Computing

MacBook Air vs. MacBook Pro 13: A Comparison of M1 Models

Both the MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro 13 have made the switch to Apple’s powerful M1 chip. This leaves us with the question: Which one should you choose? While they both have Retina displays and fall within a similar price range, there are notable differences in specs and features that set these devices apart. If you’re looking for a larger, high-end model, the 16-inch MacBook Pro is worth considering, although it still runs on older Intel processors. To stay updated on the latest MacBook Pro rumors, we’ve got you covered.

MacBook Air

MacBook Pro

In this guide, we will compare the MacBook Air and the 13-inch MacBook Pro to determine which one is the best choice for you. If you’re interested in purchasing either of these MacBooks, take a look at our guide to the latest MacBook deals on Apple’s flagship devices.

Design

Macbook Air M1
Image used with permission by copyright holder

At first glance, both the MacBook Pro 13 and the MacBook Air 13 have a similar appearance. They both feature sleek all-aluminum finishes, with silver and space gray color options available for each model (the MacBook Air also offers a gold option). The main design difference lies in the Touch Bar, but we’ll delve into that later.

Regardless of which model you choose, you’ll enjoy a Retina display with a resolution of 2560 x 1600 and 227 pixels per inch. Apple has a reputation for producing some of the best laptop displays in the industry, so you can expect a fantastic screen no matter which laptop you decide on. However, there are key differences to note in terms of brightness and color gamut. Our testing revealed that the MacBook Pro achieves a maximum brightness of 485 nits, whereas the MacBook Air only reaches 389 nits. Furthermore, the MacBook Pro delivers superior color accuracy, with 91% AdobeRGB compared to the MacBook Air’s 79%. If you prioritize a bright and color-accurate display for your work, the MacBook Pro is the better option. For everyone else, the MacBook Air will suffice.

Both laptops feature the same keyboard. You don’t need to worry about shallow key presses or sticky keys because both the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro 13 are equipped with Apple’s Magic Keyboard, which has received positive reviews. This keyboard offers comfort and consistency and resembles the beloved Apple keyboards of the past. Additionally, both laptops come with an oversized trackpad, which provides ample room for MacOS gestures. It’s worth noting that this trackpad is the best you’ll find on any laptop, regardless of brand.

Macbook Pro M1
Image used with permission by copyright holder

As mentioned earlier, one noticeable difference between the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro 13 is the Touch Bar. The MacBook Air has never included Apple’s touch-sensitive control strip, and that remains the case with the latest model. Instead, it features the traditional row of function keys, along with a Touch ID button at the right-hand end. On the other hand, the MacBook Pro still incorporates the Touch Bar, although rumors suggest that Apple may replace it with function keys in the near future.

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Both the Air and the Pro offer Thunderbolt 3-compatible USB-C ports, which also work with USB 4. These ports serve multiple purposes, including charging and high-speed data transfer. The MacBook Air has two USB-C ports on the left side, meaning you’ll need to purchase a USB-C hub if you require additional connectivity. The situation is the same for the M1 version of the MacBook Pro 13. However, Apple still offers two MacBook Pro 13 models with Intel chips, and both of these models come with four USB-C ports. We do not recommend these Intel versions, as it’s better to opt for a more powerful M1 model and purchase an expansion hub for additional ports. As we will see in the next section, the superb performance of the M1 chip is worth the sacrifice in port availability.

Both laptops feature 720p webcams, stereo speakers, and a 3.5mm headphone jack. If audio quality is a priority for you, the MacBook Pro’s speakers are exceptional. In fact, they outperform most other laptops’ speakers and provide an enjoyable listening experience.

Performance

MacBook Air vs. MacBook Pro 13: M1 models, compared
Image used with permission by copyright holder

This is where things get really exciting. Both the MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro 13 have abandoned Intel processors in favor of Apple’s in-house chip, the M1. This chip utilizes the ARM architecture, resulting in significantly improved energy efficiency compared to competing chips. We’re not talking about tiny power savings here – the MacBook Air is so efficient that it doesn’t even require a fan, making it completely silent.

The M1 chip is not a weak performer by any means. Despite its low power consumption, it delivers exceptional performance. With its eight-core CPU (consisting of four high-performance cores and four high-efficiency cores) and seven- or eight-core GPU (depending on the model), the M1 chip can handle nearly any task you throw at it. Apple has truly achieved something remarkable with this chip.

So, how do the numbers stack up? In the Geekbench 5 benchmark, the M1 MacBook Air actually outperformed the M1 MacBook Pro. It scored 1,727 in single-core performance and 7,585 in multi-core performance, while the Pro scored 1,707 and 7,337, respectively. It’s important to note that these scores were achieved without any fans, and even then, the laptops barely heated up. Both scores are significantly higher than Intel’s best Tiger Lake processor, with the i7-1185G7 lagging behind at 1,593 and 5,904 in the same tests.

