MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro review: 13in Mac laptop battle

If you are looking for a new Mac laptop there are a number of factors to consider when deciding which model is the one for you. Should you buy the MacBook Air or MacBook Pro Retina? Do you need the Retina display? Would a lighter and cheaper model be better for you? How much power do you need from your Mac laptop?

Apple unveiled new MacBook Pro and MacBook Air models at its 9 March 2015 press event. For more details, take a look at our New 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro (early 2015) review, our 13in 2015 MacBook Air review, and our 11in 2015 MacBook Air review. We also have a preview of the new MacBook.

[Note, on 19 May the 15in MacBook Pro was updated, read our review of the 2015 2.5GHz 15in MacBook Pro here and the 2.2 GHz 2015 MacBook Pro here.]

The question of whether to buy a 13-inch MacBook Air (from £849) or MacBook Pro with Retina display (from £999) may look like it has an obvious answer - surely it is worth spending £150 more to get the pro model.

We've always felt that the pricing of the two models is too similar, it makes the differentiation between consumer and professional model less clear, while some question the 'Pro'aspect to the 13in Retina model, suggesting that it isn't truely a professional machine. There was a brief period after Apple updated the MacBook Air on 29 April 2014 when, having reduced the price of the MacBook Air, the price difference between the 13in Air and Pro models was a much more significant £250. However, when Apple reduced prices on the MacBook Pro Retina in July the price difference went back to £150.

Back in 2013, when there was just £150 difference between the 2013 13in models, our advice was that if you were on the market for a new laptop it was worth paying a few pounds more and getting the MacBook Pro with Retina display. Read on to find out if we still think the same way about this year's generation of 13in MacBooks.

Back in 2014, Apple added a low-cost iMac that offered comparable specs to that year's MacBook Air, and a comparable price to its line up. We compare the new entry-level iMac and the MacBook Air here. The company also released a new Mac mini with similar specs at the entry level, you can read more about the 1.4GHz Mac mini here. Now the entry level MacBook Air has a 1.6GHz processor, it should prove an even better machine than these entry-level Mac desktops that are crippled by their slower hard drives as opposed to the flash storage used by the Air. 

Apple has also added a new MacBook with a Retina display. Read this article with everything you need to know about the new Retina MacBook, plus read our comparison review of the MacBook Air and the MacBook, find out which is the best lightweight laptop.

Watch our comparison of the 13-inch MacBook Air from 2013 and the 13-inch 2013 MacBook Pro with Retina display. Many of the factors in the decision of which MacBook to buy are still the same...

 

We also share our 5 reasons to buy a MacBook Air and 5 reasons NOT to buy a MacBook Air.  Still not sure which Mac to buy? Read our Which Mac buyers guide.

13in MacBook Pro vs MacBook Air: dimensions and weight

When it launched in 2008 the MacBook Air was the lightest laptop available. Over the years that followed the weight of the MacBook Pro has also declined. We weigh up the differences between the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro.

The 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display weighs almost the same as the 2013 and 2014 models at 1.58kg, both of those models were 50g lighter than the 2012 Retina MacBook Pro, at 1.57 kg. We're not sure why Apple is admitting that the new models are 10g heavier, on indeed, why they are slighly heaview, but obviously it's not going to make a difference.

The 2014 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display is a bit heavier than the 13-inch MacBook Pro, at 2.02 kg, and the same weight as the 2012 model.

Both models are just 1.8 cm thick. In 2012 the 13-inch model was a tiny bit thicker at 1.9 cm, the thickness of the 15-inch model hasn't changed.

The 2015 11-inch MacBook Air is 490g lighter than the lightest Retina MacBook Pro, at 1.08 kg. While the MacBook Air gives the impression of being slimmer thanks to its tapered edge, it's still 1.7 cm at the thickest point (0.3am at the thinnest), that's just one millimeter different to the MacBook Pro's 1.8cm edge. The 2013 11-inch MacBook Air and the 2014 11in MacBook Air were the same weight as the same as the 2015 model.

