MacBook Air vs. MacBook Pro: Which Mac should you buy in December 2023?

As 2023 comes to a close prospective Apple laptop customers face a tougher "MacBook Air vs. MacBook Pro?" decision than ever before. Apple's laptops include 13.3-inch, 13.6-inch, and 15.3-inch MacBook Airs and two flavors of MacBook Pro: 14.2 inches, and 16.2 inches. 

The Air lineup tops out at the Apple M2 chipset, while the 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pros are powered by the Apple M3, M3 Pro, or M3 Max. This is one of the differentiators between the MacBook Air vs. MacBook Pro, only the Pro models offer the more powerful "Pro" or "Max" chipsets. Overall there are no wrong choices here, just a question of what best meets your needs. 

But don't worry, follow along and we’ll help you decide which Apple laptop is right for you by comparing price, features, performance, battery life, and more. By the end of this guide, you should know exactly which Apple laptop to spend your hard-earned money on.

Cyber Week MacBook deal

Apple MacBook Air 13 3M2:  $1,099

Apple MacBook Air 13 3M2: $1,099 $899 @ Best Buy
Save $200 on the 13-inch MacBook Air M2. It features a 13.6-inch (2560 x 1664) Liquid Retina display, M2 8-core processor, 8-Core GPU, 8GB of RAM, 256GB of SSD storage., Magic Keyboard, Touch Bar, and Touch ID. 

Price check: Amazon $1,077| B&H $969

MacBook Air vs. MacBook Pro: Specs compared

Swipe to scroll horizontally
Row 0 - Cell 0 Best for MostNext Best OptionBest big screen valueFor power usersFor power users who need a large screen
Row 1 - Cell 0 MacBook Air 13 (M1)MacBook Air 13 (M2)MacBook Air 15 (M2)MacBook Pro 14-inchMacBook Pro 16-inch
Price$999$1,099$1,299$1,999 (starting)$2,499
CPUM1M2M2M3, M3 Pro or M3 MaxM3 Pro or M3 Max
RAMUp to 16GBUp to 24GBUp to 24GBUp to 128GBup to 128GB
Display13.3 inches (2560 x 1664)13.6 inches (2560 x 1600)15.3 inches (2880 x 1864)14.2 inches (3024 x 1964), 120Hz16.2 inches (3456 x 2234), 120Hz
Ports2 Thunderbolt 3, headphone2 Thunderbolt 3, headphone2 Thunderbolt 3/USB4, headphone3 Thunderbolt 4, HDMI, SDXC card, headphone4 Thunderbolt 3, headphone
GraphicsM1M2M2M3, M3 Pro or M3 MaxM3 Pro or M3 Max
Storageup to 2TBup to 2TBUp to 2TBUp to 8TBup to 8TB
Battery Life (hrs)14:41 (tested)14:06 (tested)14:59 (tested)17:16 (tested)18:05 (tested)
SecurityTouch IDTouch IDTouch IDTouch IDTouch ID
Size12 x 8.4 x 0.6 inches11.97 x 8.46 x 0.44 inches13.40 x 9.53 x 0.45 inches12.3 x 8.7 x 0.6 inches14 x 9.8 x 0.66 inches
Weight2.8 pounds2.7 pounds3.3 pounds3.5 pounds4.8 pounds

The Quick List

MacBook Air (13-inch, M2): Best for most people

(Image credit: Future)
M2 power for under $1,200

Specifications

CPU: Apple M2
GPU: Apple M2
RAM: 8GB/16GB/24GB
Storage: 256GB/512GB/1TB/2TB
Display: 13.6-inches, 2560 x 1600 pixels
Size: 11.97 x 8.46 x 0.44 inches
Weight: 2.7 pounds

Reasons to buy

+
Elegant redesign
+
Good performance
+
Bright, colorful screen
+
Comfortable keyboard
+
Excellent battery life

Reasons to avoid

-
SSD somewhat slower than M1 Air

Pros: The latest chapter in the MacBook Air’s saga is compelling, to say the least. The laptop eschews the wedge design of old for a look that puts it squarely in MacBook Pro territory. But staying true to its name, the Air is 20% smaller than its predecessor in terms of volume. You even get some snazzy new colors to choose from this time around. Apple’s also added a few other new goodies such as a 1080p webcam, a new speaker setup, and a bigger display. 

