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[Detailed comparison] Apple MacBook Air 13 vs MacBook Pro 13 (M1, Late 2020) – buying the Air is the right decision, unless you’re a Pro

Apple has been one of the most innovative tech companies in the world, always striving to push the boundaries further and further. No matter what form factor or what type of device we are talking about, Apple has made its unforgettable impact on it. The original iPhone paved the way for modern smartphones and every time Apple decides to implement new technology in their machines, all of a sudden it becomes mainstream and other manufacturers seem to follow.

Today we are here to follow one more innovation from Apple that already shook the world and is going to continue doing it. Of course, we are talking about the newest MacBooks that feature the M1 chip, which offers an insane amount of performance, and is a peek into the future. The two new MacBooks that come with it are the MacBook Pro 13 (Touch Bar, Late 2020) and the MacBook Air 13 (M1, Late 2020), which we will now compare in detail, so you can make the best decision for yourself, regarding which of these should be your new device.

Apple MacBook Air 13 (M1, Late 2020) – In-depth Review / Full Specs

Apple MacBook Pro 13 (Touch Bar, Late 2020) – In-depth Review / Full Specs

Apple MacBook Air 13 (M1, Late 2020) configurations:

Apple MacBook Pro 13 (Touch Bar, Late 2020) configurations:

Contents

Retail Package

Both devices come in a pretty and well-presented package. Inside you can find the laptops themselves, a USB Type-C cable, and the wall charger, which in the case of the MacBook Air is a 31W one, and in the MacBook Pro box you get a 61W fast charger. Oh and the mandatory paper manuals that we never read.

Apple MacBook Air 13 (M1, Late 2020)


Apple MacBook Pro 13 (Touch Bar, Late 2020)


Design and construction

MacBooks have always been known as solidly built devices and these two uphold this reputation. Both laptops feature a unibody made entirely out of aluminum. The MacBook Pro is stated to use “low-carbon aluminum” along with other recycled materials for its internals with 35% and more recycled plastics used in the components and 100% recycled tin in the solders. This makes the device quite eco-friendly and we hope more manufacturers implement similar tactics in their manufacturing process.

The lids on both MacBooks are easy to open with a single hand and overall the movement feels effortless. This is due to the hinges, which are well engineered and offer a smooth opening and closing experience. When you open the lid of the MacBook Air you are greeted by a pair of very thin bezels, which further enhance the modern look of the laptop. At the bottom, you find the name of the device, and the top houses the HD webcam with its LED, which is illuminated when an app is using the camera.

Moving over to the MacBook Pro, its bezels are quite thicker, both than the MacBook Air and by 2020 and 2021 standards. The name and camera are situated in the same place as on the Air, with the hardware difference that the Pro has the color enhancement and lighting correction software.

Apple MacBook Air 13 (M1, Late 2020)

Apple MacBook Pro 13 (Touch Bar, Late 2020)

HeightWeight
Apple MacBook Air 13 (M1, Late 2020)16.1 mm (0.63″)1.29 kg (2.8 lbs)
Apple MacBook Pro 13 (Touch Bar, Late 2020)15.6 mm (0.61″)1.40 kg (3.1 lbs)

Keyboard and Touchpad

Moving over to the base and the keyboards, the MacBook Air lacks the Touch Bar but still has the Touch ID, fingerprint reader. The keyboard itself is the same as the one on the Pro model with the same decently sized keycaps and shallow travel. Overall the keyboard offers a comfortable typing experience, with its clicky and satisfying feedback.

The same could be said about the TouchPad, which is one of the best that we have used. Both devices share the same unit and we can’t be more pleased with their accuracy and overall smoothness. Both of them support the usual macOS gestures. Its enormous size goes a long way in making it feel better than even some Bluetooth mice out there.

On the base, you could also take a look at the stereo speakers of both devices. They are places on both sides of the keyboard, which further improves the experience by having the sound be shot directly at you, and not on the surface that you have the laptop on.

Apple MacBook Air 13 (M1, Late 2020)

Apple MacBook Pro 13 (Touch Bar, Late 2020)

Cooling and I/O

Here is where the laptops differ quite a lot. To start with the more budget-oriented device, the MacBook Air uses a passive cooling solution, which eliminates the issue of noise and moving parts. Although it compromises the performance aspect somewhat, the chip doesn’t get hot enough for general use and thermal throttling only occurs when there is a prolonged resource-heavy activity. The I/O, as with any Apple device is scarce, to say the least, with only two Thunderbolt 3 ports and a 3.5mm audio being present. This goes without saying but dongles will be mandatory.

The cooling solution in the MacBook Pro is akin to more laptops, in the fact that it uses a fan and a ventilation opening on the back of the device. The I/O here is also very limited, in fact, we have the same two Thunderbolt 3 ports and the audio jack. While this may have been excusable on the MacBook Air, this being a Pro model just doesn’t cut it.

