and performance of the MacBook Pro are much better suited for professional tasks such as video production and photo editing, where a color-accurate screen and low rendering times are important. If that sounds like a familiar workload, 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 has improved the competitive environment in some ways – the Magic Keyboard, the doubling of memory and the introduction of new processors and faster RAM – 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.
If you need something bigger and price doesn't matter, the 16-inch MacBook Pro is your ticket to power. You can equip it with a ninth-generation Intel i9 processor with eight cores and powerful, discrete Radeon Pro graphics, but be prepared for a high starting price.
If you want to save money, the entry-level MacBook Air for $ 999 is worth considering, even if we are not enthusiastic about the dual-core chip in the basic model.