So, you haven't bought a new Apple laptop in years. Your current one is slowing down, maxed out on storage, not holding a charge, slightly damaged — or a combination of all the above. The good news is that you're in the market to buy a new one. The problem? You don't know which to buy.
You've narrowed it down to the newest MacBook Air (with an M2 chip) and the newest MacBook Pro (with an M2 Pro or M2 Max chip). Both these laptops sport Apple's fresh new look for its laptops. They feature a larger and more edge-to-edge display (with a notch). They also have better speakers, a better webcam, faster charging capabilities and a new MagSafe charging port. Most importantly, both are decked out with Apple's second-generation silicon, so they're really fast, powerful and efficient, so in addition to great performance you also get really good battery life.
So, do you go with the new MacBook Air? Or do you dish out the extra dough for the new MacBook Pro? We put both of Apple's latest new laptops to the test to see how they measure ip.
Note: Apple still sells a 13-inch MacBook Pro with the exact same M2 chip that's in the most current M2 MacBook Air. It starts at $1,299. Apple also sells a 13-inch MacBook Air with an older M1 chip. It starts at $999. While both are great laptops that are also more affordable options, we've opted to exclude them because they wear the less-hip design of Apple's older laptops. And that's not as much fun.
MacBook Air Vs. MacBook Pro: How Are They Similar?
The newest MacBook Pro and MacBook Air look almost identical.
At a quick glance, you'd be hard-pressed to tell the difference between the newest MacBook Air and MacBook Pro. They both look almost identical, aside from the difference in size.
The two laptops have the new design Apple first introduced in 2021 with the new M1 MacBook Pro (which has now been phased out). They have a larger display — with a notch for the webcam — that stretches more edge-to-edge. They both also have rounded edges, a flat top and more pronounced feet.
Both laptops have the new type of MagSafe charging.
After not using the old type of MagSafe charger for nearly six years, Apple brought it back with its new-and-improved MagSafe connection (it's technically called "MagSafe 3"). It was first found on the 2021-released 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pros, and both the newest MacBook Airs and MacBook Pros currently have it.
The addition of the MagSafe charger makes these redesigned MacBook Air and MacBook Pros feel more nostalgic than anything, as there's few things as pleasing as feeling and hearing the MagSafe charger snap itself to your computer. You can still use the USB-C ports on either laptop to charge them, but MagSafe just feels cooler. Plus, it also supports fast charging (although the new Air and the new Pros don't fast-charge at the same speeds).
They have the same great keyboard, trackpad and Touch ID button.
For anybody with an older MacBook from roughly six-or-more years ago, you likely hate your laptop's current keyboard. Those older keyboards had butterfly switches, which were less "click-y" (a.k.a. the keys didn't travel as much) and weren't great to type on.
Thankfully, Apple updated all its laptops a few years ago with keyboards that use scissor switches, which travel more and are far less error prone. Both the newest MacBook Air and MacBook Pro have the same exact keyboards — complete with an actual function row instead of the Touch Bar.
One thing that is new(ish): both computers have Touch ID buttons, so you can unlock your laptop using your fingerprint — without having to type in a password.
MacBook Air Vs. MacBook Pro: How Are They Different?
The obvious difference: size and weight.
One of the most obvious differences is that the newest MacBook Pro is available in two sizes (it offers 14-inch or 16-inch models), while the newest MacBook Air is only available in a single 13.6-inch model. So you have more choice with the Pro. It's also worth noting that, despite looking very similar, the smallest MacBook Pro (the 14-inch model) has a slightly bigger screen and is a slightly bigger machine than the MacBook Air.
The MacBook Pro is a thicker and heavier machine than the MacBook Air. The main reason for this is that MacBook Pro have an active cooling system — i.e. they have large fans to help cool them down — while the MacBook Air does not. The smaller 14-inch MacBook Pro is about a quarter-inch thicker than the MacBook Air, but more noticeably, it's nearly a pound heavier. (The MacBook Air weighs 2.7 pounds, while the smaller MacBook Pro weighs 3.5 pounds. The 16-inch MacBook Pro is significantly heavier than both, at 4.8 pounds.)
The MacBook Pro has the more advanced Apple silicon.
The newest MacBook Air and MacBook Pros both are integrated with Apple's second-generation silicon — but they are not equal. The newest MacBook Air comes with the M2 chip, while the newest MacBook Pros can be configured with Apple's newer and more advanced M2 Pro or M2 Max chips.
The difference between the M2, M2 Pro and M2 Max chips mostly comes down to the number of CPU and GPU cores. The M2 chip has a max of 8-core CPC and 10-core GPU; the M2 Pro chip has a max of 12-core CPU and 19-core GPU; the M2 Pro Max has a max of the same 12-core CPU as the M2 Pro, but has a big jump in GPU with a max 38 cores.
Essentially, if you're planning on running multiple apps and programs at the same time, and specifically if you're doing more graphic intensive work (such as editing photos and videos), the M2 Pro and M2 Max chips are going to perform significantly better. The M2 Max is going to be a big leap up in GPU performance from the M2 Pro, too.
The MacBook Pro comes with a bigger, faster charger.
