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13-inch MacBook Pro Retina vs. 13-inch MacBook Air (2013)

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In a quest for performance and long battery life most Apple shoppers will ultimately start to compare the 13-inch MacBook Pro Retina Late 2013 model and the MacBook Air Mid-2013 model which Apple introduced this summer.

Both of these new Apple notebooks use the latest Intel 4th Generation Haswell processors which combine with OS X Mavericks to deliver very long battery life. With Apple ratings of more than 8 hours, both MacBooks offer all-day battery life while also offering a lot of performance and portability.

There are many differences between these two Apple notebooks which users should consider and compare before buying one. The specs are different from previous years and the new 13-inch MacBook Pro Retina is thinner and lighter, which makes the comparison even more important.

13-inch-MacBook-Pro-Retina-vs.-13-inch-MacBook-Air mid-2013

The starting price for the MacBook Air mid-2013 edition is $1,099 and the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display late 2013 model is $200 more at $1,299. For $200 users get more performance, more connectivity options and a higher resolution display, but sacrifice battery life and the lighter weight of the MacBook Air.

Read: 13-inch MacBook Pro Retina vs. 15-inch MacBook Pro Retina (Late 2013)

Here’s what’s the same about these two Apple notebooks. While they don’t share as much as the two MacBook Pro Retina models.

  • 13.3-inch display
  • SDXC Card slot
  • Two USB 3.0 Ports
  • 802.11ac WiFi
  • FaceTime HD Camera
  • Bluetooth 4.0 Wireless

Here’s a look at how the 13-inch MacBook Pro Retina compares to the 13-inch MacBook Air using Haswell processors.

Display

One of the biggest differences between the new MacBook Pro Retina 13-inch model and the 13-inch MacBook Air is that the display on the Pro is a much higher resolution. Apple introduced the Retina Display last year, and now many apps are designed to look good on this super-high resolution notebook display. Here is the display spec comparison

  • 13-inch MacBook Pro Retina (late 2013) – 2,560 x 1,600 / 227 pixels per inch
  • 13-inch MacBook Air (mid 2013) - 1,440 x 900 / 127 pixels per inch

The difference of nearly double the pixels per inch doesn’t necessarily allow user to put twice as many apps on the screen at once, as this would make things incredibly small. Instead, the MacBook Pro Retina’s effective resolution is 1280 x 800, which packs four times as many pixels into place as a 13-inch MacBook Pro without a Retina display. The result is incredibly sharp text, but not as much room to put apps on the display.

Users can increase the resolution to 1,440 x 900, just like the MacBook Air, to use more on the screen and users will still enjoy sharper text, but it is not at a Retina setting. Here’s a look at how to change these settings.

There is no matte option, but when comparing the MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro Retina, the Air may be a better option.

There is no matte option, but when comparing the MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro Retina, the Air may be a better option.

It’s important top bring up the ability to change these settings, because many users like the MacBook Air 13-inch version because it makes using several windows on-screen at the same time.

Apple claims the MacBook Pro Retina is 75% less glossy than the non retina model, which is important for some users as the MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro Retina only come with glossy displays. When it comes down to working outdoors, both notebooks will work, but Xavier Lanier of Gotta Be Mobile prefers the MacBook Air.

Portability

While the larger MacBook Pro Retina requires more commitment to carry everywhere, the new MacBook Pro Retina with a 13-inch display is lighter than the earlier model and slightly thinner as well.

MacBook Air mid-2013 more portable

Here’s a quick look at the MacBook Pro Retina vs. MacBook Air dimensions and weight, and it’s not surprising to see that the machines are very close.

  • 13-inch MBPr – 0.71″ x 12.35″ x 8.62″ – 3.46 pounds
  • 13-inch MBA – 0.11-0.68″ x 12.8″ x 8.94″ – 2.96 pounds

The MacBook Pro Retina is slightly smaller in width than the MacBook Air, but the 13-inch MacBook Air is still thinner. That said, the thickest point is a microscopic .03-inch difference. The front edge of the MacBook Pro Retina is thicker than the MacBook Air.

