Retina MacBook Pro (2013) vs MacBook Air (2013): What's the difference?

Apple recently updated its Retina MacBook Pro line with Intel’s fourth-generation Haswell processors, new graphics chips and better battery life. It also dropped prices across, significantly.

The 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro and 13-inch MacBook Air are therefore more similar than ever, but they still have their own, unique differences that make one better than the other for certain situations. This means you'll have to struggle with which laptop is best.

It's a difficult decision to make for sure, but Pocket-lint has detailed the specs, pros and cons of both versions to help you make the best choice. Here’s how Apple's laptops stack up when compared to one another:

Display

The new Retina MacBook Pro has a display with a much higher resolution than the new MacBook Air. Apple introduced the Retina display for MacBook Pros in 2012, and many OS X apps have since been designed and re-designed with this resolution ratio in mind. The result is ridiculously sharp text.

  • 13.3-inch Retina MacBook Pro (late 2013): 2,560-by-1,600-pixel resolution at 227 ppi
  • 13.3-inch MacBook Air (mid-2013): 1,440-by-900-pixel resolution at 127 ppi

Apple also claimed the new Retina MacBook Pro is 75 per cent less glossy than the non-Retina version.

Battery

Battery life is a big thing for many people. After all, the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air are both laptops, meaning they're both meant to be portable. But portability is nothing without decent battery life. Thankfully, both can deliver substantial juice. That's thanks to Intel's Haswell processors.

  • 13.3-inch Retina MacBook Pro (late 2013): 9 hours (95-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery)
  • 13.3-inch MacBook Air (mid-2013): 12 hours (54-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery)

Still, three hours is a big difference. If you're the type who needs a laptop to run throughout most of the day without being tethered to the wall, the MacBook Air is the better option. Hands down. The Retina display on the MacBook Pro is a huge power-suck.

Performance

Both the new Retina MacBook Pro and new MacBook Air deliver great performance, though they don't compare to the 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro and its Core i7 processor and a dedicated GPU.

  • 13.3-inch Retina MacBook Pro (late 2013): 2.4-GHz dual-core Intel Core i5
  • 13.3-inch MacBook Air (mid-2013): 1.3-GHz dual-core Intel Core i5

The Intel Haswell-powered Retina MacBook Pro and MacBook Air are very similar in the performance arena, according to benchmarks from GeekBench. However, the scores also show that the Retina MacBook Pro is the better choice for power users intent on using their machine for video- or photo-editing.

Portability

Apple has succeeded in getting the Retina MacBook Pro down in terms of size, but it's still hefty in the weight department. This will obviously be a turn off for people who need a lightweight and extremely mobile machine.

Size

  • 13.3-inch Retina MacBook Pro (late 2013): 12.4 x 8.6 x 0.71 inches
  • 13.3-inch MacBook Air (mid-2013): 12.8 x 9.0 x 0.68 inches

Weight

  • 13.3-inch Retina MacBook Pro (late 2013): 3.46 lbs (1.57 kg)
  • 13.3-inch MacBook Air (mid-2013): 2.96 lbs (1.35 kg)

The Retina MacBook Pro's width and depth is actually smaller than the MacBook Air. That's amazing, considering the MacBook Air's name is, well, suppose to conjure up mental images of it being "thin" and "light" as air.

The MacBook Air does have the "light" part down, though. It weighs nearly a half-pound less than the Retina MacBook Pro. That's a noticeable difference. So, while the Retina MacBook Pro is slightly smaller, it's certainly still heavier than the MacBook Air, and therefore it's not a clear winner for portability purposes.

Other differences

Storage

  • 13.3-inch Retina MacBook Pro (late 2013): 128 / 256 / 512GB
  • 13.3-inch MacBook Air (mid-2013): 128 / 256GB

The Retina MacBook Pro offers substantial storage with the 512GB option, though you always have cloud storage if you desire more space in the future.

Graphics

  • 13.3-inch Retina MacBook Pro (late 2013): Intel Iris Graphics
  • 13.3-inch MacBook Air (mid-2013): Intel HD Graphics 5000

In terms of overall graphics performance, the capabilities of the Intel Iris are better than the Intel HD Graphics. Still, neither of these computers would be ideal for power desktop gamers.

Connections

  • 13.3-inch Retina MacBook Pro (late 2013): Two Thunderbolt 2 ports and one HDMI port
  • 13.3-inch MacBook Air (mid-2013): One Thunderbolt port

Intel has claimed Thunderbolt 2 can transfer a 4K video while simultaneously displaying it on a discrete monitor. The tech also combines two separate 10 Gbit/s channels (from Thunderbolt) into a single 20 Gbit/s channel. The MacBook Air does not have Thunderbolt 2, so it's not the best options for peripherals.

Price

  • 13.3-inch Retina MacBook Pro (late 2013): Starts at £1,099
  • 13.3-inch MacBook Air (mid-2013): Starts at £949

If price is your main focus, going with the MacBook Air will save you £150.

What's the same?

  • Display size: 13.3-inch display
  • Connections: SDXC Card slot and two USB 3.0 ports
  • Camera: 720p FaceTime HD Camera
  • RAM: 4GB
  • Connectivity: 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0 wireless

Conclusion

The 13-inch MacBook Air (mid-2013) starts at £949. The 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro (late 2013) model is £1,099. For £150 more, the Retina MacBook Pro gives you more performance, more connectivity options and a higher-resolution display. But it also brings less battery life and less portability.

To truly decide which is best for you, you'll have to determine what you need. If you're on the go and constantly traveling, a MacBook Air might suit you best. Alternatively, if you watch many movies or use Photoshop daily, than the brawniness of the Retina MacBook Pro might be more fitting.

Just remember that £150 isn't much of a price difference for some. It's therefore better to get more than what you need, just in case. That's just Pocket-lint's opinion, though. It's all up to you. Choose wisely.