Apple 16in MacBook Pro (2019) vs Apple 13in 2.0GHz MacBook Pro (2020) full review

Apple currently sells two laptop lines: the MacBook Pro (which comes in 13in and 16in screen sizes) and the MacBook Air (which is always 13in). The larger MacBook Pro was last updated in November 2019, while new versions of the smaller Pro and Air have been released in 2020 - including new models with Apple's M1 chip released in November 2020.

But what is the difference between the MacBook Air and Pro? In this article we compare design, features and specs, the main areas where the MacBooks differ, the pros and cons of each, and the factors you need to consider when making a buying decision.

We will focus primarily on the 13in models (since this is the common size offered by both the Pro and Air), but with occasional comparisons with the 16in option where relevant.

You may also find our Which MacBook article helpful.

Design & Build

When it launched in 2008 the MacBook Air was the lightest laptop available. Over the years the weight of the MacBook Pro has also declined, so the difference is a lot less than it was. Today the 2020 MacBook Air weighs only slightly less than the 13in MacBook Pro; at 1.29kg compared to 1.4kg (and 2kg for the 16in).

MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro: Air (2020)

The MacBook Air is 304.1 x 212.4mm, and 16.1mm thick, tapering to 4.1mm at its narrowest point. The 13in MacBook Pro is 304.1 x 212.4mm so it has the same footprint, but is a little thicker overall at 15.6mm as it doesn't taper. The 16in MacBook Pro is 357.9 x 245.9mm with a thickness of 16.2mm and a 2kg weight.

  • MacBook Air: 304.1 x 212.4 x 16.1-4.1mm; 1.29kg
  • 13in MacBook Pro: 304.1 x 212.4 x 15.6mm; 1.4kg
  • 13in MacBook Pro: 357.9 x 245.9 x 16.2mm; 2kg

Both styles of Apple laptop come with Touch ID and things like the Force Touch trackpad, but the Touch Bar on the Pro is really the major design difference between the two. This multi-touch strip replaces the F keys, and can provide different contextual controls depending on the application open.

Whether or not you'll find the Touch Bar useful comes down to a combination of personal preference and what software you use. Read about what you can do with the Touch Bar.

The other difference is the colour choices. You can choose from silver, space grey and gold for the MacBook Air, but the MacBook Pro offers only the silver and space grey options.

Following updates early in 2020 all MacBooks come with Apple's Magic Keyboard, which has a scissor-switch design to replace the problematic butterfly keyboard mechanism.

MacBook Pro vs MacBook Air: Dimensions

Processor

The November 2020 MacBook Air runs on Apple's M1 processors, as does the November 2020 13in MacBook Pro. There are also 13in MacBook Pro models with Intel chips introduced earlier in 2020. The 16in MacBook Pro currently only offers Intel processors.

Apple has revealed plans to transition its entire line from Intel to its own processors. You can expect this transition to be completed within two years. For now the only Macs to feature these new chips are at the entry-level, but the processors are impressively powerful. Here's what you need to know about Apple's move to ARM processors.

The MacBooks have the following processors:

MacBook Air:

  • M1 Chip with 8‑Core CPU and 7‑Core GPU
  • M1 Chip with 8‑Core CPU and 8‑Core GPU

13in MacBook Pro:

  • M1 Chip with 8‑Core CPU and 8‑Core GPU 
  • 2.0GHz Quad-Core 10th gen Intel i5 processor, Intel Iris Plus Graphics

16in MacBook Pro:

  • 2.6GHz 6-Core 9th gen Intel i7 processor, AMD Radeon Pro 5300M
  • 2.3GHz 8-Core 9th gen Intel i9 processor, AMD Radeon Pro 5500M

You'll notice that the GPU has fewer cores in the entry-level MacBook Air, while the other MacBook Air has an 8-core GPU. We'll go into more detail with regards to graphics below, sticking primarily to the differences between the CPUs here.

You'll also notice that the M1 has an 8-core CPU, while the Intel options have 4-, 6-, and 8-cores. Of those 8 cores in the M1, four are for performance and four are for efficiency.

However, one major difference that makes comparisons difficult is the fact that Apple doesn't quote a clock-speed, where in the case of Intel you at least see how much GHz each processor offers.

What we do know is that Apple's new M1 chips are seeing some excellent benchmarks, even when compared to the super-fast Intel processors in the more expensive models. Read more about how powerful Apple's M1 chips are.

When Apple introduced the M1 chip in November 2020 it made some big claims about it being the "world’s fastest CPU core" with the "world's best CPU performance per watt" as well as "numerous powerful technologies" and "improved performance and efficiency".

Not only that, but Apple says that the M1 delivers up to 3.5x faster CPU performance compared to previous-generation Macs. That's not only in comparison to the MacBook Air from earlier in 2020, but also in comparison with older MacBook Pro models.

