Picking out a new MacBook isn’t as easy as it used to be. While Apple finally dropped the 13-inch MacBook Pro that didn’t match the line’s modern design, it introduced a new 14-inch MacBook Pro with an entry-level M3 processor. If you prefer a larger screen or more performance, you might be left considering two compelling options: the 15-inch MacBook Air and the 14-inch MacBook Pro.
Having reviewed and used both laptops extensively, I’m here to lay it all out for you. Here’s the difference between the two machines and how to easily determine which is right for you.
I promised you an easy way to know which MacBook you should buy, and it really comes down to answering just one question: what do you want to do with your new MacBook? If you’re someone who spends more than half your day in front of Premiere, Final Cut, Pro Tools, or Lightroom, don’t mess around with the 15-inch MacBook Air. It’s fanless, and it just can’t power through tasks as fast as you’ll want it to. The MacBook Pro 14 with the M3 processor will be faster, but whether it’s fast enough for creative workflows remains to be seen. What I know for sure is that the M3 Pro and M3 Max processors available in the MacBook Pro 14 will provide the performance that demanding creators require — and then some.
If you like to use some of those applications on occasion but spend the majority of your time in a browser or in Word — the 15-inch MacBook Air is the better option. It’s cheaper, thinner, and lighter, while still providing a quality display, speakers, webcam, and keyboard.
My only caveat is that if you’re someone who requires connecting two or more displays with your MacBook, the 15-inch MacBook Air likely isn’t a good option. The same goes for the MacBook Pro 14 with the M3 (non-Pro and non-Max) CPU. Both only support one external monitor natively, and though you can get around that limitation, it’ll require some finagling.
If you don’t have a clear-cut answer from that alone, dive into the detailed comparison below for more hands-on information from our own testing.
|Apple MacBook Air 15
|Apple MacBook Pro 14
|13.40 inches x 9.35 inches by 0.45 inches
|12.31 inches x 8.71 inches x 0.60 inches
|Apple M2 (8 cores)
|Apple M3 (8-core)
Apple M3 Pro (11-core, 12-core)
Apple M2 Max (14-core, 16-core)
M3 Pro: 14-core, 18-core
M3 Max: 30-core, 40-core
|M3: 8GB to 24GB
M3 Pro: 18GB to 128GB
M3 Max: 36GB to 128GB
|15.3-inch 16:10 Liquid Retina IPS 2880 x 1864
|14.2-inch 16:10 Liquid Retina XDR 3024 x 1964
|2 x USB-C with Thunderbolt 4
1 x 3.5mm audio jack
|3 x USB-C with Thunderbolt 4
1 x HDMI 2.0
1 x 3.5mm audio jack
SD card reader
|Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.3
|Wi-Fi 6E and Bluetooth 5.3
Price is a key distinguisher between these two laptops, and the 15-inch MacBook Air is cheaper. It starts at $1,299 and comes with an 8-core CPU/10-core GPU M2 processor. You also get 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD at that price. Of course, you can configure it up to $2,400 with 24GB of RAM and a 2TB SSD.
The starting price of the 14-inch MacBook Pro with the M3 processor is $1,599 with 8GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD. The base M3 Pro model remains at $1,999, but RAM is up to 18GB (from 16GB) and the storage remains at 512GB. Interestingly, if you fully configure the MacBook Pro 14 M3 with 24GB of RAM and a 2TB SSD, you’ll spend $2,599. That’s just $100 more than the MacBook Air 15. With the base MacBook Pro 14 now only $300 more expensive, the decision becomes more complicated.
On the other hand, the Macbook Pro 14 with the M3 Pro starts at $1,999 with 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD. Fully upgraded, the M3 Max version costs a whopping $6,899 with 128GB of RAM and an 8TB SSD. But if you’re looking to spend that kind of money, you’re a professional creator and the MacBook Air 15 won’t suffice.
Keep in mind that the MacBook Pro 14 will get you a much better display and slightly better audio to go with better performance until the MacBook Air 15 gets the M3 processor. It’s complicated, but keep all that in mind as we explore further explore each aspect of these laptops.
The MacBook Air 15-inch uses the same design as the 13-inch MacBook Air. It’s not dissimilar to the 14-inch MacBook Pro, but the design deviates in a few important ways. The most important difference is in size. An inch difference in screen size doesn’t sound like a lot, but the 15-inch MacBook Air also has slightly thicker bezels, adding even more to the overall footprint of the device. When you put these laptops side by side, the 15-inch MacBook Air takes up more space on the table. The width is the most dramatic dimension, giving you what feels like a lot more screen real estate to work with. That really is the primary selling point of the 15-inch MacBook Air, and should be the reason you’re choosing it.
Thickness and weight are the other main points of difference in terms of size. The MacBook Air 15-inch is just 0.45 inches compared to the 0.6 inches of the MacBook Pro 14-inch. The MacBook Air really is the thinnest 15-inch laptop you can buy right now — and it really does look sleek next to the MacBook Pro. The two laptops are closer in weight, though the MacBook Air is still lighter at 3.3 pounds compared to the 3.5 pounds of the MacBook Pro.
From a design perspective, the other differences include the keyboard, which doesn’t have the killer black backdrop like the MacBook Pro. It also doesn’t have the on-deck speaker grille cutouts.
