MacBook Air vs. MacBook Pro: Which MacBook Should You Buy?

Apple’s laptops are more streamlined than ever, now comprised of a 13-inch MacBook Air and 13-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro models. But it can still be tough deciding which MacBook to buy.

That’s where our MacBook Air vs. MacBook Pro guide comes in. Between the MacBook Air, the two 13-inch MacBook Pro models, and the 16-inch MacBook Pro, we’ll help you decide which laptop is worth your money by comparing price, features, performance, battery life and more. 

The new 16-inch MacBook Pro is the most capable Apple laptop, blending speedy CPUs with powerful audio and a gorgeous display, but it’s pricey. Some power users are better off with the new 13-inch MacBook Pro, which finally has the improved Magic Keyboard and 10th Gen CPUs — just be careful because the cheaper configs have only two Thunderbolt 3 ports and 8th Gen CPUs. Then there’s the MacBook Air 2020, a cheaper option that starts at just $999. It’s a good choice for a lot of folks but it has the most shortcomings of the bunch and received our lowest rating.  

Then again, you might want to wait to buy a MacBook as Apple is expected to release new laptops with custom ARM-based CPUs, not the Intel chips it has relied on for so many years. We don’t know what other features these ARM-powered laptops will flaunt but there’s a chance upcoming Macs will come with Face ID for fast and secure facial recognition login as well as Mini LED displays. We might even see the return of the 12-inch MacBook and the arrival of a 14-inch MacBook Pro in the coming weeks.

Black Friday 2020

Black Friday kicks off on November 27 and we expect to see tons of deals on the industry’s best laptops, including MacBooks, from now until then. Be sure to bookmark our Black Friday laptop deals page for this year’s exclusive deals on laptops. 

MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro: Specs compared

Best for MostMost Speed for $For MultitaskingFor Power UsersMacBook AirMacBook Pro 13 (Entry Level)MacBook Pro 13 (Premium)MacBook Pro 16-inchPrice$1,099$1,299$1,799$2,399CPU1.2-GHz 10th Gen Core i7 (Y-series)1.4-GHz 8th gen Intel Core i52.0-GHz 10th Gen Core i72.6-GHz 9th gen Core i7RAMUp to 16GBup to 16GBup to 32GBup to 64GBDisplay13.3 inches (2560 x 1600)13.3 inches (2560 x 1600)13.3 inches (2560 x 1600)16 inches (3072 x 1920)Ports2 Thunderbolt 3, headphone2 Thunderbolt 3, headphone4 Thunderbolt 3, headphone4 Thunderbolt 3, headphoneTouch BarNoYesYesYesGraphicsIntel Iris PlusIntel Iris 645Intel Iris Plus 655AMD Radeon Pro 5300M (4GB)Storageup to 2TBup to 2TBup to 4TBup to 10TBBattery Life (hrs)9:3110 hours (rated)10:2110:55Weight2.8 pounds3.1 pounds3.1 pounds4.3 pounds
MacBook Air (2020): Best value 

Pros: The new MacBook Air delivers almost everything you could want in an Apple laptop. Although the new MacBook Air 2020 hasn’t changed much, it’s still light and thin and the display bezels are relatively narrow. 

The best addition to the MacBook Air 2020 is the Magic Keyboard, which is far more comfortable and reliable than the previous Butterfly keyboard. We compared these two keyboards side-by-side and unanimously voted in favor of the new version due to its bouncier keys and improved layout. 

(Image credit: Future)

The screen is sharp, too, with a 2560 x 1600-pixel resolution. The latest version of the Air also has True Tone, which adjusts the color temperature on the display based on ambient lighting conditions.

Another feature is Touch ID, which makes it easy to unlock the system, make secure payments, and replace passwords.

Powered by a Y-series 10th-gen Core i3 processor, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD, the base specs for the new MacBook Air should provide enough oomph for everyday computing but not much more than that. We’re especially happy to see storage doubled from 128GB to 256GB, although the Core i3 CPU is a step down from the Core i5 in the previous base model. 

(Image credit: Future)

The MacBook Air’s battery life lasted for 9 hours and 30 minutes, which is a decent result if short of groundbreaking. The other MacBooks in this comparison last longer on a charge and deliver faster performance. Then again, they’re also heavier and more expensive. There are two Thunderbolt 3 ports aboard the Air. 

Cons: The Y Series Intel processor isn’t sluggish, but other MacBook and Windows laptops come with Intel’s more powerful U-series CPUs. You’ll want to step up to the entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro if you need more speed. Also, the Retina display on the MacBook Air is starting to look dated, with somewhat dull colors, and two USB-C ports aren’t enough for most people so be ready to use a dongle. 

See our full MacBook Air 2020 review

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Apple MacBook Air (13-inch,…

Apple MacBook Air (13-inch,…

MacBook Pro 13-inch (two Thunderbolt 3): Best for power users on a budget 

Pros: The 13-inch MacBook Pro crams a lot of power into a slim and lightweight (3 pounds) chassis — and now it has a good keyboard. Yes, the 13-inch MacBook Pro trades the unreliable Butterfly keyboard for the much more comfortable Magic Keyboard. 

