M2 MacBook Air vs M2 MacBook Pro: Which Should You Buy?

M2 MacBook Air vs M2 MacBook Pro: Which Should You Buy?

If you’re interested in one of Apple’s new M2 MacBooks but aren’t sure which one to buy, don’t worry – it’s confusing. The two devices are very similar, but have some important differences.

To get a large group of people out of the way: if you use this device regularly for work, and your work mostly involves something more intense than Chrome (e.g. any program with Adobe in the name), then you should buy one 14-inch MacBook Pro with M1 Pro or M1 Max instead of one of these computers. These laptops are much faster, with larger screens and a a lot of more useful port choices, and these upgrades will be well worth the extra money.

But if you don’t fall into that category and have your heart set on an M2 machine, here’s how to make your decision. (And of course, before you make a purchasing decision, you should know exactly why you’re looking for a new computer, what doesn’t work with your current computer, and what you want from a new one.)

MacBook Pro vs MacBook Air: Price

The price difference between the MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro is not very significant.

The Air starts at $1,199 for an eight-core CPU, eight-core GPU, 8GB of memory, 256GB of storage, and a 30W power supply and goes up to $2,499 for an eight-core CPU, a 10-core GPU with 24GB of unified memory, 2TB of storage, and a 67W adapter.

The Pro starts at $1,299 for similar specs to the base Air model – eight-core CPU, eight-core GPU, 8GB of memory, 256GB SSD, and a 67W adapter (no 30W option here). However, it also comes in at $2,499 (with similar specs to the Top Air: eight cores / 10 cores, 24GB memory, 2TB storage, same charger).

The exact prices of the configurations and the differences between them vary. In general, if you specify them as similarly as possible, the price difference between the two models is within $100.

MacBook Pro vs. MacBook Air: case differences

Here is a list of the differences between the M2 MacBook Pro and the M2 MacBook Air, some of which may matter to you and some may not.

  • The MacBook Pro is a bit heavier – it weighs 1.4 kg, while the Air weighs 1.24 kg. I’d say the difference is noticeable but not life changing, although the air feels a lot thinner.
  • Both MacBooks are available in Space Gray and Silver, while the Air is also available in Midnight (dark blue) and Starlight (gold). Beware of the Midnight color – it picks up fingerprints very, very easily.
  • The MacBook Air has a larger screen — 13.6 inches compared to the Pro’s 13.3 inches. (This means the Air’s resolution is technically a little higher, but it doesn’t really stand out.) The two have the same brightness and color coverage, but the Air is a Liquid Retina display, while the Pro has the same IPS panel with LED Backlight like last year’s Pro had.
  • MacBook Air has a camera notch, and your cursor will disappear when passing under it. So while you have extra screen real estate to work with in the air, the notch can get in the way of some menu bar apps.
  • The MacBook Pro has a touchscreen OLED strip (the Touch Bar) on top of its keyboard, while the MacBook Air has a row of physical function keys. People on the internet have all sorts of strong feelings about the Touch Bar. If you’re unfamiliar, the Touch Bar gives users the ability to access features like brightness, volume, emoji selector, Siri activation, and other switches in one place, but for most people, this is also slower to use than physical buttons and can easily be accidentally bumped.
  • The MacBook Pro only charges via USB-C, while the MacBook Air also has a MagSafe power connector. This essentially gives you an extra port on the MacBook Air, since one of the Pro’s ports is occupied when it’s plugged in (both models have two Thunderbolt/USB-4 ports). MagSafe connectors also pop out of their slots very easily, meaning the Air is less likely to be yanked off your desk if someone trips over your cable.
  • The MacBook Air has a better webcam — 1080p versus the Pro’s 720p. I don’t like either of them, but the Air makes me look crisper and less washed out.
  • MacBook Air comes with a range of power adapter options, including a 30W USB-C adapter, a 35W dual USB-C port adapter, and a 67W fast charge adapter. The Pro only comes with a 67W version.
  • The MacBook Air has a “four-speaker sound system,” while the MacBook Pro only has “high-dynamic-range stereo speakers.” These sound the same to me as far as I can tell.

