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

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

M3-powered MacBook Pros 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 separate models (MacBook, MacBook Air and MacBook Pro), the tech giant simplified things even further when it gave the Retina MacBook the boot. What’s left is the cream of the crop, regularly making appearances on our best laptops list.

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. MacBook Pros have the latest M3, M3 Pro or M3 Max processors. The Air offers a choice of M1 or 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)

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 MacBook 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.

Now Apple has introduced the M2 and M3 chips, only one M1 model remains. It has an 8-core CPU and 7-core GPU, and comes with 256GB of storage. You can double the memory to 16GB, or add as much as 2TB of SSD storage, though that massively bumps up the price; we’d suggest sticking with the stock setup, or putting that cash towards one of the more powerful M2 models instead.

You’re limited to just one screen size, but 13.3in is still plenty when it has a better-than-Full-HD resolution. Battery life 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. 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 17 hours • OS macOS • Connectivity Wi‑Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.0, 3.5mm, 2x Thunderbolt 3 • Dimensions 304×212×16mm • Weight 1.29kg

MacBook Air 13in (M2)

Thinner and lighter (who thought that was possible), yet with even more power. The M2 MacBook Air is rocking a new design, with 2nd-gen Apple silicon inside promising a 20-40% performance increase depending on what you want to do with it. The base model gets an 8-core CPU, 8-core GPU and 16-core Neural Engine; you can step up to version with a 10-core GPU if you want more graphics muscle.

The newer 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. 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 (right now).

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 14in (M3/ M3 Pro/M3 Max)

Apple MacBook Pro 14in M3 best macbooks feature

One half of the two-pronged MacBook Pro refresh that shipped in November 2023, the 14in MacBook Pro is the smaller, more portable offering that won’t take up quite so much room in a backpack. With its arrival, the 13in MacBook Pro was officially retired, and the controversial Touch Bar with it. Crucially this generation also saw new M3, M3 Pro and M3 Max processors.

On the outside, the biggest change is the new Space Black colour, which is meant to be a lot more fingerprint resistant thanks to changes in the anodisation process. It’s only available if you go for the pricier M3 Pro model, though; stick with the base M3 chip and you’ll be limited to Space Grey and Silver colours. That model also drops down to two Thunderbolt 4/USB-C ports; the M3 Pro gains a third. There’s MagSafe charging, ensuring an accidental tug on the power cable won’t result in a destroyed laptop, a full-size HDMI port and SDXC card reader adorn the sides, and there’s even a headphone socket.

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 keyboard is a pleasure to type on, and the touchpad is expansive.

The entry-level model, which has an M3 processor with 8 CPU cores and 10 GPU cores, paired with 8GB of RAM and 512GB of storage, feels like a merely mild step up from the M2-powered MacBook Air. It’s the M3 Pro and its 11-core CPU, 14-core GPU and 18GB of unified memory where performance really kicks up a gear, or you can go for the beastly M3 Max and its 14-core CPU, 30-core GPU and 36GB of unified memory if you demand peak power. 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 M3/M3 Pro/M3 Max • RAM 8-128GB (unified) • Storage 512GB-8TB SSD • Battery up to 22 hours • OS macOS • Connectivity Wi‑Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.0, 3.5mm, 2x/3x Thunderbolt 4, MagSafe 3, HDMI, SDXC • Dimensions 313x221x16mm • Weight 1.6kg

MacBook Air 15in (M2)

Apple Macbook Air 15in display

What’s surprising about the 15in MacBook air isn’t its svelte dimensions, gorgeous screen or potent M2 processor – it’s that Apple has never sold a big-screen ultraportable before. It inherits the same up-to-date design as the 13in Air, but squeezes in a much larger 15.3in LED display into a chassis that’s only 4cm longer and just over 2cm deeper.

Battery life isn’t all that different from the 13in Air, despite the larger screen, and you have similar upgrade options if you fancy bumping the RAM and SSD storage up as far as they’ll go. MagSafe charging is on-board, along with a 1080p webcam that lives in a notch.

Why you’d want it: For big-screen working in a package that’s still perfectly portable. The 15in MacBook Air has more than enough power for moderately demanding desktop work, and it absolutely looks the part. The 13in model remains our top pick, but this should be first choice for those wanting more display real estate.

Tech specs: Screen 15.3in 2880×1864 LED • Processor Apple M2 • RAM 8-24GB • Storage 256GB-2TB SSD • Battery up to 18 hours • OS macOS • Connectivity Wi‑Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.0, 3.5mm, 2x Thunderbolt 4, MagSafe 3 • Dimensions 340×238×11.5mm • Weight 1.51kg

MacBook Pro 16in (M3 Pro/M3 Max)

Apple MacBook Pro 16in M3 best macbooks feature

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, the combination of this screen with an M3 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 M3 Max CPU, 128GB 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 M3 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 M3 pro/ M3 Max • RAM 18-128GB • Storage 512GB-8TB SSD • Battery up to 22 hours • OS macOS • Connectivity Wi‑Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.0, 3.5mm, 3x Thunderbolt 4, MagSafe 3, HDMI, SDXC • Dimensions 356x248x17mm • Weight 2.2kg

Related: What’s next for Mac? MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, Mac Mini, iMac and Mac Pro rumours

Profile image of Tom Morgan-Freelander Tom Morgan-Freelander Deputy Editor


A tech addict from about the age of three (seriously, he's got the VHS tapes to prove it), Tom's been writing about gadgets, games and everything in between for the past decade, with a slight diversion into the world of automotive in between. As Deputy Editor, Tom keeps the website ticking along, jam-packed with the hottest gadget news and reviews.  When he's not on the road attending launch events, you can usually find him scouring the web for the latest news, to feed Stuff readers' insatiable appetite for tech.

Areas of expertise

Smartphones/tablets/computing, cameras, home cinema, automotive, virtual reality, gaming

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