But the real star of the show is Apple’s M2 chip, which offers great performance for an ultraportable laptop. It’s faster and more powerful than the previous model and is ideal for anyone looking for a super-light workhorse. Plus, it lasted over 14 hours on our battery test and has fast charging. 

Bigger screen, smaller bezels — that’s the name of the game for the M2 MacBook Air. The laptop boasts a 13.6-inch, 2560 x 1664 Liquid Retina display, compared to the previous version’s 13.3 inches. And when it comes to displays, more often than not, bigger is always better. As expected, the M2’s screen is an explosion of color with sharp details. 

The M2 Air also performed great during our synthetic benchmarks. When we ran Geekbench 5.4, for example, the notebook hit 8,919, decimating the 6.054 premium laptop average and the Slim 7 Carbon’s (AMD Ryzen 7 5800 CPU) 6,241.

On the Handbrake test, the Air M2 transcoded a 4K video to 1080p in 7 minutes and 52 seconds. That score roasted the 10-minute average as well as the XPS 13 (Intel Core i7-1185G CPU) and Spectre x360 (Intel Core i7-1165G7 CPU) which had times of 18:33 and 18:39, respectively. The Slim 7 Carbon came the closest at 8:51, more than a minute slower. 

Weighing a slight 2.7 pounds and measuring 12 x 8.5 x 0.4 inches, the MacBook Air can easily slide into any medium-sized purse, messenger bag, or backpack.

(Image credit: Future)

Cons: While no one can be mad at over 14 hours of battery life, it's still slightly less than the previous model. That's not a huge problem, but if you're looking to get every ounce of juice out of your MacBook, then the M1 MacBook Air may be more to your tastes.

Yes, the $1,199 starting price is a bit steep, especially when compared to the last-gen's $999 starting price. However, the M2 outclasses the M1 in just about every category, making it well worth the investment. 

Apple’s lightest laptop has always been light on ports and that remains true with the M2 Air. Although the MagSafe charger made a triumphant return, you still only get a pair of Thunderbolt 4 ports and a headset jack to work with, so you might need a dongle or two. 

See our full MacBook Air M2 review

MacBook Air (13-inch, M1): A sub-$1,000 MacBook

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)
The best for most people

Specifications

CPU: Apple M1
GPU: Apple M1
RAM: 8GB/16GB
Storage: 256GB/512GB/1TB/2TB
Display: 13.3 inches, 2560 x 1600 pixels
Size: 12 x 8.4 x 0.6 inches
Weight: 2.8 pounds

Reasons to buy

+
Breathtaking performance
+
Outstanding battery life
+
Slim unibody aluminum chassis
+
Great speakers and Magic keyboard

Reasons to avoid

-
Limited ports
-
Older design

Pros: The MacBook Air with M1 delivers almost everything you could want in an Apple laptop thanks to its M1 chip, which enables excellent performance and battery life. Specifically, the MacBook Air lasted for 14 hours and 41 minutes on our battery test, making it one of the longest-lasting laptops around, even longer than its succesor. 

Our MacBook Air with 16GB of RAM scored a resounding 5,962 on the Geekbench 5.2 overall performance test, crushing the XPS 13 (5,319, Core i7-1165G7) with an 11th Gen (Tiger lake) Intel Core. The Surface Laptop 3 (4,791) with 10th Gen Intel chips dropped further behind, but still topped the category average (4,178).

The screen is sharp, too, with a 2560 x 1600-pixel resolution. The M1 Air supports the P3 color range for punchier tones and True Tone, which adjusts the color temperature on the display based on ambient lighting conditions.

Another feature is Touch ID, which makes it easy to unlock the system, make secure payments, and replace passwords. The MacBook Air's 720p webcam isn't going to replace the best external webcam, but the M1 chip gave it a boost to performance, and the system supports iOS and iPadOS apps, although we haven't seen massive uptake on that feature.

