MacBook Air vs 13-inch MacBook Pro: Similar speeds but very different
June 15, 2022 June 15, 2022
Apple currently sells two laptop lines: the MacBook Pro (which currently comes in 13-inch, 14-inch and 16-inch models) and the MacBook Air (which is available in 13.3-inch or 13.6-inch models). That is a lot of Mac laptops with very different specs.
Despite the fact the 2022 MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro share the same M2 chip, there are some very notable differences between the two models. In this article we compare the two models and help you decide which one to buy.
MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro: Design
In some ways the design of the 2022 MacBook Air and MacBook Pro are more alike than ever. The 2022 MacBook Air has lost its tapered design that made it instantly identifiable as the Air (and is still available if you buy the M1 version of the MacBook Air). However, there’s a lot to set these two Macs apart.
Thanks to an extensive redesign, the MacBook Air has many features that the 13-inch MacBook Pro lacks. Most significant is the fact that the 2022 MacBook Air has a larger 13.6-inch screen with slimmer bezels, while the 13-inch MacBook Pro has an older 13.3-inch display (the same as the M1 MacBook Air).
Another notable difference is that the 13in MacBook Pro is the only Mac laptop that features Apple’s Touch Bar strip. Apple removed the Touch Bar from the 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro models with the 2021 models.
As you would expect from the name, the MacBook Air is lighter than the MacBook Pro, but only slightly. When it launched in 2008, the MacBook Air was the lightest laptop available, but over the years the weight of the MacBook Pro has also declined, so the difference is a lot less now:
M2 MacBook Air: 2.7 pounds (1.24kg)
M2 MacBook Pro: 3 pounds (1.4kg)
M1 MacBook Air: 2.8 pounds (1.29kg)
Following its redesign the 2022 MacBook Air is actually very slightly larger than the 13-inch MacBook Pro. That change is what allows Apple to accommodate a larger display. The measurements of the M1 MacBook Air are the same as the 13in MacBook Pro.
M2 MacBook Air: 30.41cm x 21.5cm x 1.13cm
M2 MacBook Pro: 30.41cm x 21.24cm x 1.56cm
M1 MacBook Air: 30.41cm x 21.24cm x 1.61cm-0.41cm
Another difference between these MacBooks is the color choices. The 2022 MacBook Air comes in some brand new colors: Midnight (dark blue), Starlight (gold), Space Gray and Silver.
The MacBook Pro offers only the silver and space grey options. The M1 MacBook Air comes in silver, space gray and gold. The new Starlight shade is paler gold, while Midnight is close to black with a dark blue hue.
All three MacBooks have the same Magic Keyboard with scissor-switch keys to replace the problematic butterfly keyboard mechanism that featured in earlier models from around 2016 to 2018. All of the models also have a Touch ID sensor and Force Touch trackpad, but only the 13-inch MacBook Pro features the Touch Bar. Apple removed the multi-touch strip from the higher-end MacBook Pro models in 2021 so if you like it, the 13-inch MacBook Pro is the Mac laptop to offer it.
MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro: Display
The 2022 MacBook Air has a new display that is larger and brighter than the M2 MacBook Pro, and a leap from the display on the previous generation MacBook Air.
The new MacBook Air offers a 13.6-inch Liquid Retina display, rather than a plain old Retina display. This essentially means the newer display has a better contrast ratio and can support more colors (a billion versus millions). However, neither is as good as the Liquid Retina XDR displays in the 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro models. Those more expensive MacBook Pro options bring up to 1,000 nits of brightness (versus 500 on the M2 MacBook Air and 400 on the M1 MacBook Air), deeper blacks and more vivid colors as well as ProMotion.
Due in part to the fact that the 2022 MacBook Air screen is slightly taller, with a diagonal measurement of 13.6 inches rather than 13.3 inches, the MacBook Air display now offers slightly more pixels:
M2 MacBook Pro: 2,560 x 1,600 pixels
M2 MacBook Air: 2,560 x 1,664 pixels
M1 MacBook Air: 2,560 x 1,600 pixels
MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro: Specs
Apple has now updated all Mac laptops to run on its own system on chip. First the M1 arrived in November 2020, then the M1 Pro and M1 Max in October 2021, and now the M2 has arrived on the 2022 MacBook Air and 13in MacBook Pro. The M2 is a newer chip than the M1 Pro and M1 Max, but those chips are still superior to the M2.
