M2 MacBook Pro vs MacBook Air: Which one is right for you?

M2 MacBook Pro vs MacBook Air

Apple’s latest home-grown M2 chip promises a 40 percent performance increase over the M1 but you’ll only find it in the 13-inch MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro. Question is, should you go for the sleek and fresh design of the M2 Air or will you need that extra bit of promised performance on the actively-cooled 13-inch Pro?

We’ve spent more than a month with both models, and while they might seem very similar, they do have a few important differences beyond design and performance. Here’s what you need to know. 

Update 18 January 2023: Apple recently announced the 2023 MacBook models with new M2 Pro and M2 Max chips, giving you even more options to choose from, particularly if you want a larger display.

The M2 MacBook Air comes with a fresh redesign that is both thinner and lighter than the MacBook Pro

Design and display 

The M2 Pro comes with the same basic design we’ve had since 2016, with chunky bezels and a Touch Bar display. The M2 Air reduces the bezels and increases the screen size to 13.6-inches versus the Air’s 13.3-inches, while the much maligned Touch Bar has been axed in favour of a traditional row of function keys.  

Despite having a slightly larger screen, the M2 Air looks and feels noticeably lighter and thinner in the hand, while the new midnight blue colourway complements the design well. The Air’s display is marred somewhat by an iPhone-esque black notch that houses a slightly more powerful 1080p webcam.

The resolution bump doesn’t make a night and day difference to image quality but I did find video calls to be a little less noisy in appearance than the Pro’s 720p webcam. The M2 Air’s webcam also supports Center Stage, which enables the camera to digitally zoom and pan to keep you in the frame as you move around. 

Outside of the slightly larger display and the camera notch, the LCD screens on both machines are identical. This means that you get a bright and vibrant 500 nit display that is well calibrated out of the box and support wide colour (P3) gamut, true-tone as well support for HDR. You really have to step up to the mini-LED display of the 14-inch MacBook Pro for a for a more substantial jump in visual quality.

The M2 MacBook Pro uses the same design as in previous years complete with chunky bezels

Speakers and microphone 

Both the M2 Air and Pro sound great but the M2 Air has a slightly upgraded four speaker sound system over the stereo setup on the Pro. However, in practice, I found the stereo speakers on the Pro sounded slightly better overall with the ability to hit louder volumes and deliver a bit more bass. 

Similarly, Apple claims that the three-mic array on the Pro is ‘studio-quality’ but the differences were difficult to discern on regular video calls, with people on the other side of the line noting that my voice sounded the same with both machines doing a good job of blocking unwanted background noise. 

Ports and connectivity 

After a long absence, Apple’s proprietary magnetic charging port, MagSafe, makes a return on the M2 Air, however, this is missing on the Pro. This means that you still have full use of the two USB-C ports for other accessories and connections while charging. Otherwise, the port selection is identical with two USB-C ports and a headphone jack. 

Battery life

Both machines are endurance champs, delivering a little over 10 hours of actual real world use before needing a charge. I was able to get an hour more with the Pro but either machine should comfortably get you through a full work day.

Note that my use case typically involves having 15+ browser tabs open, editing Microsoft Office documents, some video calling using Zoom and Skype as well as a bit of light photo editing. If you stick to using Safari as your web browser instead of Google Chrome and do more video streaming than browsing, you should see even better battery life. 

The M2 MacBook Pro also comes with a beefier 67-watt charger that tops up the battery much faster than the 30-watt power brick that Apple includes with the base M2 Air. 

MagSafe makes a welcome return on the M2 Air but the M2 Pro misses out

Performance 

The 13-inch Air and Pro have the same M2 processor and can be configured with up to 24GB of memory and 2TB of storage. The base model of the Air comes with an 8-core GPU while the M2 MacBook Pro gives you 10-cores out of the gate, netting it a 12-15% jump in GPU performance. Stepping up to the 512GB model of the M2 Air puts it on par with the Pro. 

However, the Pro uses a fan for cooling, giving both CPU and GPU better sustained performance when running heavy workloads. The fan on the Pro is surprisingly quiet too. Meanwhile, the M2 Air doesn’t have a fan, making it completely silent but also throttles performance earlier and gets noticeably warmer than the Pro under sustained load. 

This bore out in my testing where short run synthetic benchmarks were almost identical such as in GeekBench 5 where the single-core and multi-core of the Pro hit 1930 and 8948 respectively versus the Air’s scores of 1920 and 8928. 

But it’s when running long-run benchmarks that gives us the clearest picture of the Pro’s performance advantage over the Air.