The weight difference is sure to be of concern for mobile users, and this difference is just a half a pound. For perspective that’s like adding 40 quarters to your backpack, which is not much over an average day commuting. Simply put, the size and weight difference between the 13-inch MacBook Pro Retina and the MacBook Air will not likely make a difference.

Battery Life

The big differentiator here is the battery life of the 13-inch MacBook Air, which Apple benchmarks at 12 hours. Apple’s new MacBook Pro Retina Late 2013 battery life is listed at 9 hours for the 13-inch model.

While both of these can deliver all day battery life, there is no question that the MacBook Air with Haswell can deliver longer battery life than the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Haswell.

In our testing the 13-inch MacBook Air mid-2013 is capable of delivering 13 hours or more of battery life in a real world setting.  The MacBook Pro Retina battery life with Haswell should deliver at least 10 hours based on tests on the 15-inch MBPr, which exceeds Apple’s promise by more than an hour in multiple tests.

Performance

The MacBook Pro Retina and MacBook Air 2013 editions both deliver good performance, and while not in line with the power the 15-inch MacBook pro retina can deliver with a Core i7 processor and a dedicated GPU it is enough for many users. As the benchmarks show, the new Intel Haswell powered MacBook Pro Retina and MacBook Air are close in terms of performance.

The chart below shows GeekBench scores for these two models, using the entry-level models. If you want to see the MacBook Pro Retina vs. MacBook Air Haswell benchmarks, here’s what you want.

13-inch MacBook Pro Retina Late 2013 vs 13-inch MacBook Air Mid 2013 Benchmarks for Intel Haswell.

13-inch MacBook Pro Retina Late 2013 vs 13-inch MacBook Air Mid 2013 Benchmarks for Intel Haswell.

Users who need to do video editing and more photo editing should consider the MacBook Pro Retina, and will want to investigate the higher end options which will yield more performance.

The MacBook Pro Retina comes with Thunderbolt 2 connectivity, which means faster transfer rates to compatible accessories, and offers two ports instead of one. It also includes a HDMI out which is absent on the MacBook Air.

Price

MacBook Pro Retina vs Macbook Air 2013There is a $200 price difference between the MacBook Pro Retina and the MacBook Air, which is enough for some shoppers to immediately pick the MacBook Air, but there is a reason for the higher price.

The MacBook Pro Retina Late 2013 model delivers faster performance thanks to the more powerful Haswell processor, better Iris integrated graphics and it comes with a higher-resolution display. While not a gaming machine, users will find more power on the MacBook Pro.

The MacBook Air is cheaper and offers more than enough performance for the average user who wants a thin and light notebook that can deliver super battery life for surfing the web, editing home videos and photos and using many other apps.

The base MacBook Pro Retina late 2013 13-inch model and the base MacBook Air late 2013 13-inch both come with 4GB of RAM and 128GB of storage. Adding $200 to the price doubles the storage on the MacBook Air and doubles storage and RAM on the MacBook Pro. This is a worthwhile upgrade for many users as Apple does not let users upgrade later.

Josh Smith is Editor of GottaBeMobile and Notebooks.com. He's always looking for ways to help you get the most of your gear and loves to talk about tech on radio and TV. Josh uses an iOS and Android devices as well as Mac and Windows Computers. Josh Smith on Google+ Email: [email protected]

17 Comments

  1. Hoh Wee Jay

    10/25/2013 at 8:08 pm

    A good comparison which is what i’ve been looking for!!! Thx a lot.. i’ll be getting the haswell 13″ rMBP

  2. 50417

    10/25/2013 at 10:34 pm

    I am a University Student studying Computer Engineering?
    i just wanted to know if there is much difference with Iris and HD 5000 graphics…

    The Two models That i am stuck between buying is

    1)MacBook Pro 13″

    2.4GHz Dual-core Intel Core i5, Turbo Boost up to 2.9GHz
    8GB 1600MHz DDR3L SDRAM
    256GB PCIe-based Flash Storage
    Apple USB SuperDrive
    Backlit Keyboard (English) & User’s Guide
    Mini DisplayPort to VGA Adapter
    Priced $1607
    2)MacBook Air 13″