If you think you need something more powerful you need to look at the 14in or 16in MacBook Pro with the option of M1 Pro or M1 Max, or wait for the M2 series to expand. If you want to find out more about the M1 series of chips read our M1-series chip guide. We have more about the M2 here: Apple’s M2 chip: Everything you need to know.
Here’s how the models break down:
MacBook Air, M1 (2020, $999/£999)
8-core CPU with 4 performance cores and 4 efficiency cores 7-core GPU 16-core Neural Engine 8GB Unified Memory (up to 16GB) 256GB SSD
MacBook Air, M2 (2022, $1,199/£1,249)
8-core CPU with 4 performance cores and 4 efficiency cores 8-core GPU 16-core Neural Engine 8GB Unified Memory (up to 24GB) 256GB SSD
MacBook Air, M2 (2022, $1,499/£1,549)
8-core CPU with 4 performance cores and 4 efficiency cores 10-core GPU 16-core Neural Engine 8GB Unified Memory (up to 24GB) 512GB SSD
13in MacBook Pro, M2 (2022, $1,299/£1,349)
8-core CPU with 4 performance cores and 4 efficiency cores 10-core GPU 16-core Neural Engine 8GB Unified Memory (up to 24GB) 256GB SSD
13in MacBook Pro, M2 (2022, $1,499/£1,549
8-core CPU with 4 performance cores and 4 efficiency cores 8-core GPU 16-core Neural Engine 8GB Unified Memory (up to 24GB) 512GB SSD
You’ll notice that there is a MacBook Air and a MacBook Pro model that have identical specs and the same price ($1,499/£1,549). You might therefore expect the benchmarks to be similar for those two models, but we expect other factors to slow down the MacBook Air a bit since the more compact and fanless MacBook Air will be less able to manage heat, and therefore may be throttled somewhat if you were to really push it.
The 2022 MacBook Air and 13in MacBook Pro both run on Apple’s M2 chip. Like the M1 chip, which you can still get in the entry-level MacBook Air, the M2 has eight CPU cores, four of which are high-performance cores and four are high-efficiency cores. This is an advantage of Apple’s chip design: when the high-efficiency processor cores are busy backing up to iCloud or syncing photos the high-performance cores will still be available for more intensive operations. The M2 is superior to the M1 because this time round the faster performance cores are paired with a larger cache, while the efficiency cores see even greater performance gains, according to Apple. So it might look like the CPU is the same, but it isn’t.
When we have benchmarked the new Macs we will include the results here.
As you will see from the specs above, another key difference between all the Mac laptops on offer here is the number of graphics cores.
The entry-level MacBook Air doesn’t only offer a less-powerful M1 chip, there are only seven graphics cores compared to the eight or ten graphics cores in the M2 MacBook Air models.
The number of GPU cores might be a key part of the decision about which model is best suited to your needs.If you think you are likely to need that extra GPU core you may think that the best option is to buy the more expensive Air. But the MacBook Pro, which offers a 10-core GPU option, might be a better option, as we will explain.
The reason why the MacBook Pro is a better option for graphic intensive operations than the MacBook Air is that it also includes a fan for cooling – as a result you will be able to push it a little further. The MacBook Air will be perfectly fine for normal operations, but because it lacks a fan you may find that things slow down in order for it not to overheat while you are pushing it.
Indeed, in our tests of the 2020 models the M1 MacBook Air fell behind the M1 MacBook Pro and the lack of fans in the MacBook Air definitely had a part to play.
When we have benchmarked the new Macs we will include the results here.
All the M1 MacBooks – both Pro and Air – come with 8GB of Unified Memory at their base configuration. The M2 chip brings an option to upgrade to 24GB RAM while the M1 is limited to 16GB RAM.
You may be thinking that 8GB RAM won’t be enough for your needs, but you should note that this RAM – which Apple calls Unified Memory – is part of the M2 (or M1) chip. As a result it is accessible to both the CPU and the GPU, which brings performance benefits that means the 8GB RAM in these models isn’t really comparable to 8GB in an Intel-powered Mac.
If you are concerned though you can update your MacBook Air or 13in MacBook Pro to 16GB or 24GB RAM at point of sale – and we do recommend that you get 16GB if you can afford to.
If you feel that you need more than 24GB memory then you will need to turn to the M1 Pro (which ships with 16GB Unified Memory and is upgradable to 32GB), or the M1 Max (which ships also with 16GB Unified Memory, but is upgradable to 64GB). It is even possible to get 128GB RAM but for that you will need the M1 Ultra in the Mac Studio.
