I've been switching between Apple's new 13-inch MacBook Pro and MacBook Air, and it's clear that Apple's lighter and cheaper laptop is the best choice for most people


MacBook Pro and Air

  • Apple’s new 13-inch MacBook Pro and MacBook Air are both solid choices for Mac fans in need of a new laptop.
  • But the MacBook Air is best for those who need a general purpose laptop: it’s lighter and more affordable than the Pro, plus it runs on newer Intel processors at a noticeably cheaper price.
  • The main reason to choose the MacBook Pro over the Air is if you need more processing power, memory, and storage than the average person.
  • If you’re a photo or video editor that needs more processing power and additional storage for high-resolution files, for example, the Pro might be a better fit.
  • But, the quad-core configuration of the MacBook Air is more than enough for anyone in need of a laptop for writing papers, browsing the web, and handling other basic tasks.

If you’re an Apple loyalist in the market for a new laptop, there’s a good chance you’re deciding between the new MacBook Air  and the refreshed 13-inch MacBook Pro.

And, there’s good reason to do so: both laptops offer improved keyboards that are significantly more comfortable and quieter than their predecessors’, more storage than before at the base level, and  faster processors.

Both are ideal options for those who prefer macOS over Windows and are in search of a machine that feels more manageable and portable than the 16-inch MacBook Pro. But, which laptop is best for you will largely depend on how you plan to use your computer.

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MacBook Pro 13-inch 2020 vs. MacBook Air: Which is best?

If your primary use cases include browsing the web, managing email, watching Netflix, and doing some light productivity like word processing and spreadsheet management, then the MacBook Air is probably sufficient. But, if you’re seeking a machine that can handle more complex tasks, like video editing and heavier multitasking, you’ll want a powerful MacBook Pro configuration.

Both laptops also come with a caveat — you need to go beyond Apple’s entry-level offerings to get the most out of either machine. The base MacBook Air starting at $999.00 comes with a dual-core Intel Core i3, which feels underpowered for the price. Meanwhile, the least expensive version of the 13-inch MacBook Pro runs on an older 8th generation processor from Intel — a puzzling choice considering 10th generation processors are generally considered to be the standard for 2020 laptops. 

The $1,099.00 configuration of the MacBook Air is probably the best choice for most people in need of a general purpose laptop. Compared to the MacBook Pro, it’s lighter and more portable, runs on newer processors at the base level, and is much more affordable. The only reason to choose the Pro over the Air is if you feel that you need more processing power, memory, and storage than the average person. Here’s a closer look at how the two compare.


MacBook Pro 13 inch vs MacBook Air 2020

Design and feel

MacBook Air and Pro side

The most significant upgrade on both the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro is the addition of Apple’s new Magic Keyboard, which the company introduced late last year on the 16-inch MacBook Pro. The Magic Keyboard replaces the Apple “Butterfly” keyboard after years of complaints over faulty keys from customers and critics alike.

Thankfully, Apple has finally axed its stiffer, flatter Butterfly keyboard in favor of the Magic Keyboard, which has deeper key travel for a more comfortable and satisfying typing experience. It’s also much quieter than before, making it easier to work more discretely when in public places, like coffee shops.  

When it comes to design, the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air are both lightweight and compact. But, as its name implies, the Air wins when it comes to portability.

Weighing just 2.8 pounds, the MacBook Air is a bit lighter than the 3.1-pound 13-inch MacBook Pro, making it a more appealing option for those working on-the-go. The MacBook Air also features its familiar wedge-like profile, which is thickest near the hinge and thins out near the lip of the laptop’s lid. The MacBook Pro, by comparison, has a uniform look that maintains the same thickness throughout. 

There’s another physical feature that differentiates the MacBook Pro from the MacBook Air: the Touch Bar. Apple’s Touch Bar is a thin touchscreen strip that sits above the keyboard, replacing the function key row.

Macbook Pro with touch bar

In addition to housing basic keys for controlling the screen brightness, volume, and media playback, the Touch Bar also adapts depending on the application you’re using. If you’re browsing the web in Safari, for example, it’ll display a preview of your currently open tabs, which you can flip between by scrubbing the Touch Bar.

The Touch Bar is a novel addition that makes certain tasks easier, but it shouldn’t be a deal breaker when deciding which laptop to buy. I appreciate it when it’s there, but don’t find myself missing it when switching to the MacBook Air.

