The MacBook Buyer’s Screen Size Dilemma

As my three-year-old 15″ MacBook Pro starts to show its age, I’m starting to think that I’ll soon be in the market for a new Apple notebook. It’s been a fantastic machine to own, but after three years of lugging a 15″ portable around, I’ve decided that a laptop this big isn’t particularly… portable.

Last year, Apple released a series of new MacBook Air machines that have received rave reviews – both in the major press, and from those equally in the know. The big dilemma here is whether an 11″ or 13″ screen makes the greatest sense. And are either of these really adequate to replace a 15″ display?

What Are the Options?

Before coming to any decisions or making a recommendation, let’s take a look at the full range of options available:

  • 11″ – The smallest Apple notebook available, but still surprisingly capable and complete with a full-size keyboard. Available only in the MacBook Air.
  • 13″ – The de-facto laptop size, widely accepted as the most common form factor. Available in the MacBook, Air, and Pro.
  • 15″ – A slightly larger alternative that gives you more desktop space, but becomes more or less unusable on an airplane. Available on the MacBook Pro only, and it’s also worth noting the $100 option to raise the resolution to 1680×1050.
  • 17″ – Something of an unusual outlier that isn’t particularly portable at all. Again, this is only a MacBook Pro option.

The Super-Fine Advantage

Both MacBook Airs offer unusually high resolution displays for their size. These go a long way towards compensating for the small form factor, meaning that a 13″ Air is equivalent to a 15″ MacBook’s standard configuration resolution, and the 11″ Air is equivalent to a 13″ MacBook resolution.

The High-Res MacBook Airs

The High-Res MacBook Airs

Immediately, this removes some of the worry about buying a super-tiny 11″ model – you’ll still have plenty of desktop space to fill with clutter. That said, the 11″ model may still feel a little vertically cramped, particularly if you are accustomed to a 15″ display.

The downside of this super-fine resolution is that everything on the display becomes very small. There are ways to combat this – such as increasing the font size in your apps – but I’d prefer a fine resolution over a larger display any day.

This jump forward in technology means that both MacBook Airs are eminently usable, providing you’re happy for the smaller details on your display to be tiny!

The Performance Consideration

Of course, the decision you make as a notebook buyer isn’t entirely about screen size. With a larger screen comes faster performance, and (usually) more connectivity.

In the MacBook Air lineup, for instance, if you opt for a 13″ model you’ll also receive an SD card slot, a 0.46GHz jump in processor speed, and improved battery life. It’s a similar story for the MacBook Pro, adding bigger hard drives, faster processors, and more connectivity as you move up in size.

This means that your decision on size has a major impact in the speed of your machine as well.

Is 17″ Really a Portable at All?

You may be wondering why I haven’t yet gone into detail on the 17″ MacBook Pro. Well, this isn’t really a notebook – not in any useful sense of the word. It’s a desktop computer with an in-built battery, that would be a burden to carry around anywhere. Apple continue to make these because it’s possible to include connectivity and technology that wouldn’t fit into the smaller models (such as a ExpressCard/34 slot).

This model is billed as “the ultimate mobile studio”, and that’s exactly what it is. Designed for people who need a desktop level of performance, but still like to have the option of taking their machine home with them. Perfect for some, but overkill for the majority.

Help Me Out…

If you’re a notebook user, I’d be interested to hear what your preference would be – or which you have chosen in the past – and hear a few opinions on the matter. My immediate thought would be that 11″ is simply too small for day-to-day use when not connected to an external monitor.

Which MacBook fits the bill for you, and what sacrifices are you happy to make for a smaller, more portable machine? Is a pocket-sized laptop your main consideration, or would you find yourself craving a faster processor?


Add Yours
  • I have a 3 year old 17″ MBP, and I love it. I too will probably replace it in the next year, and will get another 17″ MBP. I do a lot of graphic work, so I enjoy the screen real estate. My wife has a 13″ macbook, and I can’t stand it. My mom has a 15″ and that one seems fine to me.

    For the record, I do lug my MBP around everywhere. There are times though, when the Ipad makes me drool, so that could be in the works sooner than later.

  • I own both an iMac (i7 late 2009) and new MacBook Air 13″.

    For everyday stuff, front-end development, browsing, chatting, the Air is so much faster than my iMac. Makes me re-think hardware completely.

    My only complain with the air is the screen. The colors are terrible compared to my iMac. Gray’s look like salmon and nothing is as crisp.

    If I had to re-think my setup, I’d get a MBP 15 with an Apple Display, or wait for the next MBA as I’m sure this will be an amazing machine.