The 2015 13-inch MacBook Air model is probably a farer comparison with the 13in MacBook Pro Retina, and that weighs in at 1.35 kg, just 220 g less than the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina. The 2015 13-inch MacBook Air weighs the same as the 2014 and 2013 model. It's edge is just as thin as that on the 11in MacBook.

You might presume that the dimensions of both 13in MacBooks would be the same, but you may be surprised to learn that not only are they not the same, the MacBook Air is actually a fraction bigger. The 13in Retina MacBook Pro is 31.4cm by 21.9cm, while the 13in MacBook Air is 32.5cm by 22.7cm.

If you are curious about how the new MacBook fits in to this, it weighs 0.92kg - less even than the 11in MacBook Air, and its dimensions are 28.05cm by 19.65cm, and just 0.35cm-1.31cm thick.

Compare the different generations of MacBook Air: 13in 2015 MacBook Air review, and 11in 2015 MacBook Air review, versus 2014 13in MacBook Air and 2014 11in MacBook Air review.


2015 MacBook Air, 11-inch dimensions

  • Height 0.3-1.7cm
  • Width 30cm
  • Depth 19.2
  • Weight 1.08kg

2015 MacBook Air, 13-inch dimensions

  • Height 0.3-1.7cm
  • Width 32.5cm
  • Depth 22.7
  • Weight 1.35kg

2015 Retina MacBook Pro, 13-inch dimensions

  • Height 1.8cm
  • Width 31.4cm
  • Depth 21.9cm
  • Weight 1.58kg

2015 Retina MacBook Pro, 15-inch dimensions

  • Height 1.8cm
  • Width 35.89cm
  • Depth 24.71cm
  • Weight 2.02kg

2015 Retina MacBook, 12-inch dimensions

  • Height 0.35-1.31cm
  • Width 28.05cm
  • Depth 19.65cm
  • Weight 0.92kg

BUYING ADVICE: MacBook Air v Pro dimensions and weight

The 13in MacBook Air is still the lightest 13-inch laptop from Apple, but the MacBook Pro is not far behind. The surprising thing is that the MacBook Pro with Retina display is actually slightly smaller in terms of width and depth, and only one milimeter thicker than the MacBook Air at it's thickest point. You no longer need to sacrifice power for portability. However, if it's the lighest Apple laptop you are after, the 11in MacBook Air may be for you, or the 12in MacBook, which is the lightest Apple Mac ever.


MacBook Pro vs MacBook Air: price and specs comparison

When it first launched in October 2012, the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display started at £1,449. This was reduced to £1,249 a few months later when the range received a processor upgrade. The entry-level MacBook Pro with Retina display cost £1,099, until July 2014, when Apple dropped the entry-level price to an even more compelling £999.

Since 29 April 2014, the MacBook Air pricing has started at £749 for the 11in model, that's £100 less than the 2013 equivalent, which started at £849. However, if you wanted to compare like-for-like, the 13-inch MacBook Air pricing starts at £849, £150 less than the Retina display model.

In fact the closest comparison is the £999 13in MacBook Air with 256GB PCIe flash storage, 1.6GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor, Intel HD Graphics 6000, 4GB memory and 12 hour battery.

The £999 MacBook Pro with Retina display offers less flash storage, at 128GB and the battery doesn't last as long, but it features a 2.7GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor, Intel Iris Graphics 6100 and 8GB memory.

The key differences are the faster processor (2.7GHz compared to 1.6GHz), Intel Iris Graphics as opposed to the Intel HD Graphics, and 8GB RAM rather than 4GB RAM. If you are set on the bigger SSD then you could always opt for the £1,199 model with the 256GB flash drive.

Admittedly there is a bigger leap from £999 to £1,199 (£200), but If it's storage that you need then you might prefer to buy an external hard drive or NAS drive and use that - it will likely cost you less than £200.

On the other hand, if it's the RAM you are interested in, it costs £80 to boost the RAM in a MacBook Air to 8GB (which we would recommend you do).

