MacBook Air vs Pro: Differences between MacBook Air and Pro

Macworld

Apple currently sells two laptop lines: the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air. The MacBook Pro comes with a 14-inch or 16-inch display and the MacBook Air has either a 13.6-inch or a 15-inch display. And among those models are an even wider range of specs.

In this article, we are concerned with the Mac laptops best suited to average use: home, student, and office work. There are 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pro models powered by M3 Pro or M3 Max chips that are better suited to pro users and have much higher prices, and they aren’t included here. But if you are thinking your needs might extend a little further on the pro side, you may be interested to read Which MacBook Pro or our guide to all of Apple’s laptops.

We’ll be considering the following similarly specced Mac laptops:

13.6-inch MacBook Air, M2 (launched July 2022)

13.6-inch MacBook Air, M3 (launched March 2024)

14-inch MacBook Pro, M3 (launched October 2023)

15-inch MacBook Air, M3 (launched March 2024)

For advice about the best MacBook, we also have a buying guide, see: Best MacBook 2023: Which Mac laptop is best? Curious about the M3 MacBook Air? Read: M3 MacBook Air: Everything you need to know.

MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro compared

Here are the four Mac laptops that have our attention. We will compare design, specs, displays, price and other features below.

1. Apple 13-inch MacBook Air (M2, 2022)



2. 13-inch MacBook Air M3 (2024)

Price When Reviewed:



€1299

Best Prices Today:




3. Apple 14-inch MacBook Pro (M3, 2023)

Read our full

Macbook Pro M3 14 Zoll review

4. 15-Inch MacBook Air M3 (2024)

Price When Reviewed:



€1599

Best Prices Today:




MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro: Design

The design of the MacBook Air hasn’t changed since Apple revealed it in June 2022 and you could have been forgiven for thinking you were looking at a MacBook Pro. Gone is the tapered edge for which the Air was famous for, replaced with a more uniform design. The MacBook Air is still thinner–albeit fractionally–but it is also very slightly larger than the old version of the Air, thanks to the bigger screen.

Looking at the screen you will notice the other glaring difference in the new design: the MacBook Air has a notch like the one that’s also seen on the 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pro and iPhones. This enables the bigger screen and conceals a much better FaceTime camera, so it’s not a bad thing, although some people don’t like notches.

If you miss that tapered design that made the MacBook Air instantly identifiable it is still available if you buy the M1 version of the MacBook Air. Apple no longer sells this model as a new laptop, but and you may still be able to pick one up from a third party, see our round up of the Best MacBook Air deals.

If a 13.6-inch screen isn’t big enough for you, Apple added a 15.3-inch MacBook Air to the lineup in June 2023. This model looks identical to the 13.6-inch MacBook Air, and shares (mostly) the same specs, it’s just bigger.

15-inch MacBook Air (left) and 14-inch MacBook Pro (right).

Foundry

The 14-inch MacBook Pro is a bit chunkier and heavier than the 15-inch MacBook Air due to the fans needed for heat dissipation, while the Air is, unsurprisingly, wider and taller, thanks to the bigger display.

Both models have a Touch ID sensor built into the keyboard, 1080p FaceTime HD cameras, and six-speaker arrays (the 13-inch Air only has a four-speaker sound system). The sound on the MacBook Pro is described by Apple as “High Fidelity,” by which we assume Apple is indicating it is superior to the Air. Connectivity for both models is via Bluetooth 5.3 and Wi-Fi 6E.

Another difference between these MacBooks is the color choices. There are four color choices for the 13-inch MacBook Air and the 15-inch MacBook Air: Midnight (dark blue), Starlight (gold), Space Gray and Silver. The Starlight shade is paler gold, while Midnight is close to black with a dark blue hue.

The 14-inch MacBook Pro with M3 offers only Silver and Space Gray options. If you have the budget for a 14-inch MacBook Pro with M3 Pro or M3 Max a Space Black shade replaces Space Gray.

There are four different color options for the MacBook Air.

Apple

MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro: Dimensions

The 13-inch MacBook Air is lighter than the 14-inch MacBook Pro, as you’d expect, but the 15-inch MacBook Air is also lighter than the 14-inch MacBook Pro.