“But synthetic benchmarks can only tell us so much,” you might say, and that’s a valid point. However, the good news is that Apple’s M1 chip performs just as impressively in real-world usage. In the HandBrake 1.4.0 beta, which is optimized for M1 chips, the MacBook Air encoded a 420MB file to H.265 in just two minutes and 48 seconds, while Intel’s 10th-generation Core i5 processor took around four minutes and 30 seconds to complete the same task. The MacBook Pro completed the HandBrake test in two minutes and 36 seconds.

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While neither laptop is designed for extensive gaming, the integrated graphics of Apple’s M1 chip are sufficient for light gaming. On the MacBook Air, we achieved 33 frames per second (fps) in Fortnite with high graphics and a resolution of 1680 x 1050. Civilization VI achieved 51 fps at the same resolution and medium graphics settings. On the MacBook Pro, Fortnite ran at 60 fps with medium settings. Importantly, neither laptop experienced any significant heat buildup during these gaming sessions. While they won’t break any gaming performance records, they can handle light gaming comfortably.

Performance isn’t just about the CPU and GPU; memory also plays an important role. In this aspect, Apple’s laptops excel, thanks to the architecture they use. The CPU, GPU, and memory in both the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro are integrated into a single chip known as a system-on-a-chip (SoC). This proximity enables them to take advantage of a Unified Memory Architecture. Instead of sending instructions from the CPU to the GPU and switching between separate memory banks, these components now share a memory store. Developers have praised this Unified Memory Architecture, as it allows apps to run smoothly with fewer obstacles. Both the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro benefit from this architecture, providing excellent performance.

Considering that both laptops use the same chip, the differences in performance between the Air and the Pro are minimal. In some cases, the Air outperforms the Pro, while in other scenarios, the Pro comes out on top. These differences are negligible. Given the Air’s lower price and fanless design, we believe it offers the better performance package.

Portability

MacBook Air vs. MacBook Pro 13: M1 models, compared
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

The MacBook Pro measures 0.61 inches thick and 11.97 inches wide, while the MacBook Air ranges from 0.16 to 0.63 inches thick and 11.97 inches wide. This makes the MacBook Air (very slightly) thicker than the MacBook Pro, but it’s lighter, weighing in at 2.8 pounds compared to the MacBook Pro’s 3.0 pounds. In reality, the difference between the two is hardly noticeable unless you measure or weigh them. If anything, the main visual distinction between the two is the Air’s gold color option and the absence of a Touch Bar.

Battery life is another key factor in assessing a laptop’s portability. As previously mentioned, Apple’s M1 chip is incredibly power efficient. This not only results in minimal heat generation but also impressive battery life. Before the M1 models, the MacBook Pro lasted around six to seven hours on a single charge, while the Air offered approximately nine to ten hours of usage. The M1 models, however, have raised the bar significantly.

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In our review, the M1 MacBook Pro lasted an astounding 16 hours during light web browsing and an unbelievable 21 hours in our video playback test. Similarly, the MacBook Air achieved an impressive 15.5 hours and 18.5 hours in each respective test. This is an incredible feat considering that these laptops have power-hungry high-resolution displays and a chip that excels at any task you throw at it. Apple has set a new standard for battery life in laptops, surpassing other manufacturers.

It’s worth noting that the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro both feature industry-leading performance, exceptional battery life, and high-resolution screens. These features make their incredible battery life even more noteworthy.

The MacBook Air is the Best Choice

MacBook Air vs. MacBook Pro 13: M1 models, compared
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends / Digital Trends

Now that both the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro use the same M1 chip, choosing between them has become even more challenging. It ultimately comes down to secondary factors. Whichever one you choose, you can expect class-leading performance and remarkable battery life, as Apple has once again established itself at the forefront of the laptop market.

So, what are the key differences, and which MacBook should you choose? If you’re a graphic designer, photographer, or someone who depends on having a color-accurate screen, the MacBook Pro is the better option. Its higher brightness rating and superior color accuracy, especially in AdobeRGB, can make a noticeable difference in your work. While the MacBook Air’s display is excellent, it doesn’t reach the same heights as the MacBook Pro.

The decision regarding the Touch Bar depends on personal preference. Although the Touch Bar hasn’t fully lived up to its potential, it does have its uses and can be enhanced with helpful Touch Bar apps. If you’re concerned about accidentally touching it or simply prefer physical function keys, the MacBook Air is the better choice.

In some areas, the MacBook Air clearly outshines the MacBook Pro. Its fanless design ensures complete silence during operation, which is perfect if you find fan noise bothersome when tackling demanding tasks. Despite lacking fans, the Air delivers performance on par with the Pro and even surpasses it in many cases. This gives the Air a significant advantage over the MacBook Pro.

Additionally, the MacBook Air is more affordable. The M1 MacBook Pro starts at $1,299, whereas the MacBook Air starts at just $999, making it $300 cheaper. With its exceptional performance, fanless design, and lower price tag, the MacBook Air is the clear winner in our opinion. It’s the MacBook we recommend, and we believe you should choose it too.

OnSpec Electronic, Inc.

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