The Air and 13in Pro both come with 256GB of storage at the entry-level, with an additional model offering 512GB. You can also add a larger SSD at point of sale, but the M1 MacBook Air and Pro models are capped at 2TB.
MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro: Battery life
When it comes to battery life nothing has changed since the M1 Macs, but these Macs are still miles ahead of the old Intel MacBook models. According to Apple, the M1 and M2 MacBook Air models offer 18 hours, while the 13in MacBook Pro offers an amazing 20 hours. This makes the discontinued 2.0GHz 13in MacBook Pro’s 10 hours battery life look appalling.
In our own testing of the M1 models, the MacBook Pro lasted a bit longer than the Air, but both were extremely efficient, with a new-40 percent increase over the previous Intel models.
These number are certainly impressive, although not the most hours of battery life on offer from an Apple MacBook, which is 22 hours for the 2021 16in MacBook Pro.
Battery life is high thanks to the M1 chips and macOS’s advanced power management, which intelligently allocates tasks between the M1’s performance and efficiency cores. So everything is optimised. You may also benefit from macOS Monterey’s low power mode that might extend battery life even further.
However there is a reason why you might not want to choose the 14in or 16in MacBook Pro. Those models feature a notch. The notch is a feature familiar from the iPhone where the notch conceals the Face ID and camera components. In that case the notch is part of the screen. Here the ‘notch’ is actually the FaceTime camera components overlapping the display, so it’s a little different. If the notch makes you recoil you will be pleased to learn that there is no notch on the 13in MacBook Pro or MacBook Air (at least for now).
MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro: Ports and expansion
Over the years it’s felt like Apple has been on a mission removing ports from Macs in order to make them slimmer and slimmer. This has been a disadvantage for many, although generally if you need more or different ports you can just plug in an adapter or a dock (read: Best USB-C hubs and adapters for Mac).
So the fact that Apple’s MacBook Air and MacBook Pro offer only two USB 4 ports that also support Thunderbolt 3 is limiting, but not impossible to work with.
If you do feel that you need more ports the 14in MacBook Pro and 16in MacBook Pro have a number of ports available including three Thunderbolt 4 (USB‑C) ports, an HDMI port and a SDXC card slot. (If you are wondering what the difference between USB-C and USB 4 is, USB 4 should be able to offer 40Gb/s, which is what Thunderbolt 3 already offers. USB-C offers 10 to 20Gb/s.)
All Mac laptops offer a 3.5mm headphone jack.
MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro: Price
Regardless of the features, the decision of whether to buy the MacBook Air or MacBook Pro may just come down to price. You might be looking for the cheapest option – in which case the $999/£999 M1 MacBook Air is the clear winner – or you might be happy to pay a little more to get better value for money.
We recommend getting the best machine you can afford at the time of purchase since you won’t be able to upgrade down the line. But if you need to choose, we’d upgrade the RAM before the storage.
We’ll run through the pricing for the different models below, including some of the latest offers on new MacBooks – because you don’t necessarily have to pay Apple’s price. We also recommend checking the Apple Refurbished Store to see if you could pick up a discounted MacBook.
MacBook Air prices
The MacBook Air is available in two default configurations:
M1 Chip with 8‑Core CPU and 7‑Core GPU, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD: $999/£999.
M2 Chip with 8‑Core CPU and 8‑Core GPU, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD: $1,199/£1,249.
M2 Chip with 8‑Core CPU and 10‑Core GPU, 8GB RAM, 512GB SSD: $1,499/£1,549.
The MacBook Air and 13in MacBook Pro are both great MacBooks. Really the decision has to be based on your budget. If a low price is the most important to you then the M1 MacBook Air is the best option, but you just need to weigh up whether getting twice as much storage is more valuable to you than the MacBook Pro’s better battery life, extra graphics core and fan. If you don’t do the kind of work that requires lots of graphics processing the 7-core MacBook Air could be sufficient.
If it’s a choice between the M2 MacBook Air and M2 MacBook Pro, the new design and better screen of the M2 MacBook Air do edge it ahead a little. The M2 MacBook Pro has little going for it other than the Touch Bar and the fact that it has better cooling than the MacBook Air, so if you need to use your Mac for intensive work the Pro might be better for you.
But if you really need the ultimate in power then you really should be looking at the 14in MacBook Pro and the 16in MacBook Pro, which offer more graphics cores and support more RAM. They also offer a bunch of ports that will benefit many.