Should you buy the new MacBook Air or MacBook Pro?
Apple’s streamlined notebook line looks as strong as ever, with the recent updates to the 13-inch MacBook Pro (MBP) and MacBook Air (MBA) flanking the flagship 16-inch MacBook Pro. Since then, I’ve been receiving quite a few questions from friends and readers, “Should I get the MacBook Air or the MacBook Pro?” It should be an easy question to tackle since both address different markets, hence different price points. Or so I thought.
The fact is, the lines between the Air and Pro have blurred so much over the past few generations, I’m starting to think that the Air’s days may actually be numbered.
Light as Air
But first, let’s talk about the MacBook Air. When the late Steve Jobs removed this unbelievably thin piece of metal from a brown envelope in 2008, the world of portable computers changed forever. The Air became the defining piece for some time, spurring the industry to go thinner, lighter.
Even to this day, the Air holds its own against the plethora of Windows-based notebooks, its craftsmanship and design still outstanding, still relevant.
Granted, it wasn’t the most powerful (and still isn’t) device but it introduced the concept of the ultrathin, ultralightweight, and wireless portable, a concept that holds true till today.
In 2018, Apple released the third generation MacBook Air alongside Intel Kaby Lake processors. What was important though, was that the Retina display and Touch ID finally made it into the Air, inching the ultraportable closer to the 13-inch MacBook Pro.
The new 2020 MacBook Air continues the trend of iterative (but practical) updates while retaining its tapered all-metal unibody design.
Pro for pros
Whether you’re a prosumer, business user or creative professional, the MacBook Pro is the go-to Mac portable if what you need is performance and ultra-portability.
The latest mid-2020 13-inch MacBook Pro is now equipped with up to 10th Gen Intel Core “Ice Lake” processors, Intel Iris Plus Graphics, up to four Thunderbolt 3 ports, up to 32GB of memory, and up to 4TB of built-in SSD.
Air vs Pro
The MacBook Air remains Apple’s lightest and most affordable notebook in the line-up. It tips the scales at 1.25kg and while this is no match for PC notebooks like the Acer Swift 7 or Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon, it is still incredibly lightweight.
“Affordable” of course is subjective. You’re still paying an Apple premium over a similarly spec PC notebook, but that’s an argument for another day.
In terms of thinness, it’s now tied with the 13-inch MBP, measuring a little over 21mm.
So, back to the matter at hand: MacBook Air or MacBook Pro?
First, the price point. The Air makes its entry at USD999 while the Pro, 300 bucks more.
On the surface, both base models look pretty well-matched in terms of specs — 13.3-inch Retina display, 8GB LPDDR4X RAM, Intel Iris Plus Graphics (645 on the two-port MacBook Pro), 256GB SSD, two Thunderbolt 3 ports, Wi-Fi 802.11ac, Bluetooth 5.0, Magic Keyboard, Force Touch trackpad, and Touch ID.
The USD300 premium you pay for the Pro, however, will get you a slightly better, brighter Retina display — 500-nit to the Air’s 400-nit, plus supporting a wider P3 colour gamut. The Pro also touts a Touch Bar, now standard across the Pro range, if that’s what you need.
That aside, the Pro comes integrated with a bigger 58.2Whr battery and a faster 61W USB-C power adapter against the 49.9Whr and 30W units on the Air. Specs don’t matter, though, because the Air tops the Pro by an hour on battery life, with up to 11 hours (on wireless web).
Where the MBA goes one up on the MBP though is colour options. While Space Gray and Silver are available on both model line-ups, the MBA offers the additional Gold option.
It’s also worth noting that the base MacBook Pro features an older 8th Gen Intel Core i5 quad-core processor, clocked at higher speeds than the MacBook Air. The new MBA, on the other hand, gets the latest 10th Gen Intel Core i3, which is understandably more power-efficient than the 8th Gen.
For the sake of argument, let’s custom-configure the MBA and MBP and exhaust the options.
Maxed out MacBook Air
1.2GHz quad-core 10th Gen Intel Core i7 (Turbo Boost up to 3.8Ghz), Intel Iris Plus Graphics, 16GB 3733MHz LPDDR4X, 2TB SSD storage, Touch ID, two Thunderbolt 3 ports, 30W USB-C charger — USD2,249 (~MYR9,726).
Top-spec MacBook Pro
2.0GHz quad-core 10th Gen Intel Core i5 (Turbo Boost up to 3.8GHz), Intel Iris Plus Graphics, 16GB 3733MHz LPDDR4X, 1TB SSD storage, Touch Bar and Touch ID, four Thunderbolt 3 ports, 61W USB-C charger — USD1,999 (MYR8,799).
Maxed out MacBook Pro
2.3GHz quad-core 10th Gen Intel Core i7 (Turbo Boost up to 4.1GHz), Intel Iris Plus Graphics, 32GB 3733MHz LPDDR4X, 4TB SSD storage, Touch Bar and Touch ID, four Thunderbolt 3 ports, 61W USB-C charger — USD3,599 (~MYR15,564).
It’s clear that even if you throw all the money you can at it, the MBA will never match the MBP spec-for-spec. This is strategic product differentiation on Apple’s part, cleverly segmenting the two to meet different price points and user requirements.
In the end, it boils down to how much you’re willing to fork out for a MacBook and if you need the additional firepower to be productive. The new MacBook Air, even at its most basic, is already incredibly good. Likewise, with the base MacBook Pro. Having said that, if there was one thing I’d be sure to invest in, is more memory out-of-the-box. 8GB is adequate but go 16GB minimum if you can. That should future-proof your MacBook Air or Pro for several years at the very least.
Remember that Apple solders memory on the motherboard, so even if you decide to upgrade in the future, you can’t.
For more information about Mac portables, visit Apple.com.
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