M1 MacBook Air vs. M1 MacBook Pro: Is It Worth Going Pro?

Apple offers two MacBooks that are powered by the M1 chip: the MacBook Air and the 13-inch MacBook Pro. Since they both feature the same CPU, unlike previous years, it's now harder than ever to decide which model to buy.

Despite packing very similar hardware, there are some key differences between the two laptops. Why else would Apple sell these two products at different price points, right?

Let's take a look at how these MacBooks differ, so you can make an informed decision if you're in the market for one.

Design and Dimensions

At first glance, both the models look nearly identical. However, if you look at them closely from the sides, you'll see that the MacBook Air has a tapered design. This design choice should make the MacBook Air easier to type on, although they both have the same keyboard.

Since the MacBook Air is intended for lightweight tasks, it has a fanless design for silent operation, whereas the MacBook Pro has an internal fan that starts spinning when you're doing intensive tasks, to keep the temperature down.

The MacBook Air is popular for how thin and light it is. At its thinnest point, the MacBook Air is just 0.16 inches thick. But at the thickest point, it measures 0.63 inches, which is actually bigger than the Pro.

In comparison, the 13-inch MacBook Pro is 0.61 inches thick, but its thickness stays uniform across the entire frame.

In terms of weight, there's not much difference between the two. The MacBook Air weighs just 2.8 pounds, whereas the MacBook Pro clocks in at 3.0 pounds. That's a 0.2-pound difference, which you won't notice unless you have one in each hand.

Do note that the weight of these MacBooks may vary slightly depending on the hardware configuration you're going for. As for the rest of the dimensions, they both measure the same, with a width and depth of 11.97 inches and 8.36 inches, respectively.

Internal Hardware and Performance

Although both models pack the same Apple M1 chip, they don't perform the same, at least not all the time. This minor performance difference is not exactly because of the hardware itself but rather due to the differences in design.

The internal fan makes the MacBook Pro the better performer when it comes to CPU and GPU-intensive tasks. Unfortunately, the MacBook Air's M1 chip can't sustain its peak performance when you're doing these tasks due to the fanless design, and therefore, it has to throttle its clock speeds to keep the temperature in check.

When it comes to the hardware specifications, the base model M1 MacBook Air has a 7-core GPU, whereas the M1 MacBook Pro features an 8-core GPU. However, that one extra core won't make a noticeable difference in real-world tests unless you're pushing the graphical horsepower to its limits by playing games or running apps like Final Cut Pro.

If you're really worried about that one extra core, you can still customize the MacBook Air when ordering from Apple to add the 8-core GPU.

As for storage and RAM, both the M1 MacBook Air and M1 MacBook Pro pack 256GB SSDs and 8GB of unified memory for their base variants. Note that these components are not user-upgradeable since they're soldered onto the logic board. So, make sure you configure it properly on Apple's website.

You can spec either MacBook with up to 2TB of storage and 16GB of RAM.

Lastly, both the M1 MacBooks feature two Thunderbolt 3-enabled USB 4 ports and a headphone jack for those who still own wired headphones.

Display and Speakers

Whether you go with the Air or Pro model, you're getting a 13.3-inch IPS LED display with a resolution of 2560x1600 pixels, equating to 227 pixels per inch. In addition, these displays have support for P3 wide color gamut and True Tone.

Having said that, the display on the M1 MacBook Pro does go brighter, with a maximum brightness of 500 nits, whereas brightness is capped at 400 nits on the M1 MacBook Air. So if you're someone who uses your MacBook outdoors, you'll certainly benefit from the extra hundred nits.

Although both M1 MacBooks feature stereo speakers, the Pro model takes it up a notch with a high dynamic range. The sound coming from the MacBook Pro speakers packs a punch as the bass is more prominent. However, the speakers on the M1 MacBook Air are surprisingly louder.

Camera and Microphone

This section would be important for those looking to make video calls regularly using the MacBook, whether they're for work meetings, family catchups, or online classes.

Surprisingly, both MacBook models feature the same 720p FaceTime camera, which is mediocre at best.

However, the M1 MacBook Pro has the edge in audio during calls since it packs a studio-quality microphone with a high signal-to-noise ratio. The MacBook Air, on the other hand, settles for a standard three-mic array.

Keyboard and Trackpad

Moving on to the typing experience, both the M1 MacBook models feature the same Magic Keyboard. Apple has finally given up on the butterfly keys that caused a lot of problems. However, you'll have a better time typing on the M1 MacBook Air since its wedge-shaped design makes the keyboard slope downwards.

What the MacBook Pro has to its advantage is the Touch Bar. If you've never used the Touch Bar before, be warned that you'll either love it or hate it. The MacBook Air is equipped with physical function keys instead of the Touch Bar, which many people seem to prefer nowadays.

These MacBook models have similar trackpads, but the M1 MacBook Pro has a bigger Force Touch trackpad. Therefore, if you like to have more surface area for multi-touch gestures, the Pro model is the way to go.

Battery Life and Charging

This is possibly the most important part when you're comparing two laptops. The good news is that no matter which M1 MacBook you go with, you're going to get excellent battery life. You can thank the M1 chip's efficiency for this.

That being said, there's a difference in the battery department. The affordable M1 MacBook Air packs a 49.9Wh battery, rated for up to 15 hours of web browsing and up to 18 hours of video playback on the Apple TV app.

In contrast, the M1 MacBook Pro is powered by a 58.2Wh battery that's rated for up to 17 hours of web browsing in Safari and up to 20 hours of Apple TV playback.

So the real question is, does this two-hour difference matter to you?

Apart from lasting longer, the MacBook Pro also charges faster. This is because Apple supplies a 61W power adapter with the MacBook Pro, whereas the MacBook Air gets a 30W USB-C charger. But, of course, you could certainly buy a better power adapter to reduce the charging time.

Price Comparison

The M1 MacBook Air starts at $999 for the base model, with 256GB storage, 8GB of memory, and a 7-core GPU. The M1 MacBook Pro starts at $1299 for the base variant with the same 256GB storage and 8GB of memory, but it comes with an 8-core GPU instead.

If you want the 8-core GPU on the MacBook Air, you need to get the 512GB storage variant, which costs $1249.

Are you looking to configure your MacBook? The SSD upgrade costs $200 extra for each storage tier up to 1TB. Stepping up from 1TB to 2TB will add another $400 to your bill. Lastly, the 16GB RAM upgrade costs $200 as well.

These are some costly hardware upgrades. Unlike previous years, you can't buy cheaper parts from third-party vendors, so you have no other option but to pay the Apple tax.

Related: Pros and Cons to Consider Before Buying an M1 Mac

How to Choose Between the M1 MacBook Pro and MacBook Air

All of this brings us to the ultimate question: Is it still worth going Pro? Well, it depends on what you're planning to use the MacBook for. For general use like watching videos, web browsing, photo editing, and other light to medium-intensive tasks, you'll be perfectly fine with the base M1 MacBook Air.

However, if you're doing any professional work like video editing or music production, you will certainly benefit from the MacBook Pro's sustained performance levels. Also, the optional memory and storage upgrades can be valuable in the long run.

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