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Which is the best Apple MacBook for you? MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro

M1-powered MacBooks entice, but you've got options. We run through the entire MacBook range

As far as laptop line-ups go, the Apple MacBook range is fairly easy to get your head around. After a few years of having three bespoke models (MacBook, MacBook Air and MacBook Pro), the tech giant simplified things even further when it gave the Retina MacBook the boot.

Now you’ve only got to choose between the lightweight Air or more powerful Pro. Easy, right? Not so fast. Each is powered by Apple’s in-house silicon, but how much grunt you get depends on what screen size you go for. And only one model has the fancy Touch Bar. And now there’s the choice of M1 and M2 processors.

If you’ve been wondering which Apple laptop deserves a spot on your shopping list, we’re here to help. Our rundown covers the entire range, from least to most expensive, and explains why each notebook might be the one for you.

MacBook Air (M1) – from £999

The kick-off point for the entire MacBook line-up packs an awful lot of hardware into something so slim and silent. Note we didn’t say “quiet” – the latest-generation Air doesn’t need a fan to keep its M1 processor cool, so the only noises it makes are when you’re blasting tunes from the (surprisingly clear) speakers or typing on the responsive Magic Keyboard.

There are two performance tiers on offer. The standard laptop has an 8-core CPU and 7-core GPU, and comes with 256GB of storage for £999. The more powerful model gets an extra GPU core, and steps up to 512GB of storage for £1249. You can also add extra RAM and a bigger SSD if you want.

You’re limited to just one screen size, but 13in is still plenty when it has a better-than-Full-HD resolution. Battery life is truly heroic, making this a go-anywhere machine that’ll let you leave the power brick at home, and it’s astonishingly light for something so powerful. TouchID even makes the cut for quick logins. Choosing an Air also gives you the widest choice when it comes to colours: you can grab one in grey, gold or silver.

Why you’d want it: Distills the MacOS experience down to its purest form, with impressive performance at a price that won’t break the bank. Whether you’re an Apple fan or not, this is the best all-rounder laptop available for under a grand. It’ll handle anything up to and including photo editing, but you’ll want to investigate the MacBook Pro line-up for more demanding jobs.

Tech specs: Screen 13.3in 2560×1600 LED-backlit IPS • Processor Apple M1 • RAM 8/16GB • Storage 256GB-2TB SSD • Battery up to 18 hours • OS macOS • Connectivity Wi‑Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.0, 3.5mm, 2x Thunderbolt 3 • Dimensions 304×212×16mm • Weight 1.29kg

MacBook Air (M2) – from £1249

Thinner and lighter (who thought that was possible), yet with even more power – the M2 MacBook Air is as cutting-edge as Apple laptops get right now. It’s rocking an all-new design, with all-new silicon inside promising a 20-40% performance increase depending on what you want to do with it.

Revealed at WWDC, the new Air also gets a brighter, more colourful screen, the option to outfit it with a whopping 24GB of memory, and an all-new keyboard with physical function keys (no TouchBar here). The webcam has been upgraded to a 1080p model, which now resides in a notch. MagSafe charging makes its reappearance, and it’ll manage rapid charging too.

Why you’d want it: Even more portable than before, and with a slicker design, higher quality screen and even more power. It’s the MacBook Air’s ultimate evolution. The 13in MacBook Pro might also have an M2 CPU, but it hasn’t been upgraded like this has – if you always want Apple’s latest, this is the model to go for.

Tech specs: Screen 13.6in 2560×1663 LED-backlit IPS • Processor Apple M2 • RAM 8/16/24GB • Storage 256GB-2TB SSD • Battery up to 18 hours • OS macOS • Connectivity Wi‑Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.0, 3.5mm, 2x Thunderbolt 3, MagSafe • Dimensions 304×215×12mm • Weight 1.24kg

MacBook Pro 13in (M2) – from £1349

The smallest MacBook Pro made the switch from Intel to Apple silicon at the end of 2020, and hasn’t looked back. It was considerably more powerful than the outgoing model, with better battery life to boot – and now it’s second in line for the latest M2 processor, just behind the new MacBook Air.

The 13in Pro is only marginally bigger than a MacBook Air, and just a little bit heavier, so there’s no need to write it off if you’ll be carrying one around all day. It has the same connectivity, with two USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports and a 3.5mm audio port.