Lastly, you also get some more color options with the MacBook Air, including Starlight, Midnight, Silver, and Space Grey. The MacBook Pro is limited to just Silver and Space Grey.
The MacBook Air 15 has less connectivity than the MacBook Pro 14, with just two Thunderbolt 4 ports and an audio jack (like the MacBook Air 13-inch). The MacBook Pro 14 M3 comes with just two Thunderbolt 4 ports as well, but it adds in an HDMI port and a full-sized SD card reader. The M3 Pro and Max models come with three Thunderbolt 4 ports. That makes the MacBook Pro 14 a lot more expandable. Both utilize MagSafe 3 chargers, though, saving a Thunderbolt 4 port for external use. The Apple website lists Wi-Fi 6 for the MacBook Air 15 rather than the newer Wi-Fi 6E that’s listed for the MacBook Pro 14, and both have Bluetooth 5.3 support.
Because the MacBook Air uses the base M2 CPU, it’s limited to just one external display with up to 6K resolution at 60Hz. Again, that’s the same with the MacBook Pro 14 M3. The MacBook Pro 14 with the M3 Pro and Max can handle two external displays, one at 6K/60Hz over Thunderbolt 4 ports and one 6K/60Hz combined with a 4K resolution at 144Hz if the HDMI port is used for the second display. The faster models can handle also up to four external displays, three at 6K/60Hz via Thunderbolt 4 and one at 4K/144Hz over HDMI. If you limit it to three displays, the HDMI port can drive a monitor at up to 4K/240Hz.
The MacBook Pro 14 Pro or Max is the laptop for you if you need more than just a single external display.
We haven’t benchmarked the base M3 processor yet, but we’re sure it will provide slightly better performance than the M2 in the 15-inch MacBook Air. Most likely, performance will be close enough in most tasks that use just a single CPU core that it won’t sway your decision one way or another.
But when it comes to applications that can benefit from additional CPU and GPU cores, there are some massive differences in terms of performance because the MacBook Air is limited to just the standard M2, with 8 CPU cores and 10 GPU cores.
The 14-inch MacBook Pro, on the other hand, can be configured up to the M3 Max with 16 CPU cores and 40 GPU cores. As you can see below, that gives a huge boost to video encoding and exporting. It should be noted, however, that the scores you’re seeing are for the most powerful version of the 14-inch MacBook Pro. The $1,599 base configuration uses an 8-core CPU/10-core GPU M3 processor that will give you much less to work with.
|MacBook Air 15 M2
|2606 / 10024
|1596 / 8020
|MacBook Pro 14 M3
(M3 Max 16/40)
Both laptops have incredible battery life. It’s amazing, but the extra performance of the 14-inch MacBook Pro doesn’t mean you have to give up battery life. According to our own testing, the two machines are right in line, providing up to 18 hours of battery life. Obviously, you’re more likely to run heavier applications on the MacBook Pro 14-inch, which will more quickly drain the battery.
But if you’re new to Apple Silicon MacBooks, you’ll be shocked by how long these laptops last.
Another MacBook Pro 14 advantage is its 14.2-inch mini-LED Liquid Retina display running at 3024 x 1924 (254 PPI) resolution, which provides superior sharpness, brightness, color, and contrast compared to the standard IPS Liquid Retina display on the MacBook Air line. This includes the MacBook Air 15, which has a 15.3-inch IPS Liquid Retina display at 2880 x 1864 (228 PPI).
Both displays should offer similar colors, in terms of both gamut and accuracy. But the Mini-LED panel on the MacBook Pro 14 will get much brighter, especially for high dynamic range (HDR) content where it can approach 1,600 nits. It also has incredibly deep contrast providing inky blacks.
The MacBook Air 15’s display is also excellent, but the MacBook Pro 14 provides a truly premium experience, especially with the addition of the 120Hz dynamic refresh rate.
|MacBook Air 15
|MacBook Pro 14
(DeltaE, lower is better)
Both laptops have six-speaker sound systems with force-canceling woofers. They support the same technologies as well, meaning that you’re likely to get the same excellent sound from both that’s among the best you can get in a modern laptop.
While the 15-inch MacBook Air is surprisingly competitive, the 14-inch MacBook Pro does offer more bass, providing a more robust sound profile. But really, both sound amazing.
With these two laptops, you can trust the branding distinction here. Leave the MacBook Pro for the creative professionals who depend on the extra performance to get their work done. Everyone else will be delighted by the experience of the 15-inch MacBook Air.
But if you’re leaving this entire comparison still unsure about what direction to head, let me offer one more bit of advice.
If you’re enticed about the extra performance of the 14-inch MacBook Pro but are bummed about the price, I’d recommend taking a look at prices for last-gen machines. There are refurbished versions floating around that are as cheap as the 15-inch MacBook Air but will provide far better performance. These laptops are identical in almost every way to the current-gen MacBook Pros, minus the boost you get from M1 to M3.
Aside from that, I’d recommend getting to an Apple Store to see the two machines side by side. The difference in screen size and overall dimensions might help you get a better idea of which you’d be more comfortable with.
Courtesy by: Digital Trends