Comparing the 13-Inch MacBook Pro to the MacBook Air and iPad Pro

In the last two months, Apple has refreshed the 13-inch MacBook Air, the 13-inch MacBook Pro, and the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, all of which have similarities in performance and functionality.

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In our latest video, we went hands-on with all three of Apple's new machines for a detailed performance comparison to give MacRumors readers some insight into which device might be the best purchase for their needs.

In This Comparison


We're comparing base model devices from Apple, with specs and price points below:

  • 12.9-inch ‌iPad Pro‌ With Magic Keyboard ($1,350) - A12Z Bionic chip, 6GB RAM, 128GB storage.

  • ‌MacBook Pro‌ ($1,299) - 1.4GHz 8th-generation quad-core Intel Core i5 processor, Intel Iris Plus Graphics 645, 8GB 2133MHz RAM, 256GB SSD.

  • ‌MacBook Air‌ ($999) - 1.1GHz 10th-generation dual-core Intel Core i3 processor, Intel Iris Plus Graphics, 8GB 3733MHz RAM, 256GB SSD.


Note that the ‌iPad Pro‌ is priced at $999, but the Magic Keyboard is a necessary purchase to put it on par with Apple's laptops as it adds a full keyboard and trackpad. The Magic Keyboard is $350.

The ‌iPad Pro‌ is also available in a smaller 11-inch model that we did not use for this comparison, and pricing on that model starts at $799 for the tablet and $299 for the keyboard.

Design


The ‌MacBook Air‌ and the ‌MacBook Pro‌ are similar in terms of design (and we have a full comparison here), featuring a unibody aluminum casing, dual Thunderbolt 3 ports, 13-inch Retina displays, Magic Keyboards with scissor switch keys, Force Touch trackpads, T2 security chips, and Touch ID.


The ‌MacBook Pro‌ has a brighter display and a Touch Bar, while the ‌MacBook Air‌ has an hour more battery life and it supports up to a 6K display.


The two machines are close to the same size, though the ‌MacBook Air‌ has a tapered design and weighs 2.8 pounds compared to the 3.1 pounds of the ‌MacBook Pro‌.


The ‌iPad Pro‌, of course, is radically different because it is a tablet with a touch screen that morphs into a laptop-like design with the addition of the Magic Keyboard. The Magic Keyboard also has scissor switch keys and a trackpad, though it's smaller and doesn't use Force Touch.


The ‌iPad Pro‌ uses Face ID instead of ‌Touch ID‌, and when paired with the Magic Keyboard, it weighs in at 3 pounds, so it's just about the same weight as the ‌MacBook Pro‌. It's a lot more versatile than either the ‌MacBook Air‌ or the ‌MacBook Pro‌ though because it can be used without the Magic Keyboard, dropping the weight down to just over a pound.



Benchmark Comparisons


We used Geekbench 5 on all three machines to test the overall performance, and unsurprisingly, Apple's ‌iPad Pro‌ is the fastest of the bunch. Apple's modern A-series chips beat out many similar Intel processors, and while Apple is working on Arm-based Macs, we still have a year or so until those are ready to launch.


The ‌iPad Pro‌ earned a single core score of 1116 and a multi-core score of 4686, which was quite a bit higher than the ‌MacBook Pro‌'s single-core score of 859 and multi-core score of 3621.

Both the ‌iPad Pro‌ and the ‌MacBook Pro‌ outperformed the cheaper ‌MacBook Air‌ with its Core i3 processor when it came to multi-core performance, but the ‌MacBook Air‌ won out over the ‌MacBook Pro‌ in single-core performance. The ‌MacBook Air‌ earned a single-core score of 1076 and a multi-core score of 2350.


It's worth noting that the 13-inch ‌MacBook Pro‌ is using older 8th-generation chips that have not been updated, while the ‌MacBook Air‌ has Intel's latest 10th-generation chips. There are ‌MacBook Pro‌ models that use the new chips, but only in models starting priced at $1,799, which is quite a bit more expensive.

The ‌iPad Pro‌ has Apple's A12Z chip, which is similar to the A12X chip used in the 2018 iPad Pros, though an extra GPU core has been enabled in the new model to boost performance up just a bit.

Real-World Testing


We also did some real world testing to see how those benchmarking scores translate into actual performance, because how a device performs when being used for everyday tasks is more important than how it benchmarks.

Transferring a 1.3GB video file took five seconds on the ‌MacBook Air‌ and the ‌MacBook Pro‌, and a whopping 50 seconds on the ‌iPad Pro‌ just because the file management on the ‌iPad Pro‌ isn't as robust as file management on Apple's Macs.


