What’s the difference between the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air?

What’s the difference between the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air?

Back in 2020, Apple introduced its M1 chip, and it debuted inside the MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, and Mac Mini. These quickly became some of the best Macs you can buy. The Cupertino tech giant then released new MacBook Pro 2021 models, powered by the M1 Pro and M1 Max chips. These new Macs not only come with upgraded chips, but they also include a chassis redesign that reintroduces the MagSafe charger and other ports. They’re available as 14- and 16-inch variants, and both come with thinner bezels and notched displays. In 2022, the company revealed the M2 chip and introduced it in the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro. Seeing as the 13-inch MacBook Pro and Air are now powered by the same processor, you might think these two devices are almost exactly the same. However, there are some key differences between the Apple M2-powered MacBook Air and MacBook Pro. And there are even more differences when comparing them to the other Air and Pro models available.

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Specs

First off, let’s take a look at the specs for all these devices. This lets us see most of the differences at a basic level.

M1 MacBook Air 13-inch M2 MacBook Air 13-inch M2 MacBook Pro 13-inch MacBook Pro 14-inch MacBook Pro 16-inch
Processor
  • Apple M1 (8-core CPU + 16-core Neural Engine)
  • Apple M2 (8-core CPU + 16-core Neural Engine)
  • Apple M2 (8-core CPU + 16-core Neural Engine)
  • Apple M1 Pro (8-core CPU + 16-core Neural Engine)
  • Apple M1 Pro (10-core CPU + 16-core Neural Engine)
  • Apple M1 Max (10-core CPU + 16-core Neural Engine)
  • Apple M1 Pro (10-core CPU + 16-core Neural Engine)
  • Apple M1 Max (10-core CPU + 16-core Neural Engine)
Graphics
  • 7-Core GPU
  • 8-Core GPU
  • 8-Core GPU
  • 10-Core GPU
  • 10-Core GPU
  • 14-core GPU
  • 16-core GPU
  • 24-core GPU
  • 32-core GPU
  • 16-core GPU
  • 24-core GPU
  • 32-core GPU
Memory
  • 8GB
  • 16GB
  • 8GB
  • 16GB
  • 24GB
  • 8GB
  • 16GB
  • 24GB
  • 16GB
  • 32GB
  • 64GB
  • 16GB
  • 32GB
  • 64GB
Storage
  • 256GB
  • 512GB
  • 1TB
  • 2TB
  • 256GB
  • 512GB
  • 1TB
  • 2TB
  • 256GB
  • 512GB
  • 1TB
  • 2TB
  • 512GB
  • 1TB
  • 2TB
  • 4TB
  • 8TB
  • 512GB
  • 1TB
  • 2TB
  • 4TB
  • 8TB
Display
  • 13.3-inch Retina, 2560 x 1600, 400 nits
  • 13.6-inch Liquid Retina, 2560 x 1664, 500 nits
  • 13.3-inch Retina, 2560 x 1600, 500 nits
  • 14.2-inch Liquid Retina XDR, 3024 x 1964, 1600 nits, True Tone, DCI-P3
  • 16.2-inch Liquid Retina XDR, 3456 x 2234, 1600 nits, True Tone, DCI-P3
Webcam
  • 720p FaceTime HD camera
  • 1080p FaceTime HD camera
  • 720p FaceTime HD camera
  • 1080p FaceTime HD camera
  • 1080p FaceTime HD camera
Battery
  • 49.9Whr battery
  • Up to 18 hours of video playback
  • 30W charger
  • 52.6Whr battery
  • Up to 18 hours of video playback
  • 30W charger
  • 58.2Whr battery
  • Up to 20 hours of video playback
  • 67W charger
  • 70Whr battery
  • Up to 17 hours of video playback
  • 67W charger
  • 100Whr battery
  • Up to 21 hours of video playback
  • 140W charger
Ports
  • Two Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports (40Gbps, Power Delivery, one external display)
  • Headphone jack
  • Two Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports (40Gbps, Power Delivery, one external display)
  • MagSafe 3 port
  • Headphone jack
  • Two Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports (40Gbps, Power Delivery, one external display)
  • Headphone jack
  • Three Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports (40Gbps, Power Delivery, up to four external displays)
  • SDXC card slot
  • HDMI port
  • MagSafe 3 port
  • Headphone jack
  • Three Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports (40Gbps, Power Delivery, up to four external displays)
  • SDXC card slot
  • HDMI port
  • MagSafe 3 port
  • Headphone jack
Connectivity
  • Wi-Fi 6 (802.11a/b/g/n/ac compatible)
  • Bluetooth 5.0
  • Wi-Fi 6 (802.11a/b/g/n/ac compatible)
  • Bluetooth 5.0
  • Wi-Fi 6 (802.11a/b/g/n/ac compatible)
  • Bluetooth 5.0
  • Wi-Fi 6 (802.11a/b/g/n/ac compatible)
  • Bluetooth 5.0
  • Wi-Fi 6 (802.11a/b/g/n/ac compatible)
  • Bluetooth 5.0
Dimensions
  • 11.97 x 8.36 x 0.16-0.63 inches
  • 11.97 x 8.46 x 0.44 inches
  • 11.97 x 8.36 x 0.61 inches
  • 12.31 x 8.71 x 0.61 inches
  • 14.01 x 9.77 x 0.66 inches
Weight
  • 2.8lbs
  • 2.7lbs
  • 3lbs
  • 3.5lbs
  • 4.7lbs
  • 4.8lbs
Colors
  • Silver
  • Space Gray
  • Gold
  • Silver
  • Starlight
  • Space Gray
  • Midnight
  • Silver
  • Space Gray
  • Silver
  • Space Gray
  • Silver
  • Space Gray
Price Starts at $999 Starts at $1,199 Starts at $1,299 Starts at $1,999 Starts at $2,499

