If you’re in the market for a premium business notebook, it’s hard to go wrong with a MacBook. The latest iterations of Apple’s MacBook Pro and MacBook Air both sport sleek aluminum designs, stellar keyboards and excellent battery life. And they’re identical in terms of software features; both run on OS X Yosemite, the latest version of Apple’s desktop operating system, which is packed with productivity-boosting features. On the other hand, the Pro offers a much sharper display, as well as better performance, while the Air gives you a sleeker design and more longevity.
So do professionals need the pricier Pro, or can they get by with the slimmer, more affordable MacBook Air? Read on for a head-to-head comparison to see which MacBook is better for business.
Apple still designs some of the best laptops in the world. Both the MacBook Pro and the MacBook Air have sturdy aluminum bodies and an accurate keyboard, which business users who plan to do a lot of typing will really appreciate. Both notebooks also include one of the most responsive trackpads around, which comes in handy for precise tasks like editing a spreadsheet.
The Air continues to live up to its name with a superslim, lightweight design. It measures12.8 x 9 inches, with a thickness that tapers from 0.68 inches down to 0.11 inches. And at just three lbs., the MacBook Air certainly won’t weigh you down on a business trip or on your daily commute.
The Pro, meanwhile, is still a pretty portable machine. It has even slimmed down a bit from last year’s model, with a thickness of just 0.71 inches, putting it squarely in the ultraportable category. It also has a slightly smaller footprint than the Air, measuring 12.35 x 8.62 inches. And though it weighs a bit more than the Air, at 3.46 lbs., it’s still pretty easy to carry.
Winner: MacBook Air. The MacBook Air is sleeker, slimmer and lighter, making it a better choice for mobile business users, though the Pro isn’t far behind.
If you want a supersharp display, go with the MacBook Pro. It has a brilliant 2,560 x 1,600-pixel panel that blows the Air’s 1,440 x 99-pixel display away.
In practical terms, that means that the Pro can display more content on screen at once, which is a plus for business users who want to multitask on its 13.3-inch screen. More than 260 Mac applications have been updated to take full advantage of the pixel-dense display, including Microsoft Office, Photoshop CS6 and Google Chrome. Text generally looks a lot sharper on the Pro than on the Air, which will save business users some eye strain.
Both displays are equally bright, measuring about 288 nits on our brightness test. That means that both screens should be pretty easy to see outdoors and in direct sunlight. The Pro does show richer, more accurate colors than the Air, however.
Winner: MacBook Pro. The Pro wins this round easily, with a brighter, sharper, richer display.
The MacBook Pro is, of course, a bit more powerful than the Air, but both notebooks offer great performance for daily use.
On our OpenOffice spreadsheet test, which tasks a computer with pairing 20,000 names and addresses, the Pro took just 3 minutes and 20 seconds — that’s 26 seconds faster than the Air, which took 3 minutes and 46 seconds. Another test involved duplicating 5GB of multimedia files, in which the notebooks were just about evenly matched; both copied the files at about 190 MBps. The bottom line is that Apple’s lower-end notebook handled both tasks nearly as well as the MacBook Pro.
The Pro’s Intel Iris graphics chip does outperform the Intel HD 5000 GPU in the Air, making a good case for artists and video editors to pick up the more premium notebook. Still, the Pro only edged out the Air by a little bit on our graphics benchmark test, scoring 21.33 to the Air’s 18.47.
Designers and other creative professionals may need the extra oomph afforded by the Pro, but the Air can easily handle just about any productivity task you throw at it. The Air feels plenty fast for composing documents, browsing emails and running most applications. Still, we can’t deny that the Pro is the more powerful machine — even if that won’t matter much in most offices.
Winner: MacBook Pro. If speed really matters to you, the MacBook Pro offers slightly better performance for demanding tasks.
Ports and connectivity
The superslim MacBook Air has a limited number of connectivity options. It includes two USB 3.0 ports, one Thunderbolt port and an SDXC card slot, so you can expand your notebook’s storage. The Air can only be linked to a single external monitor, however, via its sole Thunderbolt port.
In comparison, the Pro offers two USB 3.0 ports, two Thunderbolt ports, an HDMI port and an SDXC card slot. That means that the Pro can be linked to two monitors at 2,560 x 1,600 pixels, via the Thunderbolt ports, and an additional monitor at 1080p, via the HDMI port. That’s a perk for business users who really need a lot of extra screen space to work. You’ll also enjoy the ability to plug in an additional accessory, such as an external hard drive to back up your data.
Winner: MacBook Pro. The MacBook Pro’s extra ports might not be a game changer for the average consumer, but they’ll really benefit business users.
Long battery life is important for business users who depend on their notebook to last through the end of the workday. That’s why the MacBook Air’s marathon battery life is such a perk. The slim device lasted an epic 12 hours and 50 minutes on our battery test, which involves continuous Web surfing over Wi-Fi.
The MacBook Pro offers good battery life. The machine ran for 10 hours and 44 minutes on the same test, which is nearly three hours longer than the category average, but two hours shorter than the Air. Both notebooks benefit from Intel’s 4th-generation Core processors, which offer greater efficiency and better longevity.
Winner: MacBook Air. Offering nearly 13 hours of battery life, the MacBook Air easily tops the Pro’s already impressive 10 hours and 44 minutes.
Price and value
Of course, you’ll have to pay for the Pro’s superfast processor and sharp display. The cheapest version of the MacBook Pro costs $1,299, with a 2.6-GHz Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM and 128GB of onboard storage. In comparison, the MacBook Air is a lot more affordable. For $999, you can pick up the low-end model, which still includes a very respectable 1.4-GHz Intel Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM and 128GB of onboard storage.
You can also buy a pricier version of the Air, which costs $1,199 and ups the storage to 256, but is otherwise identical to the lower-end model. The $1,799 Pro model, meanwhile, has a 2.8-GHz Intel Core i5 processor with 8GB of RAM and 512GB of flash storage.
Winner: MacBook Air. The MacBook Pro may be more powerful, but it’s also a lot more expensive, making the Air a lot better value for most business users.
It’s a toss-up, with the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air each taking three of the six categories in this matchup. The Pro sports a sharper display and slightly better performance, making it more reliable for demanding productivity tasks. It also has a few extra ports that could benefit business users. But the Air is slimmer and lighter, with better battery life and a more affordable price point. And for most business users, it offers more than enough power for daily use.