MacBook Air or MacBook Pro?
If you are thinking about buying a Macbook laptop in 2020, then there are two main options to choose from if you want your new machine to be the latest model. Those two options are the MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro (with two sub-models: the 13 and the 16 inch one) lines of Apple laptops. Each of those laptop models comes with different price options of varying characteristics so your choice won’t be limited to only two machines. Also, there are several (albeit a bit limited) configuration options for each laptop, such as getting a more powerful processor or additional RAM for a slight increase in the price of the stock machine.
The best model and model version/price option for you depends on your personal preferences, needs, and budget. Here, in this next article, we will try to help you make an informed choice that will allow you to pick the best 2020 MacBook laptop for you.
Both of those laptop model lines offer excellent products by Apple that will satisfy the needs of most regular users and will last for a good amount of time before a replacement may be needed. However, if you are a more demanding user who needs their laptop of choice to meet certain characteristics or if you are on a tighter budget but still want to use an Apple laptop, then the nuances of the different laptops we will cover here begin to matter.
On the surface, they both MacBook Air and MacBook Pro look quite similar in terms of design, features, and even performance. However, there are some significant differences one begins to notice upon closer inspection. In general, the MacBook Air laptops are a bit less impressive in terms of raw power but tend to be more efficient and they generally come at a more reasonable price relative to what they offer to the user. On the other hand, the MacBook Pro laptops are a bit more expensive and not all price variations are particularly impressive. However, the higher-end MacBook Pro options do offer significantly more power compared to their MacBook Air counterparts. In the end, your choice should be defined by what your new laptop will be used for and how much money you are willing to spend on it. Here is a bit more in-depth analysis of the different options.
Before we go any further, we must first establish the different options you have with MacBook Pro and MacBook Air.
The 13-inch version of the MacBook Pro model line comes in four different pricing options: $1299, $1499, $1799, and $1999.
On the other hand, MacBook Air offers only two price variants: $999 and $1299.
There are also two 16-inch MacBook Pro models priced at $2399 and $2799 respectively.
Depending on the price, the characteristic of the machine would vary so it’s not only important to choose between MacBook Pro or Air but to also pick the pricing option that would best fulfil your needs.
Design and exterior
There are very few visual differences between MacBook Air and MacBook Pro. The most notable one is the lack of a Touch Bar on the MacBook Air. Due to mixed opinions on the inclusion of the Touch Bar on the MacBook Pro models, Apple seems to have decided to focus on other aspects with their MacBook Air laptops.
Another difference in terms of design comes from the displays of the two laptop models. Here, the MacBook Pro is clearly the better option with its 500 nits of screen brightness compared to the MacBook Air’s 389. This doesn’t mean the MacBook Air’s display isn’t good but if you are a designer or a photographer, you’d probably prefer the superior display characteristics of the MacBook Pro. For regular users or even power-users who simply don’t care as much about getting the best possible display, the MacBook Air should do just fine.
The third discernible difference in the design of the two MacBook models is the number of their Thunderbolt USB-C docks. Here, both MacBook Air price options have only two of them. The same can be said about the two lower-price MacBook Pros. However, the two higher-price MacBook Pro laptops come with four Thunderbolt docks and so do all of the price variations of the MacBook Pro 16 inch model.
The only other potential difference that we have been able to find is that the MacBook Air model offers one extra color option (gold) in addition to the two silver and space gray color options that it shares with MacBook Pro.
Other then the aforementioned differences, the design of the two Apple laptop models is rather similar. Both models retain the trademark sturdiness and built quality of Mac laptops in general yet both look a bit dated with their rather thick bezels – a trait that is uncharacteristic for most modern laptop computers. One nice thing about this year’s MacBook models (both Pro and Air) is that they no longer come with the universally disliked butterfly Mac keyboard. Instead, from this year on, Apple laptops will sport the so-called Magic keyboard which uses the more conventional scissors-type key switches that are used on pretty much all modern-day laptops. So far, users seem to be satisfied with this change, reporting that the new MacBook keyboard is much more responsive, no longer experiences stuck keys, and feels much more comfortable and ergonomic, especially during extended writing sessions.
Size and battery
Both laptop models are almost identical in terms of size with the MacBook Air being slightly thicker but slightly lighter (0.63 inches/2.8 pounds) compared to the MacBook Pro (0.61 inches/3.1 pounds) – a difference you’d only notice if you measured and weighed the laptops. Both of the machines have a display width of 11.97 inches.
In terms of battery, both computers have comparable battery lives of about 6.5 hours of heavy browsing with many open tabs while using additional apps. Apple markets that the batteries of both their MacBook Pro and Air lasts beyond the 10-hour mark but you should take this with a grain of salt since this number is likely measured while using the laptop at a lighter workload. All in all, when battery life is considered, both laptop models are adequate but neither offers anything spectacular. Compared to the battery live champions at the moment – laptops such as the HP Specter X360 and the Dell XPS 13, both 2020 Mac models seem to be a bit above average. Still, if you need a laptop with a battery that will last you through the day, you can definitely count on both MacBook Air and MacBook Pro 13.
This is likely the factor that will be of the greatest importance for most users when they are choosing between the Air or the Pro Macbook models. Performance is also where the two laptop variants differ the most, oftentimes in not-too-obvious ways.