MacBook Air

MacBook Pro


2015 MacBook Air, 13-inch, £849

  • 128GB PCIe flash storage
  • 1.6GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor
  • Turbo Boost up to 2.7GHz
  • Intel HD Graphics 6000
  • 4GB memory
  • 12 hour battery

2015 MacBook Air, 13-inch, £999

  • 256GB PCIe flash storage
  • 1.6GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor
  • Turbo Boost up to 2.7GHz
  • Intel HD Graphics 6000
  • 4GB memory
  • 12 hour battery

2015 MacBook Pro, 13-inch, £999

  • 128GB PCIe flash storage
  • 2.7 GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor
  • Turbo Boost up to 3.1GHz
  • Intel Iris Graphics 6100
  • 8GB memory (up from 4GB in 2013 model)
  • 10 hour battery

2015 MacBook Pro, 13-inch, £1,099

  • 256GB PCIe flash storage
  • 2.7 GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor
  • Turbo Boost up to 3.1GHz
  • Intel Iris Graphics 6100
  • 8GB memory
  • 10 hour battery

2015 MacBook Pro, 13-inch, £1,399

  • 512GB PCIe flash storage
  • 2.9 GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor
  • Turbo Boost up to 3.3GHz
  • Intel Iris Graphics 6100
  • 8GB memory
  • 10 hour battery

BUYING ADVICE: price and specs comparison

The MacBook Air might be the cheapest option, but you get a lot more power and features from the MacBook Pro with Retina display. The one place where the £999 Retina model lets itself down is that the storage space is less than the £999 Air. If the storage space is crucial to you, you might prefer to spend £200 more on the £1,199 MacBook Pro Retina, or you could purchase a separate external hard drive. To demonstrate that you don't necessarily get better specs for your money, the new MacBook costs more, but has lower specs.


MacBook Pro v MacBook Air: Power and processors 

There's an even bigger difference between the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro than the size of the SSD and the amount of RAM included. In terms of processor the 1.6GHz of the MacBook Air compared to the 2.7GHz MacBook Pro looks like a massive difference. 

We tested the 2.7GHz MacBook and it reported a Geekbench 3 result of 3,326 points in single-core mode and 7,100 points in multi-core mode (this is better than 2014's best model with its 2.8GHz Intel Core i5 - it measured with 3307 and 7086 points respectively. This is despite the slower clock speed. Read more about our lab tests of the 2.7GHz MacBook Pro here.

When we ran the same tests on the MacBook Air it scored 2,912 points in single-core mode, and 5,821 points multi-core mode.

With Turbo Boost the difference is less pronounced: 2.7GHz compare to 3.1GHz (Turbo Boost on both models is the same as in 2014). Turbo Boost is a function offered by Intel's processors that overclocks the core frequency when you are running an application that requires more power.

Whether you notice any difference depends a lot on what kind of tasks you are using the MacBook for. If you do little more than surf the web stream TV shows and movies, and send emails, you probably won't notice a huge difference. If you are playing games, or doing intensive work, like editing the next Hollywood blockbuster, then you will probably find the MacBook Air struggling at times.

Both processors are from Intel's Broadwell range. However, Intel is set to launch a new processor, codename Skylake, later this year and this new processor is likely to find its way into Apple's Macs before long.

Skylake is expected to make an apperance at Intel's Developer Forum in August 2015, and may be the reason why Apple hasn't yet updated the 15in MacBook Pro models.


2014 MacBook Air, 13-inch - price & processor

  • 1.6GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor, £849
  • Turbo Boost up to 2.7GHz 

2014 MacBook Pro, 13-inch - price & processor

  • 2.7 GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor, £999
  • Turbo Boost up to 3.1GHz 

BUYING ADVICE: Power and processors

If you want the best processor available then the MacBook Pro with Retina display is still the obvious choice, but note that when the Mac needs to power up Turbo Boost should make a big difference.


Read:

Will Apple discontinue the non-Retina MacBook Pro?

Apple Mac i5 vs i7 processor buying advice

Which MacBook should I buy?


13in MacBook Pro v MacBook Air: Battery life

Where processor speed is clearly in the MacBook Pro's favour, another potentially critical feature is battery life, and this time it is the MacBook Air that shines.

Like last year's MacBook Air models, the latest 2015 versions offer very decent battery life.

Since the 2013 MacBook Air launch, Apple has been able to claim that the 13-inch MacBook Air offers battery life that will last a full working day. The 13in MacBook Air offers 12 hours of battery life, basically a whole day, while the 11in model offers 9 hours. That compares to seven hours for the 2012 MacBook Air.

