MacBook Pro vs MacBook Air: Which 13-inch MacBook should you buy?

If you can afford to fork out for a new 13-inch Apple laptop, we've got two questions. First, can we borrow a fiver? And second, which is better, the MacBook Air, or the MacBook Pro?

Luke Westaway
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So you're keen on a MacBook, eh? We don't blame you -- they're just about the slickest, most elegantly designed laptops money can buy, although you will have to auction off a kidney if you want to buy one. But what's more important -- power or portability? The all-new 13-inch MacBook Pro and the 13-inch MacBook Air can be acquired for roughly the same sum, so we're pitting them against each other to find out which laptop is more deserving of your cash.

Click through our photos above to ogle these two Apple laptops side by side, and read on as we guide you through the major differences between the Air and the Pro. The 13-inch Air will set you back at least £1,122, while the 13-inch MacBook Pro will cost you £999 minimum. Both models can have their components upgraded if you're willing to pay even more, though.

Design and portability

Making pretty things has always been Apple's strong suit, and these two MacBooks are prime examples of Cupertino design intelligence. Both machines look fantastic, and the aluminium unibody construction means they're also reasonably sturdy.

But as you probably already know, the MacBook Air has a killer advantage -- it's mind-shatteringly thin and feather-light. Not only could you slice cheese with the Air, it's so slender it'll happily slide into any rucksack or bag. The Air is just 3mm thick at its tip, and an impressive 17mm at its thickest point (the hinge that connects the chassis to the screen). The whole lot weighs a mere 1.32kg, meaning you'll hardly notice it if you're humping it around all day.

The 13-inch Pro boasts much chunkier dimensions. It clocks in at 325 by 227 by 24mm, and while it's still slim enough to fit in most bags without too much stress, it's also half a kilogram heavier at 2.04kg.

We'd hardly call the MacBook Pro cumbersome, but measured against the Air, it starts to look less like a laptop and more like a giant immovable monolith. If portability is your singular priority, the Air has the Pro utterly beat.

Although the Air's stupendous lack of girth is technically very impressive, there are a couple of elements to the Pro's design we prefer.

Firstly, you'll notice the Air has an aluminium surround to its display, while the MacBook Pro's screen is ensconced in the more luxurious black glossy bezel. We think the black version looks a little classier. Secondly, the Air doesn't have the backlit keyboard that graces the Pro -- as any MacBook Pro owner will testify, those backlit keys come in dead handy if you're tapping out emails in low light.

Winner: MacBook Air.


The MacBook Air comes packing a 1.86GHz Intel Core 2 Duo CPU, and 2GB of RAM. That's not much memory at all, and you'll have to fork out extra dosh if you want to upgrade the Air to a more capable 4GB. The processor, meanwhile, is looking rather long in the tooth -- Core 2 Duo is hardly cutting-edge hardware.

The Air has a dedicated graphics card (something the 13-inch Pro actually can't boast) in the shape of an Nvidia GeForce 320M GPU, but don't expect great performance from the Air. Our review model coped fine with HD video, but don't expect it to handle much gaming.

The Pro fares better. The new models are rocking Intel's latest Core i-Series processors. The 13-inch model comes with a Core i5 chip as standard, and if you feel like splashing out extra cash you can go for a Core i7 CPU, though we wouldn't recommend it -- without the more powerful graphics card you'd get on the 15-inch model, we reckon the Core i5 model is better value.

All things considered, the Pro offers superior performance -- while both machines run ordinary tasks and handle HD video with impressive fluidity, the Air will probably let you down if you need to do anything that requires any more computational grunt.

Winner: MacBook Pro.


The very first MacBook Air's port selection was laughably poor -- only one USB port and not a whole lot else. The newest Air's offering is better, but if you've got a bunch of stuff you want to plug in, it's still very limited. On the 13-inch model you'll find an SD-card slot, two USB 2.0 ports, a Mini DisplayPort slot, a socket for plugging in your headphones and, er, that's it.

There's no Ethernet port, so you'll be relegated to using only Wi-Fi if you want to go online. There's no optical drive, either.

The MacBook Pro, however, fares well in terms of holes you can stick stuff in. Ethernet, FireWire, two USB 2.0 ports, a headphones socket, SD card slot and the brand-new Thunderbolt port, which is fairly useless right now because there's nothing to plug into it, but one day will provide rapid data transfer. You can already use the Thunderbolt port to export your MacBook's video feed, though, using a DisplayPort cable.

Winner: MacBook Pro.

Battery life

When we reviewed these machines we battery tested the pair of them by running an HD video clip on a loop and timing how long it took to burn through a full charge.

The MacBook Air lasted an impressive 3 hours and 10 minutes before giving up the ghost. The MacBook Pro managed an even more impressive 3 hours and 30 minutes. That's not a great deal of difference, and both these machines will offer considerably more battery life if you're using them more responsibly.

Winner: MacBook Pro. But not by much.


The MacBook Pro comes with 320GB or 500GB storage options, and you can upgrade to a 750GB hard drive if you want, or 128GB, 256GB or 512GB solid-state drives, but that's going to be very expensive. The 512GB SSD, for example, will cost you an extra £960.

The MacBook Air offers either 128GB or 256GB of solid-state storage. Now, in terms of capacity, that's a worse deal, but solid-state flash storage is better than a traditional hard drive in several respects.

For one thing, it's way faster. The Pro's hard drives all spin at a maximum of 5,400rpm, which isn't too fast even for a SATA drive. Flash storage, however, is way faster, which boosts performance.

It's also far more reliable. Because flash drives don't have all the fragile moving parts you'd find on traditional hard drives, they're more durable and less likely to conk out if your laptop suffers an accidental knock. Capacity isn't everything, and we think flash storage is a major selling point for the Air.

Winner: MacBook Air.

And the winner is...

These are both great machines, but we suspect that over the product's lifetime you'll be happier with the MacBook Pro. The Air is astonishingly thin and lovingly designed, and flash storage is really cool too. But better performance and a healthy selection of ports is worth the extra half a kilo in our opinion. Plus, the thought of being caught in a Wi-Fi-less hotel room for a week with no Ethernet port scares us senseless.

The Air is a great machine if you can be sure you'll never fall afoul of its shortcomings, but when you're shelling out over a grand, our advice is to play it safe and go Pro.

Overall winner: MacBook Pro.

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That's the Air on the left and the Pro on the right.
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The tip of the Air is extremely thin, as you can see.
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Here's the right side of both machines.
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And the left. You can see the Air's port selection is pretty shocking.
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The Pro offers the new Thunderbolt port.
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Here's the Air side on. Compare that to...
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...the heavier, squarer MacBook Pro.
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Both machines are highly usable...
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...but only the Pro has a backlit keyboard.
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From this angle, you can see the difference in design.
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But from above, they look the same.
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The Pro offers better performance, thanks to higher-spec hardware on the inside.

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