Apple MacBook Air 13 (M1, Late 2020)

Apple MacBook Pro 13 (Touch Bar, Late 2020)

Specs Sheet

Apple MacBook Air 13 (Late 2020) series

  • Dimensions
  • 304.1 x 212.4 x 4.1 ~ 16.1 mm (11.97" x 8.36" x 0.16")
  • Weight
  • 1.29 kg (2.8 lbs)
  • Price
  • Starting at $799.00

Apple MacBook Pro 13 (Touch Bar / Late 2020) series

  • Dimensions
  • 304.1 x 212.4 x 15.6 mm (11.97" x 8.36" x 0.61")
  • Weight
  • 1.40 kg (3.1 lbs)
  • Price
  • Starting at $1268.94

Display quality

Both MacBooks share the nearly identical 13.3-inch QHD IPS panel. The aspect ratio is 16:10 ad the pixel density is 227 PPI with a pitch of 0.11 x 0.11 mm. The screens can be considered Retina when viewed from at least 38cm (from this distance, the average human eye can’t see the individual pixels).

Both panels have great viewing angles. Below we have provided images at 45° to evaluate quality.

Apple MacBook Air 13 (M1, Late 2020)

Apple MacBook Pro 13 (Touch Bar, Late 2020)

Both panels have a True Tone option which changes the screen according to the ambient light conditions and the luminance levels.

For the display brightness, the panels differ, with the MacBook Air having a slightly higher Correlated Color Temperature on a white screen and at maximum brightness of 7160K, which is 10K more than the MacBook Pro. The highest maximum brightness on the MacBook Air is lower than the one on the Pro, with the difference being around 70-90 nits. The maximum deviation on the MacBook Air is 11% and on the MacBook Pro, it’s 8%. The contrast ratio is also great on both devices (910:1 on the Air and 1720:1 on the Pro).

Apple MacBook Air 13 (M1, Late 2020)

Apple MacBook Pro 13 (Touch Bar, Late 2020)

Color coverage

To make sure we are on the same page, we would like to give you a little introduction to the sRGB color gamut and the Adobe RGB. To start, there’s the CIE 1976 Uniform Chromaticity Diagram that represents the visible specter of colors by the human eye, giving you a better perception of the color gamut coverage and the color accuracy.

Inside the black triangle, you will see the standard color gamut (sRGB) that is being used by millions of people on HDTV and the web. As for the Adobe RGB, this is used in professional cameras, monitors, etc for printing. Colors inside the black triangle are used by everyone and this is an essential part of the color quality and color accuracy of a mainstream device.

Still, we’ve included other color spaces like the famous DCI-P3 standard used by movie studios, as well as the digital UHD Rec.2020 standard. Rec.2020, however, is still a thing of the future and it’s difficult for today’s displays to cover that well. We’ve also included the so-called Michael Pointer gamut, or Pointer’s gamut, which represents the colors that naturally occur around us every day.

Below you can see the results from our color coverage tests for both the MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro, with both panels covering the DCI-P3 color gamut completely.

Apple MacBook Air 13 (M1, Late 2020)

Apple MacBook Pro 13 (Touch Bar, Late 2020)

Color accuracy

Our “Design and Gaming” profile delivers optimal color temperature (6500K) at 140 cd/m2 luminance and sRGB gamma mode.

We tested the accuracy of the display with 24 commonly used colors like light and dark human skin, blue sky, green grass, orange, etc. Below you can compare the scores of the Apple MacBook Air (Late 2020) and the Apple MacBook Pro (Late 2020) compared to the sRGB standard.

Apple MacBook Air 13 (M1, Late 2020)
Apple MacBook Pro 13 (Touch Bar, Late 2020)

Response time (Gaming capabilities)

We have a separate test for latency which shows how fas the pixels can react to the usual “black-to-white” and “white-to-black” method from 10% to 90% and vice versa.

We recorded a Fall Time + Rise Time = 32ms on the MacBook Air, which is overall slow, but it is faster than the 37ms Fall and Rise time on the MacBook Pro.

Apple MacBook Air 13 (M1, Late 2020)
Apple MacBook Pro 13 (Touch Bar, Late 2020)

Health impact – PMW / Blue light

PWM (Screen flickering)

Pulse-width modulation (PWM) is an easy way to control monitor brightness. When you lower the brightness, the light intensity of the backlight is not lowered, but instead turned off and on by the electronics with a frequency indistinguishable to the human eye. In these light impulses, the light/no-light time ratio varies, while brightness remains unchanged, which is harmful to your eyes. You can read more about that in our dedicated article on PWM.