In our battery tests back when the 2013 MacBook Air models launched we found that the battery life was even better than that claimed by Apple. In our MobileMark 2007 Productivity Test the MacBook Air ran for 13 hours and 57 minutes.

The new more power efficient processor in the MacBook Air should allow for better battery life, but when we ran tests we found that there was little difference between the 2014 and 2015 models. The 2014 MacBook Air ran for 12hr 38min while the 2015 counterpart played for 12hr 49min in our tests.

With regards to the 13in Retina MacBook Pro, in 2012 you could get 7 hours use on a charge; but in the past few generations of MacBooks, battery life of the 13in model has been an improved 9 hours, according to Apple, although in our tests of the 2014's 13-inch MacBook Pro Retina we managed just shy of 10 hours – 9 hrs 55 mins in fact.

In the latest MacBook Pro the battery life is even better. Apple claims that battery life is 10 hours, that extra hour no doubt eaked out by utilising the power efficient Broadwell chip. When we tested the battery in the 2.7GHz MacBook Pro we found it lasted an amazing 17 hr 5 min. Our standard battery runtime test (the same as we used last year) involves looping an MPEG-4 HD film in QuickTime, streamed over Wi-Fi from a nearby NAS and router, with screen set precisely to 120 cd/m^2. We are running these tests again because they are so astonishing to make us doubt them!

Incidentally, the new 12in MacBook also offers 10 hours battery life, depending on what you use it for.


2015 Retina MacBook Pro, 13-inch

  • 10 hour battery

2015 MacBook Air, 13-inch

  • 12 hour battery

BUYING ADVICE: Battery life

If it's the maximum battery life you need then there is still a significant difference between the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro, it's how important those extra hours are to you that matters. If you will be using the MacBook on the move then both the weight of the MacBook Air, and it's superb battery life are likely to swing it in your favour - unless our tests are correct and the MacBook Pro really offers the astounding 17 hours we found in our original tests!


13in MacBook Pro v MacBook Air: specs and build-to-order options

There are three 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro options available and two 13-inch MacBook Air options. There are also a number of build-to-order options across both ranges. You may, for example, wish to add more RAM to your MacBook Air at point of purchase because you will not be able to upgrade it later, and 4GB may not prove to be enough in a few years time.

In the MacBook Pro Retina line up you have the £999, 2.7 GHz, 8GB memory, and 128GB flash storage already mentioned. The mid-range model is also 2.7 GHz, 8GB RAM, but boasts 256GB flash storage, that extra storage brings the cost to £1,199.(That's a bump of £200 to get you from 128GB to 256GB storage, while on the MacBook Air range the bump from 128GB to 256GB storage costs an extra £150).

The flagship 13-inch model offers 2.9GHz (up from 2.8GHz in 2014), 8GB RAM, 512GB flash storage for £1,399 (£100 less than in 2013). You can max out the top of the range 13-inch Retina model with a 3.1GHz i7 processor for an extra £170, 16GB RAM for £160, and 1TB flash storage for £400.

The two 2015 13-inch MacBook Air options include the £849, 1.6 GHz, with 4GB memory, 128GB storage and the top-of-the-range 1.6GHz, 4GB memory, 256GB flash storage option, which is £150 more at £999. You are paying £150 extra for a higher capacity flash storage drive; there is no other difference between the two models.

In both cases you can max out your processor to the 2.2GHz Intel i7 for an extra £130, and 8GB memory for £80. There's a 512GB flash storage option on the high-end model for an additional £240. 


