The new MacBook Air M1 makes the MacBook Pro look irrelevant

Apple MacBook Air 2020
(Image credit: Apple)

Let's say you’re willing to take a gamble and enter the brand new world of Apple Silicon with its M1 chip. You have two MacBooks from which to choose: the new MacBook Air and the new $1,299 MacBook Pro 13-inch.

Both laptops sport Apple's powerful new M1 chip, which promises to blow away the best laptops running Windows. So why would you pay $300 more for the MacBook Pro? While there are some notable differences between these two Apple Silicon Macs that I'll get into below, they're not enough to justify the premium. 

New MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro: Specs

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Header Cell - Column 0 MacBook Air13-inch MacBook Pro
Starting price$999 $1299
Screen13.3 inches (2560 x 1600), 400 nits13.3 inches (2560 x 1600), 500 nits
Battery life15 hours web/18 hours video17 hours web/20 hours video
ProcessorApple M1 (8-core CPU, 16-core Neural Engine)Apple M1 (8-core CPU, 16-core Neural Engine) | Intel 10th Gen Core i5 and i7
Graphics7-core GPU (8-core optiona)8-core GPU
Storage256GB to 2TB256GB to 4TB
Memory8GB, 16GB8GB, 16GB
Thunderbolt 3 USB-C ports22
Touch BarNoYes
SecurityTouch IDTouch ID
AudioStereo speakers, 3-mic arrayStereo speakers with Dolby Atmos, Studio quality 3-mic array
Dimensions12 x 8.4 x 0.6 inches12 x 8.4 x 0.6 inches
Weight2.8 pounds3.0 pounds

New MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro design

Apple Event

(Image credit: Apple)

The new MacBook Air is sleeker and lighter than the MacBook Pro, weighing in at 2.8 pounds and measuring 0.16 inches to 0.63 inches thick. The MacBook Pro is a heftier 3 pounds and is 0.61 inches thick all the way around. 

Sure, the MacBook Pro benefits from having a Touch Bar display, which can come in handy for shortcuts, but I don't see that as a real advantage. 

New MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro performance

Apple Event

(Image credit: Apple)

The new MacBook Air has the same powerful M1 chip as the MacBook Pro. And that means you get the same 4 high-powered cores along with 4 high-efficiency cores for balancing heavy workloads with lighter tasks.

However, while the MacBook Air has a 7-core GPU, the MacBook Pro bumps that up to 8 cores. That doesn't seem like a big difference to me.

It is worth noting that the MacBook Pro has an active cooling system while the Air is fanless, so the Pro may be able to deliver better sustained performance under heavy load. 

The other specs are quite similar. You start with 8GB of universal memory (RAM) for the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro and both go up to 16GB. And the starting storage is 256GB for both models, going all the way up to 2TB.

New MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro display and speakers

MacBook Air vs Pro - Apple Silicon

(Image credit: Apple)

The MacBook Pro does have a distinct advantage when it comes its display, as its rated for 500 nits of brightness to 400 nits for the MacBook Air. The Air also now supports the P3 wide color gamut and both systems have True Tone support.

If you really care about audio quality, the MacBook Pro features stereo speakers with high dynamic range and wide stereo sound, as well as support for Dolby Atmos. Plus, you get three studio-quality mics.

The MacBook Air also has stereo speakers and three mics, but it doesn't offer the same level of quality as the Pro. 

New MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro battery life

This is probably the biggest difference between these two laptops. The MacBook Air is rated for up to 18 hours of battery life when streaming video, compared to 20 hours for the MacBook Pro. And while the Air can go up to 15 hours surfing the web, the Pro can endure for 17 hours.

New MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro bottom line

While we don't know how well the new MacBook Air or MacBook Pro is going to handle older Intel apps yet, based on the specs and features I'd say the Air looks like a much better value. You get nearly the same exact performance in a thinner and lighter design for considerably less money.

While our benchmarking and reviews could change my mind, right now I would put my own money on the Air. 

Mark Spoonauer

Mark Spoonauer is the global editor in chief of Tom's Guide and has covered technology for over 20 years. In addition to overseeing the direction of Tom's Guide, Mark specializes in covering all things mobile, having reviewed dozens of smartphones and other gadgets. He has spoken at key industry events and appears regularly on TV to discuss the latest trends, including Cheddar, Fox Business and other outlets. Mark was previously editor in chief of Laptop Mag, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc. Follow him on Twitter at @mspoonauer.