MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro: How to decide which Apple laptop to buy


A close-up shot of the 16-inch MacBook Pro's keyboard.

June Wan/ZDNET

If you’re in the market for a new MacBook, you might wonder if it makes more sense to buy a MacBook Pro or a MacBook Air. With Apple just announcing a larger version of the Air the buying confusion is especially warranted.

Also: MacBook Air (15-inch) vs MacBook Air (13-inch): Which model is right for you?

When buying a MacBook, you’ll want to consider the computer’s display size, storage capacity, computing power, and price. For example, the latest MacBook Pro and MacBook Air models are equipped with Apple’s M2 chip, which gives them increased performance, greater efficiency, and longer battery life compared to Apple MacBooks with an M1 or Intel chip.

In this situation, think of yourself as being like Goldilocks; you’re confronted with five different MacBook models, but you need to find the one that’s just right for you. So, before you decide which one to buy, let’s cover the main differences between the Pro and Air.

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

Believe it or not, there is a multitude of differences between the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air. The most glaring differences between the two are pricing and computing power. The most affordable MacBook Pro with an M2 chip will cost more than the most affordable Air with an M2 chip. However, the Pro is notably more powerful thanks to the other internals under the hood.

Review: Apple 16-inch MacBook Pro (M2 Max, 2023): A content creator’s dream machine

The M2 MacBook Pro has more unified memory, longer battery life, more ports (including HDMI and SD card), and, generally, a more sophisticated GPU and CPU. There are three MacBook Pro display sizes: 13-inch, 14-inch, and 16-inch, so you’re getting more variety in form factors with the Pro model.

The MacBook Pro on a table.

Here’s the 16-inch MacBook Pro.

June Wan/ZDNET

Even at its smallest configuration, the 13-inch Pro runs on Apple’s M2 chip, has a superior GPU, and is rated for longer battery life than the Air. The 13-inch Pro also has a Touch Bar, a touch-enabled OLED strip that replaces the static function keys, which is unavailable on the Air.

Review: Apple MacBook Air (M2, 2022): Sleeker, faster

The 14 and 16-inch Pro can be equipped with Apple’s M2 Pro or M2 Max chips, which are even more powerful than the M2 chips found in the MacBook Air and 13-inch Pro. These upgraded chips make the 14 and 16-inch Pro suitable for editing pro-grade video footage (up to 8K), rendering 3D art, producing music, and editing high-resolution photos in Adobe Photoshop.

However, the more power you want with the 14 and 16-inch MacBook Pro, the more expensive it becomes. The 14-inch Pro starts at $1,999 and goes up to $3,099. The 16-inch Pro starts from $2,499 and goes up to $3,499.

MacBook Air 15-inch at WWDC

The 15-inch MacBook Air is the largest of its kind but lacks the side-firing speakers found on the Pro models.

Jason Hiner/ZDNET

The 13 and 15-inch MacBook Air only come equipped with Apple’s base M2 chip, but that doesn’t mean the Air is a less-than-capable computer. The MacBook Air is thinner and lighter than the Pro because it has less internal hardware, dismissing for-work ports like HDMI and an SD card slot. and a cooling fan. Instead, Apple is banking on the efficiency of its chips to keep the laptops’ heat dissipated and well-stabilized.

Also: The most expensive Mac Pro is surprisingly affordable

And, of course, less hardware means the MacBook Air is less expensive. The 13-inch Air starts at $1,099 and goes up to $1,399 if you add more internal storage. The 15-inch Air starts at $1,299 and goes up to $1,499 in exchange for more storage. For shoppers who are tighter on budget, Apple still offers the M1-powered MacBook Air for $999.

Which MacBook is right for you?

The answer heavily depends on how you see yourself using the laptops and how display size and weight factor into that. A reliable computer is an investment; you don’t want to spend too much on an overqualified laptop, yet you don’t want to buy a computer that’s not powerful enough for your needs.

If you’re a graphic designer, music producer, professional photographer, videographer, 3D artist, or iOS game and app developer, a 14 or 16-inch MacBook Pro would be the way to go as far as MacBooks are concerned. The bigger Pro models can handle intense graphics processing and more software running in the background without significantly lagging, overheating, or slowing down.

If you are a student or just someone who spends most of your time in the Microsoft Office Suite or Google Suite, a MacBook Air may be a better fit. If you want a MacBook to casually surf the internet, watch YouTube or Netflix, respond to emails, and FaceTime your friends, then the Air model is not only adept at handling those tasks but won’t put a burden on your back as you lug it around.

No matter which model you buy, a MacBook is excellent for users who want to expand their personal Apple ecosystem with a device that works seamlessly with the iPhone, AirPods, and other products. Handoff, for example, allows you to switch FaceTime calls between your MacBook and iPhone, and your MacBook can easily access your iPhone files, messages, contacts, and photos.

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