New Apple MacBook Pro vs Air (2019) Face-off: We Pick the Winner - 8 minutes read

New Apple MacBook Pro vs Air (2019) Face-off: We Pick the Winner

And then there were two. Now that Apple has nixed the 12-inch MacBook and older 13-inch MacBook Air, there’s really only two entry-level laptops left in the company’s lineup. In one corner you have the new 2019 MacBook Air, which now has a lower starting price at $1,099 along with an upgraded True Tone display. In the other corner there’s the updated 13-inch MacBook Pro, which starts at $1,299 and now includes a faster 8th-gen processor along with a Touch Bar.

Which system should you buy? Here's how the latest MacBook Pro and Air stack up.

The MacBook Air starts at $1,099 with an 8th Gen Core i5-8210Y CPU, 8GB of RAM and 128GB of SSD storage. We tested the 256GB SSD model, which adds $200 to the price. I'd recommend someone start with this configuration, but those who love to multitask should also consider doubling the Air's memory to 16GB of RAM for $200. 

The 13-inch MacBook Pro starts at $1,299 in a configuration that features a Core i5-8257U processor, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. Again, we tested a model with a 256GB SSD, an upgrade that will run you $200, and one that I recommend. Just like with the Air, upgrading to 16GB of RAM will set you back $200.

I saw strong colors and sharp details as I watched the 4K sci-fi short film Tears of Steel on both the MacBook Air and Pro. Even in side-by-side comparison, these displays held their own, with red lasers, green plants, and black fur coat lining all rendered vividly. 

Details, such as the grain and jagged edges of broken wooden floorboards, looked equally crisp, as the panels in both laptops sport the same 13-inch, 2560 x 1600-pixel (227 pixels per inch) resolution. 

MORE: Best MacBook - A Guide to Apple Laptops 

Our colorimeter rated the MacBook Air's screen for producing 100% of the sRGB spectrum, which is notably lower than the MacBook Pro's 165% score. Similarly, the Air emits up to 343 nits of brightness, which is lower than the 428-nit 13-inch MacBook Pro.

Most MacBooks share the same familiar aluminum aesthetic, but one is available in a more modern hue. While both the Air and Pro come in Space Gray and Silver, only the Air is available in Gold, and looking at it next to the Space Gray Pro, I was amazed by how much a coat of paint can improve a laptop's look.

At 2.8 pounds and 0.2~0.6 inches thick, the 13-inch MacBook Air is a little lighter than the new 13-inch MacBook Pro (3 pounds; 0.6 inches). The Air’s tapered design also looks sleeker. 

The MacBook Air features dual Thunderbolt 3 ports and a headphone jack. The 13-inch MacBook Pro also starts with this port selection. The $1,799 model includes four ThunderBolt 3 ports for an extra $500, but that premium also gets you a faster processor and graphics.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. The MacBook Pro and Air both feature Apple's 4th generation Butterfly-switch keyboard, which offers shallow, clicky keys that may take some time getting adjusted to.  

After years of typing on the 2nd generation version of this keyboard in the 2017 model, I'm more or less used to typing on these keys which have less than 1 millimeter of vertical travel, a measurement well below the 1.5 to 2mm we hope to find. Testing these laptops out on the 10fastfingers typing test, I click-clacked my way to 74 words per minute on both, which is slightly below my 80 wpm average. 

MORE: Best and Worst Laptop Brands

The MacBook Pro's 5.3 x 3.2-inch touchpad is a bit larger than the Air's 4.6 x 3.1-inch touchpad, but the size difference doesn't make either particularly better. Both offer accurate input, smooth scrolling and excellent reaction times to pinch and zoom gestures.  

If you have a need for the Touch Bar, the touch sensitive OLED strip above the MacBook Pro, then your decision is probably made up already. Also, email me, because I need to know who actually finds it useful. I'm one of many who keeps accidentally activating those virtual keys, and prefers the Air's physical Function keys.

On the plus side, both the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro both give you a Touch ID fingerprint-reading sensor. This biometric security measure helps you unlock your machine without a password and authenticate your identity for using Apple Pay in Safari. 

Thankfully, you don't need to base your buying decision on which MacBook sounds best. I listened closely as the MacBook Air and Pro filled one of our medium-sized conference rooms, and I couldn't hear a difference between their solid reproductions of Radiohead's "Lotus Flower" and Carly Rae Jepsen's "Run Away With Me." Not only did the songs' varied vocals reproduce clearly, but bass sounded sturdy and drums hit accurately. 