In CineBench’s R23 10 minute test, the Pro delivered a multi-core score of 8729 – a score that it was able to sustain running the test for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, the Air notched up a lower initial score of 8190 in the short run test, 7653 after 10 mins and 7370 after 30mins, amounting to a 10% drop in sustained speeds. 

In actual real world workloads, performance was varied. For example, doing a RAW photo export in Adobe Lightroom yielded identical export times while transcoding a 4K video clip in Handbrake took a minute less on the M2 Pro. On the gaming front, titles like Shadow of the Tomb Raider delivered 20 percent faster frame rates on the M2 Pro.

Keep in mind that most everyday tasks that people use their laptops for are single-core so you won’t notice a difference with things like web browsing, video streaming, video conferencing, email and editing documents and spreadsheets. 

If on the other hand your workflow consists of more demanding applications such as editing video, working with motion graphics, 3D or visual effects then that’s where you will benefit from the improved sustained performance of the M2 Pro.  However, if you have the budget then you should really be looking at the 14-inch MacBook Pro, which comes with a more powerful M1 Pro chip and offers substantially better performance in heavier programs as well as a much more useful port selection.  

There was next to no difference in read or write speeds of the SSD drives with both models handing in more than 3,000MB/s in read and write speeds. However, it’s worth noting that there is a considerable difference in read and write speeds with the 256GB hard drives on the base model Air and Pro which have 50% slower read and write speeds. So, if you’re regularly moving around large files, go with the 512GB models as a starting point. 

Apple’s M2 chip is powerful and extremely battery efficient but you get a bit more of both on the Pro

Price 

The M2 Pro starts at $1,999, making it $100 more expensive than the M2 Air. The base model Air also comes with a GPU that’s at least 12% slower, thanks to the lower core count of the GPU. 

However, in our view, 256GB of internal storage for a laptop will be too limited for most people and our recommendation for both the Air and Pro is to consider 512GB, which will also avoid the considerably slower drive speeds in the base models. 

At 512GB, the price difference between the Air and the Pro is just $50 and it also puts the Air’s GPU on par with the Pro. 

GadgetGuy’s Take

With a stayed design and modest boost in sustained performance, the M2 MacBook Pro sits awkwardly between the fresh feeling M2 MacBook Air and the brawnier 14-inch MacBook Pro. The M2 MacBook Air is the laptop that most people should buy while the 14-inch MacBook Pro should be your first port of call if your workflow consists of sustained processing tasks such as intensive video editing, coding, 3D design, etc.

Apple 2022 MacBook Pro Laptop with M2 chip: 13-inch Retina Display, 8GB RAM, 256GB ​​​​​​​SSD ​​​​​​​Storage, Touch Bar, FaceTime HD Camera. Works with iPhone and iPad; Space Grey ​​​​​​​
Apple 2022 MacBook Air Laptop with M2 chip: 13.6-inch Liquid Retina Display, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD Storage, Backlit Keyboard, 1080p FaceTime HD Camera. Works with iPhone and iPad; Midnight
Apple 2022 MacBook Pro Laptop with M2 chip: 13-inch Retina Display, 8GB RAM, 256GB ​​​​​​​SSD ​​​​​​​Storage, Touch Bar, FaceTime HD Camera. Works with iPhone and iPad; Space Grey ​​​​​​​
Apple 2022 MacBook Air Laptop with M2 chip: 13.6-inch Liquid Retina Display, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD Storage, Backlit Keyboard, 1080p FaceTime HD Camera. Works with iPhone and iPad; Midnight
Price not available
$ 1,736.92
Apple 2022 MacBook Pro Laptop with M2 chip: 13-inch Retina Display, 8GB RAM, 256GB ​​​​​​​SSD ​​​​​​​Storage, Touch Bar, FaceTime HD Camera. Works with iPhone and iPad; Space Grey ​​​​​​​
Apple 2022 MacBook Pro Laptop with M2 chip: 13-inch Retina Display, 8GB RAM, 256GB ​​​​​​​SSD ​​​​​​​Storage, Touch Bar, FaceTime HD Camera. Works with iPhone and iPad; Space Grey ​​​​​​​
Price not available
Apple 2022 MacBook Air Laptop with M2 chip: 13.6-inch Liquid Retina Display, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD Storage, Backlit Keyboard, 1080p FaceTime HD Camera. Works with iPhone and iPad; Midnight
Apple 2022 MacBook Air Laptop with M2 chip: 13.6-inch Liquid Retina Display, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD Storage, Backlit Keyboard, 1080p FaceTime HD Camera. Works with iPhone and iPad; Midnight
$ 1,736.92

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