Both the newest MacBook Air and MacBook Pros support fast charging via USB-C or MagSafe. Apple claims that you can charge them all from flat to 50 percent in 30 minutes — but you need the proper charger and, unfortunately, you probably don't get that charger in the box.
In order to fast charge the M2 MacBook Air, you need a 67-watt USB-C power adapter. Unfortunately, it only comes with a 30- or 35-watt USB-C adapter (depending on the configuration you buy) so you'll need to upgrade if you want to achieve its full fast-charging potential. The M2 Pro MacBook Pro comes with a 97-watt USB-C power adapter, while the M2 Max MacBook Pro comes with a 140-watt USB-C power adapter. Both of those are powerful enough to fast charge their computers straight out of the box.
As far as battery life, the 16-inch MacBook Pro is rated as the longest lasting of the three laptops, with roughly 21 hours of video playback. Next up is the 14-inch MacBook Pro with 17 hours of video playback. And the newest MacBook Air is rated slightly behind that at roughly 15 hours of video playback.
The port selection makes a big difference.
One of the big reasons to upgrade to the newest MacBook Pros is the port selection. Apple has brought back a diverse array of ports in the newest MacBook Pros; in addition to USB-C and the MagSafe charging port, they also have an HDMI 2.1 port and an SDXC card slot. The newest MacBook Pros also have an extra USB-C port — that's a total of three USB-C ports instead of the Air's two.
This is a pretty big deal for creative professionals. The inclusion of the SDXC card slot means it's a lot easier to upload photos and videos from your cameras. The addition of the extra USB-C and HDMI ports also allow the MacBook Pros to connect to more external monitors. The MacBook Air can only drive one external monitor, while the newest MacBook Pros with the M2 Pro or M2 Max chipsets can drive up to two and four external monitors, respectively.
The MacBook Pro has a bigger, brighter and better display.
Another pretty significant difference between the newest MacBook Air and MacBook Pros is the display technology. The MacBook Air has a LCD Liquid Retina display, while the newest MacBook Pros have a mini-LED Liquid Retina XDR display. The advantage of the Pro's display is that it gets brighter (maxing out at 1,600 nits, versus the Air's 500 nits), has significantly better contrast and delivers a more dynamic picture.
Additionally, the MacBook Pros' display supports ProMotion (a.k.a. a variable refresh rate up to 120Hz), while the MacBook Air's display still maxes out at 60Hz. This means that the MacBook Pro's display can refresh itself twice as fast, so the picture looks smoother — which is especially important when editing or watching videos.
The MacBook Pro has better speakers and mics.
The newest MacBook Air and MacBook Pros have improved speaker systems that are pretty great for their size — but, of course, the Pros are bigger machines and have more space for more speakers. Therefore, they sound better.
The newest MacBook Air has a total of four speakers that deliver a pretty good stereo sound; it also supports Dolby Atmos and spatial audio. However, the newest MacBook Pros have a six-speaker sound system with force-canceling woofers; the result is a louder, bigger, deeper, and just generally more dynamic sound experience.
Apple has made an effort to drastically improve the built-in mics of its laptops over the last few years. Both have three-mic arrays with directional beam-forming, so they do a good job at isolating your voice and making it sound crisp and clear. However, the Pros have, according to Apple, "studio quality" mics with a "high signal-to-noise ratio," so they're a little more optimized for podcasting and audio recording.
A few other notable differences between Air and Pro:
There are a few differences worth knowing about between the newest MacBook Air and MacBook Pros. The MacBook Pro comes with more storage and memory; the MacBook Air comes with a base storage of 256GB, but you can upgrade it to 512GB, 1TB or even 2TB if you'd like. The MacBook Pro comes with double the base storage, at 512GB — but you can configure it up to a massive 8TB.
(Some general buying advice: when shopping for a laptop it's typically worth upgrading to the next storage option above the base storage — it's worth the extra $200 or so, as it'll help your laptop last longer.)
The newest MacBook Pros, released January 2023, are about six months newer machines than the newest MacBook Airs (which were released June 2022) and have newer wireless technologies. Specifically, the newest MacBook Pros support Wi-Fi 6E and Bluetooth 5.3, while the MacBook Air only supports Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.3. Neither of these technologies will likely be game-changers for most people; Wi-Fi 6E promises faster connectivity, but you need to have one of the newest routers that also supports Wi-Fi 6E to get these improved speeds.
And finally, the M2 MacBook Air comes in four color options, compared to the two of the newest MacBook Pros. In addition to the usual silver and space gray, you can buy the Air in starlight (shown) and midnight (which is a dark blue).
MacBook Air (2022) vs MacBook Pro (2023): Which Is Right For You?
The truth is that Apple silicon has gotten so good that, especially if you have an older Intel-based Mac, you'll notice a huge leap in performance, efficiency and battery life with either of Apple's newest MacBook Air or MacBook Pros.
The 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pros with the M2 Pro and M2 Max chipsets are admittedly more powerful than most people will need — but they're the obvious option for creative professions who are also looking for a laptop with the most power, the most memory and storage, the best port selection and the best and most color-accurate display.
The M2 MacBook Air, though, is our pick for the best laptop for most people; the M2 chip is incredible on its own, and we're guessing that most people will want the lighter, more affordable machine.