If you’re interested in one of Apple’s new M2 MacBooks, but don’t know which one to buy, don’t worry – it’s confusing. The two devices are very similar, but they do have a few key differences.
To get a large group of people out of the way: If you consistently use this device for your work and your work mainly involves something more intense than Chrome (e.g. any program with Adobe in the name), you should buy a 14-inch MacBook Pro with M1 Pro or M1 Max instead of one of these computers. Those laptops are much faster, with bigger screens and a a lot more useful port selection, and those upgrades will be worth the extra money.
But if you’re not in that category and have your heart set on an M2 machine, here’s how to make your decision. (And of course, before making a purchase decision, you should know exactly why you’re looking for a new computer, what’s not working on your current computer, and what you’re looking for in a new one.)
MacBook Pro vs MacBook Air: Price
The price difference between the MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro isn’t hugely significant.
The Air starts at $1,199 for an eight-core CPU, eight-core GPU, 8GB of memory, 256GB storage, and a 30W power adapter and goes up to $2,499 for an eight-core CPU, 10-core GPU, 24GB unified memory, 2TB of storage and a 67W adapter.
The Pro starts at $1,299 for similar specs to the base Air model: eight-core CPU, eight-core GPU, 8GB of memory, 256GB SSD, and a 67W adapter (no 30W option here). However, it also tops out at $2,499 (with similar specs to the top Air: eight-core/10-core, 24GB of memory, 2TB of storage, same charger).
The exact prices of configurations, and the differences between them, vary. In general, if you specify them as similarly as possible, the price difference between the two models will be within $100.
MacBook Pro vs MacBook Air: Differences in Chassis
Here is a list of the differences between the M2 MacBook Pro and the M2 MacBook Air, some of which may be of interest to you and some of which may not.
- The MacBook Pro is a little bit heavier – it’s 3 pounds (1.4 kg), while the Air is 2.7 (1.24 kg). I’d say the difference is noticeable, but not life-changing, although the Air feels a lot thinner.
- Both MacBooks are available in Space Gray and Silver, while the Air is also available in Midnight (dark blue) and Starlight (gold). Watch out for the midnight color – it picks up fingerprints very, very easily.
- The MacBook Air has a larger screen: 13.6 inches versus the 13.3 inches of the Pro. (This means the Air’s resolution is technically slightly higher, but not really noticeable.) The two have the same brightness and color coverage, but the Air is a Liquid Retina display, while the Pro is the same LED-backlit IPS panel like that of last year. Prof. had.
- The MacBook Air has a camera notch and your cursor will disappear when it goes under it. So while you have extra screen space to work with on the Air, the notch can interfere with some menu bar apps.
- The MacBook Pro has a touchscreen OLED strip (the Touch Bar) at the top of the keyboard, while the MacBook Air has a row of physical function keys. People on the web have all kinds of strong feelings about the Touch Bar. If you are not familiar, the TL is; DR that the Touch Bar gives users a way to access features like brightness, volume, emoji selection, Siri activation, and other toggles all in one place, but it’s also slower for most people to use than physical keys and is easy to accidentally knock.
- The MacBook Pro only charges via USB-C, while the MacBook Air also has a MagSafe power port. This essentially gives you an extra port on the MacBook Air, as one of the Pro ports will be busy when plugged in (both models have two Thunderbolt/USB-4 ports). MagSafe connectors also pop out of their slots very easily, meaning the Air is less likely to be ripped off your desk if someone trips over your cord.
- The MacBook Air has a better webcam — 1080p to the Pro’s 720p. I don’t like either one, but the Air’s make me look sharper and less faded.
- The MacBook Air has a number of power adapter options, including a 30W USB-C adapter, a 35W dual USB-C port adapter, and a 67W fast charging adapter. The Pro only comes with a 67W version.
- The MacBook Air has a “four speaker sound system”, while the MacBook Pro only has “high dynamic range stereo speakers”. These sound the same as far as I know.
MacBook Pro vs MacBook Air: Performance Differences
The Pro and Air have the same M2 processor and run on the same macOS operating system. But that doesn’t mean they’ll perform identically, because the Pro has something in it that the Air doesn’t: a fan.
Machines must prevent their processors from overheating when they are working very hard. The Pro does this by turning on the fan. Since the Air can’t do that, it has to make the performance of its processor lower than where the Air does. In practice, this means that if you run heavy loads on the Air for a long time, you will see a loss of performance. During our testing, the Pro Cinebench R23 was able to run for 30 minutes with no performance loss, while the Air’s performance started to decline shortly after.
The Air also gets hotter than the Pro, although I’ll stress that it does not get hot under Zoom calls, Chrome tabs, and most web-based loads you’ll have. But you may feel some heat on the bottom or keyboard of the Air if you’re running heavier programs on it for extended periods of time. In contrast, I’ve never felt the slightest amount of heat in the Pro’s chassis, even while doing video stuff (nor have I ever heard any noise from the fan).
When it came to graphics performance, our tests saw a 26 percent increase in Shadow of the Tomb Raider performance and more than two minutes difference in Premiere Pro 4K export time.
The Pro also has a larger battery and delivered longer battery life in our tests. I generally get an average of 16 and a half hours of continuous use out of the M2 Pro and an average of 13 hours and 15 minutes off the air. Your results may certainly vary based on the work you do, but based on my findings and those of others around the web, I’d expect you to get a few extra hours out of the Pro.
Okay let’s try some scenarios
I often work with video, music, graphics, virtualization, VFX or other demanding applications, but the 14-inch model is out of my price range: Buy the Pro. If I’m using a device for this sort of thing and I’m going to use it all day, I’d rather be on the Pro. That said, if you’re all set on a Mac, if you can save up for an M1 Pro or M1 Max MacBook (or Mac Studio). They will save you a lot of time.
I code: If your main focus is on tasks like web design, Air is fine. Having MagSafe in an office environment can save you some stress, and that probably outweighs the performance benefit you’ll see. If you often compile complicated things, the Pro will probably save you some time. The Pro beat the Air by 10 seconds in the Xcode Benchmark.
I don’t use these fancy programs, but I use a very heavy Chrome load that I fear the Air won’t be enough for: I’d still take the Air unless you really think any of the other benefits of the Air won’t make a difference in your life. I work with quite large documents and spreadsheets, and the performance difference between the Pro and the Air was barely noticeable.
I only use my computer for Netflix and email at my bank: Buy the sky. The better screen and lower weight will be more beneficial to you than the extra performance.
I usually only use my computer for Netflix and email, but I sometimes make YouTube videos: Get the Pro if you work on your YouTube videos every day or if you often have to do that work on battery – the Air gets quite warm if you press it really hard all the time. Otherwise Air should be fine.
I’m a college student who has to walk around all day and mostly work on Google Docs or Word or whatever: Buy the sky. You won’t see much of a performance difference, and the battery life should be enough to get you through a school day. The Pro’s larger battery is offset by its extra size and weight; a thin laptop is a huge advantage when your backpack is packed.
I want to play games on my MacBook: First of all, good for you. I support you and your dreams. Don’t let the haters bring you down. Second, get the Pro. You’ll see higher frame rates, you’ll have more time to game on battery, and the Air will get uncomfortably warm after you’ve been gaming for a while.
I travel a lot: This one is tough. I guess it’s a matter of whether extra battery life or a thinner, lighter device is more important to you: if it’s battery life, Pro; when it comes to portability, Air.
i hate notches: prof.