Apple MacBook Air 13in vs Apple’s new MacBook Pro 13in Retina: Spec comparison

Last month, Apple dropped a bunch of new products at a sprawling event that covered everything from iPads to software to a funky cylindrical desktop. But for a lot of shoppers, the biggest announcement was the new Haswell and Retina-equipped MacBook Pro laptops.

The new Apple MacBook Pro 13in with Retina Display is definitely impressive with its fancy screen and new hardware, but how does it stack up against the Apple MacBook Air 13in which was unleashed in the summer? With all of these new updates, the question on shoppers' minds is simple, even if the answer isn't: Which one should I buy?

MacBook Pro

The most affordable of the newly announced MacBook Pro laptops is the Apple MacBook Pro 13in with Retina Display (2013) with its starting price of £1,099. Of course, it’s still pricier than anything most people would classify as budget-friendly.

At 13in and 1.57kg, the MacBook Pro is pretty light and compact; and with a thickness of only 18mm it's in ultraportable territory. Despite the slim build, the MacBook Pro still packs a wallop thanks to all new hardware.

The MacBook Pro features an as-yet unnamed fourth-generation Intel Core i5 processor, a dual-core CPU utilising Intel's Haswell architecture and running at 2.4GHz in the base model (with boost to 2.9GHz). This is paired with 4GB of RAM and 128GB of flash memory. Unlike the solid-state drives (SSDs) found in other laptops and Ultrabooks, Apple uses memory soldered straight onto the motherboard instead of a modular drive, shaving off a few millimetres of thickness and allowing them to tweak the size and layout of the "drive."

Unfortunately, this also makes the MacBook Pro one of the most difficult laptops to upgrade or repair. If you were checking out the MacBook Pro with the hope of having more upgradability than a slim MacBook Air, you're out of luck.

The Apple MacBook Pro 13in has several features that the MacBook Air can't match. Chief among these premium features is the 13.3in Retina display, with its higher-than-HD native resolution of 2,560 x 1,600. The new laptop also gets the newest iteration of Thunderbolt, doubling the transfer speed to become Thunderbolt 2. If you've invested in Thunderbolt-capable storage or monitors, then you will be able to get more out of your accessories with the MacBook Pro, but if you're working with USB 3.0, the two systems are pretty much identical.

What you won't see on the new MacBook Pro (or the MacBook Air, for that matter) is an optical drive. As far as Apple is concerned, it's now legacy hardware that doesn't have a place on current systems.

The MacBook Pro comes with OS X Mavericks preinstalled, but with Apple's one-step upgrade, there's very little keeping you from having the new operating system on your MacBook Air. There is something that the new MacBook Pro offers that an existing MacBook Air doesn’t, and that’s the newest apps. All new Macs now come with all of the iLife suite (including iPhoto, iMovie, and GarageBand) and iWork (including Pages, Numbers, and Keynote) apps for free.

MacBook Air

The 13in MacBook Air has always had two major draws over the more powerful MacBook Pro: Portability and Pricing. The 13in MacBook Air may feature a similar 13.3in display and footprint as the MacBook Pro, but at 17mm thick tapering down to a vanishingly thin 3mm edge, the MacBook Air is still one of the slimmest ultraportables on the market. At 1.35kg, it's over 200 grams lighter than the MacBook Pro, and for the user on the go, it's still one of the most portable laptops out there.

It's also got the MacBook Pro beat on battery life. Where Apple estimates the MacBook Pro as having up to 9 hours of battery life, the MacBook Air is rated for 12 hours, and our own testing pegged it at 15 hours and 30 minutes. That sort of on-the-go battery life makes a huge difference in terms of real portability, letting you truly go all day without having to find a power outlet or bring along a charger.

The other big differentiator is price, though with Apple dropping the price of the MacBook Pro down to £1,099 for the base model, it's a narrower gap than in the past. That said, the 13in MacBook Air starts at £949, so there's still a draw for the budget-minded, though the 11in MacBook Air sells for an even more affordable £849.

Conclusions

While price is definitely a deciding factor, the difference between the £1,099 MacBook Pro and the £949 MacBook Air really comes down to portability and performance. The Apple MacBook Air is still the most travel-friendly laptop Apple makes, with hours more battery life and a thinner, lighter design. If portability is a priority, the MacBook Air 13in wins hands down.

The trade off, of course, is in performance. The Apple MacBook Pro has a more powerful 2.4GHz dual-core processor, complemented by Intel's Iris Graphics, and shown in all its glory with a high-resolution Retina display. The MacBook Air can't match that with its ultra-low voltage 1.3GHz Core i5, and while there may yet be a Retina-equipped MacBook Air in the future, right now, there's no question which is the better display. If performance and display quality matter, the MacBook Pro 13in with Retina display is the easy choice.

Apple MacBook Air 13in

Apple MacBook Pro 13in Retina

Processor

1.3GHz dual-core Intel Core i5

2.4GHz dual-core Intel Core i5

RAM

4GB

4GB

Graphics

Intel HD Graphics 5000

Intel Iris Graphics

Storage

128GB SSD

128GB SSD

Optical disc

None

None

Display

13.3in, 1,440 x 900 pixels

13.3in, 2,560 x 1,600 pixels

Wireless

802.11b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0

802.11b/g/n/ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0

Operating System

OS X Mavericks

OS X Mavericks

Width x Depth x Height

325 x 227 x 17mm

314 x 219 x 18mm

Weight

1.35kg

1.57kg

Battery Life

12 hours claimed

9 hours claimed