Though Apple didn’t give it a special event or keynote presentation, the MacBook product line received an update today. The biggest change is a price drop, but the MacBook Pro with Retina Display also got a slightly upgraded processor. How does the updated Retina MBP compare to the MacBook Air? Read on.
Update: This comparison includes the 2012 MacBook Air. For the newer version, check out our comparison of the Retina MacBook to the new 2013 MacBook Air.
Note that we’re focusing on the 13-inch models of both computers (the Air also comes in a cheaper 11-inch version, while the Retina MacBook Pro is also available in a pricier 15-inch model).
We’re also focusing on the standard configurations of each laptop. You can pay Apple extra to pimp your Mac with superior specs, but for simplicity’s sake, we’re leaving those upgrades alone.
There isn’t a huge difference in size, but the MacBook Air retains its crown as Apple’s thinnest laptop. Measuring the thickest points of both, the Retina MBP is around 10 percent thicker. Remember, though, that the Air is tapered, and – at their thinnest points – the Air is much thinner.
The Air is slightly longer and wider, so the Pro will be a hair more compact in a backpack.
The MacBook Air is lighter, but not by a huge margin. The Retina MacBook Pro is about 20 percent heavier.
This is where the MacBook Pro with Retina Display earns its name. Its 2,560 x 1,600 display packs about an extra 100 pixels per inch (PPI) over its cousin.
The Retina MacBook Pro also has a faster Intel Core i5 chip, with the 256 GB model clocked higher than the 128 GB version.
Customers with high-end needs can pay more to customize either device with a faster Core i7.
Both MacBooks ship with integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000.
In the standard configurations, the Retina Pro ships with double the Air’s 4 GB of RAM.
The standard storage options are the same, at 128 GB and 256 GB. Both computers sport speedy solid state drives (SSDs).
Also note that neither device has an optical drive. If that's your priority, you may want to look at the non-Retina MacBook Pro (or invest in an external DVD drive).
The Retina MacBook Pro has a higher-capacity battery, but it’s also driving a display with nearly three million extra pixels. Thus Apple advertises an equal seven hours of web use for both computers (though five hours is more likely with heavier use).
Nothing unexpected here. Standard Wi-Fi and Bluetooth options on both devices.
All standard in the cameras department too, with 720p front-facing shooters on the Air and the Pro.
The Air is cheaper, but not by as much as it used to be. The Retina Pro’s price drop has it starting at only US$300 more than its skinnier compatriot.
The higher-end 13-inch Retina MBP (with 256 GB of storage and a 2.6 GHz processor) costs $1,700. The 256 GB version of the Air will set you back $1,400.
Apple markets the MacBook Pro to professionals, while the Air is the company’s consumer-level laptop. Both computers cost a pretty penny, though, so you’ll want to closely examine your needs before throwing down for one of them.
The MacBook Pro with Retina Display is the more powerful computer, but the MacBook Air packs plenty of punch for most regular consumer use. Your decision, then, may come down to whether that ultra-sharp screen is worth an extra $300 (and slightly more heft).
If you aren’t in a rush to buy a MacBook, though, it might be worth waiting for the (lower-powered) Haswell upgrades to both of these machines. They'll likely arrive later this year. It’s also possible that Apple will give the MacBook Air a Retina Display sometime in the next year or two – though that's entirely speculation at this point.
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