Design and ports: The 13-inch MacBooks miss out on ports

MacBook Air front view in Starlight

MacBooks didn’t vary a whole lot in terms of design — until Apple released the redesigned, notched MacBook Pro and Air models. The company now sells five different MacBook variants, as highlighted in the table above. The M2 MacBook Air follows the same design language of the 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pro models. However, it lacks the variety of ports introduced in Pro models after the major design refresh. This could be due to the fact that it’s aimed at average consumers — rather than Pro creators who might need to attach more versatile equipments to their machines. It includes more finishes to choose from and introduces the controversial notch in its display.

That leaves us with two models that follow the original design — the M1 MacBook Air 13-inch and the M2 MacBook Pro 13-inch. The former is the original Apple silicon MacBook Air from 2020. It remains a solid option today for those who don’t need the extra power of M2 or care about the design changes. The latter reintroduces the Touch Bar and packs the latest M2 chip in a dated chassis that lacks the port variety.

At this point, Apple is offering five models for a reason — each covers one or two areas of strength, while sacrificing other aspects in the process. Users will now need to weigh the pros and cons carefully and decide what their priorities are.

As far as the rest of the design goes, these are all aluminum laptops that look fairly similar. All the MacBook Pro models come in the same color options, but the M1 MacBook Air adds a Gold variant, while the M2 MacBook Air introduces Starlight and Midnight options. Those might be worth keeping in mind if you want something that stands out a bit more.

If you’re planning to work in a multi-monitor environment, the Apple M1 and M2 processors are very limiting.

The big differences come into play with the ports, though. Both the MacBook Air and the Apple M2-powered MacBook Pro only have two Thunderbolt ports, while the M1 Pro/Max variants come with three Thunderbolt 4 ports, HDMI port, SD card slot, and more. Not only that, while the Thunderbolt ports have 40Gbps of bandwidth, the Apple M1 and M2 models can only connect to one external display, regardless of the resolution. Meanwhile, the 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pro models can support up to four external displays. If you’re planning to work in a multi-monitor environment, the Apple M1 and M2 processors are very limiting.

Another notable difference is the MacBook Air models and 14- and 16-inch Pros don’t have a Touch Bar, while the 13-inch M2 Pro model does. The Touch Bar on MacBooks gives users customizable quick controls, which can be tailored for different apps and scenarios. Things like media playback, a color picker, and more can be placed there. On the MacBook Air and other Pro models, you have the typical function keys in place of it. Otherwise, most elements are similar. There’s Touch ID on the power button, the keyboard uses a scissor mechanism, and all the models have a Force Touch trackpad. So if you really want a Touch Bar on your MacBook, the 13-inch Pro is your only option.

It’s also worth pointing out the camera. The 14 and 16-inch MacBook Pro models in addition to the M2 Air come with an upgraded 1080p FaceTime camera. On the other models, you get a 720p camera instead. Apple’s M1 chip improves the white balance, exposure, and dynamic range, thanks to the image signal processor on board. So the 720p camera on the 13-inch MacBook Pro and MacBook Air will result in better image and video qualities, when compared to those of the 720p camera on retired Intel models. However, the new M2 Air and larger Pro models bring a significant upgrade — 1080p. If you depend on video calls for work or studies, you might want to keep this in mind.

Display: The larger MacBook Pro models are brighter

If you’re focused on finding the best display, you don’t have to look too hard. All the 13-inch MacBooks have similar sizes and resolutions. Yes, the new M2 MacBook Air introduces a larger 13.6-inch screen with higher brightness, but it still isn’t as bright and clear as those on the larger MacBook Pro models. Plus, they all come with a wide color gamut (P3) and True Tone support, so they should look great, but they’re not the best out there. The outliers are the 14 and 16-inch MacBook Pro models, which kick the resolution up to 3024 x 1964 and 3456 x 2234 respectively.

Mini LED MacBook screen

One of the most notable differences between the 13-inch MacBooks and the larger Pros is in the brightness of the display. The display on the 13-inch ones can go up to 500 nits of brightness, and that’s better than the majority of laptops already. However, the 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pro models can go up to 1600 nits of brightness, which is that much better. If you’re using your laptop indoors most of the time, you probably don’t need the extra brightness, but for working on the go, it can really help visibility under bright sunlight.