Performance is a step up from the M2 MacBook Air, but not because it has faster silicon. The Pro has an internal fan that keeps the processor cool when it’s under load, letting it maintain higher clock speeds and for longer. All models have the same 8-core cpu and 10-core GPU arrangement, with either 8, 16GB or 24GB of RAM, and up to 2TB of storage.

It’s also now the only MacBook model with a TouchBar in place of the function keys, with newer models dropping it like a bad habit. Colour choice is Space Grey or Silver.

Why you’d want it: A modest power increase over the M2 MacBook Air, thanks to active rather than passive cooling, helps the entry-level Pro do more, and do it faster. It’s considerably quicker than the M1-powered generation, and also probably your last chance to get a modern MacBook with a TouchBar, if that’s what you’re into.

Tech specs: Screen 13.3in 2560×1600 LED-backlit IPS • Processor Apple M2 • RAM 8/16/24GB • Storage 256GB-2TB SSD • Battery up to 17 hours • OS macOS • Connectivity Wi‑Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.0, 3.5mm, 2x Thunderbolt 3 • Dimensions 304x212x16mm • Weight 1.4kg

MacBook Pro 14in (M1 Pro/M1 Max) – from £1899

One half of the two-pronged MacBook Pro refresh that landed towards the end of 2021, the 14in MacBook Pro is the smaller, more portable offering that won’t take up quite so much room in a backpack. But before we get too sidetracked by performance (of which it has a lot), let’s focus on what’s changed from the 13in model.

The TouchBar display is gone, replaced by good old fashioned function keys. MagSafe charging has returned, ensuring an accidental tug on the power cable won’t result in a destroyed laptop, and connectivity has grown. A full-size HDMI port and SDXC card reader make a long-overdue return, and you get three Thunderbolt 4 ports.

The 14in mini-LED display is truly gorgeous, with stunning colours and deep blacks, plus a dazzlingly high peak brightness that’s perfect for HDR content. The tweaked keyboard is a pleasure to type on, and the touchpad is expansive.

Even the entry-level model, which has an M1 Pro with 8 CPU cores and 14 GPU cores, paired with 16GB of RAM and 512GB of storage, can kick some serious computational backside. There’s a version with a more powerful GPU if you need it, or you can step up to the beastly M1 Max for unrivalled graphical ability. You’ll want to discuss it with your bank manager before pulling the trigger, though.

Why you’d want it: Exceptional performance with a properly compact footprint. The 14in MacBook Pro is small enough to take on the move, but has the CPU and graphics grunt to challenge most desktop PCs. It’s perfect for on-the-go video editors and developers that travel on the regular.

Tech specs: Screen 14.3in 3024×1964 Liquid Retina XDR LCD • Processor Apple M1 Pro/M1 Max • RAM 16-64GB • Storage 512GB-8TB SSD • Battery up to 17 hours • OS macOS • Connectivity Wi‑Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.0, 3.5mm, 3x Thunderbolt 4, MagSafe 3, HDMI, SDXC • Dimensions 313x221x16mm • Weight 1.6kg

MacBook Pro 16in (M1 Pro/M1 Max) – from £2399

Essentially a 14in MacBook Pro, but scaled up just that little bit more. The 16in MacBook Pro shares the same connectivity, same MagSafe charging, and same excellent keyboard/touchpad combo as its baby brother, but gets an even better display and the very best hardware Apple can squeeze into a laptop.

At 3456×2234, the Liquid Retina XDR panel puts your images and videos in their best light, with exceptional colour accuracy and picture clarity. HDR content is mind-bendingly impressive. For most people, we’re betting the combination of this screen with an M1 Pro would be a dream machine to work on – but if your wallet will allow it, you can crank things up further. Much further.

All in, you can get a 16in MacBook Pro with an M1 Max CPU, 64GB of RAM and 8TB of NVMe storage. That’s enough power to best professional desktop workstations – in something that’ll still slip into a rucksack. But unless you’re editing multiple 8K video streams, all that horsepower may be lost on you.

Why you’d want it: For desktop-grade power in a portable package. A 16in MacBook equipped with an M1 Max is proper overkill for anyone but the most demanding of power users. Buy it if you don’t know the meaning of the word compromise.

Tech specs: Screen 16.2in 3456×2234 Liquid Retina XDR LCD • Processor Apple M1 pro/ M1 Max • RAM 16-64GB • Storage 1TB-8TB SSD • Battery up to 17 hours • OS macOS • Connectivity Wi‑Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.0, 3.5mm, 3x Thunderbolt 4, MagSafe 3, HDMI, SDXC • Dimensions 356x248x17mm • Weight 2.2kg