    1.7GHz Dual-Core Intel Core i7, Turbo Boost up to 3.3GHz
    8GB 1600MHz LPDDR3 SDRAM
    256GB Flash Storage
    Apple USB SuperDrive
    Backlit Keyboard (English) & User’s Guide
    Mini DisplayPort to VGA Adapter
    Priced $1657
    Which one is better choice… Btw i live in Nepal where there are a lot of powercuts…

    Thanks

    • Yogendra Rampuria (Yogi)

      10/26/2013 at 8:34 am

      I am having exactly same question. But after a little thought, I realised that i7 MBA is a customised configuration, as oppose to MPB i5 2.4 GHz. So, battery life on i7 MBA will definitely be less then 12 hrs benchmarked. It might still beat MBP’s 9hrs battery, though.

      I have settled on MBP (pre-ordered) for myself as an extra 200 grams in MBP is worth the $$$ saving plus performance.

  3. Man

    10/26/2013 at 8:01 am

    I am thinking the same question.

  4. MBP and MacBook Air user

    10/26/2013 at 9:35 am

    50417,

    Your first option mentioned is actually the new MacBook Pro (MBP) Retina 13″. The new MBP is lighter then the previous gen. It also have a better screen resolution than MacBook air, plus a better battery life than previous gens.

    Processorwise, I would say that both should perform similarly. Although Air is 1.7GHz, it’s i7 processor should make up for the clock difference.

    If weight is a concern for you and you can opt for a less pixel machine, go with the MacBook Air. It will also give you better battery time than MBP (you mentioned about frequent power cuts). Otherwise pick the MBP 13″. BTW screen is really magnificent on retina MBP’s.

    I’m a computer engineer, and used MacBook Air 11″ for long time. When MBP retina appeared on the market I switched to 15″ retina. I really love the screen, pixel density and CPU power. However I really miss the portability on the MacBook Air. It was light and powerful enough for my needs. I’m a person who carry his computer to everywhere. I guess I’m waiting for MacBook Air retina :-) and wont hesitate to switch back to MacBook Air then.

    One last thing: You don’t need to buy Apple Superdrive and MiniDisplayPort to VGA adapter from Apple. I don’t know the availability in Nepal but third party solutions works pretty good as well. I have two different USB DVD/RW drives and two third party MiniDisplayPort to VGA and HDMI adapter cables, they all work flawlessly. Third party option may save you same cash….

    • 50417S

      11/07/2013 at 1:36 am

      Ahh … Thank you very much…
      If you could jst suggest me those third party drive i would be very greatful..:)

  5. DB

    10/26/2013 at 9:58 am

    “Should” is not the word I was looking for.
    We need test-drives, real application benchmarks to value the effective autonomy difference between MBA and MBPr

  6. MBP and MacBook Air user

    10/26/2013 at 10:19 am

    DB, Bechmarks tell you nothing except when you are comparing ‘apple’ with ‘apple’. Even then other specs ie. graphics chip) should stay the same to be equally compared. The reason is that performance you get is totally depend on the type of the application, how it behaves, its ability to take advantage of the specifics of the CPU, graphics chip even OS, etc. So in short you may get a better ‘performance’ for a lower clock speed CPU computer.

    I gave up being a ‘benchmark maniac’ years ago when I realised numbers don’t really mean a lot. What is best for me is what suits my needs best. I ended up buying a computer for less with a lower spec (ie. CPU) but whole a lot faster for my specific software needs then the state-of-the-art latest CPU computer.

    • DB

      10/27/2013 at 6:19 am

      So u just stay at seller brand words? Cool for you :)
      I prefer read real datas and test comparisons and then decide what suits best to me.
      Same settings -> value result
      Half brightness, web browsing. Mac Book Air goes up to 12 hours…Retina how long?
      Let’s say, Photoshop, full brightness, full load etc etc. etc.
      That’s simple, cause *we* do not care about the kind of cpu that a notebook uses, but the result produced by that specific combo.
      Straight easy.
      “Benchmark mania” has nothing to do with this way of thinkin’, I tell ya.