  • I currently have the white MacBook, which I got around the same time Apple rolled out the “new” MBP. It works great for me, even if it’s a bit heavy to lug around (yes, I find it heavy). I would love to get my hands on an 11″ MacBook Air, which I can bring around when traveling. With that, I’d get a 17″ MBP as my main workstation. Ah, if only I can afford both. :) Since I can’t, and I’m due for an upgrade, the 13″ MBP gets my vote.

  • Don’t know, but I’ll buy your MB Pro.

  • I own a MBP 13″ and I love it but my response to your question is that it depends on what you’re going to do with it.

    I buyed my MBP 2 years ago when I used it only to surf the web, e-mail, watch movies, iTunes and few more things. But today I’m studying graphical design and I really miss a bigger screen (like the 27″ screen of my university iMac) while working on aplicafions like Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, Flash, etc.

    In addition, my brother owns a 10″ netbook and it’s not comfortable to work with it.

    So, for the standard user, I think that 13″ is the best size for a laptop. It’s ultra comfortable to read docs, to write in pages or word, surf the web, etc, but if you’re going to work on something like grphical design or somethink like this then I reccomend you to get a bigger screen.

    • I agree. I have the white Macbook 13.3 inch and its a dream to work with. I had to increase the memory to 4gb and the hard drive to 1tb but I’d say its the perfect size for a standard rucksack with a screen big enough for website development (coding) and design work.

      My only negative comment about the Macbook family of laptops / notebooks is that the hardware you get for your money is rubbish. I’d say a good 40% of what your paying for the Macbook is for the operating system.

      • You’re pretty much starting a fanboy war there.

        If by hardware you mean actual components (cpu, ram etc), then yes, if you’re talking about the multi touch trackpad, keyboard, etc, then there’s no competition, Apple wins this fight by a mile.

        Source: had a 13 inch white macbook and now have the new 13 inch air(which is the best portable device I’ve ever owned).

  • Personally I bought a 13 inch MBP as my first laptop size last month, and I love it – seems to be the perfect combination between size and power. I had a 15 inch laptop that was too heavy to bring out if I knew I was going to be carrying it all day, and when that broke down I bought an 8 inch netbook to fill the gap which was obviously way too small and weak for primary use. But the 13 inch fits perfectly in my lap in any situation.

    I was considering buying an Air, but to me unless you’re taking that thing out with you every single day it’s just not worth the decrease in power, particularly if you want it to serve as your main computer. And only the lowest spec 11 inch Air is even cheaper than the MBP.

  • I have a high-resolution 15″ and I love it. I’m so used to the resolution that I would have a very difficult time returning to the standard res on a 15″. IMHO, it’s worth the upgrade.

  • I carried a 17″ PowerBook in my messenger bag, commuting every single day to and from various points in and around the metro NYC area from the time “Big Al” became available in 2000 or 2001 until various failures made the machine basically unusable in 2007. To be fair, among these failures was exposing the HD to a rather large magnet (a component of a EyeTV tuner kit), so not really anyone’s fault but my own. Anyway. To suggest that this marvel and its further-refined brethren the 17″ MacBook Pro is not stowable/portable is the speak of someone who has a serious physical limitation or has never wielded a ball of any sort. Get a grip–yes, the Air is awesome. The iPad a wonder, but there was and is a time to whip out the big gun, and that 17″ display is a beautiful thing whether working in Photoshop or Excel. Still lighter than many of the behemoth 15″ PC laptops shlepped cross-country by road warriors near and far…what a silly, prissy claim to relegate such a beautiful piece of kit to some imagined scrap heap of uselessness.

    • Yeah, it’s 2 inches larger on the diagonal. It’s not exactly a sack of coal.

  • I own a 13″ MBP and love it. In some areas I do agree that it is too small but in terms of travel I think it is the optimal size. If I had the money I would buy an external display for it at my desk and use that as opposed to it’s normal screen. During travel it works great as it has a full sized keyboard (- the numeric keypad) and also has a big enough screen for most everything. It also is powerful enough (specifically with the new range) to do all you need and if you want to get faster boot times and faster application loads etc that you get in a MBA then install an SSD. That’s my recommendation. a 13″ MBP with an SSD in place of the DVD drive (or in place of the normal HDD) as well as an external display at home/work, wherever you use it the most for graphic related/multi tasking work

  • Currently have the 2010 model of the MBP 13″ and I absolutely love its size. I came from using a 15″ HP dv5z and it took me a little while to get use to the smaller screen but now I think it’s just perfect, and not tiny at all. When I have the two side-by-side I think “oh…my screen is small” yet I can do so much, especially with spaces and the like. Get a 13″ if you want a perfect balance.