It also hints at some impressive comparisons with the Intel processors being used in the 13in 2.0GHz MacBook Pro models still on sale that feature the 10th generation Intel processors.

We are in the process of testing the new M1 Macs so we will update this as soon as we have the results of our own testing, but what we are seeing is impressive.

Read: M1 MacBook Air vs Intel MacBook Air and M1 MacBook Pro vs Intel MacBook Pro.

M1 Macs

For the truly power-hungry the 16in MacBook Pro offers 9th-gen Intel processors with either six or eight cores. While we aren't about to suggest that the 13in M1 MacBook Pro could give the 16in model a run for its money is it worth hanging on before making a purchase right now because those 9th generation CPUs are now a few years old, having initially featured in the 15in MacBook Pro that Apple discontinued in November 2019 when it introduced the 16in model.

RAM

All the M1 MacBooks - both Pro and Air - come with 8GB of RAM at their base configuration. There is an option to upgrade to 16GB at point of sale. This RAM is part of the M1 chip, so it's accessible to both the CPU and the GPU. It's what Apple is referring to as unified memory architecture, or UMA.

There are performance benefits this UMA, so it shouldn't matter that there is 8GB RAM in the M1 models rather than the 16GB RAM found in the other 13in MacBook Pro, and the 16in models.

There is one indisputable difference though. The M1 MacBooks can be configured at point of sale to have 16GB RAM, the 13in MacBook Pro with Intel processors can take up to 32GB RAM.

The larger 16in MacBook Pro can be configured up to a maximum of 64GB.

Graphics 

Returning to the graphics we mentioned earlier, we'll start with the M1 MacBook Air, which offers either 7-core GPU or 8-core GPU.

If you think you are likely to need that extra GPU core you may think that the best option is to buy the more expensive Air, which also offers more storage. But the MacBook Pro might be a better option, as we will explain.

The reason why the MacBook Pro is a better option for graphic intensive operations is that it includes a fan for cooling and as a result you will be able to push it a little further. The MacBook Air will be perfectly find for normal operations, but because it lacks a fan you may find that things slow down in order for it not to overheat while you are pushing it.

But what of the other 13in MacBook Pro models with the Intel Intel Iris Plus Graphics? How do these compare to the M1 models, which feature Apple's own graphics solution. Both are integrated graphics, but Apple claims its solution is the "world’s fastest integrated graphics in a personal computer" and 2x faster than PC equivalents.

Generally it's considered that if you want the best graphics solution you need discrete graphics, such as those offered by the 16in MacBook Pro (the AMD Radeon Pro 5300M and AMD Radeon Pro 5500M).

The AMD graphics options will be the best option right now if you are looking for a Mac capable of really intensive graphics, but when Apple brings the same technology to this machine (probably in 2021) we may see some real graphics boosts due to the use of tile-based deferred rendering technology (which we discuss here: Apple Silicon graphics).

If you need some extra grunt then you can plug in an eGPU via Thunderbolt to the Intel models - read about how to use an eGPU with your Mac.

However, the M1 Macs are not compatible with an external graphics processor. Read: M1 Macs will not support eGPU.

MacBook Pro vs MacBook Air: Image editing

Storage

The Air and 13in Pro both come with 256GB of storage at the entry-level, with a second model offering 512GB. You can add a larger SSD at point of sale, but the M1 MacBook Air and Pro models are capped at 2T, while the Intel 13in MacBook Pro can take 4TB SSD, and the 16in MacBook Pro can be maxed out with an 8TB SSD.

MacBook Pro vs MacBook Air: Speed comparisons

Battery life

When it comes to battery life the M1 Macs really stand out. The M1 MacBook Air offers 18 hours, according to Apple, while the M1 MacBook Pro offers an amazing 20 hours. This makes the 2.0GHz MacBook Pro's 10 hours battery life look appalling - but 10 hours is plenty to get through a day of work. (Apple claims 11 hours for the 16in model).

This 20 hour battery life is the best offered by any laptop right now - not just Apple. Apple achieves it thanks to the M1 chip, which in combination with macOS Big Sur's advanced power management, intelligently allocates tasks between the M1 performance and efficiency cores. So everything is optimised.

This suggests that if battery life is the most important to you then the M1 Macs will be a bonus. When the M1 (Or M2 or whatever it's called) comes to the other MacBook Pro models we can expect even better battery life there.

Screens

One thing to note about the 13in displays. They are all actually 13.3in measured diagonally. There are rumours that a 14in MacBook Pro could be in the pipeline!

The display was previously an area where the Air and Pro were quite different, with the Air not gaining a Retina display until 2018. The Air then gained True Tone technology in 2019, bringing it into line with the Pro models. However the MacBook Air display is not as bright as the display on the MacBook Pro, with the Pro offering 500 nits brightness to the Air's 400.

