MacBook Air or MacBook Pro? The decision just got a lot harder

Monday's announcement of a thinner, lighter MacBook Pro with Retina graphics makes the decision between 'Pro and 'Air notebooks much more difficult, for me the Air wins on price and weight.

MacBook Air or MacBook Pro? The decision just got a lot harder - Jason O'Grady

Before April 11 I was a dyed-in-the-wool MacBook Air convert. After schlepping my trusty 15-inch MacBook Pro with me everywhere I went for years, I'd seen the MacBook Air light (pun intended).

After overcoming the MacBook Air's lack of optical drive, ports and its limited storage capacity (thanks largely to OWC's 480GB replacement SSD) I've converted fully to the Air as my primary, full-time Mac.

But then yesterday's WWDC keynote happened. And Apple announced a thinner and lighter MacBook Pro with a compelling set of features. And now I'm on the fence. (It's a good thing that Apple also announced an updated MacBook Air yesterday too, otherwise I'd probably be blogging about my MacBook Pro backorder and how great photos will look on the new Retina display.)

Before June 11, the decision between the thin and svelte MacBook Air and the thick and heavy MacBook Pro was a no-brainer. If you needed a true "desktop replacement" (with an optical drive, FireWire port, 17-inch screen, etc.) -- you needed to get a MacBook Pro. Everyone else got a MacBook Air. And when most people really looked at their computing needs, the majority fell squarely into the MacBook Air camp.

But yesterday's new MacBook Pro will make the decision between an Air and a Pro a lot harder. For starters, Apple put the Pro on a major league diet. The new 15-inch MacBook Pro dropped from 5.6 pounds (2.56 kg) to 4.46 pounds (2.02 kg) pounds, and went from 0.95 inches (2.41 cm) to 0.71 inches (1.8cm) thick.

And naturally, it comes with a new processor (Intel Ivy Bridge), better graphics (NVIDIA GeForce GT 650M), faster RAM (1600MHz DDR3L SDRAM).

But the Retina display is sure to breathe new life into the ailing MacBook Pro, and that feature alone is sure to sell a lot of units. The Retina display's technical specs are impressive:

  • 2880-by-1800 resolution
  • 5 million pixels (3 million more than an HD television)
  • 220 pixels-per-inch (PPI)
  • 178-degree wide viewing angle
  • 75 percent less reflection
  • 29 percent higher contrast

Decisions, decisions.

My ideal MacBook Air 13-inch would be configured with:

  • 2.0GHz Intel Dual-Core Core i7
  • 8GB 1600MHz DDR3L SDRAM
  • 512GB Flash Storage
  • AppleCare (always get the AppleCare on a MacBook)
  • Total: $2,448

Now contrast that with the lowest end MacBook Pro with Retina graphics (keeping in mind that the 15-inch screen is larger that the Air's 13-inch). The base model MBP15 with Retina starts at $2,199 (2.3 GHz, 8GB, 256GB), but in a configuration acceptable for my needs (2.6 GHz, 8GB, 512GB and AppleCare) it jumps to $3,148. Fully loaded (2.7 GHz, 16GB, 768GB, AppleCare) pushes it up to $4,098.

But even the base model MBP with Retina and AppleCare costs $2,548 and that only comes with a 256GB SSD -- which is too small for my photo and music library. This is why I'm leaning toward a loaded MBA13, which costs $100 less and weighs a third less than the Retina MBP.

Fellow ZDNET Blogger James Kendrick is in the same boat as me. He loves the new Retina MacBook Pro, but it's the price that's holding him back.

Apple's updated comparison chart and spiffy new comparison tool helps put all the new MacBook specs into perspective, but for the MacBook Air buyer, the decision just got a lot tougher.

Which new MacBook do you prefer? Air or Pro?

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