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MacBook Pro vs MacBook Air: which is the best Apple laptop?

MacBook Pro vs MacBook Air: which is the best Apple laptop?
(Image credit: Apple)

Apple has been making headlines in recent months as it shifts over to manufacturing its own processors for its laptops and desktop PCs, and for good reason. The M1 chip found in the current range of MacBooks is a game-changer, offering all-day battery life, blazingly-fast performance, and the ability to run iPhone and iPad apps.

The trouble is, though, that putting the same chip in both the MacBook Air and the 13-inch MacBook Pro has somewhat homogenized both product lines. With both laptops offering many of the same features, it’s harder than ever to pick a winner. They're both some of the best laptops you can buy right now, so whichever you choose, you're the real winner.

Let us break down both M1 powered devices to help decide which comes on top in this clash: The MacBook Pro vs MacBook Air. If neither of these are for you, Apple has recently launched a new range of iMacs too, and they feature in our list of the best home computers.

MacBook Pro vs MacBook Air: Specs and Price 

Apple MacBook Pro - one of the new Apple laptops

(Image credit: Apple)

The M1 MacBook Air remains Apple’s cheapest laptop, starting at $999. For that price, you get the MacBook Air with the M1 Chip, an 8-core CPU and a 7-core GPU, 8GB of RAM and 256GB of SSD storage. You can bump the RAM up and double the storage, as well as adding an extra core to the GPU, but in truth the base version is transformative.

On the other hand, the M1 MacBook Pro starts at $1,299, but the specs are almost identical. In fact, the only difference between the base status is an additional GPU core.

You can boost the specs for the MacBook Pro, too, but those additions are the same, too. The Pro has the edge on longer, more sustained tasks like exporting video or audio files, but in truth, it’s a close one. That means that in terms of spec, you’re looking at the same basic setup with a price difference of $300.

Winner: MacBook Air

MacBook Pro vs MacBook Air: Features 

Apple MacBook Air - a thin and light laptop

(Image credit: Apple)

In terms of features, there are some differences between the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro, but they aren’t particularly easy to spot at a glance.

Both off the same ‘retina’ display, with 2560x1600 pixels, and both are 13.3-inch (at the time of writing, there’s still no M1 16-inch MacBook Pro), but the Pro is 20% brighter. It’s not the kind of thing you’d perhaps notice unless they were side by side.

If you’re always on video calls, recording podcasts, or simply like to watch movies, then the Pro starts to edge ahead here. It offers what Apple dubs ‘studio-quality’ mics, and while they’re perhaps not quite as clear as a dedicated plug-in option, they are impressively capable.

Speaking of plugging things in, Apple has stripped away some of the ports found on Intel-based MacBooks. Both devices only have two USB-C ports, and you’ll need to use one of those for charging, so you’re likely to need to buy a dongle or sorts.

Despite not being found on the iPhone for the last few years, though, you will in fact find a 3.5mm headphone jack on the MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro.

Finally, there’s one obvious addition to the Pro that’s missing on the Air - the Touch Bar. Apple’s controversial OLED strip is the kind of thing that many may never use, but if you want more traditional function keys, you’ll need to opt for the Air.

Winner: MacBook Pro

MacBook Pro vs MacBook Air: Portability 

MacBook Air M1 - it's so easy to carry around

(Image credit: Apple)

Despite the MacBook Air product line being famously unveiled by being pulled out of an envelope by Steve Jobs, both the M1 Air and 13-inch Pro begin to converge again here.

Both chassis have the exact same width and depth (11.97 x 8.36-inches), and the only real difference between the two is the weight - with the Air coming in at 0.2lb lighter than the Pro. That’s negligible at best, but it does give the Air the win here.

Winner: MacBook Air

MacBook Pro vs MacBook Air: Battery Life

MacBook Pro - a great tool for creatives

(Image credit: Apple)

One of the big boons of the M1 hardware inside both of these laptops is the power efficiency afforded by Apple’s chip.

Both are impressive, and could be described as 'all day' battery life – at least in terms of general usage. The MacBook Air will offer 15 hours of web browsing, up to 18 hours if you’re watching video content.

That’s great, but the Pro has a slightly larger battery and this allows for an incredible 17 hours of web browsing. With ports at a premium, it’s nice to know you can theoretically leave the charger in your bag for long stretches.

Winner: MacBook Pro

Should you buy MacBook Pro or MacBook Air?

If you’re looking for a lightning fast laptop that’ll last you all day, there’s really no wrong option between both of Apple’s latest efforts.

The MacBook Air is an impressive machine at a great price point. For the extra investment that the MacBook Pro requires, you’re getting a larger battery, a brighter screen, and the Touch Bar, so if those things are important to you, then your choice is made.

Want more Apple coverage? We've got a list of the best smartphones, which has plenty of iPhones in it. We also rate the iPad range in our round-up of the best tablets.