Confused about what MacBook you should buy? Fear not — we have all the info you need right here.
In July 2019, Apple killed off the 12-inch MacBook for good and brought the Touch Bar to all its 13-inch MacBook Pro models, essentially slashing the number of MacBook variants down from six to four. But with the MacBook Air completely redesigned and the MacBook Pro offering some tempting options, it’s harder than ever to know which MacBook is right for you. Meanwhile, the laptop market is swimming in solid competition. This guide should help you sift through the sea of similar-looking Macs to find the gems.
Interested in other laptops too? We have a guide to the best laptops (including our favorite MacBook) as well.
Here are the three models of MacBook currently available, counting different display sizes as distinct models.
- MacBook Air (2018)
- MacBook Pro 13-inch (with Touch Bar)
- MacBook Pro 15-inch (with Touch Bar)
That’s a pretty succinct selection compared to prolific brands like Dell or HP. Let’s run them down one by one.
The new MacBook Air
Apple refreshed the MacBook Air lineup in 2018 with a new $1,150 13-inch Retina model, which we now consider a strong candidate for a first-time Mac buyer. At 2.7 pounds and 0.16 to 0.61 inches in thickness, the new MacBook Air comes in a familiar thin and light design but outfitted with new gold, silver and space gray colors. It also picks up the same butterfly keyboard, USB-C ports, and larger trackpad as the MacBook Pro.
Apple even cut out the thick, silver borders from the new MacBook Air for a new edge-to-edge Retina display, which modernizes it a bit. It’s still not as thin and light as the 12-inch MacBook was, but it’s a bit slimmer than the MacBook Pro. The onboard Retina display also keeps the same resolution as the MacBook Pro, at 2,560 x 1,600, but in our testing it only goes up to 291 nits. That might not be that bright, but it still produces really accurate colors, which makes it a good choice for photographers and graphic designers.
On the inside, the new 2018 MacBook Air got a significant update, too. It comes with the newer eighth-generation 1.6GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 Y-series processor with Turbo Boost up to 3.6GHz. Though that’s not super fast and it is not quad-core, it still packs some decent processing power, especially for an entry-level Mac. When we tested it, the MacBook Air was good enough for watching videos, working in Photoshop, word processing, and web browsing — it even had the best battery life of any other MacBook. We couldn’t push it too far, though, and noticed some slowdowns when we had lots of tabs open while multi-tasking with multiple media apps at the same time.
Wondering about the 12-inch MacBook? You’re out of luck, as Apple killed it off in July 2019. While it was super portable, it seems Apple felt it was just too similar to the redesigned Air, which now takes its place as Apple’s most mobile laptop.
What if you’re thinking of going Pro?
The MacBook Pro is your best bet if you need serious power. In July 2019, Apple updated the 13-inch MacBook Pro, giving every model a Touch Bar and an eighth-generation Intel processor. Before that, in May 2019, Apple updated the rest of its Pro range to come with faster eighth- and ninth-generation Intel Core processors, meaning better performance and more bang for your buck. In addition, there’s now an option to kit your MacBook Pro out with an eight-core Intel Core i9 beast of a chip — the first time in this range of Apple’s notebooks, and a key differentiator from Apple’s more affordable options.
So, which MacBook Pro model should you choose? There are two main choices: 13-inch and 15-inch. Let’s start with the entry-level 13-inch Touch Bar model, which has had a serious upgrade. While in the past it lagged behind Apple’s other MacBook Pro models due to its 7th-gen dual-core Intel chip, that’s now had a hefty upgrade to an eighth-gen quad-core processor. That makes it much more capable, and even outdoes the high-end MacBook Air in a number of ways: it’s got a better chip, a better screen, more Thunderbolt 3 ports, and better graphics options, all for exactly the same price. Not bad!
The notable update to the entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro makes it a little harder to justify the more powerful 13-inch options. The entry-level device is now capable enough that if you want a proper boost in performance, you really need to start looking at the 15-inch models.
So, what’s on offer if you decide to go for the larger MacBook Pro? There are two options here, and both come with the Touch Bar, four Thunderbolt 3 ports and 16GB of memory. The main differences lie in the processors, storage and graphics chips. Both models were given updated processors in May 2019, letting you choose between a 2.6GHz six-core Core i7 and a 2.3GHz eight-core, Core i9. Elsewhere, you can configure the more expensive model with a 512GB SSD and a Vega graphics chip (either the Vega 16 or Vega 20). Starting at $2,399 and $2,799 respectively, there’s no doubting these MacBook Pro models are expensive, but they’re the ones to go for if you need true power.
And the winner is…
If you’re looking on the lower end of the spectrum, the entry-level MacBook Pro now gets our recommendation. You get more bang for your buck compared to the high-end MacBook Air, and its new quad-core processor will make a noticeable difference compared to its previous dual-core chip. While the entry-level MacBook Air is $200 cheaper, we’d recommend stretching for the Pro if you can afford it.
For more professional Mac fans, we recommend the 15-inch MacBook Pro. It’s the only option that has enough power to handle more intense applications and heavier workflows. Unless there’s a very specific feature that catches your eye, stay away from the others.
If you’re willing to wait for it, there are rumors of a redesigned, 16-inch MacBook Pro coming either later this year or in 2020. It could take the place of the 15-inch model, or could be something entirely new.