Which is Better for Writers – MacBook Pro 13 Retina or MacBook Air 11?

Vern with Two Apple MacBooks

Which MacBook is better for writers?

That’s what I set out to answer as I compared these two computers.

The MacBook Pro retina 13-inch and the MacBook Air 11-inch are obviously different machines, but if you are ready to choose between MacBook notebook computers, you should watch this review.

Now that I own both of these MacBooks, there is no reason I’d ever buy the 13-inch Air, and I’m glad I didn’t do so before I had the retina 13. The Air 13 doesn’t offer anything better than either of these machines. If you’re considering the 13-inch Air – just get the retina 13 Pro. If your eyes are good and you want the ultralight style – get the 11-inch Air. You won’t be unhappy.

Now, if you NEED great resolution to see your photography as you edit, or need the power of a decent processor to render your photo or video edits – get the Pro 13 Retina.

I decided to do a video about twenty-five key differences between these machines that are significant, and that may affect your purchase decision.

I had the Air 11-inch for over a year, and the retina 13 for just about 40 days now. I have used both extensively. There are some obvious differences between them and not just the size and weight.

Here are the 25 Key Differences between MacBook Air and Retina computers:

1. Size and shape of screens. 1 1/8″ difference on width. 1 3/8 difference on height. 1 3/4 diff on diagonal.

2. Brightness of screen – the Pro is brighter, considerably brighter.

3. Glare of screen – black background and lighter. Seems same to me. I don’t see any difference at all. You’ll catch a little more glare just because the size of the screen is bigger, but that’s the only reason. The strength of the glare in my office seems same on both – very little. While using both screens outside in the daylight – not bright sun, I found no difference between them.

4. Colors of screen – miraculous for photo and video editing. You wouldn’t want anything less. Using retina resolution at default and others. The best is the default – which looks awesome. Not much different than 11-inch Air.

5. Contrast of screens, straight out of the box, the Retina has black blacks and blue whites. The Air has grey blacks and white whites.

6. Clarity of text on both screens – no big difference. But the contrast of the Retina makes text easier to read. The sharpness of the Retina makes very small font much easier to read.

7. Keyboard key travel is more on Pro. Nicer to type on the Air.

8. Speed of typing on each – 74 on retina. 85 on air. Spacing a little different. Can get used to either one. I find I’m more accurate on the Air’s keyboard, it might be because I’ve only had a month on the Pro. I think the difference is due to the key travel differences.

9. Pro keys are slightly harder to press down. More effort needed. Air keys are lighter and yet you know when you pressed a key.

10. Weight is very different – picking up, traveling, Pro is not magic… Air feels like magic. Amazing. MacBook Pro after having Air is like having a regular heavy computer.

11. Trackpad differences? Size of Pro is larger (deeper) same width. Neither has any palm rest problems when typing at all.

12. Heat – retina does get warmer. Do full screen Youtube video 1080p. Pro is warmer on top and bottom, Not uncomfortably warm.

13. Size and weight of A/C power cords. Pro is heavier and bigger. Same cord length.

14. A/C plug magnets much stronger on Pro, annoyingly loose on the Air – but not much effect in real world use.

15. Sharpness of palm rest area. raised up height at end of palm rest – some say on the Pro it is a problem.

16. The angled keyboard of the Air feels nicer.

17, The shallower height on the Air feels nicer for typing.

18. Air charges significantly faster. That is one thing I definitely noticed. I don’t have data on it. Probably takes another hour.

19. Speed between the two on typical applications – no big difference. Browser speeds are very close. Everything is very close, except photo and video editing.

20. Sound quality – Significant difference. Pro is so much better,  especially the deeper tones.

21. Sound volume – 10-15db more on the Pro (my guess) through speakers and again, another 10 or so using headphones – same headphones.

22. Seeing the bottom of my writing – the last line – is blocked on Pro Just when typing at desk and I’m slouching like I sometimes do!

23. The SD card slot is nice. All the extra ports are nice on the Pro.

24. Using the Air on your lap – it’s too damn light and slippery. Using the Pro – it sits on there better.

25. It’s too easy to feel like I’m jarring the Pro every time I set it down on something solid. It just feels – sounds – less solid. Wife dropped the Air from 5-6 feet and it was fine. The Pro – I’m sure it would be quite a bit more damaged. Air is more solid feeling.

Freebie – the Pro screen opens up 2-3 degrees more than the Air. I notice this when I put the computer on the floor and sit with it.

Another freebie tip – DON’T get the TUCANO grey/silver neoprene MacBook second-skin sleeve – looks like been through  war.