  • The issue in the MB lines come with the difference in resolution between the 13 MBP and Air. If Apple in their latest release would have bumped the 13’s screen res or given it a built to order option I would ditch my 1st gen Uni 17 in a second. I love the Air design and it definitely has a better GPU but, the raw power of those i7 13’s is impressive for their size. Here is to hoping with the Ivy Bridge update.

  • I would get a 13″ MacBook Air because of portability, or a 13″ MacBook Pro for power. The Air will be faster because of the SSD, but you sacrifice the cd/dvd drive and some other ports. Not really as functional for someone who is really going to use the laptop on the go a lot. I would rather get the Pro because of the better hardware and larger hard drive. It also has more funtionality over all with hardware that I like to have with me at all times. I need to have a cd/dvd drive. Plus the Pro just feels sturdier :)

  • I own a 13” Macbook and I love it. But, when the time comes to buy a new one, it will be a 15 almost for sure. 13” is awesome to travel but to work it’s just “not enough”.

    • I entirely agree with you ! 15″ seems to be the perfect size for people like me, who don’t take a plane every week.

  • I have the 11″ Air which works great for me because it’s not my main Mac. If a laptop were my main main Mac, I’d go for the 15 or 17″.

    Your 3 yro MacBook Pro showing age? It would need to last at least 5 yrs for me, or longer.

  • I enjoy the best of both worlds at the moment, since I own a 1.5 year old 15″ MBP and use a 13″ at work. My wife also uses a 13″ and says she’d never go back. I’m a web developer and I usually have anywhere from 10-20 programs open at once. While my 15″ shrugs this off, I can definitely feel the strain at times with the smaller laptop.

    I do love the cute form factor, and don’t feel deprived at the 13″ screen size for normal consumption-type use. If I’m doing heavy duty development though, 15″ is definitely the smallest I’d want to go. As a student, I work a lot at coffee shops and classrooms and I would definitely miss that real estate. (At work I have an external monitor–and I wish even that were bigger).

    Don’t know if that helps, but for me, I’ll be sticking with the 15″ when I upgrade this fall. Yes, it’s not as nice to carry around–and we’re talking usually on my back during bike commutes–but to me, it’s worth it.

  • I use the 11” air every single day. I’m a special ed teacher, and am always creating new assignments, entering grades in the gradebook, and collaborating on gdocs. The small screen works fine, and the tiny, lightweight machine makes it extra convenient for carrying back and forth to work everyday, from one classroom to another.

    I just an iMac at home, and I have no trouble transitioning from the air’s 11” screen to the 21.5” iMac.

    My mac air is the slowest model available (processing speed wise), has the smallest hard drive, and I did not upgrade the ram (so it uses 2gb), and it works so perfectly for me. Obviously I don’t do any iMovie editing on the machine, but it is perfect for the day to day tasks and web browsing/writing/reading etc.

    I HIGH recommend it.

    • To say that a 1.4 ghz C2D with the 320M and 2GB RAM is unsuitable for iMovie editing is an insult to my Mac Mini Core Duo 1.66 GHz GMA 950 and PowerBook G4 15″ 1.5 GHz which both handle iMovie ’09 reasonably but 720P editing on the PB will kill it after a couple of minutes

  • I have a 15 inch MacBook pro and wouldn’t do anything under or over it. Your best bet may be to stay with just that. It has the right size to do the most work. My theory is if you are a writer and surfer, then go with the mb airs and smaller. If you are a designer or gamer, stick with the larger screens. The airs in my opinion are great for writing and surfing but I would never overload it with adobe, iWork, office, final cut, etc. If you want an air or a small screen, get yourself an iPad and a keyboard.

  • Well, I had to make that decision as well about 4 months ago and decided to buy the 11″ MacBook Air because I required a light weight and small machine to carry with me sometimes and as a second computer on my desk besides an iMac.

    I’m using the MacBook Air 11″ for web design, coding tasks, web browsing, presentations and client communication and it’s just great, probably the best device ever purchased from Apple.

    It is small, yes, and I don’t necessarily start working on a new design with the MBA, however, it’s perfectly suited for all of the other tasks and surprisingly fast even for web design adjustments itself — I assume because of the SSD included.

    Overall, I think the MacBook Air 11″ is the perfect choice for anybody who needs an ultra-portable solution with a solid battery life and definitely enough power for literally anything a web designer / developer requires. In addition, if I tether it to my iPhone, I can now really work from anywhere.

    Hope that helps a bit — at least it probably shows that I’m really excited about it! :)

  • I have almost the same dilemma as you David, my 15″ Mac Book Pro is four years old and getting noticeably sluggish on a number of key tasks, like running Aperture. However I use my machine mostly at home where portability just compensates for not having any space for a desktop machine. I would love a 27″ iMac but I have nowhere to put it, or sit at it, whereas a laptop can be setup almost anywhere you can have a chair/make a lap.