(Image credit: Laptop Mag)

The MacBook Air, at 12 x 8.4 x 0.6 inches and 2.8 pounds, is larger than the Dell XPS 13 (11.6 x 7.8 x 0.6 inches, 2.8 pounds), but more compact than the 13.5-inch Microsoft Surface Laptop 3 (12.1 x 8.8 x 0.6 inches, 2.9 pounds). 

Cons: Two USB-C ports aren't enough for most people so be ready to use a dongle. Also, the MacBook Air isn't the most compact or lightest 13-inch laptop, and the display bezels that were chunky in 2020 are only harder to take in 2023. Speaking of which, it's getting a little long in the tooth after 2.5 years, but Apple still sells it directly and will support it for years to come.

See our full MacBook Air (M1) review

MacBook Air (15-inch, M2): Big screen on a budget

MacBook Air 15-inch

(Image credit: Future)
Best affordable big-screen MacBook

Specifications

CPU: Apple M2
GPU: Apple M2
RAM: 8GB/16GB/24GB
Storage: 256GB/512GB/1TB/2TB
Display: 13.6-inches, 2560 x 1600 pixels
Size: 13.4 x 9.35 x 0.45 inches
Weight: 3.3 pounds

Reasons to buy

+
Ultra-slim chassis
+
Lovely Liquid Retina display
+
Excellent battery life
+
Good performance
+
Affordable

Reasons to avoid

-
Limited ports

Pros: Getting that big 15.3-inch display for as low as $1,299 is hard to pass up considering for years that would cost you at least $2,499. While it lacks the 120Hz refresh rate of the Pro models, Apple didn't skimp as it offers an excellent 473 nits of brightness in our testing and a slightly more vibrant panel than the 13-inch Air.

At 3.3 pounds and just 0.45 inches thick it's going to be a tempting option for business travelers or college students that value a larger laptop that won't weigh down their laptop bag. It will also tick another box for those buyers thanks to 14 hours and 59 minutes of battery life in our testing.

While it features the same M2 chip as the 13-inch Air, it's slightly more powerful in every performance metric (perhaps due to improved thermal performance) and it fixes one of our only complaints about the smaller Air by dramatically boosting its SSD write speed.

Cons: Not many. The port situation is slightly irritating as it features the same pair of Thunderbolt 3/USB 4 ports, MagSafe charger, and headphone/mic jack as the much smaller MacBook Air 13-inch. However, most of us that need more ports have long ago added a USB-C hub or laptop docking station to our assortment of gear.

The only other con is the rumor of an M3 MacBook Air on the horizon. That chip will represent a larger change than the M1 to M2 upgrade, however, it's unclear when it will arrive in the Air. The fact that the MacBook Air 15 is launching now with the M2 suggests to me that it will be at least spring of 2024 before we see the new chip in an Air. So if you need a new laptop now, it's not worth worrying about as something new is always coming.

See our full MacBook Air 15-inch review.

MacBook Pro (14-inch): Best for creative pros on the go

(Image credit: Future)
The best MacBook for creative pros on the go

Specifications

CPU: Apple M3, M3 Pro/M3 Max
GPU: Apple M3 , M3 Pro/M3 Max
RAM: 16GB/32GB/64GB/96GB/128GB
Storage: 512GB/1TB/2TB/4TB/8TB
Display: 14.2-inch Liquid Retina XDR display (3024x1964 pixels)
Size: 12.3 x 8.7 x 0.6 inches
Weight: 3.5 pounds (M2 Pro) - 3.6 pounds (M2 Max)

Reasons to buy

+
Impressive performance
+
Over 17 hours of battery life
+
Great port selection
+
Beautifully vibrant display with crisp detail
+
Excellent audio

Reasons to avoid

-
Off-putting notch
-
Still no Face ID

Pros: The MacBook Pro 14 M3 arrived this fall as a new more affordable option for the 14-inch MacBook Pro, starting at $1,599. No, that's not cheap, but it's $400 less than the previous $1,999 starting point, which is still what the M3 Pro model will set you back. For most users the base M3 will get the job done, but if time is money for you then the M3 Pro and M3 Max processors Apple are among the fastest, most power-efficient chips ever built for portable computing.

