Macbook Air 11 Inch Vs 13 Inch

This article compares the current MacBook Air 11 vs 13 inch 2011 / 2012 models. Read on for facts and experience to help you choose between the MacBook Air 13 and 11 inch models.

Oh, and at the end of the article, you can save on a new MacBook Air.

MacBook Air 11 vs 13 inch – What’s the Same?

  • Both the 11″ and 13″ models are fast and responsive.
  • Both sizes come with Apple’s latest operating system, OS X Lion.
  • Both have high quality displays.
  • Both have an ultra thin design.
  • Both have fast flash storage (SSDs) instead of slow hard disks.
  • Both the 13 and 11 inch Air’s can have up to 256GB flash storage.
  • Both have stereo speakers and a FaceTime camera.
  • Both come with WiFi and Bluetooth.
  • Both include the new Thunderbolt port.
  • Both sizes can be purchased with 4GB of RAM.
  • Both the 11″ and 13″ can be bought with an upgrade to an i7 processor.

(Source: Apple’s MacBook Air Technical Specifications)

Mac Air 11 vs 13 – What’s Different?

  • The 11″ is smaller. Smaller is always easier to move around.
  • The 13″ has seven hours battery life, two hours more than the 11 inch.
  • The 11″ is about half a pound lighter (270g).
  • The 13″ has roughly a quarter more screen space and pixels.
  • The 13″ has an SD card slot. The 11″ does not.

MacBook Air 11 vs 13 inch – Case Heat

The new mid-2011 MacBook Air bottom case can get warm towards the back, particularly when the Air is under load.

Flash, the most common web technology for video and annoying animated ads, can use a lot of CPU. (This is probably why the new MacBook Air ships without Flash installed.) So Flash can cause your Mac to get hot.

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The highest case temperature I’ve seen reported is 103 F / 39.5 C.

As the 13 inch Air has a larger vent to expel hot air, and has a larger aluminium case which heat can disperse over, it should get less hot than an 11 inch MBA.

The 11-inch MacBook Air already gets noticeably warmer than the 13″. – Anand Lai Shimpi, AnandTech

If you intend to use the MacBook Air on your lap, and you don’t like warmth, you might enjoy the MacBook Air 13 inch more.

Buy the MacBook Air 11 or 13 Inch?

  • “The simple life” – If you are just doing basic tasks – web, Skype, playing music and word processing, the 11 inch screen is big enough.
  • “I love small” – If you want an ultraportable computer, get the 11 inch Air. I barely notice its weight in my backpack. It’s so unobtrusive and light, it’s easy to use anywhere – on the couch, in bed, playing DJ in the kitchen.
  • “Calling creatives & techies” – If you want to do a lot of activities that benefit from more screen space – spreadsheets, illustration, PhotoShop, page layout, music production, video editing, web design, CAD, get the 13 inch.
  • “Creatives & techies II” – If you’re happy to use an external screen for “serious work” then get the 11 inch, and stay ultra portable.
  • “For the photo mad” – If you really want a built in SD card reader – handy for digital cameras – get the 13 inch model. (You could always get a $25 USB SD card reader for the 11 inch.)


The MacBook Air is the best laptop in the history of the planet. I really mean that. Both the 11 inch or 13 inch model are exceptionally beautiful and well engineered. If you’re about to buy your first “MBA” – be excited!

I love my 11 inch MacBook Air. I’ve done most of the web development and writing for my personal web sites on it, without an external screen. It’s so small and light, it’s no hassle to take it anywhere. I’ve been very, very surprised that I usually don’t feel cramped by the small screen. Especially when I’m used to using three large screens at work!

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The new MacBook Airs come with Apple’s latest operating system, OS X Lion. All of Apple’s apps – Safari, iPhoto, Mail and more – have been updated with a full screen mode and hiding scrollbars. These features give as much of the screen as possible to what’s important – the content you’re looking at. Lion makes the small screen on the 11 inch MBA even more usable.

My personal perfect MacBook Air system is the 11 inch with a large-ish external monitor for serious creative work. That way I get the ultra portability and super lightness, but if I doing something that needs more screen space, I can just plug a monitor in. Monitors are cheap: I picked up a light and thin 23″ AOC full HD screen for $170, and it’s great! If you have the cash, Apple’s new ThunderBolt display is perfect.

If you are using the MacBook Air as your main computer, and you won’t be using an external screen, almost definitely get the 13 inch MacBook Air. The 11 inch screen is too small for most people to use for all their computer work. I’ve seen a comment from someone who bought the 11 inch, and wished they got the 13 inch.

Eleven inches is a small screen size. The 11 inch MacBook Air is a specialised ultra-portable machine for people who are prepared to compromise on screen size. Buyers of the 11 inch probably have another computer or laptop, or they will plug their MacBook Air into a big screen at work or home. I’ll quite happily work off the 11 inch for seven hours, and never want a larger screen. But then, I also get lots of time on big screen systems as well. If you buy the 11 inch MacBook Air, make sure you’re really happy to use a screen that size. Go in and try it! If it really suits you, you will love it.

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If in any doubt, get the 13 inch MacBook Air. You don’t want to always be wishing you had a bigger screen. The 13 inch is a better size for general use.

Even with all the information above, there’s no substitute for actually physically trying out the different sizes to see which one feels right. I recommend going to an Apple store, and trying both the 11″ and 13″ models. Browse the web, close the lid, pick them up, heft them. Get a feel for them. (Just don’t juggle…) Which one feels right for you? Only you know.

Save on MacBook Air

Are you planning to buy a MacBook Air? It’s worth checking’s current MacBook Air prices. Follow these links to get the current MacBook Air prices at Amazon:

  • 13 inch MacBook Air
    • MacBook Air i5, 256GB solid state disk
    • MacBook Air i5, 128GB solid state disk
  • 11 inch MacBook Air
    • MacBook Air i5, 4GB RAM, 128GB solid state disk
    • MacBook Air i5, 2GB RAM, 64GB solid state disk

All the MacBook Airs above come with free shipping at the time of writing.

If you do choose to buy your MacBook Air from Amazon: (a) you may get your new MacBook Air a bit cheaper, and (b) Amazon will pay me a commission (if you go to Amazon through the links above). This supports me to keep writing good Mac articles – thanks!

A Couple of MacBook Air Tips

  1. I really recommend buying a sleeve to protect your MacBook Air when you buy it. If you hit the case, the aluminium will dent.
  2. You may be wondering whether the $100 to $150 to upgrade the standard i5 processor to the i7 is worth it. If you are see this MacBook Air i5 vs i7 article.


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