    Consequently it would seem logical for me to go for either the 15″ or 17″ Pro and it then comes down to budget vs desire. Maybe I’ll go for the 15′ MBP with the higher resolution screen.

    • I think that would be the best option – It’s a phenomenal resolution for the size of the display!

  • I changed from a 15″ to a 13″ when I bought my first mac (a trusty 13″ Black MacBook) and can’t go back to my old laptop! It’s not just that it isn’t a mac, the whole thing is just too huge and impractical for anything other than desk operations. My 13″ MacBook however happily sits on my desk with an external monitor and doesn’t feel small, then slips easily into my bag and goes anywhere I want!

  • I don’t really have anything to say that hasn’t already been said above other than don’t bother with the glossy screen. It’s a nice thing to show off if you’re into the “Hey, look at me!” attitude but, in my opinion, useless for anything work-related. Of course, your current one might have that and you might like it so … each to their own. :)

    I’ve got a mid-2010 15″ MBP w/ 8GB RAM, hi-res 1680×1050 and antiglare screen. It’s perfect for what I need and the only thing I’ll change any time soon is the hard disk – 5400 RPM is rubbish and it’ll be replaced with an SSD once I decide which one to get.

    • Oh and the only reason (really, the only one) I wouldn’t get a 13″ model is simply because of the screen resolution. Again, IMO, 1280×800 just isn’t big enough. I have a 27″ Apple LED Cinema display, too, but when going portable, 1680×1050 is brilliant.

  • good question. i think the best is when you wait for the sandy bridge architecture and then you buy a 13″ MacBook Air.

  • I have a 17′ MBP from a few years ago and a 20′ Cinema Display. The 17′ is great because there is plenty of screen real estate. It has a higher resolution than my Cinema Display and I can easily have 2 or 3 windows open at once – Safari, Pages, Preview – when I am am working at school.
    Another good thing about the 17′ MBP is that because it is bigger, the components can be better which means that the computer has a longer useful lifespan.Even though mine is 3 or 4 years old, it is still more powerful than many of the current 15′ options.

  • Well, a friend of my just got a 11″ MBA – it’s an incredible machine, the screen resolution is the same that my 13″ MBP has. Wow. So, if you still have a desktop computer at home, I would recommend the the 11″ or 13″ MBA models. You probably won’t need a MB/P. But if that’s gonna be your only computer, you still should choose the 13″ MBP or, if you’re doing loads of creative stuff like DTP or video editing, the 15″-high-resolution-thing.

  • I just purchased the new 13″ macbook pro and I love it. I was really worried about leaving the the quad core on the table in search of a smaller laptop but I couldn’t be happier. The 13″ is the perfect portability and it runs amazing. worse comes to worse I’ll get a quad core or more in 3 years when looking for a new laptop.

  • I own a 2.4 GHz unibody MacBook (13″ – late 2008) since almost two years and a half now. I bought it to replace a 15.4″ PC when I was still at the University, so I wanted a machine to write reports, make Keynotes and surf on the web that I could carry easily in my backpack.
    A year ago, I left the University for a job in scientific research. My MacBook stays at home most of the time and is pluged with a classic 22″ flat screen (not an Apple one, too expensive for me…) and linked to a wireless keyboard and mouse.

    In my opinion, a 13″ display is way too small to work an entire day on it (that’s what happend to me during my internships) so if you don’t travel too much, I’d rather say that a 15″ MacBook Pro would be better (powerful + good screen dimensions). Now, if you’re always in planes, I would suggest you to buy a 27″ iMac or a MacPro to have a truely powerful machine at home and a 11″ MacAir or a 13″ MacBook Pro (depending how much power you need) to travel. But this will for sure cost some money…

    I hope you’ll finally buy the laptop that best suits you !

  • I have used a 13″ Macbook Pro as my main computer now for nearly 6 months.
    Can honestly say I’ve never had a better computer, it’s perfectly portable and I take it everywhere with me.
    I don’t think the macbook air (particularly the 11”) would be powerful enough for me, and I don’t think the 13” air is really any more portable than the pro, if only a little lighter.
    As for the 15” and 17” macbook pro models, I don’t see why you pay £500 – £1000 more for a product that is bigger, heavier and a little bit more powerful?!

  • 11″ is too small to use and 17″ is too large for mobility, 15″ is just right when using with an external monitor and carrying around (though it can feel heavy after carrying it for a while).

    I use a 15″ 2011 Macbook Pro.

  • 11″ is to small on any device besides the MBA as the high density is essential. I have a MBA and i use it as my only computer, i have a high density 23″ monitor on my desk for home work/3d modelling but for school and misc i use my 11″ MBA.

