MacBook Air and MacBook Pro open and side by side

MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro: What’s the difference and how to save the most

Published Sep 7, 2023 - Apple offers one of the best laptop computers on the market with their MacBook series. If you’ve ever considered buying one, you’ve probably had to make a decision between buying the MacBook Air or the MacBook Pro. Both of these machines have their pros and cons, but we’ll help you make the best decision, while saving some money on your next MacBook purchase.

Is the MacBook Air or Pro better?

Short answer is, it depends. There are a few variables to consider and deciding between the MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro can be difficult, but let’s see if we can simplify the process. There are plenty of pros and cons for each, but here’s a quick side-by-side comparison for two popular MacBook models from each series: the MacBook Air M1 (2020) and the MacBook Pro M1 (2020). Both are surprisingly similar, but here are a few specs that you should consider and decide for yourself which is better.

MacBook Air M1 (2020)

MacBook Pro M1 (2020)

Starting price on Apple*

$999

$1,059 (refurbished)

Starting price on Back Market*

$622

$702

Memory

Up to 16 GB

Up to 16 GB

GPU

7-Core

8-Core

Storage

Up to 2 TB

Up to 2 TB

Battery life

Up to 18 hours

Up to 20 hours

Display size

13.3-inch (diagonal)

13.3-inch (diagonal)

Display Resolution

2560 by 1600 pixels

2560 by 1600 pixels

Weight

2.8 pounds (1.29 kg)

3.0 pounds (1.4 kg)

Secure Authentication

Touch ID

Touch ID

Touch Bar

Audio

Stereo speakers

Three-mic array

Stereo speakers with high dynamic range

Studio-quality three-mic array with high signal-to-noise ratio

*Prices as of September 2023 (subject to change)

Almost all other specs and features between these two MacBook models are identical. But let’s dive into a few key areas to really understand how these two models stack up.

First impressions: design, screen and keyboard

Both MacBooks feature Apple’s iconic slim design with an aluminum shell and a lip at the front of the base, so you can easily open the screen. The minimalistic design pairs well with the space gray and silver color for a sleek looking laptop. 

How does the MacBook Air and Pro 2020 displays compare?

Both models have a 13.3-inch Retina display with the same resolution, so you might not notice much of a difference in screen performance, but there is one difference that, while small, might matter to some. The MacBook Air's screen uses relatively high color accuracy, although it's not as bright as the Pro. This M1 MacBook Air improved the previous model's 291 nits to 400 nits. Still, it's less than the 500-nit screen on the MacBook Pro. This is advantageous, particularly if you intend to use your laptop for design or photography.

 ⚫ Which keyboard is available on the MacBook Air and Pro 2020?

As for the keyboard, both models come with Apple’s Backlit Magic Keyboard, but the Pro utilizes fewer keys because it replaces the function keys found on the Air with the Apple Touch Bar. The Touch Bar feature is honestly somewhat forgettable and has since been replaced on more recent MacBook Pro models with the traditional functional keys. Since there’s no real advantage to having the digital touch bar feature, the Air offers a better keyboard experience for the price overall.

At the end of the day, you’re essentially getting the same laptop, but the Pro offers slightly more multitasking computational power with an additional GPU core, a brighter screen, 2 hours more of estimated battery life, a touch bar feature and a small improvement to audio quality. For most average users, these upgrades on the Pro won’t make a difference and they probably won’t notice them on a day-to-day basis.

Is there a simple way to answer the question, “which is better, the MacBook Air or the MacBook Pro?” In our opinion, the upgrades on the 2020 Pro are relatively negligible for typical users and you’ll be happy to save more money without sacrificing too much performance on the MacBook Air M1. However, the MacBook Pro M1 might be the better option if you value increased GPU performance for gaming, a brighter screen and vibrant display for design work, or need the audio quality upgrade for something like recording podcasts or posting social media videos.

This is a quick and easy assessment for just two MacBook models from 2020, but what about other models? How should you decide between the Air and the Pro in general?