MacBook Pro with Retina Display vs. 2013 MacBook Air (13-inch)
June 10, 2013
Sometimes the Apple rumor mill gets a little ahead of itself. Earlier this year, we heard that Apple's 2013 MacBook Air might sport a Retina Display. Well, so much for that. The new MBA, announced today, is a relatively minor update over its 2012 predecessor. But that doesn't mean it doesn't also have a few very nice upgrades. Let's break them down, as we compare the specs (and other features) of the new 13-inch MacBook Air to the same-sized MacBook Pro with Retina Display.
Before we get started, note that we're only dealing with the 13-inch models of each laptop. The Air also comes in an 11-inch model, and the Retina MacBook Pro also comes in a 15-inch model. And though Apple will let you pay extra to upgrade many components, we are, for simplicity's sake, dealing with the standard models of each notebook.
No changes here. The 2013 MacBook Air (right) has the same physical design as the 2012 MacBook Air ... and, for that matter, every MBA since late 2010.
It's a bit longer and wider than the Retina MBP, but also quite a bit thinner. In fact, the difference in depth is much greater than the above numbers suggest, as they only account for the thickest point of the tapered Air.
Both laptops sport the slick aluminum unibody look that all of Apple's laptops have had since 2011, when the company phased out the standard white MacBook. That also includes the company's excellent multitouch glass trackpad, and backlit keyboard.
No changes here either. The new MacBook Air is still about 17 percent lighter than the beefier rMBP.
As you can see, there's no Retina Display in the new MacBook Air. And considering the challenges Apple would face in balancing battery life, weight, and thickness with that cutting-edge display, it isn't too big of a surprise.
But it's also too bad for us. Because for all of the new Air's nice features (we'll get to those in a minute), its display is growing a bit long in the tooth. It only has 32 percent as many pixels as the Retina MacBook Pro. Sitting next to the rMPB's ultra high-res screen, the Air's display looks relatively pixelated.
Here's the MacBook Air's big upgrade ... though you wouldn't necessarily know it from looking at the above visual. The new Air gets the new fourth-generation Intel Core processor with Haswell microarchitecture. In addition to some advertised performance improvements, it opens the door to some out-of-this-world battery life. We'll get to that in a minute.
The MacBook Air also gets Intel's new integrated graphics. Apple advertises up to 40 percent faster graphics over the previous generation, which you'll find in the Retina MacBook.
No changes here, as the new Airs still sport 4 GB of RAM. The rMBP doubles that.
Storage also stays the same, with 128 GB and 256 GB standard options. But Apple upgraded to faster SSDs in the new models, so there should be a performance bump there. Apple says that it's up to 45 percent faster than the flash storage in the last-gen MacBook Air (which, I believe, is the same flash memory used in the Retina MacBook).
The Air's next big upgrade is to 802.11ac Wi-Fi. It delivers three times the theoretical speeds of 802.11n Wi-Fi. Of course, to take full advantage, you'll need both an 802.11ac router and internet service that's fast enough to keep up. So you could see this as more of a future-proofing feature than something many of us will be able to do much with now.
Every now and then, you hear speculation that Apple will someday add mobile data radios to its MacBooks. But, for now, you'll have to find a Wi-Fi network or create your own hotspot in order to get data on the go.
All standard here, with Apple's 720p front-facing "FaceTime" cameras on both laptops.
Not only did the battery hardware get a little boost from last year's MacBook Air, but the results have dramatically increased. That Haswell chip has the new Air lasting "up to 12 hours" for standard web browsing. Of course very few of us will use our laptops only for looking at web pages, with brightness set at 75 percent. So, for more typical use, you can probably shave at least a couple hours off of both estimates.
Here's your consolation prize for missing out on that Retina Display. The new MacBook Air dropped US$100 from last year's Air. So now we're looking at a $400 premium to get that Retina Display (and other upgrades) in the Pro.
Of course these are just the starting prices, based on 128 GB of storage with no upgrades. The pricing ladder climbs quickly once you start adding extra goodies.
Wrap-upNeither laptop is perfect, but their respective strengths are clearer than ever:
Do you want a ridiculously sharp display? Willing to pay for it? Can you allow a bit more weight and thickness, and lose some battery life? Then go with the MacBook Pro with Retina Display.
Or maybe your bigger priorities are battery life and ultra-light weight? If you don't mind a less than cutting-edge display as a tradeoff, then the new MacBook Air could be the notebook for you.
If you're really patient, though, it's inevitable that Apple will eventually give the MacBook Air a Retina Display. Since most of us typically own laptops for a few years before upgrading, it's at least worth considering. Just don't hold your breath every time the rumor mill tells you that it's right around the corner.
For more, you can check out our full review of the MacBook Pro with Retina Display.