This machine is only a bit heavier as the MacBook Air, but you get 8th Gen Core i5 U-series processor and Intel Iris graphics. The MacBook Pro also lasted a bit longer on our battery test than the Air. 

Apple brought the Touch Bar to the MacBook Pro, as well as a Touch ID sensor. The 13-inch MacBook Pro also offers a brighter display than the MacBook Air along with more powerful speakers.

Cons: Unfortunately, the base model MacBook Pro has only two Thunderbolt 3 ports versus four ports on the pricier MacBook Pro 13-inch. And while it is faster than the MacBook Air, the 8th Gen Intel Core i5 CPU in the base model is starting to look and feel dated. Oh, and it’s time for Apple to get rid of those unsightly display bezels.  

See our full 13-inch MacBook Pro (2019) review

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Apple 13″ MacBook Pro with…

Macbook Pro 13-inch (2020)

Apple 13″ MacBook Pro with…

MacBook Pro (13-inch) with 4 Thunderbolt ports: Best for most people

Pros: If you’re willing to spend $1,799, the MacBook Pro 13-inch (2020) is the fastest laptop in its class, packing a blazing 10th Gen Core i5 CPU, 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. In our testing, this MacBook Pro wiped the floor with most Windows laptops on both the Geekbench 5 benchmark and especially our SSD benchmark. And now you get all that power without having to deal with an awful keyboard because the new MacBook Pro was updated with a Magic Keyboard. 

This model also offers a bright and colorful True Tone display that adjusts its color based on ambient lighting, and it delivers on battery life with 10 hours and 21 minutes of juice. 

(Image credit: Future)

The Touch Bar screen above the keyboard provides all sorts of contextually relevant buttons and controls as you use various apps, but it’s not as good as having a full touchscreen.

This version of the 13-inch MacBook Pro also offers two more Thunderbolt ports than the $1,299 model and the MacBook Air.

Cons: This version of the 13-inch MacBook Pro is pricey. We’d also like to see Apple make the design a bit lighter while trimming down the screen bezels. Also, the Touch Bar is divisive and Apple would be better off using standard shortcut keys.

See our full MacBook Pro 13-inch (2020) review

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Apple 13″ MacBook Pro with…

Macbook Pro 13-inch (2020)

Apple 13″ MacBook Pro with…

MacBook Pro 16-inch: Best for power users

Pros: It all starts with the new keyboard. Yes, Apple finally ditched the Butterfly-style keyboard in favor of a more traditional scissor mechanism. The new keys not only offer better travel but they also feel soft yet clicky. 

Like the 15-inch model (which this version replaces), the 16-inch MacBook Pro provides exceptional performance whether you’re editing gobs of RAW photos, tackling 4K video editing projects or compiling code. The laptop comes equipped with your choice of three 9th Gen H-series Intel CPUs: a 6-core Core i7 (2.6Ghz), an 8-core Core i9 (2.3GHz) or an 8-core Core i9 (2.4GHz) chip.  

The base configuration packs an AMD Radeon Pro 5300M graphics card (with 4GB of VRAM), which can be upgraded to a Radeon Pro 5500M GPU with either 4GB or 8GB of memory. Similar to its predecessor, the MacBook Pro has four Thunderbolt 3 ports onboard for plugging in peripherals.

Apple’s Retina displays are consistently beautiful but the new MacBook Pro’s 16-inch, 3072 x 1920-resolution panel is the best yet, and not just because it’s large. The screen is crisp, vivid and bright, and surrounded by relatively thin bezels.

Another perk is the 6-speaker system with force-canceling woofers that offers incredible sound quality (easily the best of any laptop). The 16-inch MacBook Pro lasted for 10 hours and 55 minutes in our battery test, which is a great result considering the performance it brings to the table.

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

Cons: Photographers might be miffed that they can’t plug in an SD card; instead, they’ll have to use a card reader and plug it into one of the four Thunderbolt 3 ports. You also don’t get full-size USB ports.

While the base model 16-inch MacBook Pro comes with more storage — 512GB — for the same price as its predecessor, a $2,399 starting price is still hard to ignore. 

The machine is also heavier and thicker than the 15-inch MacBook Pro and there is no Face ID for unlocking the device using facial recognition. 

See our full 16-inch MacBook Pro review

To find out more about how much longer Apple will keep your MacBook healthy, read our comprehensive Apple Warranty Check guide.

How we test MacBook laptops

We put MacBooks through extensive benchmark testing — both synthetic and real-world — before they end up in the hands of our reviewers. We evaluate everything from speed and battery life to display brightness, speaker volume and system heat.

We use a Klein K10 colorimeter to detect the brightness and sRGB color gamut of a laptop’s display. For performance benchmarking, we run the laptop through a gauntlet of benchmarks, including Geekbench 4.3 and 5.0 and 3DMark professional graphics tests. 

To determine real-world performance, we task the laptop to convert a 4K video to 1080p resolution and to duplicate a 4.97GB multimedia file. Our real-world graphics test is the Dirt 3 benchmark with medium settings and 1080p resolution. 

We also run heat tests by playing a 15-minute full-screen video and our battery test consists of continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi at 150 nits of brightness. We consider everything over the category average (8 hours and 36 minutes) to be a good result. Of course, these tests are complemented with hands-on testing from our reviewers.


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