      I simply wanna upgrade my Mac Book Pro 2010 and I’m still doubtful about choosing Mac Book Air or New MBPr.
      We know everything about Air after months of reviews, tests, owners’ feedbacks.

      I thought this was a serious comparison, but as a matter of fact it’s just a page where datas that we already have (MBA) are put next to price and other Apple hypothetic numbers of a notebook (Retina 2013) that’s not been tested yet.

      If that is enough to open your wallet and buy a product…well cool for. Because it’s not for me, and it’s my money we talkin’ about, well I’m able to say that this is not what I was expecting and it’s neither a serious products comparison.
      Period.

      Cheers

  7. Jo D

    10/26/2013 at 1:23 pm

    i am macbook air fan and I would definitely get this one. :)

  8. Edgar

    10/29/2013 at 11:59 am

    Thanks for the comparison. I just went through this when buying my mid 2012 MBA. Now I am looking at handing it down and getting more battery life from the the Haswell. I have a couple questions. Do you believe the 9 hour vs 12 hour difference is attributable solely to the retina display and what resolution is chosen? In other words, Is it 9 if you use 2560 but more if you use 1440 native to the MBA? With aging eyes I would likely not use more than 1440 anyway. Is there truly a benefit in sharpness and is it only noticeable in apps designed for retina?

  9. Old Eyes

    10/30/2013 at 3:23 pm

    I was all set on the Haswell MBA until I checked it out and realized my mid-40s eyesight much preferred the crisper retina. I decided to wait until the upgrade. The MBPr will replace a 2010 iMac as a “portable desktop” in a tiny apt, so ultra portability isn’t much of an issue. If I spent a lot of time outside working, I’d be less likely to choose the retina over the air, but I don’t. My iPad still goes into my teaching bag most days unless I am planning to work on documents, and I have an older LCD in the closet for the rare occasion when I need to work on a bunch of documents at once.

    As for benchmarks, I agree with the previous commenter — benchmarks are only generally useful except for users have specific needs, such as video editing. Even my soon-to-be-replaced iMac is overkill for my needs and it’s going to a thrilled teenager. As for weight — well, I’ve owned a 1.5gz powerbook, a wall street, and even a blackberry so the MBPr feels ridiculously light to me :)

  10. Jose Miguel

    11/01/2013 at 10:36 am

    i wan to buy macbook air 13 but my friends told me that is better rMBP13. The MBA and rMBP have similar prices. i’m a web designer , Its my question.. Thank you.

  11. macdarabutler (@macdarabutler)

    11/06/2013 at 6:34 am

    Thanks for this article, I have the exact same dilemma!

  12. diobrando1

    11/06/2013 at 7:02 am

    Yet it doesn’t convince though…several people on official Apple Discussions and other forums are complaining about lags and difficulties about the Retina 13″ (opening for example Safari Tabs or other), especially when screen area is not set as the native one but a bigger (of course with a non-retina DPI) one or piloting an external monitor.

    It’s not clear if these problems come from OSX Mavericks or Iris 5100…

  13. Michael Benis

    11/15/2013 at 11:18 am

    Could anyone tell me why the MBA display is preferred over the MBP retina display? I do quite a lot of work outdoors

  14. eric

    01/07/2014 at 1:38 pm

    So i picked up the air 13″ and then returned it to try out the retina macbook pro 13″. Reason being is that I use photoshop for editing photos/graphic design type work as a hobby. My question is would the air be able to handle regular photoshop work using filters, effects, many layer type projects or would I be better off sticking with the retina 13″. The screen isn’t a big deal and I rather have a lighter more battery efficient machine for i will be living in japan coming this april. But I also want to make my investment last down the road and if I will be using photoshop a lot along with many word documents for the rest of my college career, I want to make sure I have a computer that will hold its own. Thank you!!

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