    My brother has the 13″ MBA and i think the screen is amazing. I find the 11″ MBA great however the perfect computer would be the 11″ MBA with the screen extended to the black rubber line (the silver inch becoming screen – this would mean a 13″ high density screen on the perfectly sized device).

    The 11″ MBA is perfect for busy business workings as it is A4 long and A4 – 1 inch wide but could be amazing with the screen extended. The 13″ air is MUCH more portable than the 13″ pro, ive carried both for extended periods of time… (besides high density owns – if you need masses of computing power use a desktop).

    If the i7 rumor for the MBA is true, then it will be all you need, the size and weight outweighs the extra screen size on the pros (especially the 13″ as it is non high density).

    Intense people might need the 15″ high density with the i7, my friend has one for music and media production – amazing.

    • Ohh, and the SSD by default with the MBA’s are AMAZING. (also the ssd was changed in the airs recently to a faster version from 206mbs to 263mbs read)

  • i’ve just bought a macbook air 13′ only for the screen.
    Because it feels like a 15′ in a 13′ size …. i love it.
    the macbook pro 13′ screen is really a downgrade compared to the macbook pro.
    and the macbook pro 15′ and 17′ are way too big for me.

    i’ve owned every apple laptop (consumer and prosumer) and the macbook air 13′ is really my favourite

  • I have owned almost all the MacBook lineup in the past and a few months ago when the new MacBook Air’s came out, I decided to jump on the 13″ model. I was a bit worried with the CPU specs at first and the memory, but I opted for the default CPU and increased the RAM to 4GB. I was super surprised by this laptop performance wise and it works perfectly for my day to day use. Even my buddy who had a late 2010 MBP was impressed with the performance against his machine. I would HIGHLY suggest you go that route. I checked out the 11″ and they were just too small. The 13″ with the memory upgrade is all you will ever need!

  • A MacBook Pro Air is just a thing of time (it will be called MacBook Pro of course).

  • Just to provide a counter-point to many of the commenters here who have expressed the opinion that the 11″ MBA is “too small” for serious work: I use one full-time as my primary machine, and it’s perfect for my needs.

    I travel full-time (sold my house 18 months ago, have lived in 8 countries since) – my laptop is my source of income, as I support myself with freelance development, marketing and affiliate work.

    I travel *really* light (just a single carry-on bag, 32 litres) and I was initially worried that the 11″ would be too small. But after buying one as a test (fully expecting to have to eBay it after a month) I was hooked.

    The size really is incredible – there’s a serious difference even when compare to my previous lappy, a 13″ MBA. The 11″ is so small and light that I can throw it into a daysac and carry it with me all day without noticing it’s there. Whenever I come across a good spot to work (cafe, bar, bistro, park…) I can just pull it out and be working within seconds. An hour later, I’ll throw it back in my bag and get back to exploring!

    The screen res is as good as my previous (3rd gen) MBA, which is fine for almost everything I want. The SSD is faster than any storage I’ve ever used and 4GB of RAM means great performance, even with the modest processor. The battery life (5 hours with WiFi on) is fantastic. Sure, I’d love more pixels, but not at the expense of the tiny form factor.

    I’d strongly advise anyone in the market for a new device to audition the 11″ – it’s a lot more capable than many of the people above me are assuming…

    • I was surprised how much the Air gets knocked for being too small or too slow. The base model is so useful and responsive I’m not even convinced the 4GB upgrade is particularly essential for most people. It’s an sadly underrated machine.

  • I voted on a 11″ screen because it still has the higher resolution. However, that comes with a caveat. I would still like to purchase something non-portable that has the performance for video editing at home. Something like an iMac probably.

  • Guess we’re in the same page with you.

    My present MBP is 15″ & it’s one on the non-unibody older models. Even though it’s in the portable category, it’s still heavy to carry around.

    I’m also considering(dreaming :) ) buying a 13″ MB Air. Since it’s ‘highly’ portable. My dad has a 11″ MB Air. Besides it’s being really gorgeous it’s a pleasure to carry it around. But it’s screen is too small for work. My dad is fond of it since he is crazy about weight but when I work on it for long it gets me nuts.

    So I would say, for outside use buy a 13″ MB Air. What I understand you wouldn’t be too comfortable with a 11″ screen. They’re too small for people like us.

  • I have both a 17″ mbp (about 2.5 years old) and just bought a MBA 13″ using some gift cards from Christmas. I absolutely love the MBA. Like you said, it has the same res as the current 15″ mbp, so I don’t miss the loss of real estate as much as I thought I would switching back and forth. I also alternate hooking each one up to an apple 24″ cinema display when at home. I looked at the 11″ MBA, but it was just too small for my web dev/design work.

