Feature Articles

Which to get: MacBook Pro or MacBook Air?

By Kenny Yeo - 16 May 2020

Which to get: MacBook Pro or MacBook Air?

Note: This feature was first published on 8 May 2020 and updated on 14 May 2020 with additional findings and links to reviews of both notebooks.

MacBook Air or MacBook Pro?

Apple recently updated the 13-inch MacBook Pro (Image source: Apple)Apple has finally updated its 13-inch MacBook Pro. The latest generation of 13-inch MacBook Pro notebooks will feature Intel’s newest 10th generation Core processors, and, at long last, the company’s new Magic Keyboard. This means Apple’s entire notebook lineup is now on its new Magic Keyboard, which uses a more conventional scissors-switch mechanism, and have greater key travel, and reliability. Since the 13-inch MacBook Pro and MacBook Air have both been recently updated, now is the best time to get one. But which should you pick? Let me try and break it down for you.


Size and weight

The wedge-shape design makes the MacBook Air look smaller but the two are actually just about as thick and heavy as each other.

Despite the Air moniker, the MacBook Air isn’t actually that much smaller than the 13-inch MacBook Pro. The two machines actually share the same footprint (i.e. length and width), and the MacBook Air, surprisingly, is actually slightly thicker than the 13-inch MacBook Pro (16.1mm at its thickest point versus the 13-inch MacBook Pro’s 15.6mm). However, it’s wedge profile means that in terms of overall volume, it’s smaller. As for weight, the MacBook Air is slightly lighter at 1.29kg while the 13-inch MacBook Pro is 1.4kg. In the real world, however, the differences between the two are negligible. Once you put them into a notebook sleeve or into your bag, they feel as heavy (or as light) as each other.

Conclusion: It's a draw.


Features and performance

The MacBook Pro has a brighter, more vibrant display. (Image source: Apple)

To be clear, there are two variants of the 13-inch MacBook Pro. The entry-level model comes has two USB-C Thunderbolt 3 ports whereas the higher-end model is distinguished by its four USB-C Thunderbolt 3 ports.

Regardless of the variant, the 13-inch MacBook Pro has the leg-up here. To start, though the two have Retina-class displays that support True Tone technology with similar resolution and pixel density, the MacBook Pro’s display is brighter (500 nits vs. 400 nits) and supports a wider colour space (P3 vs. sRGB). The MacBook Air’s display is nice but the MacBook Pro’s nicer.

The MacBook Pro is faster especially in heavily threaded applications and sustained workloads.

The MacBook Pro is powered by more powerful processors as well. Though both models now use quad-core processors, the MacBook Air uses low-power Y-series Core processors that were designed for efficiency whereas the MacBook Pro uses more powerful U-series processors. If performance is of utmost importance, the choice is clear.

That said, the quad-core version of the MacBook Air which I recently reviewed is no slouch. I have been using it for the best month and I found that it will suffice if all you normally do on your Mac is browse the web, write emails, edit spreadsheets, watch videos, and edit the occasional photos. The MacBook Air’s burst performance is commendable but for anything more complex or sustained, I think you’ll need to get the MacBook Pro.

Apple's entire notebook lineup now has the new Magic Keyboard.

And if you need lots of ports, know that the MacBook Air only comes with two USB-C Thunderbolt 3 ports. The higher-end 13-inch MacBook Pro, on the other hand, comes with four.

Conclusion: The MacBook Pro has a nicer display, more ports, and more performance.


Battery life

The MacBook Air's rated battery life is longer but not by a lot.

The MacBook Air may have a smaller battery (49.9Wh vs 58Wh) but it has the edge in battery life thanks to its low-power processor and less bright display. Even so, the 13-inch MacBook Pro’s battery life has always been quite respectable. According to Apple, if you are just surfing the web, the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro will last 11 and 10 hours respectively. In short, though the MacBook Air will last longer on its batteries, the MacBook Pro won’t be too far behind.

Conclusion: All things equal, the MacBook Air will last longer on batteries.


Price and budget

For most users, the cheaper MacBook Air will suffice.

With prices starting at S$1,449, the MacBook Air is unquestionably the more affordable notebook. However, my recommendation is to opt for the slightly pricier model that comes with the more powerful quad-core Core i5 processor and larger 512GB storage. This will set you back S$1,899.

Prices of the 13-inch MacBook Pro start at S$1,899 but that’s for the entry-level variant that comes with two USB-C Thunderbolt 3 ports and only 256GB of storage. One thing to note is that these two Thunderbolt 3 port models are powered by older 8th generation Core processors and feature only 8GB of memory as standard. If performance is important but you can’t quite stretch your budget to the higher-end variant, these entry-level models could be for you.

Thanks to more memory and storage as standard, the latest 13-inch MacBook Pro now represents better value. (Image source: Apple)

Prices of the higher-end variant start at S$2,699 and these models feature four USB-C Thunderbolt 3 ports, the latest 10th generation Core processor, and they come with 16GB of memory as standard. If your budget allows, these are the most powerful 13-inch notebooks that Apple makes.

Conclusion: The MacBook Air is unquestionably more affordable.


Final thoughts

If you have the money, the higher-end 13-inch MacBook Pro with four ports will not disappoint.

For most readers, the MacBook Air is sufficient. Its CPU burst performance is good so if you all intend to do is browse the web, watch videos, write emails, and edit spreadsheets and the occasional photos and videos, it will suffice. It's the most value for money MacBook that Apple makes.

The MacBook Pro has better sustained performance which is crucial if you run intensive apps or have workloads that takes time to complete, like transcoding video. As its name suggests, the MacBook Pro is really for professionals or users with more advanced needs. If you can stretch your budget, it's the best 13-inch notebook that Apple makes.

To find out more, read my review of MacBook Air here and my review of the 13-inch MacBook Pro here.