Performance: The MacBook Pro has active cooling

m1 chip overview

The 13-inch  MacBook Air has the original Apple M1 chipset, and it’s a big leap from previous models across Mac lines. Apple touts up to 3.5x faster CPU performance, 5x faster graphics, and 11x faster machine learning performance compared to previous Intel models. We can look to GeekBench to get an idea of how powerful the Apple M1’s CPU is.

The Apple M1-powered MacBook Air is pretty much neck and neck in terms of performance, far outclassing the Intel processors in the retired models. The Apple M1 is both powerful and efficient, so even though it doesn’t consume a lot of power, it’s still more powerful than an H-series Intel processor in some ways. You may look at that and think the MacBook Air is just as good as the Pro, but there’s something to keep in mind.

Apple M2 specifications graphic

The Apple M1 and M2 chips don’t require active cooling, and the MacBook Air models don’t have fans, but the MacBook Pro models do. The GeekBench benchmark is relatively short, so that doesn’t come into play for these results. In longer periods of usage though, the MacBook Pro will probably sustain its performance better than the Air because it has an active cooling fan. However, this is just a CPU comparison, and there are other things worth keeping in mind.

Apple M1 Pro and M1 Max CPU performance compared to Intel-based PCs

Image: Apple

There’s something else to consider, too. The 13-inch MacBook Air with the Apple M1 is limited to a maximum of 16GB of RAM and 2TB of SSD storage. That’s still a lot, but if you’re planning to store lots of video projects and work with memory-intensive apps, it’s quite limited. The 14 and 16-inch MacBook Pro models can have up to 64GB of RAM and 8TB of storage, thanks to the new M1 Pro/Max chips. If you only care about the higher RAM, then the M2 MacBook Air and Pro models can go up to 24GB while maxing out at 2TB when it comes to SSD storage.

Something else that’s impressive is the battery life enabled by the Apple M1 chipset, despite its performance. The MacBook Air has the smallest battery of the laptops here, but it still claims up to 18 hours of video playback on a charge. The 13-inch MacBook Pro has a slightly bigger battery and promises up to 20 hours on a charge. However, the 16-inch MacBook Pro promises up to 21 hours of video playback.

Bottom line

Comparing the MacBook Air to the Pro models can be hard because Apple has mixed a lot of elements together. Some models have the latest chipsets, while other ones have the latest design chassis. Similarly, some go for more ports, while another model includes a Touch Bar. Unfortunately, you can’t have it all — there’s no MacBook model with the new exterior design, port variety, Touch Bar and the latest M2 chip. You have to pick, but you can’t pick all.

It’s worth mentioning that the MacBook Air is lighter, and it’s safe to say it can still handle almost anything you throw at it if you’re using it for school. You might also want to consider the longer battery life on the Pro model, but to be fair, the 18 hours promised for the MacBook Air should already be enough to get you through any normal day.

For college students or occasional users, the M1 MacBook Air will most likely do a fantastic job.

Bringing the M1 Pro/Max and M2 Pro models into the mix makes things a bit more complex. These  MacBook models take professional Macs to the next level. The power they offer isn’t aimed at average users. Instead, they’re for people who require plenty of resources and computing power for their projects. So if you’re an advanced audio, photo, or video editor, you might want to invest in one of these powerhouses.

For college students or occasional users, the M1 MacBook Air will most likely do a fantastic job. If you’re a creative professional and considering the MacBook Pro, then it probably makes sense to look at the 14 or 16-inch models more because of the larger displays and port variety. With all the options available though, it’s always worth considering every tier to make sure you’re getting something that’s just right for you. If macOS isn’t your thing, check out our list of the best laptops out there, which is mostly focused on Windows PCs.

    The 2020 MacBook Air comes with the original Apple M1 chipset, which is both powerful and efficient. It has no active cooling, which helps make it lighter and more silent.
    This is the 14-inch variant of the MacBook Pro 2021. It's powered by the M1 Pro or M1 Max chip, and it's not aimed at causal users.
    The 16-inch variant of the MacBook Pro 2021 is powered by the M1 Pro or M1 Max chip, and it's aimed at professionals who want both a large screen and an unmatchable computing power.
    The 2022 MacBook Air offers the M2 chip and a redesigned chassis with MagSafe support. Best Buy can notify you when it's available.
    The 2022 MacBook Pro 13-inch offers a classic design, reintroduces the Touch Bar, and packs the M2 chip. Best Buy can notify you when it's available.

Which MacBook will you be buying? Let us know in the comments section below.

About author

Mahmoud Itani
Mahmoud Itani

Mahmoud is an Istanbul-based Beiruti who has always sought freedom through writing. His hobbies include keeping up with tech news, writing articles about Apple devices & services, crocheting, meditating, and composing poetry. You’ll likely find him jogging at a park, swimming in open water, brainstorming at a coffeehouse, or merely lost in nature. He can be reached on Twitter @Mahmoudzitani or via [email protected]

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