Here is the MacBook I currently recommend (7/2015) for writers – nothing beats it IMHO:


DO get the black one with the charge-up slot.

Subscribe if you like this sort of stuff. I’ll also be continuing with the living in Thailand series and I have a number of great videos coming up shot with the GlideCam and Nikon D610. It just takes hours to edit them together to get something decent.

SUBSCRIBE to my videos for god’s sake! I’ve got over 10,000 subscribers and 20 Million + views. There’s a reason for that. I do wacky things I shouldn’t.


  • Scott


    Hope you see this quickly. I am in the market for either a 13-inch retina MacBook Pro or the 11″ MacBook Air. I currently own both the 2011 11-inch and 13-inch MacBook Airs.

    You wrote: “12. Heat – retina does get warmer. Do full screen Youtube video 1080p. Pro is warmer on top and bottom, Not uncomfortably warm.”

    I need to ask how sure you are of this because it directly relates to me. In terms of the 11-inch vs. 13-inch MacBook Airs, the 11-inch model get much warmer much faster than the 13-inch model. I’ve always assumed that this is because there just isn’t much inside a 11-inch MBA for air to circulate.

    I guess a better question for me is whether the fan(s) in the retina MacBook Pro sound louder than the ones in the 11-inch MacBook Air when playing a high res video.

    I do a lot of Quicktime video screen capture for some of my classes (I’m a prof at a college) and I want to minimize fan noise as much as possible.

    Thanks for any additional insights you have.


    • MikeFook

      Hi Scott,

      The fans are louder. I notice them more often too. Not sure why that is, I use the computer for the same stuff.

      The Pro is significantly warmer more often. The Air – never had any problem with heat and I used it on my lap more often.

      There are always trade-offs. If you’re doing lots of editing, the Pro gets it done much quicker! It’s a pain to wait for long video edits. That said, you can multi-task and do six other things as it renders, so, not a big problem if you have the time.

      Time is money Scott!

      Cheers man!

      • Tom Robins

        For anyone else coming across this classic, brilliant, informative blog post and video… Another observation on hear and fans.

        The 2015 MBP 13″ gets hot, at least the one I had did– too hot to use comfortably on the lap — its fan, though, was barely noticeable and I have good and sensitive hearing, Just wish that I didn’t have good and sensitive legs!

        The 13″ MBA in contrast was never hot, rarely ever even mildly warm– generally cool, even cold.

  • drno

    How is real world battery life? Is small text really that much more crisp vs the price difference? This will be a writing only Maching.

    • MikeFook

      it’s like a haze is over the screen with the air, once using the retina 13 for a while. Would be VERY hard to go back to it now that I had the retina for a year almost. :)

  • Paul Robison

    Appreciate the run-down– and the confirmation that the keyboards are different on the Air and the Pro.

    I’m finding that the Pro’s keyboard is dramatically better for *me* than the Air ever was. I make few typos now, whereas the Air produced them. The feel of the keys is better, too!

    Given all the writing I do, this really is important.

    Another big factor is the screen. On the Pro Retina, when you scroll down a web page, the text stays intact– crisp– just like on an iPad. On the Air, you get flickering as the text vanishes in parts as you scroll. It’s distracting and eye-tiring.

    By the way, I just typed this in on the Pro and had no typos! It’s a relief.

    I was really tempted by the new 12″ MacBook, but discovered that the palm rest is far too shallow for *me*– I have larger hands. The keys I knew I could get used to, but the shallow palm rest meant that my palms were off the keyboard — or, if I kept them on, it meant that my fingers were in the non-ergonomic, carpal tunnel syndrome producing claw-shape. Not good at all.

    Still, for others it could work great. That new MacBook is sweet!

    • MikeFook

      Thanks for your great comments! I noticed on the new MacBook that I type more accurately. I don’t like the feel of it, but the fact is – I don’t seem to make mistakes with the thing. Now, if the new PRO goes that way, I’ll be OK with it. Not happy, but OK. I get what you’re saying re: the palm rest. It’s pretty critical. On my MB PRO 13 it’s fine. I’ve been using my speech to text on the iphone a lot lately and it’s SUPERB. I wish I could get used to thinking what to say and saying it for the articles, it’d be a lot easier than typing – and faster too.

      OK cheers then!

  • Paula Thomas

    “Sharpness of palm rest area. raised up height at end of palm rest – some say on the Pro it is a problem.”


    Or should that be -1, meaning I agree that this is a definite negative?! At least on the 13″ it is. In the past, it’s been an issue on the 15″, too.

    Never had a problem with it on the Air… but as others have noted, the MacBook Pro’s keyboard is much better for us!

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