13in MacBook Pro Retina line up

  • £999: 2.7GHz, 8GB RAM, 128GB flash storage
  • £1,199: 2.7Hz, 8GB RAM, 256GB flash storage
  • £1,399: 2.9GHz, 8GB RAM, 512GB flash storage

Build-to-order options:

  • £170: 3.1 GHz i7
  • £160: 16GB RAM
  • £400: 1TB flash storage

13in 2015 MacBook Air line up

  • £849: 1.6 GHz, 4GB memory, 128GB storage
  • £999: 1.6 GHz, 4GB memory, 256GB storage

Build-to-order options:

  • £130: 2.2GHz i7
  • £80: 8GB RAM
  • £240: 512GB flash storage

So at the most maxed out, the 13-inch Retina display model costs £2,129 (£20 more than the 2014 price of £2,109) and comes with 3.1GHz Intel Core i7, 16GB RAM and 1TB flash storage. The ultimate build to order 2015 MacBook Air costs £1,449 (£680 less).  This build to order model comes with 2.2GHz Intel Core i7, 8GB RAM and 512GB flash storage.

Incidentally, that gives us a build-to-order MacBook Air at £1,449, with a 2.2GHz Core i7, 8GB RAM and 513GB storage, and a top-of-the-range MacBook Pro with Retina Display with 2.9GHz i5, 8GB RAM and 512GB storage, at £1,399. How do these Macs compare? The only difference (other than the Retina display) is the processor - one a 2.9GHz i5 the other a 2.2GHz i7. Read about the difference between the i5 and i7 processor range here.


£1,399: MacBook Pro

  • Retina display, 2.9GHz Intel Core i5, 8GB RAM, 512GB flash storage

£1,449: 2014 MacBook Air BTO

  • 2.2GHz Intel Core i7, 8GB RAM and 512GB flash storage

BUYING ADVICE:  build-to-order options

As a point of comparison, the maxed out MacBook Air offers a similar spec to the high-end 13-inch Retina model, apart from processor speed, with the Air featuring an Core i7, and the Pro offering a faster clock speed. [Read about the difference between i5 and i7 processors here]. You could basically save yourself £100 and get Retina display. We will endeavour to run tests on the i5 and i7 processors to see what a difference the higher rated i7 processor makes. 


13in MacBook Pro v MacBook Air: screen and resolution

The biggest difference between the Apple's two 13in MacBook models is the display. The MacBook Air screens aren't Retina displays, so the pixel density is lower. The 13-inch Air has a native 1,440-x-900 screen resolution compared to the 2,560-by-1,600 resolution on the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina. That is nearly double the resolution in both axes as the familiar 1,280 x 800 size, and hits a pixel density of 227 ppi (pixels per inch) that makes individual pixels invisible to the eye at reading distances.

You will notice the differences between the two screens, so if you want the best quality screen the Air will not be for you.

The MacBook Air features a LED-backlit display, but only the Retina MacBook Pro adds IPS technology to this. The IPS panel means very wide viewing angles and richer, more accurate colours. In our tests we found it could cover 98 percent of the simple sRGB gamut, and 69 and 75 percent of NTSC and AdobeRGB.

Another thing to note is the aspect ratio. The MacBook Pro with Retina display and the 13in MacBook Air both offers a 16:10 ratio rather than the 16:9 screens that most other laptops use, including the MacBook Air. We think 16:10 is the best for laptop productivity and comfort.

With regards to the new MacBook Pro models, we've come to the conclusion that Apple's made some tweaks to the screen. When we tested the IPS display we found that it had 97 percent coverage of sRGB, and 73 percent Adobe RGB - last time we measured the 13-inch Retina display of the MacBook Pro in June 2014, it had 91 percent coverage of sRGB, and 68 percent Adobe RGB. Contrast also seemed to have improved slightly, with a maximum of 880:1 against 2014's 800:1.


2015 13-inch MacBook Air

  • 1,440-x-900 resolution

2015 MacBook Pro with Retina display

  • 2,560-by-1,600 resolution

BUYING ADVICE: screen and resolution

If you need the best screen available then you need to look at the Retina MacBook Pro or the new Retina MacBook. In a few years from now we expect all of Apple's devices will feature Retina displays, but for now the MacBook Air does not.

In fact, now that the new 12in MacBook has launched it may be the case that the MacBook Air will eventually be phased out of the line up rather than gain a Retina display of its own.

Read: Is Retina Display worth the money?


13in MacBook Pro v MacBook Air: Graphics and games

The 13-inch MacBook Pro has always relied on Intel integrated graphics, unlike the high-end 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display, which offers NVIDIA as well as the Iris Pro graphics - allowing users to switch graphics processors to balance performance with battery economy.