Exporting a 4K five minute video in Final Cut Pro on the ‌MacBook Pro‌ took 4 minutes and 10 seconds. On the ‌MacBook Air‌, it took 5 minutes and 30 seconds, which is no surprise given that it has a slower CPU and GPU.

There is no Final Cut Pro software on the ‌iPad Pro‌ of course, so there's no direct comparison to make, but exporting a 4K five minute video in Luma Fusion took just three minutes, which is faster than both the ‌MacBook Pro‌ and the ‌MacBook Air‌.

Software and Feature Considerations


The ‌iPad Pro‌ is more powerful than both the ‌MacBook Air‌ and the ‌MacBook Pro‌ (when it comes to base models) but that doesn't matter when the ‌iPad Pro‌ just can't do what some people need.

As mentioned above, for example, there's no Final Cut Pro on the ‌iPad Pro‌ for video editing purposes, and the same goes for Logic Pro. There's no Xcode on ‌iPad Pro‌ for app developers, and while the ‌iPad Pro‌ supports multitasking, it's limited to two apps open and used side by side at one time.


Video quality on the ‌iPad Pro‌ is much, much better because Apple hasn't upgraded the 720p camera on the MacBooks for years now, which is nice for Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, and other video interactions, though it's kind of a hassle to use the front-facing camera with the Magic Keyboard attached because it's located at the top of the ‌iPad Pro‌.

The ‌iPad Pro‌ has a major advantage when it comes to activities like note taking, reading textbooks, making flash cards, and more, thanks to the Apple Pencil integration and the ability to use it in either landscape or portrait mode.

The ‌Apple Pencil‌ is ideal for taking handwritten notes with diagrams and sketches, and reading textbooks is easier in portrait mode than it is on a wider screen.


Creative work can be done on any of the machines, but again, the ‌iPad Pro‌ has an edge for artists because of the ‌Apple Pencil‌ support. Video and audio editing are more limited on ‌iPad Pro‌ for those who are used to software like Final Cut Pro or Logic X, but there are some comparable apps.

Photo editing and graphic design can be done on an ‌iPad‌ using apps like Photoshop and Lightroom, so there are many alternative workflows for people who need to do creative tasks using the ‌iPad‌'s tools.


When it comes to writing documents, browsing the web, and similar tasks, the Magic Keyboard elevates the ‌iPad Pro‌ to the level of the ‌MacBook Air‌ and the ‌MacBook Pro‌ and is vital for those who want a laptop-like machine that's much more versatile.

Bottom Line


If the ‌iPad Pro‌'s shortcomings in software and multitasking don't impact your workflow, it's the most capable of the three, given that it converts from a laptop-style machine to a tablet, supports ‌Apple Pencil‌, and has the fastest performance.

The ‌MacBook Air‌ is the best value of the three because of its $999 price point. It's the perfect machine for every day tasks like document creation, writing, and web browsing, plus it can also handle video editing, photo editing, and similar tasks (though it's not the machine to get if you're looking at exporting large videos all the time or doing super system intensive work).

The ‌MacBook Pro‌ is a more robust machine better suited to tasks that need more CPU and GPU power, but to really take advantage of the ‌MacBook Pro‌'s capabilities, you'd probably need to step up to the $1,799 machine rather than relying on the entry-level model with its older processor.

What are your thoughts on these three machines? Do you have one? Which did you choose and why? Let us know in the comments.
Related Roundups: iPad Pro, MacBook Air

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Hands-On With Apple’s New 13-Inch MacBook Pro

Apple on Monday announced the launch of a new 13-inch MacBook Pro with updated 10th-generation processors for higher-end machines and new scissor switch Magic Keyboards across the lineup.

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We picked one up to check out what's new and to see how it compares to other machines in Apple's notebook lineup. Read on to see what we thought and whether it's worth a purchase.

Design wise, the 13-inch 2020 ‌MacBook Pro‌ looks identical to the 2019 model because Apple has made no external changes with the exception of the new keyboard. It continues to use the same 13.3-inch size chassis, which is disappointing as there were rumors of a swap to an updated 14.1-inch design.


That 14.1-inch ‌MacBook Pro‌ might still come at some point in the future, but for now, Apple is continuing to sell the same old 13.3-inch model alongside the 16-inch ‌MacBook Pro‌.

We bought the base model machine, which means it's still using Intel's 8th-generation processors. The higher-end 13-inch ‌MacBook Pro‌ models that start at $1,799 have faster and newer 10th-generation processors.


