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Grow Your Business Technology

Should You Buy a MacBook or a MacBook Air?

MacBook Air 13-inch with Retina Display
Credit: Apple

You know you want a Mac, but now you have to choose between the classic MacBook and the newly released MacBook Air. Deciphering spec sheets isn't everyone's forte, but luckily you don't have to. Here's a breakdown of cost and feature differences of each machine.

Apple laptops are expensive in general, but there's not a huge price difference between the MacBook and the MacBook Air.

Credit: Apple

There are two basic versions of the MacBook Air. As the names imply, the characteristic that differentiates the two is the display. When you see "Retina display" listed on a Mac product that means the device you're viewing has more PPI (pixels per inch) which results in a clearer image. With a Retina display the human eye cannot discern individual pixels; this feature is highly desirable for visual artists and creative professionals, but for standard business users it is not necessary.

MacBook Air 13-inch: The older MacBook Air 13-inch starts at $999 (1.8 GHz Dual Core Processor and 128 GB storage). While this laptop does not have a Retina display or an Intel brand CPU, it's still a suitable Mac for most business users, including freelancers and creative pros.

New MacBook Air 13-inch with Retina display: Apple also sells a newly released $1,199 version of the MacBook Air, complete with Retina Display and 1.6 GHz 8th generation Intel Core i5 CPU, 8GB RAM, and 128 GB SSD. There is also a high-end version for $1,399 (with 1.6 GHz 8th generation Intel Core i5 CPU, 8GB RAM, and 256 GB SSD).

Credit: Apple

Apple's latest version of the MacBook comes standard with a Retina display, but there are two versions of the laptop.

Entry-level MacBook: The lower priced laptop of the two starts at $1,299, but despite the relatively high starting price it only has a 1.2-GHz Intel Core m3 processor. On the plus side this MacBook does have 8GB RAM, and you can upgrade to an Intel i5 for an additional $100 or an i7 for $250 more.

High-end MacBook: The higher priced MacBook starts at $1,599 and comes with an Intel Core i5, 8GB RAM. Like with all Apple computers, upgrades are available. If you want to opt for an Intel Core i7 it will cost you and extra $150 and you can up your storage to a whopping 16GB for an additional $200.

Both the MacBook and new MacBook Air come in Space Grey, Gold and Silver, but there are a few other design differences. First, the size. The MacBook measures 12 inches across and weighs in at 2.03 pounds. While you might think of the MacBook Air as the lightest of Apple's laptops, that's not the case. The new MacBook Air measures 13.3 inches across and is heavier at 2.75 pounds, while the older less expensive MacBook air is even heavier at 2.96 pounds.

The MacBook is thinner than the new MacBook Air, too. The MacBook is between 0.14 and 0.52 inches thick while the latest MacBook Air measures between 0.16 to0 .61 inches. The older MacBook Air is actually a bit slimmer at its smallest point, measuring 0.11 to 0.68 inches.

According to Apple, the battery life for the MacBook Air is 12-hours compared to the MacBook at just 10-hours. Even the older MacBook Air is said to have a 12-hour battery life, so if battery is a deal-breaker for you the MacBook Air may be your best bet.

When it comes to ports, the new MacBook Air and MacBook are very similar. The MacBook has one USB-C port, while the newer and older MacBook Airs have two USB-C ports. The older MacBook Air also has a Thunderbolt 2 port and an SDXC card slot.

The keyboards on the new MacBook Air and MacBook both feature a Force Touch trackpad and Touch ID. The MacBook has one notable keyboard feature that the Air does not, which is a redesigned butterfly-style key mechanism. While this is not visible to users it is said to offer a slightly improved typing experience, though most users are unlikely to notice the difference. The older MacBook air does not have a Force Touch trackpad or Touch ID.

If you want a Mac laptop because you love Apple products and have general-use needs there's no reason to opt for the most expensive laptop out there, and the older version of the MacBook Air will likely suit your needs. Not sure if that describes you? Check out the features the MacBook and new MacBook Air have, if you're not even sure of what those features mean or why they might be important, you don't need them, and you won't miss them.

On the other hand, if you're excited by the features specific to the MacBook or new MacBook Air, especially when it comes to the Retina display, go for one of the higher priced Macs.

Mona Bushnell

Mona Bushnell is a New York City-based Staff Writer for Business News Daily and Business.com. She has a B.A. in Writing, Literature, and Publishing from Emerson College and has previously worked as an IT Technician, a Copywriter, a Software Administrator, a Scheduling Manager and an Editorial Writer. Mona began freelance writing full-time in 2014 and joined the Business.com team in 2017.