Both the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air are nearly identical when it comes to display quality: the two laptops each have a 13.3-inch Retina display with a 2,560 x 1,600-pixel resolution and Apple’s True Tone technology, which adjusts the display’s color temperature depending on the nearby lighting.

The MacBook Pro’s display is slightly brighter and supports the wider P3 color gamut unlike the Air, which instead offers full standard color. That means the Pro is capable of displaying a wider spectrum of colors than the Air, but that will only probably matter if you’re a professional photo or video editor.

Performance and features

MacBook Pro Open

If you’re choosing between the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro, answering the two following questions should help you make your decision: How much are you willing to spend, and how much power do you need? 

Starting at $999.00, the MacBook Air is $300 cheaper than the MacBook Pro, which begins at $1,299.00. But, you also don’t get as much flexibility or performance from the Air. The entry-level Air comes with a 1.1GHz dual-core 10th generation Intel Core i3 processor, but you’ll want to spend at least an extra $100 for an upgrade to the model with a quad-core processor.

Unlike the MacBook Pro, the MacBook Air also runs on Intel’s Y-series processors, which are designed to enable thin and light designs without any fan-based cooling, like the Air, rather than prioritizing powerful performance.

The MacBook Pro, on the other hand, has more to offer when it comes to power and configuration options, but comes at a noticeably higher price. The entry-level MacBook Pro comes with a quad-core processor with a higher clock speed compared to the Air. 

The processors that power the Pro are also from Intel’s U-series, which offer more power for productivity compared to the Y-series, and they require fan cooling.

If you’re willing to spend, the MacBook Pro line also offers more storage, ports, and memory than the Air, with configuration options that go up to 32GB of memory, 4TB of storage, and four USB-C ports. The maxed-out version of the MacBook Air, comparatively, comes with 16GB of memory, 2TB of storage, and two USB-C ports.

The catch, however, is that the the cheaper MacBook Pro models run on older 8th generation Intel processors unlike the Air, which comes with 10th generation processors even at the base level. If you want the latest Intel processors in the MacBook Pro, you’ll have to spend at least $1,799.00. 

Now that many people have been working from home since March,  you may be paying attention to webcam quality more than usual. There’s no difference between the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air in this regard, both laptops come with 720p FaceTime camera.

You will, however, get a little more oomph from the MacBook Pro’s speakers compared to the Air since its sound system offers high dynamic range unlike the Air’s. 

The MacBook Air should offer slightly longer battery life than the Pro, since Apple claims that the Air lasts for 11 hours while the Pro should last for 10 hours. In my experience, however, I found that both laptops fall slightly below Apple’s claims, with the Air lasting for about seven hours and the Pro lasting for roughly eight. It’s important to remember, however, that battery life will always vary depending on the programs and applications you’re using and your computer’s settings. 

The bottom line

MacBook Air half open

Overall, the MacBook Air’s newer processors, lower price, and easier portability make it the best choice for most people in need of a general purpose computer. If you’re a student that just needs a solid laptop for writing papers, or if you really just want a machine for browsing the Internet and light productivity, the Air is the laptop to get. 

But you should go with the MacBook Pro if you need more performance and flexibility than the Air offers. If you’re willing to spend the money, the MacBook Pro offers more options when it comes to ports and storage space, in addition to performance gains. Video editors that need to store many large video files, for example, may benefit from the additional storage options that the Pro line offers. 

Those more interested in the MacBook Air for should probably go with the $1,099.00 version, which comes with a quad-core 10th generation Intel Core i5 processor with 8GB of RAM. 

If you opt for the MacBook Pro, your best bet is probably to go for the pricier version starting at $1,799.00 that runs on Intel’s 10th generation processor, provided you have the budget. Yes, it’s expensive. But if you’re purchasing a new laptop, you probably want it to last for at least five years. Investing in processor technology that’s already a couple of years old may not be the best way to make sure you’re getting the most out of your laptop in the long haul.

All told, the above configuration of the MacBook Air is probably the best choice for most people that just need a general purpose laptop, while the Pro is better suited for shoppers looking for a more powerful work machine. 

SEE ALSO: Apple’s newest iPad Pro has all of the makings of a great computer, but it’s still not ready to replace my laptop

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