Based on benchmarks, the $1,799 ‌MacBook Pro‌ with a 2.0GHz Core i5 10th-generation Intel chip is about 16.5 percent faster than the $1,299 base model that we have here, which features a 1.4GHz quad-core Core i5 8th-generation processor.

Apple added support for up to 32GB RAM and a 4TB SSD in the 2020 ‌MacBook Pro‌ refresh, but again, those features are limited to the most expensive machines. The base model can only be upgraded to 16GB RAM and a 2TB SSD.


So basically, what's new in the base model ‌MacBook Pro‌ is the keyboard. It now features the same Magic Keyboard that Apple first introduced in the 16-inch ‌MacBook Pro‌. The Magic Keyboard uses scissor-style switches instead of the old butterfly-style switches, which were notoriously unreliable and unpopular with users.

Apple's butterfly keyboards led to the initiation of a massive repair program, and though Apple tried time and time again to fix the butterfly keyboard with different band-aid methods, nothing worked, and the only way to get a more reliable keyboard was to go back to the scissor switch design.


The Magic Keyboard of the 13-inch ‌MacBook Pro‌ should be much more reliable than the keyboards of prior models that still had butterfly switches. With the release of the 13-inch ‌MacBook Pro‌, Apple has now officially eliminated the butterfly keyboard from its entire notebook lineup.

Design wise, the Magic Keyboard features a physical escape key and inverted T arrow keys, but it continues to feature a Touch Bar and Touch ID for biometric authentication. When it comes to feel, the Magic Keyboard isn't too far off from the butterfly keyboard that it's replacing with good key travel and a solid feel under the fingers.

It's worth noting that higher-end ‌MacBook Pro‌ models with four Thunderbolt 3 ports can now support the 6K Pro Display XDR, but the lower-end models with just two Thunderbolt 3 ports are limited to one 5K or two 4K displays.


Unless you're planning to shell out at least $1,799 for a new 13-inch ‌MacBook Pro‌, this refresh is somewhat disappointing because the more affordable, lower-end models don't get anything but a refreshed keyboard design. At a $1,799 starting price and up to $3,500 for the upgrades, some users might be better off checking out one of the 16-inch ‌MacBook Pro‌ models unless size is a concern.

Those interested in portability and the lower-end specs of the more affordable ‌MacBook Pro‌ will want to take a good look at the MacBook Air, which may be a better value.
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Higher-End 13-Inch MacBook Pro Models Can Use an 87-Watt Power Adapter, but Won’t Charge Any Faster

Higher-end models of the new 13-inch MacBook Pro unveiled this week are able to take some advantage of higher-wattage power adapters, as revealed in regulatory labels for the new machines.

Apple's 13-inch ‌MacBook Pro‌ models have shipped with a 61-watt USB-C power adapter since 2016, with the machines typically rated to draw at that maximum of 20.3 volts and 3 amps. You've long been able to safely use higher-wattage power adapters, but the maximum power draw remains capped by the machine itself, so it won't charge any faster.


For the first time, the higher-end 2020 13-inch ‌MacBook Pro‌ models with 10th-generation Intel processors carry a dual power rating of 20.3V/3.0A and 20.2V/4.3A, meaning that these models can also accept Apple's 87-watt power adapter that previously shipped with the 15-inch ‌MacBook Pro‌. Many other Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C accessories like docks and displays can also deliver 87 watts to connected computers.

The lower-end ‌MacBook Pro‌ configurations with 8th-generation processors remain rated for 61 watts, and all models ship with a 61-watt power adapter.

While it's reasonable to think that the higher-end ‌MacBook Pro‌ models might be able to charge more quickly using an 87-watt adapter than they do with the 61-watt adapter they ship with, sources tell MacRumors that this isn't the case. The maximum charging speed configured on the machine remains the same, so you won't see any difference.

Where users might be able to see a bit of benefit with a higher-wattage adapter is for those running demanding apps that generate high transient workloads. Under these situations, there's a bit more headroom for an 87-watt adapter to deliver additional power to the machine. Still, the vast majority of users won't be bumping against the limits of the included 61-watt adapter, especially on a frequent basis, so those users won't see any benefit.

So while the change won't have a real-world impact on anyone but a few professional-level users regularly maxing out the capabilities of their machines, those who are curious about the new power ratings stamped on the bottom of their machines at least have an explanation.
Related Roundup: MacBook Pro
Buyer's Guide: MacBook Pro (Caution)

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