14-inch MacBook Pro, M3: 3.4 pounds (1.55 kg)

15-inch MacBook Air, M3: 3.3 pounds (1.51 kg)

13-inch MacBook Air, M3: 2.7 pounds (1.24 kg)

The MacBook Air is thinner than the MacBook Pro.

Apple

The 15-inch MacBook Air is the largest of the M3 laptops, but because it’s thinner, it weighs less than the Pro. The 13-inch MacBook Air dimensions aren’t a lot smaller than those of the 14-inch MacBook Air.

15-inch MacBook Air, M3: 13.40 x 9.35 x 0.45 inches (34.04 x 23.76 x 1.15cm)

14-inch MacBook Pro, M3: 12.31 x 8.71 x 0.61 inches (31.26cm x 22.12cm x 1.55cm)

13-inch MacBook Air, M3: 11.97 x 8.46 x 0.44 inches (30.41 x 21.5 x 1.13cm)

MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro: Display

Here are the specs at a glance:

13-inch MacBook Air M3: 13.6 inches diagonal, 2,560 by 1,664 pixels

14-inch MacBook Pro M3: 14.2 inches diagonal, 3,024 by 1,964 pixels

15-inch MacBook Air M3: 15.3 inches diagonal, 2,880 by 1,864 pixels

The MacBook Air has either a 15.3-inch or a 13.6-inch Liquid Retina display. The MacBook Pro comes with a superior 14.2-inch Liquid Retina XDR panel. The screen on the Air is a bit bigger, but the image quality is not as good as the screen on the MacBook Pro–it still looks great, though.

The 15-inch Air’s display runs at a resolution of 2,880 by 1,864, while the 13-inch offers 2,560 by 1,664. Both Airs have a maximum brightness of 500 nits, which is half of the Pro’s 1,000 nits in normal use, or a third if you’re running HDR content at a max of 1,600 nits. This is achieved by the Pro display incorporating mini-LEDs rather than the Air’s standard LCD screen.

Perhaps the biggest difference though is that the Pro features ProMotion, meaning that the refresh rate tops out at 120Hz, again double that of the Air’s 60Hz refresh rate. This helps keep scrolling and animations smooth and crisp. Any of these displays will be great for everyday use and long hours of work, but the Pro has the edge when it comes to features.

15-inch MacBook Air (left) and 14-inch MacBook Pro 2023.

Foundry

MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro: Specs

All of Apple’s laptops are powered by Apple’s silicon. Amidst the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro offerings are two generations of chip: the M2 in the $999 13.6-inch MacBook Air, an M3 in the 13.6-inch and 15-inch Air models, and an M3 in the 14-inch MacBook Pro that we are considering here (there are also M3 Pro and M3 Max MacBook Pro options for those who need more power). To learn more about all the Mac processors read our Mac processor comparison and see how the M3 stacks up against all of Apple’s chips.

This is how the specs in the various MacBook Air and the 14-inch MacBook Pro standard configurations compare:

MacBookPriceCPUGPUMemorySSD13.6-inch MacBook Air, M2 (2022)$999/£9998-core, M28-core, M28GB (up to 24GB)256GB SSD13.6-inch MacBook Air, M3 (2024) $1,099/£1,0998-core, M38-core, M38GB (up to 24GB)256GB SSD13.6-inch MacBook Air, M3 (2024) $1,299/£1,2998-core, M310-core, M38GB (up to 24GB)512GB SSD13.6-inch MacBook Air, M3 (2024) $1,499/£1,4998-core, M310-core, M316GB (up to 24GB)512GB SSD15-inch MacBook Air, M3 (2024)$1,299/£1,2998-core, M310-core, M38GB (up to 24GB)256GB SSD15-inch MacBook Air, M3 (2024)$1,499/£1,4998-core, M310-core, M38GB (up to 24GB)512GB SSD15-inch MacBook Air, M3 (2024)$1,699/£1,6998-core, M310-core, M316GB (up to 24GB)512GB SSD14-inch MacBook Pro, M3 (2023)$1,599/£1,6998-core, M310-core, M38GB (up to 24GB)512GB SSD14-inch MacBook Pro, M3 (2023)$1,799/£1,8998-core, M310-core, M38GB (up to 24GB)1TB SSD14-inch MacBook Pro, M3 (2023)$1,999/£2,0998-core, M310-core, M316GB (up to 24GB)1TB SSDThe specs look similar, but expect more power from newer processor generations.

