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MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro: Which One is Better?



Apple’s newest  MacBook Air and MacBook Pro have some key differences, the biggest of which are a $300 price gap,  the Touch Bar display, and different displays. For most people, the base MacBook Air will serve just fine, but those with higher demands should strongly consider the MacBook Pro as there enough extras to justify the price premium over the MacBook Air. 

Apple’s newest MacBooks are the first to feature Apple’s M1 processors. It’s important to note that Apple is still selling higher-end models with Intel Core processors, including the 16″ MacBook Pro and the four-port 13.3″ MacBook Pro. This guide focuses on the new MacBook Air and the two-port 13.3″ MacBook Pro, both of which offer more than enough computing power for most people.

MacBook AirMacBook Pro
Display400 nits500 nits
Battery Life18 hours20 hours
Weight2.8 lbs3.0 lbs
Touch Bar / Function Keys
PerformanceM1 (7-core GPU)M1 (8-core GPU)
Summary of MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro differences

The above table is a summary of the main differences between the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro. To help decide which one is best for you, scroll down or you can click on the links in the first column of the table.

Apple’s announcement of the new MacBook Air and MacBook Pro

MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro Cost

The MacBook Air starts at $999 and the new 13.3″ MacBook Pro starts at $1,299. Both of the base MacBook models come with 8GBM of memory and 256GB of storage. If you’re on a budget the MacBook Air is the obvious choice.

Of course it’s easy to fixate on the starting prices of the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro, but both machines’ prices skyrocket if you want even more storage, memory, or other extras. The below table compares the prices of the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro with their maximum specifications.

Maximum OptionMacBook AirMacBook Pro
Starting $ of 512GB Model$1,249$1,499
2TB SSD Storage$600$600
16 GB Memory (RAM)$200$200
Total $2,298$2,568
The MacBook Air and 13.3″ MacBook Pro w/ 2-ports, maximum configuration

As you can see in the table above, upgrading to higher storage capacity and memory is very expensive. Note that the 512GB MacBook Air comes with the M1 chip with 8 GPU cores, just like the MacBook Pro. If you don’t care about the faster processor, you can start with the $999 MacBook Air and upgrade just the storage capacity and your totals will be $50 lower than the above prices.

When shopping for a new MacBook, remember that Apple offers a $100 discount to educators, college students, and homeschool students of all grade levels.

Both the new MacBook Air and the new MacBook Pro feature 13.3″ Retina Displays with 2560-by-1600 pixel resolution. Both have 227 pixels per square inch, which means you won’t be able to see individual pixels like on older computers.

MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro: Display

MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro Display

The main difference between the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro display is brightness. The MacBook Air’s screen can put out 400-nits of brightness, while the MacBook Pro’s measures 500-nits at its max. The MacBook Air’s display is more than bright enough for most users, but if you plan on using your new MacBook in bright conditions, such as outdoors or with the display facing towards a window, you will appreciate the MacBook Pro’s 500-nit display as it will help cut down on reflections.

MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro: Size and Weight

Highly mobile users should start with the MacBook Air at the top of their shopping lists.  The MacBook Pro and MacBook Air have very similar footprints and weigh almost the same, but the MacBook Air is significantly thinner thanks to its wedge design.

The MacBook Air has a wedge design, thinner towards the front and thicker towards the back

The 13.3″ MacBook Pro measures 0.61-inch thick throughout its frame. The MacBook Air is a little thicker towards the back of the machine, but it tapers to just 0.16-inch high at the front.

The MacBook Pro is the same thickness in all dimensions, with a slight taper that’s uniform on all edges

The MacBook Pro weighs exactly 3.0 pounds, while the MacBook Air weighs in at 2.8 pounds. Obviously, that’s not much of a difference, but the MacBook Air can feel lighter when moving it around since it’s balanced differently.

MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro: The Touch Bar

The new MacBook Pro has a Touch Bar, while the MacBook Air has physical keys to control things like brightness and volume. The Touch Bar has been standard on many recent MacBook Pro models in recent years, but many MacBook users prefer the physical buttons and find the ever-changing Touch Bar controls confusing.  

