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If you want to join the Apple family, the question is, do you opt for the MacBook Air, or the MacBook Pro? The answer, in very simple terms, is this:
- Want an all-rounder for general office and home use? Get the MacBook Air
- Need a (just about affordable) laptop for heavy duty graphic work and complex editing? Get the 13-inch MacBook Pro
- Need the best laptop possible as an investment for your career in design? Get the 16-inch MacBook Pro
There’s some nuance to this – including which of the MacBook Pro variants to choose between. The most important thing is to understand what your own needs are ahead of picking up a MacBook. If you’re keen to invest in an Apple laptop, it’s now a decision that boils down to the MacBook Pro or the MacBook Air, as Apple ditched the 12-inch MacBook in 2019.
Known for their premium design, and a mainstay of socially-distanced coffee shops everywhere, MacBooks have a reputation as speedy, capable laptops that are a joy to use. You’re unlikely to meet a MacBook user with much negative to say about their laptop of choice. Whether you end up with the Air or the Pro, we’re confident you’ll be over the moon with it, and join the legions of MacBook owners who speak so lovingly about their laptops.
In this guide:
- MacBook Air or MacBook Pro: Which is Best?
- MacBook Air: Highlights, Pros and Cons
- MacBook Pro: Highlights, Pros and Cons
- Best All Rounder: MacBook Air
- Best for Value: MacBook Air
- Best for Power Users: MacBook Pro
- Best for Portability: MacBook Air
- Best for Screen Quality: MacBook Pro
- Best MacBook for Working From Home
MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro: Head to Head
Below, we compare the key specs of the MacBook Air and the various MacBook Pro models to help you decide which is best. The good news? There’s no such thing as “a bad MacBook”. The most important thing is not choosing a model that’s overkill for your own needs – as the prices get very steep, very fast.
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Measured diagonally across.
In pixels - the higher the number, the greater the screen detail.
As claimed by the manufacturer – actual performance will vary depending on daily tasks.
The built in storage space for files, programs, apps and the operating system
More RAM tends to help a computer to run quickly and multitask
For MacBooks, this is the newer style of keyboard, replacing the unpopular Butterfly keyboard
Runs along the top of the keyboard, lets you give certain commands depending on the program running
For secure login by fingerprint recognition
BEST EVERYDAY MAC
BEST VALUE PRO
MOST POWERFUL MACBOOK
MacBook Pro 13
MacBook Pro 16 (2021)
Entry level MacBook still boasts impressive power
Lots of power, a brilliant screen and an improved keyboard make this the perfect MacBook for demanding users, though the Air is cheaper
The biggest and best MacBook on the market and great for graphic designers – provided they can afford it
2560 x 1600
2560 x 1600
3456 x 2234
Apple M1 Chip
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Apple M1 Chip
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MacBook Air or MacBook Pro: Which is Best?
Both the MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro are excellent laptops in their own right, but which one to opt for depends on what you’ll be using it for.
- The Air is the thinnest, and it's lighter than the Pro models
- The Air is a better choice for simple day-to-day use such as browsing and email
- The 13-inch Pro is the cheapest Pro model
- The Pro 16-inch is the most expensive model, aimed at design professionals
- The Air only comes with a 13-inch screen, whereas the Pro comes in either 13 or 16-inch sizes, both with sub-variants for processors and RAM
- All Pro models now have the unique ‘Touch Bar’ above the keyboard
Both the Pro and the Air are beautifully designed and offer excellent battery life, at around 15 – 17 hours between charges. This makes them excellent travel companions, no matter which model you go for.
As for which is best? We’ve got you covered. Our guide will help you work out exactly which model will work best for you.
MacBook Air: Highlights, Pros and Cons
- Incredibly light and slim
- Apple’s cheapest MacBook
- Dedicated Apple M1 processor
- Retina display
It would be fair to say that Apple neglected the MacBook Air for some time, but in 2018, it got serious overhaul, and since then, Apple has shown it some real affection. The latest 2020 model has been kitted out with Apple's dedicated M1 processor, instead of the Intel processors of old, and it's better than it has ever been.
