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M2 MacBook Air vs. M2 MacBook Pro 13: Which should you buy?

Apple unveiled its new M2 processor at WWDC this year, and along with it two new laptops. The first devices to get the M2 will be the newly redesigned MacBook Air and the 13-inch MacBook Pro.

Here’s where we will compare and contrast the two devices, showing their similarities and obvious differences to see which one is ultimately right for most people.

Design

Apple 13-inch Macbook Pro with M2 chip.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Design-wise, these two devices are noticeably different. The M2 MacBook Pro 13 has the same design it’s had since 2016, including the Touch Bar and some thick bezels.

Meanwhile, the M2 MacBook Air received a radical transformation, bringing it more in line with the design language of the latest iPhones, iPads, and larger MacBook Pros. That means a notch in the screen, yes, but also means an ultra-thin flat shape; full-sized function keys; and some very thin bezels.

It ditches the wedge shape of the previous Air for a more angular and industrial look, but it is still only 11.5mm thick, which is thinner than the M1 MacBook Air at its thickest point.

The MacBook Pro 13 is noticeably thicker than the new M2 MacBook Air. It’s still a remarkably thin laptop, but some of the added bulk comes from the Pro’s active cooling system. The M2 MacBook Air (like the one before it) has a passive cooling system, meaning it’s completely fanless.

While both still look great, the MacBook Air is the most appealing because of its slick new design and thin profile.

Display

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Second verse, same as the first. The M2 MacBook Pro 13 is in the same body, so that means the display is unchanged as well. It sports a 13.3-inch 2560×1600 display. Even being a bit older, this display still looks great and is one of the better displays in the high-end laptop market. The only real complaint about this display is the bezels, particularly at the top of the screen.

The new MacBook Air has it beat — albeit only slightly. Thanks to its new design, the bezels have been slimmed down significantly, giving the MacBook Air a 13.6-inch display (even though the form factor is near identical to the Pro).

The added size of the display gives the Air a 2560×1664 resolution, but the real story here is the Liquid Retina technology in the display. Liquid Retina bumps the M2 Air’s brightness to 500 nits (25% more than the M1 Air and the same as the 13-inch Pro). It also supports one billion colors in the P3 wide color gamut, which makes photos and video especially vibrant. The only real downside — if it bothers you — is the new notch in the display.

Neither displays match the fantastic XDR mini-LED display found in the 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pros.

All things considered, these are both high-quality displays, but the M2 MacBook Air wins thanks to the improved color range and slightly larger display size.

Cameras and speakers

Apple 13-inch Macbook Pro with M2 chip.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

As expected, the M2 MacBook Air has some notable upgrades over the M2 MacBook Pro when it comes to cameras and speakers. The Air has an improved 1080p webcam with better low-light performance. That’s a significant upgrade over the 720p webcam found on the M2 MacBook Pro and the last-generation M1 devices.

The webcam was one of the few weak points on the M1 laptops. Whether or not the 1080p webcam is better remains to be seen, as a lot of the issues come from Apple’s image processing. 1080p is better than 720p regardless, though.

The M2 also has better speakers. While both support Spatial Audio, the M2 MacBook Pro only has a stereo speaker setup, whereas the M2 MacBook Air has four speakers. The added speakers improve vocal clarity and sound separation, which will be all the more apparent when using Spatial Audio to play Dolby Atmos-supported content.

In terms of microphones, both use a three-mic array and will likely have very similar performance.

Ports

Magsafe charger M2 Macbook Air.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Ports are mostly the same story as the M1. Both devices have two USB4/Thunderbolt 4 ports on the left side and a 3.5mm jack on the right. The M2 MacBook Air edges out the M2 MacBook Pro, because the 3.5mm supports low-impedance headphones (for serious audiophiles).

Unfortunately, neither of these devices can support more than one additional external display.

The only difference? The M2 Air also has a MagSafe 3 charger, which is an excellent return to form that follows the 14-inch and 16-inch Pros from earlier this year. The addition of MagSafe frees up one of your USB-C ports.

Performance

Apple had a lot of bold claims about performance at WWDC. While Apple’s comparisons to Windows machines remain as dubious as ever, we can pretty much take the company’s claims between M1 and M2 as true. Apple is boasting that its M2 machines are 20% faster than the previous generation, with the GPU performance as much as 35% better. That’s a significant generation-to-generation leap, and it makes the new devices (particularly the MacBook Air) all the more enticing.

But which is better? Well, that’s the same story as last year too. The M2 MacBook Air has such a thin profile because it doesn’t have any fans to keep the processor cool. That means performance throttles as the chip warms up to keep temperatures down. The M2 MacBook Pro has a fan, and as such, can push the M2 a little further.

So, if you’re looking at performance, the M2 MacBook Pro will be a slightly better bet — even if Apple hasn’t been specific about exactly what that performance difference will be. Apple does, however, claim the M2 MacBook Pro will provide two extra hours of battery life over the MacBook Air, for a total of 20 hours of video playback.

Price and availability

The MacBook Air is getting a price bump this year. With the new and improved design, Apple has upped the price to $1,199, compared to $999 for the M1 MacBook Air.

The M2 MacBook Pro remains at the same price starting at $1,299. That smaller price difference may justify leaping to the M2 MacBook Pro for better performance, but you lose out on the improved screen, better keyboard, MagSafe power adapter, thinner chassis, and thinner bezels.

Both of these devices become available in July, but you can pre-order them on the Apple website now.

The M2 MacBook Air just makes sense

The M2 MacBook Air sitting on a desk.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

It may be a bit more expensive now, but the M2 MacBook Air is hands-down the better option between the two. Nearly everything about the device has been revamped and improved, and the M2 is just an added bonus. Some may not be the biggest fan of the notch, but that’s just the world we live in now.

Between the improved performance, (slightly) larger display, improved speakers, and MagSafe, the M2 MacBook Air has never been better.

The M2 MacBook Pro isn’t a terrible laptop, but its old chassis is really starting to show its age. Apple has abandoned the Touch Bar, which makes it an odd thing to include in 2022. Unfortunately, there’s very little reason to buy it over either of the available MacBook Airs.

Caleb Clark
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Caleb Clark is a full-time writer that primarily covers consumer tech and gaming. He also writes frequently on Medium about…
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