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MacBook Pro vs MacBook Air – which should you buy

The decision to buy an Apple laptop is only half the battle as you still need to choose between the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air, so let us help you out.

macbook pro vs macbook air

Apple has made a name for itself in the laptop market thanks to the company’s sleek approach to design and easy-to-use operating systems. However, as regular revisions are released and customizable hardware options abound, choosing between a MacBook Air and a MacBook Pro can feel like an overwhelming experience. Never fear, though; Gear Nuke is here to run through the best MacBook options in 2023 to help you make the right choice. 

It’s important to note – before we get into the comparisons – that the current MacBook Pro line-up features two very different options depending on the screen size you choose. For example, the 13-inch variety houses Apple’s M2 chip, while the 14-inch & 16-inch MacBook Pro units can feature the M2 Pro or M2 Max chip, depending on your budget. The 13-inch model comes with some significant caveats when up against its 14 & 16-inch siblings, which we’ve outlined in the spec sheet below. The only thing to add is that the MacBook Pro 16-inch model is the same as the 14-inch model from a technical perspective, beyond an obvious bump in screen size and a small improvement in battery life. To make sure you have all the information you need, we’ll give you the rundown on the MacBook Air as well as both the MacBook Pro 13-inch and MacBook Pro 14-inch models.

macbook pro vs macbook air matchup

MacBook Air M2 specs MacBook Pro 13-inch specs MacBook Pro 14 & 16-inch specs
13.6-inch Liquid Retina Display 13.3-inch Retina display 14.2/16.2-inch Liquid Retina XDR display
M2 M2 M2 Pro or Max
8-Core CPU 8-Core CPU Up to 12-Core CPU
Up to 10-Core GPU 10-Core GPU Up to 36-Core GPU
Up to 24GB Unified Memory Up to 24GB Unified Memory Up to 96GB Unified memory
Up to 2TB storage Up to 2TB storage Up to 8TB storage
Up to 18 hours battery life Up to 20 hours battery life Up to 22 hours battery life
Touch ID Touch ID and Touch Bat Touch ID

Display and Design 

The MacBook Air and MacBook Pro series share a sleek, recycled aluminum case with smooth rounded edges that are comfortable for carrying, and resting on while working over long periods of time. Where the MacBook Pro offers prospective buyers a choice of only two colors (Space Grey and Silver), the MacBook Air offers two additional options in the shades Midnight and Gold. The added colors are a nice touch for those after a more personal touch, which is something to consider if you care about the aesthetics.

All three models of MacBook come with Apple Touch ID, a fingerprint security measure used for online shopping and unlocking the device. The MacBook Pro 13-inch is unique in that it also adds a customizable touch bar. This feature is a boon for professionals who can use the dynamic touch bar to navigate the apps they use with ease, such as Adobe Photoshop or Final Cut Pro. All models of MacBook also house a Backlit Magic Keyboard and a Force Touch trackpad which is comfortable and precise, making it perfect for everyday use. The trackpad also provides the option to create custom Multi-Touch gestures for those after even more control. 

One significant improvement the MacBook Air has over the MacBook Pro 13-inch is its 1080p webcam, which is perfect for calls and online classes. The quality of the Pro’s 720p camera pales when compared to the Air in video calls and while using Apple’s classic Photo Booth App. Thankfully, the 14-inch and 16-inch models come with the Air’s upgraded 1080p camera. The updated webcams are located within a notch bezel at the top of display, which in turn gives you a small boost in screen size, whereas the MacBook Pro 13-inch still features Apple’s somewhat outdated wide band bezel. 

Another notable difference between the devices is their displays. While at a glance, Retina and Liquid Retina sound similar on paper, there are some key differences to consider when choosing between the Air and the Pro models. The MacBook Pro 13-inch touts an LED-backlit display which utilizes IPS technology. While a lot of that sounds jargon-heavy, it essentially means users will have access to a screen with True Tone colors that look consistent at a wide range of viewing angles. Something else to note is that the 14-inch Pro option, while coming at a significant increase in cost, offers a premium display experience with its Liquid Retina XDR display, with the added benefit of ProMotion that makes moving between apps snappy and satisfying thanks to a higher refresh rate. 

The 14-inch and 16-inch Pro models house the most accurate and rich colors across the range, so those looking to edit photography or work with graphics professionally may benefit from this boost in quality. Though the MacBook Air’s display is nothing to sniff at, the Liquid Retina display offers a bright and vibrant screen, whose quality will help with eye strain over long periods of use. Even so, the MacBook Air’s display is more than capable for everyday use cases like typing and data entry, as well as light graphics work.

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Battery Life and Performance

With regards to power under the hood, it’s hard to argue with the MacBook Pro 14-inch and 16-inch model’s M2 Pro or M2 Max chips, which manage to pull off fantastic feats of processing despite the portable size of the laptop. This updated chip can handle more pressure than the M2 seen in the smaller models whilst using much less power, too, meaning you won’t sacrifice battery life for performance. 

Where the 14-inch model offers 18 hours of battery life, the MacBook Pro 13-inch beats that stat slightly with an improved 20 hours of battery life. However, it’s worth considering that the power of the 14-inch variety will allow you to complete more intensive projects and tasks in less time, so it’s an interesting tradeoff. On the lower-end of the scale, the MacBook Air touts an impressive 18-hour battery life, making use of the M2 chip to get through lighter workloads without breaking a sweat. This is more than enough to get you through the day if you aren’t a power user.

Ports and Accessories 

Both the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro 13-inch models feature two Thunderbolt USB 4 ports that can be upgraded with the use of external USB hubs for those in need of more connections such as HDMI, Ethernet and SD cards. On the other hand, the MacBook Pro 14-inch features three faster Thunderbolt 4 USB-C type ports as well as an inbuilt HDMI port and SDXC card slot. The addition of these added ports adds to the Pro’s versatility, and it means you won’t have to purchase additional expensive accessories. 


Which MacBook should you buy?

The MacBook Pro models offers a greater range of features and unparalleled power in an impressively light case, making them perfect for professionals and serious creatives wanting reasonably lofty hardware without any of the bulk. However, one major downfall in the Pro lineup is the 13-inch MacBook Pro which, beyond its touch bar, feels like a laptop left in the past when set against Apple’s newer, more powerful 14 and 16-inch offerings. It;s possible that some upcoming new MacBook models might change the hierarchy, but that’s only speculation, for now. 

If you want an uncompromising Pro experience, the larger models are more attractive thanks to the more future-proofed M2 Pro and M2 Max chips, as well as extra ports and the snappier ProMotion display. While these options come at a significant price increase if you are considering its use for business purposes and require more power than the average user on a daily basis, the upper end of the Pro series would be a better choice.

However, if you’re looking for an excellent all-rounder at a more reasonable price, perfect for managing a student workload or less-intensive graphics, creative and video editing work, the MacBook Air is a great choice. While older iterations may have felt like a letdown in the design department, this latest revision feels like a premium experience at a much more approachable price point. If you’re after a deluxe daily driver without breaking the bank, the MacBook Air fits the bill.