Others are big fans of the MacBook Pro’s Touch Bar, especially if they’re constantly using apps that have optimized Touch Bar controls. For example, apps like Final Cut Pro and Adobe Photoshop transform the Touch Bar into a palette of shortcuts for common tasks, such as cropping and trimming.

This is a close-up view of the MacBook Air’s function keys. Some people prefer the traditional physical keys since they don’t change when switching between apps.

MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro: Storage Capacity

Both the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro come with 256GB of SSD storage by default. Upgrading to 512GB costs $200, 1TB costs $400 and 2TB costs $800. the same on both computers. Note that the you may not see these exact figures as Apple bundles this into the prices of its off-the-shelf models, so you may see slightly different pricing if you don’t select the base model and upgrade from there.

Keep in mind that unlike with some computers, you cannot upgrade the SSD in the new MacBook Air or MacBook Pro models. That means you’re stuck with whatever option you pick. If you rely mostly on cloud storage, 256GB could be enough. But if you enjoy synching your iPhone to your MacBook, installing lots of applications, storing videos locally, or having constant access to years’ worth of photos, you’ll want to opt for the 512GB or larger drives.

MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro: Speed and Performance

If you’re looking for raw performance out of your Mac, the MacBook Pro is going to beat the MacBook Air. That’s because the MacBook Pro has an 8-core GPU compared to the 7-core GPU in the MacBook Air. However, it’s not going to be as dramatic as you may expect. Both of these base machines are relatively close in terms of performance. Apple will likely release much more powerful MacBook Pros in the future, albeit with much higher price tags.

If you’re like most people and primarily use web browsers, Microsoft Office, and Apple’s bundled apps most of the time, then either machine will do just fine.

MacBook Pro Photography

If you spend a lot of time editing photos, editing videos, or using graphics-intensive apps, then go with the MacBook Pro if you can afford it. If you can relate to the above image of a photographer editing images shot on a DSLR, then you should go with the MacBook Pro.

MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro Battery Life

Both the new MacBook Air and new MacBook Pro have outstanding advertised battery life that should allow most users to work all day without plugging in.  If you’re a longtime MacBook user and aren’t satisfied with your old MacBook’s battery performance, then you need to set those experiences aside. Apple’s latest MacBooks have drastically better battery performance compared to older models.

Of course, real-world MacBook battery performance varies greatly from user to user as there are many variables, such as which apps are used and how bright the display is set to. Apple is claiming that the new MacBook Air’s battery will last for up to 18 hours on a single charge, while the new MacBook Pro battery will last for up to 20 hours. With just a 10% difference between the two, this shouldn’t be a deciding factor for most people and it may be wiser to just turn the brightness down on the MacBook Air’s display rather than forking over $300 for the MacBook Pro.

MacBook Air w/M1 vs MacBook Pro w/ M! vs. MacBook Air with Intel Processor

The above image from Apple’s website illustrates how the new MacBook Air, the new MacBook Pro, and the old Intel-based MacBook Pro models compare in terms of battery life.

If you’re a highly mobile user and want to do your best to avoid battery anxiety, then the MacBook Pro’s slightly better battery performance may sway you.

MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro: Noise

The MacBook Air is virtually silent thanks to its fanless design. Apple’s managed to design the MacBook Air to run cool enough without tiny fans spinning up when it heats up. While the MacBook Pro has similar performance, it does have a fan when things heat up. If you prefer working and studying in complete silence, then the MacBook Air may be a better choice for you.

MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro: Ports and Connections

Both the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro have just two Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports for charging and connecting to external devices. They each also have a headphone jack if you want to connect to external speakers or a wired headset.

Both the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro only have two Thunderbolt/USB Ports

Older higher-end MacBook Pros with Intel processors come with four Thunderbolt ports and we expect to see more the same whenever Apple gets around to releasing more powerful 13-inch MacBook Pros and 16-inch MacBook Pros with Apple Silicon inside rather than Intel.

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