There are also M3 Pro and M3 Max MacBook Pro models that we discuss in our MacBook Pro comparison and our Best MacBook guide.

If you glance at the specs above, the closest comparison is between the $1,499/£1,499 15-inch MacBook Air and the $1,599/£1,699 14-inch MacBook Pro. The extra money for the MacBook Pro includes a better display, an HDMI port, an SDXC Card slot, and built-in fans to cool the laptop so it can maintain performance on long tasks. You may or may not need those features.

With a smaller budget the 13.6-inch MacBook Air, M2 (2022) looks like a good deal at $999/£999. The main problem with this machine is the smaller SSD, not just because it’s smaller, but also because the 256GB SSDs are known to be slower. It still might be a good choice despite the SSD, because that probably won’t matter to you if the apps you use aren’t frequently writing to the hard drive.

There are other factors that can slow down the MacBook Air though. Because the Air is compact and fanless it is less able to manage heat, and therefore may run slower in order to keep cool if you really push it. If it’s power you need then the benchmarks give a clearer picture:

As you can see from the scores above, the M3 shoots ahead of the M2 and M1, in fact it even scores above one configuration of the M1 Pro. But, if you really need a powerful machine you might want to look at the M3 Pro MacBook Pro or shop around for a M2 Pro MacBook Pro which it’s likely will remain on sale for some time even though Apple has discontinued that model. See our round-up of the Best MacBook Pro deals.

If you need to push your Mac with graphic-intensive apps a MacBook Pro would be a better choice.

Foundry

RAM

All the MacBooks showcased above come with 8GB of Unified Memory at their base configuration. The M1 only supported up to 16GB memory, but the M2 and M3 chip bring an option to upgrade to 24GB RAM. If you need more memory than that you need to look to the M3 Pro and M3 Max, which can support 36GB in the case of the M3 Pro and up to 128GB for the M3 Max.

We recommend that, whichever model you buy, you upgrade your MacBook to 16GB Unified Memory if you can afford to. Our advice is to get as much RAM as you can afford as you can’t upgrade it later. See: Apple’s MacBook Pro memory problem.

Storage

Apple offers a 256GB storage option at the entry-level for both the 13-inch and 15-inch MacBook Air. The entry-level MacBook Pro starts at 512GB.

There are some concerns about this 256GB SSD, with reports that its SSD is up to 50 percent slower on read speeds and 30 percent on write speeds. We found that these observations were indeed true when we ran our own set of tests using . This may matter if you are using apps that access the SSD often, but it may not make a difference in typical use. For this reason, if you can afford a 512GB model we recommend that.

MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro: Battery life and charging

When it comes to battery life these Macs are miles ahead of the old Intel MacBook models. According to Apple, the MacBook Air offers 18 hours battery life, while the 14-inch MacBook Pro offers an amazing 22 hours (the same as the 16-inch MacBook Pro).

In our own testing, the M2 MacBook Air battery lasted 17.5 hours, outstripping the M1 MacBook Air and M2 MacBook Pro by almost an hour and a half. The 15-inch MacBook Air battery lasted an even better 19 hours in our tests. The battery inside the M3 MacBook Air is the same as that in the M2 models so we don’t expect any difference in testing.

In regular daily use, battery life is just as great. It’s a weird feeling, opening up your laptop and doing work for 20 minutes and seeing that the battery percentage hasn’t changed even a single percent, but that’s how it is with Apple silicon. Obviously, battery life varies based on what you’re doing, but for this laptop’s target market–the everyday home and productivity user–it’s hard to think that you’ll ever have to charge up before the day is done.

It’s not just how long the battery lasts that matters, but also the charging speed. Charging can be fast if you use a good USB-C power adapter. A standard 35W dual-port adapter can achieve a 10 percent charge in 10 minutes (30 percent in 30 minutes). Apple’s 61W USB-C Power Adapter increases this to 72 percent charge in 30 minutes. See our comparison test of Apple’s M2 MacBook Air chargers as well as the best USB-C charger for your MacBook.