The biggest difference in this face-off comes when you look under the hood. We tested a MacBook Air fitted with an entry-level Intel Core i5-8210Y CPU with 8GB of RAM, and a MacBook Pro with a Core i5-8257U processor with 8GB of RAM. Overall, the Y-series chip in the Air simply isn't as fast as the U-series chip in the Pro.

The Air netted a score of 7,880 on the Geekbench 4 general performance benchmark, which is less than half of the 17,366 the 13-inch MacBook Pro notched on the same test. The 256GB SSD in the MacBook Air landed a write-speed rate of 1,011 MBps on the Blackmagic Disk Speed Test, which is 83% of the 1,220 MBps rate that the Pro's 256GB SSD recorded.

MORE: Laptops with the Best Productivity Performance

On our Handbrake video editing test, the MacBook Air took a whopping 36 minutes and 6 seconds to transcode a 4K movie to 1080p. That's much longer than the 14:42 from the 13-inch MacBook Pro. 

On the Dirt 3 racing game, the MacBook Pro sped past the Air, with a score of 30.8 frames per second that left the Air's 19.9 fps rate in the dust.  

Both the MacBook Air and Pro beat the 8-hour, 19-minute premium laptop battery life average, but one lasts longer than the other. That's the MacBook Pro, which lasted 10 hours and 48 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test (web browsing over Wi-Fi at 150 nits). The Air's battery hit empty nearly two hours sooner, at 8 hours and 51 minutes.

The 13-inch MacBook Pro may cost more, but that extra $200 is definitely worth it. Not only does the MacBook Pro offer longer battery life than the Air, but its screen is brighter and its U-series processor makes for faster performance.


Powered by


MacBook ProMacBook AirMacBook AirTrue Tone Records (Australian label)Display deviceInchMacBook ProApple S1Central processing unitMacBook ProOperating systemMacBook ProMacBook AirApple S1Interstate 5 in CaliforniaCentral processing unitSolid-state driveComputer data storageSolid-state driveRandom-access memoryInchMacBook ProStraight-five engineCentral processing unitSolid-state driveSolid-state drive4K resolutionSyfyShort filmTears of SteelMacBook AirPixel densitySensorApple Inc.LaptopTristimulus colorimeterMacBook AirComputer monitorSRGBElectromagnetic spectrumMacBook ProCandela per square metreLuminanceCandela per square metreMacBook ProAluminiumAestheticsHueAtmosphere of EarthGreyAtmosphere of EarthGoldLaptopInchMacBook AirInchMacBook ProMacBook AirThunderbolt (interface)Computer port (hardware)Phone connector (audio)InchMacBook ProComputer port (hardware)Apple S1Thunderbolt (interface)Computer port (hardware)Central processing unitComputer graphicsThe More Things Change... (film)MacBook ProApple Inc.Butterfly (Mariah Carey album)Computer keyboardComputer keyboardWords per minuteLaptopMacBook ProInchTouchpadBitInchTouchpadDimensionInput deviceScrollingDigital zoomGesture recognitionMacBook ProTouchscreenOLEDMacBook ProEmailI Need to Know (Marc Anthony song)Function keyMacBook AirMacBook ProTouch IDFingerprintSensorBiometricsPasswordPersonally identifiable informationApple PaySafari (web browser)MacBook AirRadioheadLotus Flower (song)Carly Rae JepsenRun Away with MeSingingBass guitarDrum kitMacBook AirIntel CoreStraight-five engineCentral processing unitMacBook ProInterstate 5 in CaliforniaCentral processing unitGeekbenchBenchmark (computing)MacBook ProSolid-state driveMacBook AirBit rateData rate unitsHard disk driveData rate unitsBit rateSolid-state driveLaptopHandBrakeNon-linear editing systemMacBook Air4K resolution1080pInchMacBook ProDirt 3Racing video gameMacBook ProFrame rateFrame rateBit rateMacBook AirLaptopBattery (electricity)MacBook ProLaptopBattery (electricity)Web browserWi-FiCandela per square metreBattery (electricity)MacBook ProMacBook ProBattery (electricity)Computer monitorCentral processing unit