Here’s the air – see that notch?
Photo by Becca Farsace / The Verge

The webcam of the Apple MacBook Pro 2022 up close.

Here’s the pro – no notch.
Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

MacBook Pro vs. MacBook Air: performance differences

The Pro and Air share the same M2 processor and run the same macOS operating system. But that doesn’t mean they work identically, because the Pro has something inside that the Air doesn’t have: a fan.

Machines need to protect their processors from overheating when they’re working really hard. The Pro does this by turning on its fan. Since the Air can’t do that, it has to cap its processor’s performance lower than the Air. In practice, this means that you’ll see a drop in performance if you run heavy loads on the Air for an extended period of time. In our testing, the Pro was able to run Cinebench R23 for 30 minutes with no drop in performance, while the Air’s performance dropped shortly after the run began.

The Air also gets hotter than the Pro, although I’d stress that it does Not Get hot under Zoom calls, Chrome tabs, and most web-based loads you’ll have. But you may feel some heat on the Air’s bottom or keyboard if you run heavier programs on it for a long time. In contrast, I’ve never felt the slightest heat inside the Pro’s case, even when doing video stuff (nor have I ever heard any noise from its fan).

In terms of graphics performance, our tests saw a 26 percent increase Shadow of the Tomb Raider performance and over two minutes difference in Premiere Pro 4K export time.

The Pro also has a larger battery and delivered longer battery life in our testing. I generally get an average of 16.5 hours of continuous use out of the M2 Pro and an average of 13 hours and 15 minutes off the air. Your results may certainly vary based on your work, but based on my findings and those of others on the web, I would expect you to get a few extra hours out of the Pro.

Here is the air.
Photo by Becca Farsace / The Verge

The Apple MacBook Pro 13 2022 from above on a lavender background.

Here’s the pro.
Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge

Okay, let’s try some scenarios

I often work with video, music, graphics, virtualization, VFX, or other demanding use cases, but the 14-inch model is out of my price range: Buy the Pro. If I use a device for these things and I’m going to use it all day, I’d rather be on the Pro. However, if you’re firmly set on a Mac, I’d save up for an M1 Pro or M1 Max MacBook (or Mac Studio) if you can. They will save you a lot of time.

I code: If you mainly work on tasks like web design, Air is fine. Having MagSafe in an office environment can save you some stress, and that probably outweighs the performance benefit you’ll see. If you often put complicated things together, the Pro will probably save you some time. The Pro beat the Air by 10 seconds on the Xcode benchmark.

I don’t use these fancy programs, but I do run a very heavy Chrome load that I’m afraid Air won’t be enough for: I would still get the Air unless you really don’t think any of the Air’s other perks will make a difference in your life. I work with some fairly large documents and spreadsheets and the performance difference between the Pro and the Air was barely noticeable.

I only use my computer for Netflix and email on my couch: Buy the air. You’ll benefit more from the better screen and lighter weight than the extra performance.

I usually only use my computer for Netflix and email, but sometimes I make YouTube videos: Buy the Pro if you work on your YouTube videos every day or if you often need to do this work on battery power – the Air gets pretty warm if you’re really pushing it hard all the time. Otherwise air should be fine.

I’m a student who has to walk around all day and mostly work with Google Docs or Word or whatever: Buy the air. You won’t notice a huge difference in performance, and the battery life should be enough to get you through a school day. The Pro’s larger battery is offset by its added size and weight; A thin laptop is a huge advantage when your backpack is packed.

I want to run games on my MacBook: First of all, good for you. I support you and your dreams. Don’t let the haters get you down. Second, get the Pro. You’ll see higher frame rates, more time to game on battery power, and the Air will get uncomfortably warm if you game for a while.

I travel a lot: This one is tough. I guess it’s a question of whether you care more about longer battery life or a thinner, lighter device: if it’s battery life, pro; when it comes to portability, Air.

I hate notches: professional.


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