Firstly, we need to talk about the CPU of these machines. Right from the get-go, the MacBook Air machines have a clear advantage since both price options come with 10th gen processors whereas only the two higher-price MacBook Pro models offer that. The two cheaper ones still sport older 8th gen CPUs. This, however, doesn’t tell the whole story. There are two major drawbacks related to the CPUs of the MacBook Air laptops:
The first one is that the cheaper $999 model’s processor has only two cores – something that even much cheaper laptops have more of. Of course, the number of cores isn’t the only thing that defines how good a processor is, yet it is certainly something to keep in mind when deciding what laptop you are going to buy. One nice thing to keep in mind here is that, if you pay an extra $100, you can get a quad-core i5 in place of the stock dual-core i3 CPU on the $999 MacBook Air version.
Another drawback of the MacBook Air CPUs is their low power consumption. In terms of frequency, the Air models have stronger CPUs but due to their limited watt power consumption/draw, they aren’t able to fully utilize this higher frequency, leading to overall weaker performance compared to the MacBook Pro models that, on paper, should have inferior performance. All in all, the CPUs of the Air models are more reliable, efficient, and don’t require as much battery consumption but, exactly because of this, they don’t offer the same performance capabilities as the CPUs of the MacBook Pro. Speaking of MacBook Pro, it’s worth reminding you that only the $1799 and the $1999 13-inch versions come with a 10th gen CPU and even the cheaper $1299 and $1499 price options are still more expensive than the entry-level MacBook Air, which costs only $999.
Both of the MacBook Pro 16-inch variants have 9th gen processors. The $2399 version has a six-core i7 CPU and the $2799 one’s processor is i9 with eight cores. Those two models are obviously the most powerful ones, offering the best performance.
The second factor we must focus on is the RAM of the two models. Here, the clear winner is the MacBook Air – it uses more modern and better optimized LPDDR4X memory sticks that have 3,733MHz compared to the older LPDDR3 ones with 2,133MHz used in the two cheaper MacBook Pro models. The higher-end MacBook pro versions also benefit from the 3,733MHz LPDDR4X RAM sticks but, of course, they cost significantly more compared to the two Air models.
The amount of memory offered by the two MacBook Air laptops is 8GB on both of them (with the option to pay extra to get it up to 16GB). On the other hand, the two cheaper MacBook Pro options come with 8GB of RAM (configurable up to 16GB) whereas the two more expensive variants offer 16GB (Configurable up to 32GB).
Unsurprisingly, the MacBook Pro 16-inch model comes with the highest amount of both stock and configurable RAM (16GB stock, 32/64GB configurable).
In terms of graphics, here the differences aren’t that discernible. The Air models and the two higher-end Pro ones sport Intel Iris Plus graphics cards and the two cheaper Pro models have an Intel Iris Plus Graphics 645 card. These are good and reliable GPUs but since they are integrated you shouldn’t expect wonders from them, especially if gaming is being considered. Then again, Macs are not machines primarily optimized for gaming so if you are thinking about getting a Mac, gaming is probably not your main concern.
Lastly, the storage on all of the MacBook models and price options mentioned here is SSD. Depending on the model and the price, the amount varies and there’s always the option to add more for an increase in the overall price. The cheapest MacBook Pro and Air options only have 256GB of SSD storage so bear this in mind if you are thinking about buying either of those machines – if you need more space, it might be worth to get the next price option or at least configure the current one to have at least an extra 256GB of storage.
Obviously, both 2020 MacBook models have quite a lot to offer to their users but there are undoubtedly some significant differences that set those two apart and make them better suited for different types of users.
In our opinion, if you are a regular user who cannot or simply doesn’t want to spend too much on their new Mac laptop, the two MacBook Air models are certainly the better choice, especially if you get the entry-level Air model that is priced at $999 and pay the extra hundred dollars to get the improved and more powerful quad-core i5 processor. Remember, you are still getting a 10th gen processor for only $999/$1099 if you go for this model and pricing variant. If you want a 10th gen processor on a MacBook Pro, the cheapest option would be $1799. Considering these factors, the entry-level MacBook Air customized with the more powerful i5 quad-core processor seems to be the perfect option for people who won’t need to put their laptop to the limit, forcing it to run the heaviest programs and perform the most complicated of tasks.
If, however, you are a power-user or someone who needs to have a highly-performing machine and you aren’t restricted by budget limitations, maybe you should consider getting the two higher-end MacBook Pro 13 inch models or, for maximum power, maybe even either of the 16 inch MacBook Pro price options – the $2399 (i7, six-core, 9th gen CPU) or the $2799 (i9, eight-core, 9th gen CPU) one. The MacBook Pro 13 inch and 16-inch options do indeed come with more power but their pricing is also significantly higher and buying one of them would only be worth it if you are indeed in need of a very powerful and potent machine that can handle even the most resource-intensive tasks and programs.
If you are at a crossroads deciding between the MacBook Air or the two cheaper MacBook Pro versions, in 9 out of 10 situations we’d say the better option would be the better optimized and more efficient MacBook Air models. Our advice is to go for MacBook Pro only if you are willing to spend a bit more money in order to get the two higher-end 10th get CPU options (the $1799 or the $1999 one). Otherwise, there’s more efficient Air models seem like the better choice for a user who wants to balance performance, power, and pricing when purchasing a new 2020 model laptop from Apple.