The other performance specs are just as impressive, and while the base model will be more than enough for most users, you can spec the M3 Max configuration up to 128GB of RAM and an 8TB SSD. Battery life is tested at 17 hours and 03 minutes.

Moreover, that redesign from 2021 still feels fresh with the 14.2-inch, 3024 x 1964-pixel Liquid Retina XDR mini-LED display with a 120Hz refresh rate. This panel is one of the brightest laptop screens ever (at 1,600 nits of peak luminance), and the most vivid outside of OLED panels. 

At 12.3 inches x 8.7 x 0.6 inches and 3.5 pounds, the 14-inch MacBook Pro remains portable despite the power it packs underneath the hood. 

Some other nice features include a 1080p webcam, Touch ID, a six-speaker setup, and a keyboard without a Touch Bar. 

Cons: So, what's wrong with the laptop? Well, there's that notch. While you do adjust to it quickly, we still don't love that design decision, particularly since it doesn't come with Face ID. If you are thinking these are minor complaints then you are absolutely right, this is an outstanding laptop that belongs on the short list for anyone with portability and performance in mind.

See our full MacBook Pro 14 2023 review

MacBook Pro 16-inch: Best for peak performance

(Image credit: Future)
The best MacBook for performance and battery life

Specifications

CPU: Apple M3 Pro/M3 Max
GPU: Apple M3 Pro/M3 Max
RAM: 16GB/32GB/64GB/96GB/128GB
Storage: 512GB/1TB/2TB/4TB/8TB
Display: 16.2-inch Liquid Retina XDR display (3024 x 1964 pixels)
Size: 14 x 9.8 x 0.7 inches
Weight: 4.8 pounds

Reasons to buy

+
Powerful overall and gaming performance
+
First-in-class battery life
+
Excellent audio
+
Beautiful display

Reasons to avoid

-
$2,499 starting price

Pros: Everything we love about the 14-inch MacBook Pro but with a large 16-inch display. It has the same M3 Pro and M3 Max chips along with up to a ludicrous 128GB of memory and up to an 8TB SSD. Battery life is even slightly better at 18 hours and 5 minutes in our testing. Given the performance that it almost unbelievable, honestly, it seems like Apple may have created a pocket dimension that houses some additional battery in this thing.

Cons: Except for that battery life and the display size, you can get everything found in the 16-inch MacBook Pro in the 14-inch model for $500 less. If you need the larger panel, then get this 16-inch MacBook Pro. If you don't, then it probably won't be worth the price trade-off. 

Also at 14 x 9.8 x 0.66 inches and 4.7 pounds, the 16-inch MacBook Pro is considerably larger than the 14-inch model, so if you are toting your laptop around regularly that's worth considering as well. 

See our full MacBook Pro 16-inch 2023

To find out more about how much longer Apple will keep your MacBook healthy, read our comprehensive Apple Warranty Check guide.

How We Test MacBooks

We put MacBooks through extensive benchmark testing — both synthetic and real-world — before they end up in the hands of our reviewers. We evaluate everything from speed and battery life to display brightness, speaker volume and system heat.

We use a Klein K10 colorimeter to detect the brightness and sRGB color gamut of a laptop's display. For performance benchmarking, we run the laptop through a gauntlet of benchmarks, including Geekbench 5.0 and 3DMark professional graphics tests. 

To determine real-world performance, we task the laptop to convert a 4K video to 1080p resolution and to duplicate a 25GB multimedia file. Our real-world graphics test is the Dirt 3 benchmark with medium settings and 1080p resolution. 

We also run heat tests by playing a 15-minute full-screen video and our battery test consists of continuous web surfing over Wi-Fi at 150 nits of brightness. We consider everything over the category average (8 hours and 36 minutes) to be a good result. Of course, these tests are complemented with hands-on testing from our reviewers.

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