The M2 MacBook Air isn’t too much smaller than 14″ MacBook Pro, so is it worth it to upgrade to the higher priced and newer machine, or should you stick with Apple’s thin-and-light – saving quite a bit along the way?
I’ll specifically be focusing on the 14″ M2 Pro MacBook Pro, as it’s the closer of the two in both size and cost to the Air, but you can check out our full comparison of the M2 lineup of laptops if you’re interested in how the 16″ version stacks up.
M2 Air vs M2 Pro MacBook Pro [Video]
The MacBook Air and 14″ MacBook Pro are very similar in size, with the MacBook Air sporting a 13.6-inch display compared to the MacBook Pro’s 14.2 inch display. The size difference is most noticeable in the devices thickness. The M2 Air when closed is about the same thickness as just the bottom case of the MacBook Pro. The MacBook Pro isn’t a thick laptop by any means, but you’ll certainly notice the difference. Similarly, the MacBook Air lives up to its name, weighing just 2.7 pounds compared to the 14″ MacBook Pro’s 3.5 pounds.
Neither the keyboard nor the trackpad are notably different on either machine, despite the MacBook Pro’s keyboard sporting a black section behind the keys.
As you would expect, the MacBook Pro has expanded connectivity over the M2 MacBook Air. The Air sports two Thunderbolt ports, a headphone jack, and a MagSafe connector for charging. The MacBook Pro features an additional Thunderbolt port, a full-size SD card slot, and an HDMI 2.1 port. That HDMI 2.1 port allows you to connect displays at up to 8K 60Hz or 4k 240Hz while the MacBook Air is limited one external display running at up to 6K 60Hz via one of its Thunderbolt ports. The MacBook Pro with the M2 Pro chip can also support up to two external displays simultaneously at 6K 60Hz. Additionally, the MacBook Pro features the newer Wi-Fi 6E standard compared to the MacBook Air’s Wi-Fi 6, allowing it to use frequencies up into the 6GHz range and reducing network congestions.
Display and speakers
The MacBook Pro certainly shows its worth in the screen and speakers, where there are significant improvements over the Air. Both have a more than adequate pixel densities, but the screen on the M2 MacBook Air is one of Apple’s “Liquid Retina” displays, while the MacBook Pro has an XDR display. This XDR display is mini-LED, so the backlight is divided into thousands of zones that can individually adjust their brightness to show darker shadows and brighter highlights. This lets the MacBook Pros screen peak at 1,600 nits, with a full screen max HDR brightness of 1,000 nits. The MacBook Air’s display tops out at just 500 nits. The MacBook Pro also features Apples ProMotion variable refresh rate tech, allowing the screen to run at up to 120Hz for a smoother user experience.One of the speakers in the 14″ MacBook Pro
Moving to the speakers, the 14-inch MacBook Pro has a six speaker array compared to the MacBook Air’s four speaker array. The extra two speakers, as well as the additional space in the chassis, really let the MacBook Pros speakers shine. They are loud, but also have much better bass and less tinny highs than the Air’s speakers.
Camera and microphone
On the specs page, both the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro are listed as having a 1080P FaceTime camera as well as an “Advanced image signal processor with computational video.” Despite this similarity, the two cameras perform very differently. In good lighting, either can create a video acceptable for virtual meetings, but once the lighting is dim the cameras really show their differences. The MacBook Air’s picture becomes far more noisy than the MacBook Pro’s, but the artificial smoothing on the Pro really shows up and eliminates a lot of detail.Head to 5:22 in the video for the webcam comparison.
Both the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro are listed as having three-mic arrays with directional beam-forming, but Apple specifically calls out the microphones in the MacBook Pro as being “Studio Quality” with a high signal to noise ratio. And there’s a significant difference in the sound between the two. In my brief testing, the microphone of the 14″ MacBook Pro sounded much better, with slightly less echo and less harsh high pitch than the air. To listen to the microphones for yourself, just head to 6:30 in the video.
With the switch to 256GB NAND modules with the M2, both the laptops will have slower speed SSDs than their previous generation, but the MacBook Pro starts out with two NAND chips while the MacBook Air starts out with just one. This means the base MacBook Air will have about 1,500MBps read and write speeds, while the base model 14-inch MacBook Pro sees speeds around 3,000MBps. On the MacBook Air this slower SSD could be more noticeable due to the 8GB of RAM and needing to swap out information from RAM into storage during more power-hungry tasks.
As expected, the M2 Pro chip can perform much better than the base M2 chip. Having both more CPU and GPU cores as well as a cooling solution for the chip, benchmarks have shown the M2 Pro chip even outperforming last year’s M1 Max. While single threaded tasks will be just about identical in performance between the M2 MacBook Air and the M2 Pro MacBook Pro, multi-threaded tasks show a greater difference, with multi-core Geek bench scores around 8,900 on the M2 MacBook Air and over 12,000 on the M2 Pro MacBook Pro.
If you’re doing creative work, the GPU improvements going to the MacBook Pro can be even more important, with video export times dropping a fairly significant amount with the jump to the Pro.
Configuration and price
The base level M2 MacBook Air starts at just 256GB of storage and 8GB of RAM for its $1,199 price, while the M2 MacBook Pro starts out with 512GB of storage and 16GB of RAM for $1,999. You can upgrade the MacBook Air to 16GB of RAM, matching the base MacBook Pro, for an additional $200, or up to 24GB for $400. The MacBook Pro with M2 Pro chip can be upgraded to 32GB of RAM for an additional $400, and you can upgrade to 96GB of RAM if you opt for the M2 Max chip.
Storage wise, the MacBook Air can be upgraded to a maximum of 2TB of storage, with the upgrade to 512GB of storage costing $200. The MacBook Pro can be upgraded to 8TB of storage for $2,400 – but we certainly wouldn’t recommend it. The upgrade to 1TB of storage for $200 or 2TB of storage for $600 is far more reasonable.
Additionally, the CPUs can be configured. On the Air, you can choose between an M2 chip with 8 GPU cores and 8 CPU cores, or you can upgrade to 10 GPU cores for an additional $100. With the MacBook Pro, you have far more options. The M2 Pro chip starts with a 10-core CPU and a 16-core GPU. For $300, you can upgrade to a 12-CPU core 19-GPU core M2 Pro, or you can step to the M2 Max chip which will max out with 12 CPU cores and 39 GPU cores.
The M2 MacBook Air and 14″ MacBook Pro are very different machines. Which you should go with, at the end of the day, comes down to what work you plan to do on your laptop. If you’re rendering, doing lots of video and photo editing, or even just need to have more external monitors connected to your machine for spreadsheets, the MacBook Pro is an easy go-to. If you are already upgrading the CPU, RAM, and storage in your MacBook Air, the jump to the MacBook Pro nets you a much better screen, an HDMI port, improved Wi-Fi, an SD card slot, and an improved cooling system on a faster processor.
For an average user, however, the performance of the M2 MacBook Air remains good enough that the price to upgrade to the MacBook Pro just isn’t justifiable. With the switch to Apple silicon, even Apple thin-and-light machines have become more capable than ever, able to handle impressive amounts of work for such small machines. I’ve used a MacBook Air as my primary computer since its release for my video and photo editing. While I’m excited to switch to the MacBook Pro, there’s no denying that most people don’t need to make that upgrade.
If both of these machines seem a bit small for your taste, be sure to check out our full comparison, including the 16″ MacBook Pro.
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