For the ultimate display the MacBook Pro offers 3,072x1,920 pixels compared to all the 13in model's 2,560x1,600 pixels. Note this still isn't 4K - to achieve that the 16in would need to offer 3,840 x 2,160 pixels. There are non-Apple displays that offer this.

All MacBook displays are LED-backlit display with IPS technology. There are rumours that the new mini-LED technology may soon be coming to the Mac displays, which should result in a wider colour gamut as well as high contrast ratios, high dynamic range, and more. Read more here: New 16in MacBook Pro rumours.

As usual, Apple does not offer touchscreen displays in its MacBooks. (Read about why we think Apple should make a touchscreen Mac).

Ports & Peripherals

Apple's new M1 laptops offer two USB 4 ports that also support Thunderbolt 3.

The other MacBooks offer four USB-C ports that also support Thunderbolt 3.

If you are wondering what the difference between USB-C and USB 4 is, USB 4 should be able to offer 40Gb/s, which is what Thunderbolt 3 already offers. USB-C offers 10 to 20Gb/s.

So here the question is really how many ports do you need? Will two be enough for you if you use one port to charge and the other for a display? If you need more you could always use a USB hub. (See best USB hubs).

All Mac laptops offer a headphone jack. 

Price

Price is one area where there's a stark difference between the MacBook Air and the 13in MacBook Pro, not because there is a gigantic leap between the entry-level pricing for the Air and the Pro, but because there is a huge range of pricing for the MacBook Pro that takes that model into a whole new territory. We'll run through the pricing below, including some of the latest offers on new MacBooks - because you don't necessarily have to pay Apple's price.

MacBook Air prices

The MacBook Air is available in two default configurations:

  • M1 Chip with 8‑Core CPU and 7‑Core GPU
    256GB SSD: £999/$999.
  • M1 Chip with 8‑Core CPU and 7‑Core GPU
    256GB SSD: £1,249/$1,249

Buy directly from Apple, or look below for the best prices right now:

M1 MacBook Air, 8-core CPU/7-core GPU, £999/$999

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For deals on even more MacBook Air check out our best MacBook Air deals article for discounts available elsewhere.

13in MacBook Pro prices

There are four 13in configurations and two 16in options. Note that some of these models feature the Apple M1 chip, while others are using Intel processors:

  • M1 Chip with 8‑Core CPU and 8‑Core GPU
    256GB Storage: £1,299/$1,299
  • M1 Chip with 8‑Core CPU and 8‑Core GPU
    512GB Storage: £1,499/$1,499
  • 2.0GHz Intel Core i5 Quad-Core Processor, Intel Iris Plus Graphics, 512GB Storage: £1,799/$1,799
  • 2.0GHz Intel Core i5 Quad-Core Processor, Intel Iris Plus Graphics, 1TB Storage: £1,999/$1,999

You'll notice that the more expensive Air is only £50 less than the entry-level MacBook Pro - but the latter has half the storage.

There is a lot to differentiate all these models - much more than you might think if you were to just glance at the specs. Read on to find out why the MacBook Pro costs more than the MacBook Air and whether it's worth the extra money.

Buy directly from Apple, or look below for the best prices right now:

2020 M1 MacBook Pro Deals, £1,299/$1,299

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2020 2.0GHz MacBook Pro Deals, £1,799/$1,799

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For even more MacBook Pro deals check our roundup of the best MacBook Pro deals.

16in MacBook Pro prices

If you're tempted with a larger screen and more power then the MacBook Pro 16in is available in two configurations: 

  • 2.6GHz 6-Core Processor, 512GB Storage, AMD Radeon Pro 5300M: £2,399/$2,399
  • 2.3GHz 8-Core Processor, 1TB Storage, AMD Radeon Pro 5500M: £2,799/$2,799

Buy directly from Apple, or look below for the best prices right now:

2019 2.6GHz 16in MacBook Pro Deals, £2,399/$2,399

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These 16in models are a far cry from the 13in models, with dedicated graphics, up to 8-core processors and more pro-oriented features.

We recommend checking the Apple Refurbished Store to see if you could pick up a discounted MacBook - Apple often sells older models with specs that are just as good as some of the newer models. You may for example find a 15in MacBook Pro with identical processor to one of the current 16in models.

Verdict

If a low price is the most important to you then the M1 MacBook Air is the best option. If battery life is your main request then the M1 MacBook Pro is the top dog. When it comes to portability the Air wins, but only just.

If you need a little more power then the M1 MacBook Pro is a better choice than the Air, predominantly because it has a fan so you should be able to push it a bit more.

But if you really need the ultimate in power then the 16in MacBook Pro is still the option for those that need lots of power, including a dedicated graphics card, and features like four USB-C ports.

The 2.0GHz MacBook Pro is still a great option, but since the M1 has arrived it's looking very expensive when you can get a decent machine for a lot less. 

Decided to get a MacBook, Pro or Air? Check out the best accessories for MacBooks.

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