    I was amazed at the mba’s speed as well. It’s plenty fast enough for me even in photoshop. The flash memory really makes a huge improvement. I don’t see it being too long before apple places them in all there notebooks as standard hardware.

  • I have the 11″ MacBook Air, and it’s perfect for me. I use it for iOS and Web development, surfing the web with hundreds of tabs open (although Chrome has been having some memory leak issues lately). If you think 15″ is too much I’d suggest getting either the 11″ MacBook Air, but get it with the max ram and storage. Otherwise, if you keep your browser tabs below 100 you should have no performance issues at all.

  • After 20 years carrying a laptop I have become very conscious of their weight & bulk. I think 13″ gives the right balance between portability and usability. The 13″ MBA is very attractive but lacks one important feature: a slot for a Kensington cable lock, which I think is crazy.

  • 17″ is for people who are not aware that they can hook it up to an external monitor, right?

  • I used to have a 11″ Windows based notebook. But I’m using a Macbook Pro 15″ for over a year now and it’s everything I need. More screen real estate would be fine, but I would not want to carry around something heavier than this at school.

  • I’m sort of in the same boat. I have a daughter heading off to college this summer and am trying to decide which MacBook to get her. I have a 2009 17″ MBP and love it, but my eyes have been so spoiled by its boundless glory that everything else looks too small. I’m currently thinking the 13″ MacBook Air for her since she’ll be toting it around campus quite a bit.

  • I recently purchased my 13″ laptop and was really torn because I strongly believe bigger is better but after talking with the business Apple rep at the Apple Store it was perfectly clear that all I needed was a 13″. For me it was price difference and what I’m using it for. I’m not a video editor or film major so I’m not going to use the screen that way. At home, I stream video files from my laptop, don’t watch on my laptop. SO, given that info, he strongly suggested the 13″ which was a sacrifice of 2″ BUT also a huge savings in price given what I use it for.

  • I run a small business from my mac and it handles everything from graphics, video, photos, audio, ect. you name it. Thunderbolt 17 inch MBP. King of all laptops. It still pretty portable to me. I take it everywhere in a brief case with me. That being said, who wants to carry a $3,000 machine around and leave it susceptible to bumps, scratches, dust, spills, theft, ect….. Been thinking about a thunderbolt 13-inch mbp or maybe wait for the core i3 thunderbolt 11-inch mba. Right now my iPad2 is useless for real work. Just a portfolio tool.

  • I’ve owned the 11 inch Macbook air for 3 months now and working on it has not been a problem. I love it! It’s really the perfect size and resolution; there seems to be just enough room for everything–it’s amazing.

    I mainly use it at school and the library. If I didn’t have a 27 inch iMac I’d definitely use it more at home (with or without a display). I do a lot of writing and school work on the air and screen real estate hasn’t been an issue. I do wear contacts/glasses. If I didn’t I’d probably have a hardtime reading the text. I even completed 2 photoshop projects on the air for one of my graphic design classes. The extra screen real estate on my laptop would have been much better, but I was still able to work in Photoshop without much frustration.

    The only reason I wouldn’t use the air as my main computer is the limited storage.

  • I choose the 17″ MacBook Pro when I sold my 13″ MacBook – and it is portable, very actually. My handbag is just as big as the laptop – problem solved ;)

  • I find it strange that people talk about the screen size as if that’s the main thing they use to look at. I have a MacBookPro 15in, but at home, it’s always plugged into a 30in Apple Display. People saying a 17in has tons of real-estate? Gtet a grip. A 30in display has a lot of real-estate. Given that even the 11in Air can drive the 30in monitor enough to do photoshop, I don’t see any point in lugging around these heavier computers unless you A) do most of your computing on the road, or B) need the processing power. For me, I need one computer for processing tasks, and for that, I’ll probably keep my maxxed out 15in. But for daily tasks at work, which generally consist solely of email, keynote, and word documents, a macbook air has more than enough power. I think I’ll go with the 13in, despite the weight, because the 11in screen just seems too small and awkward to me (I guess this is partially because I use a 30in screen 95% of the time too!)

  • I have had my 17″ Powerbook G4 for about 7 years, and it has served me well. I am finally planning to upgrade this summer to a new 17″ MacBook Pro. I am actually surprised by the lack of love for the 17! I love it, but maybe that’s because I use the laptop as my only computer. I carry it around multiple days a week, and it sits on my desk at home and I have no complaints. I don’t think it’s that much heavier than the 15″. But for me, the extra real estate is well worth it. I use my computer mostly for design (InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator, Dreamweaver). All of those palettes and menus take up space from the artboard so its nice to have the wider screen. I considered downsizing to the 15″ just because it’s cheaper, but I’m spoiled by the big one now :) I think that if I had a desktop at home, I would probably go with the 13″ just to travel with.