This 2015 Retina MacBook Pro features Intel Iris Graphics 6100, replacing the 5100 Intel Iris Graphics in the 2014 model. The new and old chip differ with an increased number of execution units (48 instead of 40). The 6100 graphics holds back decent 4K output through HDMI however. 

Note that along with the NVIDIA graphics card in the high-end 15-inch model, the 15-inch MacBook Pros feature Iris Pro Graphics, which includes its own dedicated DRAM to accelerate performance. But these 15in models are older and due an update.

In our tests the regular Intel Iris graphics in the 13in MacBook Pro proved capable of playing the Batman: Arkham City rewarding us with an average of 35 fps (better than last years 32 fps).

The 2015 MacBook Air features the less powerful Intel's HD Graphics 6000, but it is still better than the HD Graphics 5000 in the 2014 and 2013 models, we expected the new graphics to show a marked improvement on the previous generation of MacBook Air. However, in our tests we didn’t see a big difference in graphics performance. When we ran the Batman: Arkham City benchmark test, the 2014 and 2015 MacBook Air models both averaged 29 frames per second in medium detail; and 24 fps in High detail. When it came to running Tomb Raider the 2015 Air actually performed slightly worse! That said, we don’t really recommend the MacBook Air for gaming – if you intend to play games on your Mac then the MacBook Pro would probably be a better choice (and the 15in MacBook Pro even more suitable).


2015 MacBook Pro Retina line up

  • 13-inch: Intel Iris Graphics 6100

2015 MacBook Air line up

  • Intel HD Graphics 6000

BUYING ADVICE: graphics and games

The 2015 13-inch MacBook Air should be better for playing games than the 2014 model, although we wouldn't recommend it as a gaming machine. The 13in MacBook Pro should do a reasonably good job, but if you really want to play games on a MacBook you are best advised to consider the 15-inch MacBook Pro, although we'd recommend waiting for an update.


13in MacBook Pro v MacBook Air: capacity concerns, flash verses HD

The MacBook Air is available with a choice of 128GB or 256GB flash storage, as well as a 512GB build-to-order option. The MacBook Pro with Retina display offers 128GB, 256GB and 512GB flash storage, and a 1TB build-to-order option.

Some people will have no problem fitting their data within the 128GB capacity of the low-end models. However, there will be plenty of people with ever increasing photo and media libraries who are concerned that even 256GB isn't enough storage for their needs and they may wish to turn to the £1,399 Retina MacBook Pro with 512GB storage, rather than pay £240 extra for the build-to-order 512GB storage option on the Air (bringing that price to £1,239). Why do that when you can pay £160 extra for not only the increased storage, but all the other features of the £1,399 512GB Retina MacBook Pro with its faster processor and extra RAM.

If it's the maximum storage you need, at the minimum cost, you could opt for the old MacBook Pro with its 500 GB hard drive. That non-Retina model costs £899 (in 2014 it saw a £100 price drop), but we advise that if you really need the extra storage space you consider a separate external hard drive - you could get 1TB for less than £100.

Storage needs aside; the PCIe-connected solid-state flash plays a huge role in the performance of both the MacBook Air and Retina MacBook Pro. Apple introduced this PCIe technology - which bypasses the usual Serial ATA interface entirely and offers significantly faster data throughput - two years ago. Two years on and Windows PCs are still stuck behind the SATA controller, and now Apple has sped things up even more by using more PCIe data lanes, moving from two to four PCIe 2.0 channels in the MacBook Pro.

In our tests of the 2.7GHz Pro, we saw average sequential read speeds of 1500 MB/s, and 661 MB/s for sequential writes.

Apple claims the PCIe flash storage is up to 9x faster than a traditional 5400-rpm notebook hard drive (as found in the non retina MacBook Pro) and up to 45 per cent faster than the flash storage in the 2012 MacBook Air. The latest storage in the 13in MacBook Air also benefits from the extra PCIe data lanes from two to four, and as a result we saw the top speed now exceeding 1500 MB/s – that’s a two-fold increase in sequential read speed compared to the 2014 model.

