Is It Value Going Professional?

Apple offers two MacBooks powered by the M1 chip: the MacBook Air and the 13-inch MacBook Pro. Since, unlike in previous years, both have the same CPU, deciding which model to choose is more difficult today than ever.

While the hardware is very similar, there are some key differences between the two laptops. Why else would Apple sell these two products at different prices, right?

Let's take a look at how these MacBooks differ so you can make an informed decision when you hit the market.

Design and dimensions

Image source: Apple

At first glance, both models look almost identical. However, if you look closely at them from the sides, you will find that the MacBook Air has a tapered design. This design choice should make typing easier on the MacBook Air, even though they both share the same keyboard.

Since the MacBook Air is meant for light tasks, it has a fanless design for quiet operation, while the MacBook Pro has an internal fan that starts spinning during intense 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 only 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 remains uniform across the entire frame.

In terms of weight, the two do not differ much. The MacBook Air weighs just 2.8 pounds while the MacBook Pro weighs 3.0 pounds. That's a 0.2 pound difference that you won't notice unless you have one in each hand.

Note that the weight of these MacBooks can vary slightly depending on the desired hardware configuration. The remaining dimensions both measure the same, with a width and depth of 11.97 inches and 8.36 inches, respectively.

Internal hardware and performance

Image source: Apple

While both models contain the same Apple M1 chip, they don't offer the same level of performance, at least not always. This small difference in performance is not exactly due to the hardware itself, but rather to the differences in design.

The internal fan makes the MacBook Pro a better performer when it comes to CPU and GPU intensive tasks. Unfortunately, the M1 chip in the MacBook Air cannot maintain its peak performance during these tasks due to the fanless design and therefore has to throttle its clock speeds in order to keep the temperature in check.

As for hardware specs, the base M1 MacBook Air has a 7-core GPU, while the M1 MacBook Pro has an 8-core GPU. However, that one additional core doesn't make a noticeable difference in real-world tests unless you're pushing graphical performance to its limits by playing games or running apps like Final Cut Pro.

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

In terms of storage and RAM, both the M1 MacBook Air and M1 MacBook Pro offer 256 GB SSDs and 8 GB unified memory for their base variants. Note that these components are not user upgradeable because they are soldered to the logic board. So make sure you configure it correctly on the Apple website.

You can equip any MacBook with up to 2 TB of storage and 16 GB of RAM.

Finally, both M1 MacBooks have two Thunderbolt 3-capable USB 4 ports and a headphone jack for those who still have wired headphones.

Display and speakers

Whether Air or Pro model, you get a 13.3-inch IPS LED display with a resolution of 2560 x 1600 pixels, which corresponds to 227 pixels per inch. In addition, these displays support the wide P3 color space and True Tone.

However, the display of the M1 MacBook Pro becomes brighter with a maximum brightness of 500 nits, while the brightness of the M1 MacBook Air is limited to 400 nits. So if you're going to be using your MacBook outdoors, you're sure to benefit from the extra hundred nits.

Although both M1 MacBooks have stereo speakers, the Pro model goes one better with its high dynamic range. The sound from the MacBook Pro speakers is impressive as the bass comes out more prominent. However, the speakers on the M1 MacBook Air are surprisingly louder.

Camera and microphone

Image source: Apple

This section is important for those who plan to make video calls on their MacBook on a regular basis, be it for work meetings, family reunions, or online classes.

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

However, the M1 MacBook Pro has the edge when it comes to making calls because it offers a studio-quality microphone with a high signal-to-noise ratio. The MacBook Air, on the other hand, is satisfied with a standard three-microphone array.

Keyboard and trackpad

Let's get to the typing experience: Both M1 MacBook models have the same Magic Keyboard. Apple has finally given up on the butterfly keys that have caused many problems. However, you'll have a better time typing on the M1 MacBook Air as the wedge-shaped design slopes the keyboard down.

The great thing about the MacBook Pro is the Touch Bar. If you've never used the Touch Bar before, be warned that you'll either love it or hate it. Instead of the Touch Bar, the MacBook Air has physical function keys that many people prefer these days.

These MacBook models have similar trackpads, but the M1 MacBook Pro has a larger Force Touch trackpad. So if you want more space for multi-touch gestures, the Pro model is the right choice.

Battery life and charging

This is possibly the most important part when comparing two laptops. The good news is that no matter which M1 MacBook you use, you get excellent battery life. This is thanks to the efficiency of the M1 chip.

That being said, there is a difference in the battery department. The affordable M1 MacBook Air is equipped with a 49.9 Wh battery, which is designed for up to 15 hours of surfing the Internet and up to 18 hours of video playback via the Apple TV app.

In contrast, the M1 MacBook Pro is powered by a 58.2 Wh battery, which is designed for up to 17 hours of surfing the Internet in Safari and up to 20 hours of Apple TV playback.

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

In addition to lasting longer, the MacBook Pro also charges faster. Because Apple supplies the MacBook Pro with a 61 W power adapter, while the MacBook Air gets a 30 W 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 of storage, 8GB of memory, and a 7-core GPU. The M1 MacBook Pro starts at $ 1299 for the base variant with the same 256GB of storage and 8GB of memory, but comes with an 8-core GPU instead.

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

Would you like to configure your MacBook? The SSD upgrade costs $ 200 extra for each tier of storage up to 1TB. As you move up from 1TB to 2TB, an additional $ 400 is added to your bill. Finally, the 16GB RAM upgrade also costs $ 200.

These are some costly hardware upgrades. Unlike in previous years, you can't buy cheaper parts from third-party suppliers, so you have no choice but to pay 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 want to use the MacBook for. For general uses like watching videos, surfing the Internet, editing photos, and other light to medium-intensive tasks, you're perfectly fine with the base M1 MacBook Air.

However, if you do professional jobs like video editing or music production, you will surely benefit from the continued performance of the MacBook Pro. The optional memory and storage upgrades can also be valuable in the long run.

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About the author

Hamlin Rozario
(20 articles published)

Hamlin is a full time freelance writer who has worked in the field for over four years. Since 2017 his work has appeared on OSXDaily, Beebom, FoneHow and others. In his spare time, he either trains in the gym or takes big strides in the crypto room.

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By Hamlin Rozario

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