Both the MacBook Air (Late 2020) and the MacBook Pro (Late 2020)’s displays don’t use PWM to adjust their brightness, making them comfortable and more importantly – safe for prolonged use.

Apple MacBook Air 13 (M1, Late 2020)
Apple MacBook Pro 13 (Touch Bar, Late 2020)

Conclusion

Both 13.3-inch IPS panels have a wide color coverage and great color accuracy, high resolution, considering the size, comfortable viewing angles, and high maximum brightness. However, the MacBook Pro has some display qualities that are better than the one on the Air, thus making it the device with the better display. That said, the MacBook Air already has a fantastic screen, and 99% of the time you won’t notice the difference.

Sound

Both devices have a similar stereo speaker setup that produces clear and high-quality audio. They are plenty loud and in our tests, both setups showed no deviations across the entire frequency range.

Apple MacBook Air 13 (M1, Late 2020)
Apple MacBook Pro 13 (Touch Bar, Late 2020)

Software

Both the MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro come with the new macOS Big Sir. As is the norm today, all updates are done automatically and you have the option to configure when and how the updates are implemented on your laptop. The real star of the show, however, is definitely the Rosetta 2 translation software, which translates code in real-time, allowing you to run x86 apps on your ARM-powered device. This makes transitioning to an M1 MacBook much easier since you can run almost all Intel-based apps from the get-go.

Battery

Now, we conduct the battery tests with screen brightness adjusted to 120 nits and all other programs turned off except for the one we are testing the notebook with. The MacBook Air has a battery with a size of 49.9Wh that was able to last through 24 hours and 20 minutes of Web browsing, 13 hours and 20 minutes of video playback, and 4 hours and 13 minutes of continuous video rendering.

On the flip side, the MacBook Pro has a bigger 58.2Wh battery, which endured 18 hours and 53 minutes of Web browsing, 15 hours and 25 minutes of video playback, and 3 hours and 14 minutes of continuous video rendering.

In order to simulate real-life conditions, we used our own script for automatic web browsing through over 70 websites.

For every test like this, we use the same video in HD.

We use F1 2017’s built-in benchmark on loop in order to simulate real-life gaming.

CPU and GPU performance – Apple M1

Both devices use the newly created Apple M1 SoC, which combines every essential component that the device needs to have, to be able to run. This reminds us a lot of smartphone chips since they use the same big.LITTLE architecture from ARM. As smartphones have become more and more powerful, tech enthusiasts were wondering: “What could happen if these chips were able to be released from the low powered shackles that are smartphones?” Now Apple has done exactly that by removing the TDP restraints that smartphones usually place upon ARM SoCs and placing them inside their brand new MacBooks and the MacMini, of course.

As the M1 is an SoC, it has all of the necessary components in one place. This includes the CPU, GPU, all of the connectivity chips, the Unified Memory Architecture, which includes all of the RAM and VRAM plus the processor cache.

Shoving them all in one place reduces the distance that the signals have to travel, making the transfer of data and information insanely fast. In the M1 you can also find a dedicated Neural Engine, which tackles AI and machine learning, the image processor, and the Secure Enclave, as well as the USB controllers.

The M1 SoC uses the big.LITTLE architecture, which is the most popular way of making smartphone chips. The 8-core CPU is divided into two clusters with the name “Firestorm” and “Icestorm”. The Icestorm cores are very power efficient and are there to handle low resource tasks and background processes. The Firestorm cores kick in when increased performance is needed, such as when gaming or handling productivity work.

Below we have some results from our own benchmarks and some other results.

CPU Benchmarkssingle/multi Geekbench 5
Apple MacBook Air M11732/7574
Apple MacBook Pro 13 M11727/7564
Apple iPad Pro 11 20201118/4636

 

Cinebench R23
Apple M1 (Apple MacBook Air (Late 2020))7688
Apple M1 (Apple MacBook Pro 13 (Late 2020))7782

 

Results are from the Cinebench 20 CPU test (the higher the score, the better)

Moving over to the GPU, this is where the differences start to show. The MacBook Air has a 7-core GPU, while the more expensive Pro model has the full 8-core GPU. In addition to that, the MacBook Pro GPU has a higher clock speed.

GPU Benchmarks3DMark WildlifeGFXBench Manhattan 3.0 (1080p offscreen)GFXBench Manhattan 3.1 (1080p offscreen)GFXBench Aztec Ruins OpenGL (1080p offscreen)
Apple MacBook Air M117698404 fps273 fps214 fps
Apple MacBook Pro 13 M117752407 fps274 fps215 fps

Storage

The SSD storage here is plenty fast and below you can see the results from the Blackmagic Disk Test. The MacBook Air has faster write speeds and similar read speeds to the Pro model, which is weird since the Pro should be the better and faster device. However, you should know that with Apple, the larger SSDs are usually faster, and in our review units, the MacBook Air had the larger SSD so that should explain the speed difference.