The M2 and M3 MacBook Air ship with a braided MagSafe cable and compact 35W dual-USB-C Power Adapter (in all but the base configuration).

IDG

MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro: Ports and expansion

Over the years it’s felt like Apple has been on a mission to remove 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).

The older M1 MacBook Air offered only two USB 4 ports two USB/Thunderbolt ports, so one of those had to be used for charging (as was also the case with the 13-inch MacBook Pro). Thankfully, with the arrival of the 2022 MacBook Air, Apple added a MagSafe charging port thereby freeing up the two USB ports so one doesn’t have to be given over to charging (the also applies to the 15-inch model).

The MacBook Pro features even more ports. On the 14-inch M3 MacBook Pro, you get the same two Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports, a MagSafe charging port, and a 3.5mm headphone jack as you do on the MacBook Air, but the Pro also offers HDMI and SDXC ports that the Air doesn’t have.

If you need more ports there’s an additional Thunderbolt 4/USB-C port on the M3 Pro and M3 Max versions of the MacBook Pro.

The MacBook Air with MagSafe as well as two USB/Thunderbolt ports compared to the 2020 M1 MacBook Air.

IDG

MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro: Audio and camera

The MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro offer a 1080p FaceTime camera, which is superior to the 720p FaceTime camera on the now discontinued M1 MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro.

The 15-inch MacBook Air has a benefit over the 13.6-inch MacBook Air model: if features a six-speaker sound system with force-canceling woofers, compared to a four-speaker sound system. Apple describes the speaker system in the 14-inch MacBook Pro as a high-fidelity six-speaker sound system with force-cancelling woofers, indicating that is is superior to that in the 15-inch Air. Apple also refers to a “studio-quality three-mic array with high signal-to-noise ratio and directional beamforming” in the 14-inch Pro, while both Air models offer only a “three-mic array with directional beamforming”.

All Mac laptops offer a 3.5mm headphone jack. 

MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro: Price and buying advice

When Apple introduced the M3 version of the 14-inch MacBook Pro in October 2023 it replaced a much cheaper 13-inch MacBook Pro with M2 chip. The 13.3-inch MacBook Pro started at $1,299/£1,349 for the 8-core GPU, 256GB SSD version and rose to $1,499/£1,549 for the 10-core GPU, 512GB SSD version. Now you have to pay $1,599/£1,699 for a 10-core GPU, 512GB SSD entry-level MacBook Pro. That’s quite a leap from $1,299/£1,349.

With no ‘budget’ MacBook Pro available the MacBook Air is the only option for those looking for a bargain. If you are looking for the cheapest option the $999/£999 M2 MacBook Air would appear to be the clear winner. But the starting price of the MacBook Air M3 is only $100/£100 more. Our advice is to spend the extra money if you can afford to or look for a deal that reduces the M3 MacBook Air to a price you can afford.

The price of the MacBook Pro is higher, and on everyday tasks it performs the same as the MacBook Air, but it does offer better performance on long, CPU-intensive tasks, like image and video rendering and similar tasks. (Not to mention the better screen, HDMI port, and SDXC Card slot.) At just $100/£100 more than the 15-inch MacBook Air with M3 and the same 512GB SSD, it actually represents good value for money.

We recommend getting the best machine you can afford at the time of purchase because you won’t be able to upgrade down the line, this may require you to upgrade the RAM and storage.

The other factor that may be important to you is the screen size, which is where the MacBook Air is the clear winner, but if you are going to plug your Mac into an external display whenever you are at your desk this shouldn’t be a decision breaker. See our round-up of the best displays for Mac, also bear in mind that it can be complicated using more than one external display with some MacBooks.

So which MacBook should you choose? If you are on a budget it has to be the MacBook Air and you won’t be disappointed. If you need a bit more power than the Air can offer the M3 MacBook Pro will see you good. But if you need even more power you’ll have to fork out for the M3 Pro or M3 Max MacBook Pro models.

Luckily, you don’t have to pay full price for a MacBook Air or MacBook Pro, check out our best MacBook Air deals and best MacBook Pro deals articles for the best discounts available.

We also look at how the MacBook Air compares to the iMac and how the MacBook Air and Mac mini compare separately. We also help you choose the Best Mac in our buying guide.

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