Deciding which Apple MacBook Pro to buy used to be a simple task with just a couple of options, but now the decision has become more complicated with multiple models in the lineup.
This MacBook Air versus MacBook Pro video helps simplify the decision. By the end of the video, you should know exactly which laptop to spend your hard-earned money on, or whether you should wait for the next version to arrive soon.
Value & Price
The MacBook Air remains the value leader with a starting price of $999, and arguably offers more performance for your money than the 14-inch MacBook Pro. While the MacBook Pro is significantly more expensive, at $1999 you get a lot for your money, including a much faster M1 Pro chip, a larger and superior 14-inch mini LED display with a 120Hz refresh rate and ProMotion, a sharper 1080p webcam, and more ports. However, you’ll likely need to have a demanding workload to appreciate all of these benefits.
Both the M1 MacBook Air and Pro share a machined aluminum shell in silver and space gray, with a little lip at the front of the base for easy screen opening. The Air features a tapered wedge design as it always has, but the new MacBook Pro delivers slim bezels and ditches the touch bar in favor of a dedicated function row, which we say good riddance to. There’s a notch at the top for the 1080p webcam, but it’s not too distracting. I just hope that the MacBook Pro comes with Face ID, as it would make so much sense.
If you require multiple ports, the MacBook Air may not be the best option as it only provides two Thunderbolt 3 ports. In contrast, the new 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro models offer the most ports, including three Thunderbolt 4 ports, an HDMI port, an SD card slot, and a MagSafe charging port.
Furthermore, it is worth noting that the Apple Magic Keyboard is not only included with all available MacBook models, but it also provides a superior typing experience with its responsive keys and comfortable design. This is a major upgrade compared to the butterfly keyboards used in the previous year’s models, which were known to have reliability issues and received negative feedback from users. Therefore, the inclusion of the Magic Keyboard in the current MacBook models is a significant improvement that enhances the overall user experience.
Display & Speaker
Both the MacBook Air and the 14-inch MacBook Pro have sharp and colorful Retina displays. While they are similar, there are reasons to choose the Pro. The new MacBook Pro takes display quality to the next level with its Liquid Retina XDR display. It has a brightness rating of 1000 nits and uses Mini LED technology for superior colors and contrast. Additionally, the Pro offers a 120Hz ProMotion display for smoother performance.
The MacBook Air has great stereo sound for its size, but the 14-inch MacBook Pro is on another level. It has a six-speaker setup that delivers more bass and an octave lower sound for a more robust audio profile. Additionally, the new MacBook Pro supports Dolby Atmos in speakers, not just headphones. The new 1080p webcam on the MacBook Pro is a welcome improvement, but it’s not a huge upgrade compared to the front-facing camera on your smartphone.
Performance and Battery Life
The M1 and M1 Pro theoretically have the same CPU performance, but Apple changed the number of high-power and low-power cores in the M1 Pro, giving it a slight edge over the M1. Simple tasks like running Spotify or Google Chrome will not benefit from the M1 Pro’s performance boost. However, in multi-core performance, the M1 Pro gains a 31% boost over the M1 in Geekbench 5, a program used to measure CPU performance. Anyone who needs to transcode 4K video or render 3D images faster should be pleased with how the M1 Pro performs in real-world multi-core tasks like those.
The SSD on the M1 Pro is impressive, with Blackmagic Disk Speed Tests read and write rates of about 5000 megabits per second, double the 2500 megabits per second from the M1 in the Air. When trying the web performance of both machines using Speedometer 2.0 and JustStream 2 benchmarks, it’s clear that the M1 Pro delivers more than twice the performance of the M1. As for audio processing, I used the new Logic benchmark test, where the M1 Pro could handle about 80 tracks more than the M1, which got a system overload warning.
When it comes to video editing, the M1 Pro offers a clear advantage with its dedicated media engines. However, scrubbing through a 6K timeline at full resolution, I didn’t see any slowdowns or jitter on both machines. Compared to the MacBook Air, the M1 Pro is a minute and 30 seconds faster than the M1 at encoding a 12-minute 4K video file to 1080p in Final Cut. On the GPU side, the MacBook Air has great integrated graphics performance, but it pales in comparison to what the MacBook Pro 14 can achieve. To render a 3D image in Blender, for instance, the MacBook Air takes a little over eight minutes to do so with its eight GPU cores. But the MacBook Pro M1 Pro with 14GB of cores renders the scene in a little under four and a half minutes. Launching multiple apps one after the other is way snappier on the M1 Pro, which I think has to do more with the doubling of the SSD speed rather than the actual CPU performance.
The MacBook Air boasts almost 13 hours of battery life, making it the ideal choice for those who need to use their laptop all day long. Even if you have multiple apps open, it will last through your workday and leisure time. If you prioritize battery life, the MacBook Air is undoubtedly the best choice. In comparison, during my test, the MacBook Pro 14 had about 10 and a half hours of battery life, which is still excellent but notably shorter than that of the MacBook Air.
So, the question remains: which MacBook should you buy? Well, if you want a portable powerhouse to tackle resource-intensive tasks, then you’ll find what you need in the new MacBook Pro 14. It’s more expensive than the MacBook Air, but you’re paying a premium price for quality-of-life improvements, such as more ports, a better display, better internals, fans, and cooling. There are plenty of configurations to choose from, and it’s easily one of the best MacBooks of the year that you can buy right now.
For the rest, I think that the MacBook Air M1 is still capable enough to handle most tasks. Not only will it serve you well for a few years with its reliable performance, but it also costs significantly less. I think it will continue to compete with many thin and light Windows notebooks on the market.
So, my personal recommendation is this: if you’re a graphic designer, video editor, or do any kind of graphic-related work, then spending more money and getting the MacBook Pro 14 M1 Pro is highly recommended. If not, and you’re maybe a student who just needs it for some web browsing and work like that, then the MacBook Air is the way to go.