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Intel MacBook Pro 13-inch vs Intel MacBook Air: What's the difference between these Apple laptops?

, Former associate editor · ·
Analysis Interpretation of the news based on evidence, including data; projecting how events might unfold based on past events or how products and services compare against each other.

(Pocket-lint) - Apple has released the new version of the 13-inch MacBook Pro and MacBook Air based around its new M1 processor. However, the Intel version of the 13-inch MacBook Pro remains.

And, although the Intel-based MacBook Air has gone the way of the dodo, it'll still be available to buy from third-parties for a while yet. If you're looking for a new MacBook Air from Apple though, it'll have to be the M1-based version. 

Earlier in 2020 Apple upgraded the Intel versions of both these laptops, latterly the MacBook Pro which was upgraded with the latest specs to bring it in line with last year's MacBook Pro 16-inch.

The cheaper starting price on the MacBook Air will appeal to many, especially as there are a great many similarities between the two models. 

So what's the best option for you? If you're considering other models as well, check out our bigger MacBook guide

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The 13-inch MacBook Pro is available in silver and space grey while the Air is also available in Gold as well. It's a bit more of a rose gold than it used to be. 

The 13-inch MacBook Pro measures 304.1 x 212.4 x 15.6mm and weighs 1.4kg. That means it's slightly thicker and heavier than the older mid-2019 model which was 14.9mm thick/1.37kg. 

The 13-inch MacBook Air measures 304.1 x 212.4 x 16.1mm (4.1mm at the thinnest edge) and weighs 1.29kg. You'll note that both these laptops have the same width and depth dimensions. They're also actually pretty close in terms of weight these days.

The keyboard has been completely redesigned on both models after mass criticism of Apple's previous Butterfly design. That older keyboard design remains the subject of an ongoing recall program across all portable Macs. 

The so-called Magic Keyboard is designed to be much more durable and with better travel for more comfortable typing. The physical Escape key has also returned. All Macs now have Touch ID for fingerprint login and Apple Pay authentication.

You'll get two USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports on the two lower-end 13-inch models, and four on the top-end pair of models. Yep, there are four standard models of the 13-inch MacBook Pro. The MacBook Air has two USB-C Thunderbolt ports across all models. Both laptops can drive dual 4K monitors and have 3.5mm headphone jacks. 

The 13-inch MacBook Pro now has the Touch Bar across the range; it used to be on selected models only. However, it is a key difference between the Air and Pro nowadays. It's a concession to users that want a more tactile touch experience. But with the iPad Pro being touted more and more as a laptop-replacement it seems that full touchscreens will remain in the sphere of iPad rather than Mac. 

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Essentially, the same display is used in both models here - there's a resolution of 2,560 x 1,600 pixels (227ppi), the same as older 13-inch MacBook Pros and MacBook Airs. 

All MacBook Pro displays boast True Tone while the Pro also supports the wide P3 colour gamut. True Tone is a tech that was first introduced on the iPad Pro, adjusting the screen to match the colour temperature of the lighting in the room. 

Above the display there's no improvement to the FaceTime camera on either model: it's still only 720p HD capable rather than Full HD.

The bottom two MacBook Pros with the Apple M1 processor replace the 8th generation Intel Core chips on the bottom two models - though you can probably pick up the 8th gen models still from third-party resellers. The two Intel models now available have 10th generation chips and sit above the two M1 models. 

The 10th gen Core i5 quad-core chips are clocked at 2.0Ghz. You can also configure up to 10th generation Core i7 at 2.3GHz with maximum Turbo Boost speeds lof 4.1Ghz. 

Unfortunately, there's no discrete graphics option on the 13-inch MacBook Pro - unlike the 16-inch Pro - but Intel's Iris Plus graphics chips are much more impressive than the limited integrated graphics of old. 

The now-discontinued Intel MacBook Air has 10th generation Intel Core processors across the board so that means Intel Iris Plus Graphics as well. The entry-level model is a Core i3 (1.1GHz dual-core) but generally, you're looking at Core i5. You can max things out at a 1.2GHz quad-core Core i7. 

The 13-inch MacBook Pro can have up to 32GB of memory but 8GB of 2133MHz LPDDR3 memory is standard and 16GB of 3733MHz LPDDR4X on the higher-end models. The storage tops out at 4TB but starts with a minimum of 256GB. Adding more internal storage at the time of purchase ups the cost significantly. 

The Air now also has a minimum 256GB of storage as standard with a maximum of 2TB. And there's also a minimum of 8GB of memory. 

The Intel MacBook Pro lineup all has Apple's own T2 chip. This is a chip dedicated to security that handles Touch ID and some other capabilities. It isn't inside the Intel MacBook Air. 

Both these Macs run Apple's latest version of its Mac operating system - macOS 10.15 Catalina upgradeable to macOS 11 Big Sur - if you get a new model it might have Big Sur already. 

The 13-inch Intel MacBook Pro starts at $1,299/£1,299 for the outgoing 8th generation Intel Core model and $1,799/£1,799 for the still-available 10th generation Core i5 versions. The MacBook Air starts at $999/£999. As usual, you can fine-tune the processor, memory and storage, though as always the larger SSD storage options get rather expensive.

As with the newer M1 versions, the 13-inch MacBook Pro will be a default pick for many users but the question now should be...why? There are some extra features such as support for the P3 colour space, Touch Bar and, on the more expensive MacBook Pro 13-inch models, four Thunderbolt ports. 

But you really will have to be a Pro aficionado - or need the extra power and storage you can upgrade the Pro to - to plump for it over the MacBook Air. If you really want the Intel version, then pick up a bargain on the outgoing Intel-based MacBook Air rather than the more expensive Pro. 

Writing by Dan Grabham.