  • My wife has a 2 year old mac book pro 17”. Although she is very tiny, she didn’t even once complaint about the machine’s size nor the weight. She travels a lot, by bus, by plane or by train. She stays at hotels ranging from guesthouses to 5 stars. In none of the situations have I heard from her that her mac created a burden.

    The only problem with the 17” is somehow all the respected designers in Apple put the keyboard so far away that sharp edges of the laptop irritates your wrists. I hope for the later versions they might think of a smaller trackpad to pull the keyboard forward and not so sharp edges.

    And for me… I use a 24” iMac with an additional 22” screen attached. I do not think that I can swap that much of a space with a laptop no matter the screen size is:)

  • I’ve a 15″ MBP i7 from last year with the high-res matt option. For me it’s just portable enough to not bother me but with a usable screen for working in Photoshop & Lightroom. If I had an iPad the MBP would probably stay on my desk a little more.

  • Well I have 2006 15′ MBP. and now I’m looking to get something smaller. 13′ MBP would be nice but I wish Apple would finally dump CD rom.

  • I just bought my first mac last night – a 13″ macbook pro. This is replacing a 2 year old 17″ gateway laptop – which I could never find a decent carry bag for!

    So far I am not regretting the downsize from 17″ to 13″ but then again in a way I upgraded from PC to mac at the same time..

    I think if you take it places alot its definitely a good idea to keep the 13″ in mind.

  • I am a 17″ Macbook Pro 2011 user. I use the same backpack to transport this that I did my former 15″ HP. Not a big difference in inconvenience. However; It’s pretty darn nice to work on. My second office is Barnes N Noble and it works great for that.

  • I bought a 17″ Mbook Pro in 2008 because we were relocating to Australia and my G5 desktop needed upgrading. It was certainly portable enough to move around the house with and served (well) as my only machine until I broke my wrist in early 2010. I bought a 13″ Mbook Pro for “meantime,” and it was much easier for me to handle in my damaged condition but in the end the (vertical) size of the screen started to drive me crazy. Since the screen of the 13″ Air has a higher resolution, it is certainly a temptation, but make sure to get the max memory as it cannot be upgraded.

  • My only computer is the previous generation 13″ Air, which is easily my favorite ever. It’s ideal for travel (I’m on the road as a journalist every month or so), but at home/work, it stays plugged into my 24″ apple display. When it comes time to upgrade, I’ll look hard at the 11″ Air, because I really mostly use the laptop screen when I travel or do interviews at offices or work at cafes, and all told that’s only about 20% of my computer time. So no sense in investing in more screen size and weight than I need, and I don’t need much power for writing, web browsing, etc. The question is how well the 11″ air will work when I have two docs displayed side by side, which is important in my workflow. When I’m not at my big display, can I work effectively on two documents without excessive squinting or scrolling? How does the 11″ Air work for those of you who use it primarily to display text for hours at a time?
    The other issue is value. You don’t pay that much more for the low-end 13″; the 11″ seems a bit overpriced.

  • My wife and I got his & hers MBP’s about a year and a half ago… I got the 15″ and she got the 13″. Prior to that, we had a 15″ Dell laptop. I was concerned about going down to a smaller screen, and I do some graphic work on it, so I’m happy with my 15″. When I have to do something on my wife’s, the 13″ MPB’s screen isn’t as small as I’d feared and it’s smaller/lighter for her to lug to school on a daily basis. My computer spends 95% of the time on the couch, so it’s size isn’t as much of a consideration. And it still doesn’t seem very heavy/bulky compared to other laptops even with the larger screen.

  • I have a 13″ macbook air and I have no complaints at all. Once in a while the screen seems small but then I remember how amazingly light and portable it is and how long the battery goes between charges and I don’t mind the screen. the thing weighs less than 3 pounds and with flash memory it wakes and sleeps in an instant. I’d optimally like a larger screen but it works. It also never seems to get hot, I never hear the fan whirring like I did with my old laptop, and did I mention it’s super thin and light?

  • I’ve been using a 10yr old 14″ Apple iBook G3 which i’m ready to retire. I’ve worked on & assisted various family members Mac’s – a niece has a new 15″ MBPro, an inlaw has a 17″ MBPro, a nephew has an old 12″ PBG4, and my sister has an older 15″ MBPro. I’ve tested out several tablets/netbooks as well – my wife’s 7″ Android OS tablet, an inlaws 1st gen iPad, and a friends 10″ Acer Aspire netbook. I think I prefer the 13″ MBPro over everything. It wouldn’t be a big compromise as I have a 9yr old MDDG4 Dual w/ 17″ monitor and a 2yr old home built IC2D WinXP pc w/ 20″ monitor. I’ve been visiting a new 13″ MBPro at the local Apple Store enough times one of the clerks says they will start charging me rent… Hoping I can get one this summer or early fall.