Recent redesigns have taken cues from the MacBook Pro too, including finally getting a highly detailed Retina screen. It’s also had its speakers moved to the sides of the keyboard, rather than underneath, making the sound more impactful and clearer.
As you might expect, the Air is light and slim. It’s a great option for anyone who travels a lot with their laptop and doesn’t want to be inconvenienced by a weighty set-up. It also boasts incredible battery life, at 15 hours – an achievement that has other laptop manufacturers drooling. And for newly remote workers, it should handle most business tasks, from spreadsheets to emails.
That said, the Air doesn’t have the necessary grunt for heavy lifting tasks – think graphics editing, giant spreadsheets full of macros, or video work. For those tasks, that’s why the Pro exists.
- Cheapest MacBook
- 15 hour battery
- Light and easy to carry
- Not suited to graphics-heavy tasks
MacBook Pro: Highlights, Pros and Cons
- Available in 13-inch, 14-inch, and 16-inch sizes
- Powerful specs
- Retina screen
- Touch Bar on some models
- Dedicated graphics card on some Pro models
In the MacBook line up, the Pro is the pinnacle, making it the most desirable (and costly) laptop bearing the Apple badge. The reason for this is that it is stuffed with tech, from fast processors (up to i7 or M1 Max), to dedicated Radeon graphics cards.
The MacBook Pro is a beast of a laptop, designed to tackle complex video editing and graphical processing with ease.
The Pro models are also the models in which you'll deal with the controversial Touch Bar, a thin touch screen that sits at the top of the keyboard and offers a context sensitive control panel: Apple introduced it as an option for earlier Pro models, but walked it back for the 14- and 16-inch versions that debuted in 2021. So, if you loved the Touch Bar, stick with the cheaper and still sturdy 13-inch, but if you hated it, the powerful new 16-inch is for you.
It all sounds rosy for the Pro, but it comes at a price. Literally. The Pro is the priciest laptop in the MacBook line up, and can run you up to $3,499 if you opt for the 16-inch model with 1TB of storage and a blisteringly fast 10-core M1 Max processor. That’s not one for the budget conscious, but it’s a serious asset for design professionals.
To keep your budget down, but still get plenty of power, we’d recommend the 13-inch MacBook Pro without a Touch Bar. This model is the cheapest Pro, but still packs in enough power for all but the most demanding users.
One other thing – if you were impressed with the Air's 15 hour battery life, then please stand to applaud the Pro, which can manage an incredible 17 hours battery life between charges.
The MacBook Pro line starts from around $1,300 – click to compare MacBook Pro prices on Amazon
- Magic Keyboard
- Touch Bar
- Apple M1 or Intel Processor
- Price bump from Air
Buy on Amazon
Best All Rounder: MacBook Air
The MacBook Air is pitched as Apple’s entry-level laptop. That’s a slight misnomer, as tech-wise, it blows most entry-level Windows models out of the water. With the Air, you’re paying for a laptop that will cruise its way through your daily tasks. It will let you handily juggle your social media activity, Netflix binging, web browsing and most tasks a remote workplace can dish out.
Yeah, the MacBook Pro can do all that too. But, it would be like buying a flamethrower to make toast – impressive, but overkill.
The MacBook Air represents the best of Apple’s laptop line up for the everyday user, suiting their needs, and their pocket, too.
Best for Value: MacBook Air
The term ‘value’ might not seem like it has a place in Apple’s line up – if you’re looking for a bargain, you won’t find one here. Apple has long built its reputation on offering high end computing equipment that is desirable, not affordable.
However, its cheapest laptop is the MacBook Air, at $999. We know that's hardly pocket change, but trust us, for what you get here, it's a great investment. Treat it well, and the Air will last you years of daily use, with stunning battery life and buttery smooth performance.
You're saving a couple of hundred dollars compared to the entry level Pro, which admittedly is a more powerful machine, but unless you're looking to take on some intensive work and put your laptop through its paces, the Air will do you proud.