All this adds up to a big change in speed and reduced startup times. For more information on the differences between a Flash or SSD verses a HDD hard drive read our which is the best storage to have in a Mac feature.

Read about the storage in the middle 13in MacBook Pro which is faster than that in the £999 model


201513-inch MacBook Air

  • £849: 128GB storage
  • £999: 256GB storage
  • + £240: 512GB flash storage (£1,239)

2015 MacBook Pro with Retina display

  • £999: 128GB flash storage
  • £1,199: 256GB flash storage
  • £1,399: 512GB flash storage
  • + £400: 1TB flash storage (£1,799)

BUYING ADVICE: Capacity

Flash storage has increased in capacity over the past few years to the point where for most users the capacity of the entry level MacBooks will be adequate. Those who really feel the need for extra storage are advised to get an external hard drive and take advantage of the quicker start up and faster access times for flash storage. 


Read: 4 reasons to buy the non-Retina MacBook Pro

MacBook Pro v MacBook Air: Ports and peripherals

If you are looking for a laptop with a built in optical drive your only choice is the old £899 MacBook Pro without Retina display. However, we don't think that an optical drive is necessary in these days of software and music downloads and movie streaming. If you really need that optical drive, we suggest that you factor in the cost of an Apple Superdrive, which costs £65.

Both the 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro and the 13-inch MacBook Air offer an SDXC card slot for downloading photographs from your memory stick. Both models also offer two USB 3 ports each. The Retina MacBook Pro features two Thunderbolt 2 ports, to the Air's one Thunderbolt 2 port (an improvement on the 2014 model's Thunderbold 1). The Pro also offers an HDMI port, while you'll need Mini DisplayPort to HDMI Adapter for the Air.

Speaking of ports, that new MacBook only has one: the USB-C. Read more about it here: Why the new MacBook doesn't deserve the criticism it's getting for just having one port.

Last, but certainly not least, is the addition of a Force Touch trackpad on the new MacBook Pro - a feature shared by the new MacBook but no where to be seen on the MacBook Air. 

The Force Touch trackpad is sensitive to varying degrees of touch pressure: you can set it to respond to harder/deeper presses to activate different features. It also provides what is known as haptic or taptic feedback, a tangible, tactile response that in theory allows you to 'feel' what you are interacting with, which means that you feel like you are pressing the trackpad in when actually the pad isn’t moving at all. It opens up a wealth of new interface options that you may well find useful.

Read more about what Force Touch means here: How does Force Touch work.

Retina MacBook Pro

  • Two Thunderbolt 2 ports
  • Two USB 3 ports
  • HDMI port
  • SDXC card slot
  • Force Touch

MacBook Air

  • Two USB 3 ports
  • Thunderbolt 2 port
  • SDXC card slot
  • HDMI audio and video output via third-party Mini DisplayPort to HDMI Adapter

BUYING ADVICE: Ports

We know that a lot of people are attached to the CD and DVD but we think that sacrificing the optical drive for a slimmer, lighter laptop is a good move on Apple's part. The big difference is the inclusion of two Thunderbolt 2 on the Retina MacBook Pro, verses the single Thunderbolt 2 port on the Air. Few peripherals use Thunderbolt so this is unlikely to make a big difference to you unless you have a lot of Thunderbolt gadgets. If you are likely to be plugging your laptop into your TV you might prefer the ease of the HDMI port on the Retina MacBook Pro, you'll need a separate adaptor for the Air.  


OUR VERDICT

In 2013, when Apple reduced the price of the MacBook Pro with Retina display range, we stopped recommending the 13-inch MacBook Air on the basis that there was only £150 difference in price. As Apple has continued to drop prices we are still looking at just a £150 difference between the two ranges at the entry level. It's great to see Apple reducing prices across its MacBook ranges, but the lower prices of the MacBook Pro Retina range do have the effect of making the MacBook Air look less attractive in comparison. However, we still love the MacBook Air, which is lighter and thinner, although a fraction bigger than the MacBook Pro with Retina display. If it's the MacBook Air that you have your heart set on, you can't go wrong with it, but if you have a little more in your budget - and you really fancy the Force Touch trackpad - then consider the MacBook Pro with Retina display because it's a really good deal in comparison.

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