  • I own a 17″ macbook pro unibody and its Perfectly fine to me. I am a graphic designer and I need that screen and the mobility. I can put it in a bag and im on my way. Its not bad at all.. it IS like a desktop I can move around, and I love it.
    I had a older model 15″ and it was good, handled most of what I done with it, but my new 17″ is beyond what the 15″ could do, by power and size… and resolution. 1920×1200 is absolutely great for a laptop.. It Could be larger if I say so myself.. lol.

  • My main work computer is a 27″ iMac so I opted for a 13″ MacBook Pro for a home and travel computer. If I needed extra real-estate while traveling I’d consider getting an iPad as a second monitor.

    Another option for work would be a 15″ MacBook Pro with a 24″ Mac Display this way the MacBook Pro could be a take home item.

  • My first Laptop was a 12″ PowerBook which I bought as a 2nd computer. After it was ‘destroyed’ I bought a 15″ and was totally unhappy. To big for a Laptop – it’s okay if this is your only workstation though. But for me it’s not mobile enough.
    The next step was a 13″ modell, I loved all different 13″ I owned but still wanted a smaller one. Thank god I now own a perfectly mobile device which is only slighty larger than the iPad but is exquisite for typing and coding. I ♥ it – the 11″ MacBook Air is the best companion (to my Dekstop Mac) I ever had.

  • I have last year’s 15″ MPB and a 30″ ACD, and I find the combination of the two almost perfect when I’m at home. Although the 15″ doesn’t seem that heavy at first, when I have to lug it around in my backpack all day, every gram adds up. When I was looking at MBPs to buy last year, the specs on the core 2 duo 13″ model didn’t appeal to me at the time. Ever since the release of the 2011 models, however, if I had to choose again I’d get a 13″.

  • I started off with a laptop that had 17″ display. This thing was extremely huge and the only benefit gained from it was at home. Excellent for real estate and working with numerous programs and windows at the same time. However, my next laptop I was looking for portability and went with the popular 13″ laptop. I was very disappointed in the small size and the fact that I couldn’t do much multi-tasking because I needed the windows big enough to work. Traveling with it was nice, but that was the only benefit I saw. When I switched to Mac, I was faced with the dilemma of what I wanted in a laptop size. I went with 15″ and I’m happy with everything. I travel a lot and it works great on flights, and it is big enough that I can do what I need to do on it. I highly recommend another 15″ for everything!

  • I have experimented with this for years. The screen size of the 13″ and resolution and keyboard is just a bit too tiny for me. I think the 15″ is optimal for work, along with an external display for when you need to get serious work done. I generally work from coffee shops and sometimes at home when I need more screen space on my desk for graphic design. I can do the same stuff on the laptop, it is just more tedious and time consuming. The 17″ is a bit too big, I’ve had one. I haven’t had the smaller 11″ but I had a netbook that size and it was too small. I’ve used the 13″ in the computer labs and again, too small.
    15″ MBP for the win + external display/keyboard/mouse at home. It’s powerful enough to compete with iMac for most purposes and you can take it with you. My external display is a better screen and color synced than any laptop monitor I’ve ever seen, I always check my designs on there beforehand before submission, even if I did the work on the laptop screen. I think if you are in publishing/graphic design/web design there is no way around not having a big screen to check things on.

  • I just recently bought the 13″ MBP but had the same contemplation as you. Here are the questions I pondered and professionally I’m in IT:

    1) When you buy a laptop, after you use it do you just close the lid and quickly put it in the bag and go? Or do look at the harddrive light after the lid closes to make sure it’s happy? If it’s close the lid and go, then get the Air since it comes with the SSD. I know of several managers who have messed up harddrives after improper shutdown.
    2) There’s a big difference in CPU speed between the AIR and MBP. 1.x GHz versus 2.x GHz. If your primary uses are email, surfing the web, using Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, Powerpoint), then get the AIR. If you plan on doing photo/video editing, then go MBP. Personally I’m doing app development so the MBP was a better option.
    3) Lastly we come to the matter of storage. SSDs are expensive and that’s the reason that they come in small sizes. If you’re fine with smaller storage space to install applications, then get the AIR. I went with the MBP since the HD size was decent and I’m planning on adding a SSD in the future when the size goes up and prices come down.

    In the past I’ve had a 15″ MBP but yes, it seemed awfully large on the plane. Now when I want a larger screen to do development I hook my 13″ MBP to my 60″ HDTV and use a wireless keyboard and trackpad.