Thin, powerful and portable, it's a great package for $999, and have you ever met an Apple owner who regretted their purchase? Exactly.
Best for Power Users: MacBook Pro 16
Let’s be clear – while the Pro has more raw processing muscle, the Air is still no slouch, and will happily breeze through most of the tasks that you throw at it without breaking a sweat.
However, it’s the Pro that really kicks things up a gear. If you’re looking to do anything graphically intense, or some serious number crunching, this is the one to go for.
First up, the Pro has a more capable graphics processor than the Air, which relies on its integrated chip. Upgrade to the 16-inch Pro model and it comes with a dedicated AMD Radeon Pro graphics card – this gives the 16-inch Pro a significant boost when handling graphics. Sure, you can play Fortnite on it at a decent frame rate, but, more importantly, it can power through intensive media editing or graphic rendering with relative ease.
Then, there’s the processors. The Air comes with a dedicated Apple M1 processor. If all you tend to do is browse the web, stream and email, then this really is more than enough.
The Pro, though goes up to a mighty 3.2 GHz 10-core M1 Max in the 16-inch model, should your wallet allow it — that's a step up even from the 2019 version of the 16-inch, which topped out with a 2.3GHz 8-core Intel i9.
In basic terms, this means that the Pro is a powerhouse. The MacBook Pro series is scalable depending on what your needs (and budget) are. In a 100 meter race, the 16-inch Pro would be signing autographs at the finish line while the Air was still listening for the starting gun.
- Largest MacBook screen
- Stuffed with killer specs
- Long lasting
- 16-inch screen could be overkill for some
Buy on Amazon
Best for Portability: MacBook Air
If there’s one thing that Apple is famed for, it’s design. The company has been responsible for spawning thousands of imitators and a lot of modern tech devices owe their shells to Apple’s influence in some way. Most tablets look like iPads, most phones look like iPhones, and there certainly isn’t a lack of high-end laptops that look rather familiar…
Portability is a key element of Apple’s design philosophy, with its teams constantly shaving millimetres and ounces from line up. The peak of this was the launch of the original Air, which at the time was heavily advertised as being able to fit into an A4 envelope. It might have lost some impact today, but at a time when most laptops were knee-crushing behemoths, it was practically black magic. While there has been some friendly rivalry in recent years between the Air and MacBook models, with both vying to be the thinnest and lightest, the Air holds the current crown, and it is as svelte as an Instagram model’s airbrushed beach shot.
Weighing in at 1.29kg and with a height of 0.63-inches, it’s a great laptop for slipping into a bag (or A4 envelope, if you prefer). That’s not to say that the MacBook Pro is a chunky brick, by any means. It’s also been shaved down to a satisfyingly slim and compact shape, but the Air is the ultimate laptop for portability.
Best for Screen Quality: MacBook Pro
If screen quality is important to you, then you’ve come to the right brand. Apple’s laptop displays are hard to beat. Even the Air has now been bestowed its Retina display, with a 2560×1600 screen that is vibrant and offers stunning color reproduction.
It’s the Pro though that goes the extra mile, though, with a Retina display that's both notably brighter. The 16-inch model boosts the resolution even higher for an impressive 3456-by-2234 native resolution that packs 254 pixels per inch.
Best MacBook for Working from Home
The ongoing pandemic has seen many of us swapping our desks and coffeeshops for the kitchen counter and couch. Ironically, one of the MacBook's biggest strength, it's battery life, is somewhat moot for many of us working from home, although it is nice to know you can move from room to room without restraint.
As for the best model for home working, realistically, any of them will do you proud, although designers and anyone with the need for beefy processor power will need a Pro – and we'd suggest that the 16-inch model will give the benefit of comfort as you're spending all day looking at a screen, thanks to those extra three inches.
Don't forget to consider how you want your MacBook to fit into your home set up. A second monitor, keyboard and mouse can really make a big difference for little outlay, and it's easy to set up the MacBook this way (though you'll probably need to invest in a Thunderbolt to HDMI convertor, depending on your second display).
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