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MacBook Air vs Pro (2021): Which Is The Better Investment For You?

The MacBook Air versus MacBook Pro debate has always been a heated one. But now that the newest versions of both models are powered by Apple silicon, it has become even harder to pick between the two. Because of Apple’s decision to ditch Intel for their own processors, the MacBook Air 2020 and MacBook Pro 2021 can boast of impressive speed and surprisingly long battery lives. That said, there are key differences between the two that you need to consider before making the big purchase. To help you decide, here’s an in-depth comparison that covers their design, display, performance, and battery life.

MacBook Air vs Pro Comparison Chart

ModelMacBook AirMacBook Pro
 
Price
Display Size13.3 inches14 and 16 inches
Display TypeRetina displayLiquid Retina XDR display with mini-LED technology
ProMotion TechnologyNoYes
ProcessorM1 chip (8-core)M1 Pro or M1 Max (10-core)
Storage256GB to 1TB512GB to 8TB
Battery Life14 hours and 41 minutes14-inch: 17 hours
16-inch: 21 hours
Ports2x Thunderbolt 3 ports, 1x headphone jack3x Thunderbolt 4 ports, 1x HDMI port, 1x SD Card, 1x MagSafe
Dimensions12 x 8.4 x 0.6 inches14-inch: 12.31 x 8.71 x 0.61 inches
16-inch: 14.01 x 9.77 x 0.66 inches
Weight2.8 pounds14-inch: 3.5 pounds
16-inch: 4.8 pounds

Design

The MacBook Air is more portable but the MacBook Pro has more ports.

MacBook Air vs Pro design
Both the MacBook Air (left) and MacBook Pro (right) have an aluminum chassis.

The new Apple MacBook Pro 2021 is as sleek as ever thanks to the thinner bezels and discreet camera notch. But if we’re talking about portability, that point still goes to the MacBook Air 2020. It weighs in at only 2.8 pounds which is considerably lighter than the 14 and 16-inch Pros. In addition, it still has that trademark tapered silhouette that we all love so much, making it extra easy to slip into your backpack or handbag.

Aside from portability, another advantage that the MacBook Air has over the Pro is color options. While the Pro only comes in Silver and Space Gray, the Air is also available in Gold which many find more modern and appealing. Both models, however, share the same aluminum chassis which lends a premium and durable feel. They’re also equipped with Apple’s Magic Keyboard for a strong and satisfying tactile experience.

As for ports, you probably already know that this is the MacBook Air’s weakest area. On the 2020 version, there are only two Thunderbolt 3 ports that are unfortunately not compatible with the newest external devices and displays. So if this is a deal breaker for you, definitely opt for the MacBook Pro which sports three Thunderbolt 4 ports, an SD card slot, as well as an HDMI port.

Display

The MacBook Pro has a more impressive screen than the MacBook Air.

MacBook Air vs Pro display
The MacBook Pro (right) has ProMotion technology which is missing on the MacBook Air (left).

The gap between the MacBook Air 2020 and the MacBook Pro 2021 starts to widen when we compare their displays, with the latter taking quality to the next level. The new Pro comes with a Liquid Retina display and mini-LED technology which mean bolder colors, better contrast, and finer brightness control. Not to mention it has ProMotion technology for that buttery smooth 120Hz refresh rate.

While the screen on the Apple MacBook Air isn’t as dazzling as the Pro’s, it does a decent job of showcasing vibrant colors and sharp details. If you love watching movies on your laptop, the Air will give you an enjoyable experience. You do have to note, however, that it can’t go very bright like the Pro. It tops out at 365.8 nits while the Pro can manage as much as 1,000 nits. So if you need a very bright, high quality screen, you might want to spend more for the Pro.

Performance

The MacBook Pro beats the MacBook Air, delivering unparalleled speed and performance.

MacBook Air vs Pro performance
The MacBook Pro is powered by the M1 Pro and M1 Max chips.

Given that the MacBook Air 2020 and the MacBook Pro 2021 run on Apple silicon, you can expect impressive performance from both them. But if we’re talking about pure speed, no one gets the job done faster than the Pro. While the Air, powered by the M1 chip, scored a 5,962 on the Geekbench 5 benchmarks, the 14-inch Pro garnered 12,477 points while the 16-inch version managed an even higher score of 12,683. The Pro models are able to produce unparalleled numbers like these thanks to the M1 Pro and M1 Max chips.

According to Apple, the M1 Pro can deliver a performance that’s 70% faster than the M1’s with double the graphics performance to boot. As if that’s not mind blowing enough, the M1 Max goes even further, able to produce double the graphics performance of the M1 Pro and four times that of the basic M1. The M1 Pro and M1 Max chips make the new Pro an absolute beast of a machine, earning it the title of Apple’s most powerful laptop to date.

You do have to remember though that this kind of power comes at a steep price. So if you don’t need to have the fastest laptop out there, the Air is still the best value for money and should be more than capable of handling whatever task you throw at it.

Battery

The MacBook Pro has a longer battery life than the MacBook Air.

MacBook Air vs Pro battery
The 16-inch MacBook Pro can last up to 21 hours on a single charge.

Thanks to the M1, M1 Pro, and M1 Max chips, you can be confident enough to leave your charger behind when you’re working away from the house. The MacBook Air 2020 can last up to a whopping 14 hours and 41 minutes on a single charge but it gets even better than that with the MacBook Pro 2021. The 14-inch version can manage up to 17 hours while the 16-inch model can keep chugging along for a record-breaking 21 hours.

Verdict

The MacBook Air is the more sensible choice but the MacBook Pro can be a good investment for those who need extra speed and power.

For most people, the MacBook Air 2020 is the better choice because even though it’s a highly dependable and capable machine, it won’t leave a massive dent in your savings. But if your line of work calls for extra speed and power, then you might be able to justify the MacBook Pro 2021‘s hefty price tag. For the extra amount of money you’re handing over for the Pro, you also get a brighter screen with a faster refresh rate, a wider selection of ports, more storage, and the longest battery life ever seen on a MacBook. If you want the best of the best and you can afford it, then by all means go for the Pro.

FAQs

๐Ÿ“Œ Which one has a better display, the MacBook Air or Pro?

The MacBook Pro has a more impressive screen than the MacBook Air.The new Pro comes with a Liquid Retina display and mini-LED technology which mean bolder colors, better contrast, and finer brightness control. It also has ProMotion technology with a 120Hz refresh rate.

๐Ÿ“Œ Which one has faster performance, the MacBook Air or Pro?

Thanks to the M1 Pro and M1 Max chips, the 14 and 16-inch MacBook Pros are able to outperform the MacBook Air with the basic M1 chip.

๐Ÿ“Œ Which one has a longer battery life, the MacBook Air or Pro?

The MacBook Pro has a longer battery life than the MacBook Air.The MacBook Air can last up to 14 hours and 41 minutes on a single charge while the 14 and 16-inch Pros can manage up to 17 and 21 hours respectively.

๐Ÿ“Œ Is a MacBook Air or Pro better?

For most people, the MacBook Air is the better choice but if you want the best of the best and you can afford it, go for the MacBook Pro.

Last update on 2022-05-27 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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Denise Jose

Senior Editor at Compare Before Buying. Researcher and yoga teacher passionate about article writing, photography, wellness, and mindfulness.