Apple MacBook Air 13 (M1, Late 2020)
Apple MacBook Pro 13 (Touch Bar, Late 2020)

Gaming tests

Shadow of the Tomb Raider (2018)1920x1200p, Lowest (Check settings)1920x1200p, Medium (Check settings)1920x1200p, High (Check settings)
Apple M1 (MacBook Air)48 fps24 fps– fps
Apple M1 (MacBook Pro)49 fps24 fps– fps

As you can see from the tests above, both GPUs are practically identical, when it comes to gaming performance.

Temperatures and Comfort

Max CPU load

The results below clearly show that the MacBook Air is throttling due to its passive cooling solution, however, the temperatures only start to become a problem after a couple of minutes of Max load. The MacBook Pro excels in that regard with the active cooling system that it has.

CPU temp.

Apple M10:02 – 0:10 sec0:15 – 0:30 sec10:00 – 15:00 min
Apple MacBook Air (Late 2020)45°C56°C79°C
Apple MacBook Pro 13 (Late 2020)38°C48°C71°C

Stability

Apple M1First runMiddle runLast runAmount of runsScore
Apple MacBook Air (Late 2020)768868236660166905
Apple MacBook Pro 13 (Late 2020)759176597631187648

Comfort during full load

To no surprise, the MacBook Air remained dead silent even after extremely heavy workloads. The highest temperature that we recorded was 38.3°C. As for the MacBook Pro, while it has a fan, it doesn’t get that loud and still keeps the temperatures low, with the highest recorded temperature on it being 40.0°C exactly.

Apple MacBook Air 13 (M1, Late 2020)
Apple MacBook Pro 13 (Touch Bar, Late 2020)

Verdict

We want to preface this by saying that both devices are some of the best in their class and you will be happy with either of them. However, there are some advantages of going with the MacBook Air that we will discuss down below. Starting from the design and build quality, both laptops feature premium aluminum unibodies that are some of the sturdiest ones that we have had in our office. They are very solidly built and we noticed no flexes or creaks while using them. The weight and height of both machines make them very portable, with the MacBook Air being slightly less heavy (by 100 grams). The keyboards and touchpads on the MacBooks are pretty similar and have the same typing experience and accuracy. We will go as far as to say that the TouchPads are even better than some Bluetooth mice on the market.

The devices are fundamentally different when it comes to keeping the temperatures in check, with the MacBook Air using a passive cooling solution and the MacBook Air a classic one with a fan. The I/O on both laptops is scarce, to say the least, which might be excusable on the Air, but the Pro model just doesn’t cut it. Needless to say, you’ll need dongles and that’s that.

The displays on the machines are identical when it comes to size, resolution, and aspect ratio. Both of them also cover 100% of the DCI-P3 color gamut and have great color accuracy, making them ideal for color-sensitive work, such as e-commerce, design, and video editing. The MacBook Pro’s display, however, has a significantly higher maximum brightness and a better contrast ratio.

In terms of sound, both devices have nearly identical speaker setups, which produce a clear and loud sound. Also, our tests showed no deviations across the entire frequency range. The software included with the MacBooks is the new macOS Big Sir, which offers great features and is generally a very easy to use OS with automatic updates. The Rosetta 2 translation software makes it easy for the laptops to run x86 Intel-based apps on the ARM-based M1 chip.

Battery life is great on both devices, with the MacBook Air winning most of our battery benchmarks. The CPU and GPU performance is almost indistinguishable and you will have a great time with both laptops. Their results were very close, regardless of the software that we tested them with. This is due to the M1 chip being the same across the two MacBooks, with the sole difference being the one less GPU core and the overall lower GPU clock speeds on the MacBook Air that didn’t amount to much of a performance loss.

Finally, going over the temperatures and comfort, both laptops remained generally cool and within reasonable temperatures. When we ran the CPU stress test, however, the passive cooling on the MacBook Air quickly gave way and the chip started throttling, but that was after the device had already been running the test for a couple of minutes. As far as temperatures are concerned, on the outside, the Air remained cooler than the Pro model.

All in all, both laptops are fantastic pieces of technology that are amazing to use. However, in 90% of people, the Air is a more conscious choice since it can do all of the things that the Pro can, but comes at a cheaper price. Now, the Pro is still more powerful and the better laptop for prolonged heavy-resource tasks, due to its better cooling.

Apple MacBook Air 13 (M1, Late 2020) – In-depth Review / Full Specs

Apple MacBook Pro 13 (Touch Bar, Late 2020) – In-depth Review / Full Specs

All Apple MacBook Air 13 (M1, Late 2020) configurations:

All Apple MacBook Pro 13 (Touch Bar, Late 2020) configurations: