Despite there only being three model lines in the MacBook range (with their own sub-variants), picking the right model for your needs isn't always obvious. Do you go for power? Portability? Or both?
With this in mind, which MacBook should you get? Here's the easy answer to help you decide:
- Just need to do day-to-day emailing, browsing, and work? Pick the MacBook Air
- Need extra power, but keen to stick to a budget? The 13-inch MacBook Pro is best
- After as much power as possible, and a great screen? You'll love the 16-inch MacBook Pro
The Apple MacBook range has long since established itself as the perfect mix of style and power. With MacBook prices starting at $999, Apple's laptops aren't the cheapest, but they're an investment that can last you for many happy years. But which MacBook is best for you?
We look at the Apple MacBook lineup, and help you pick out the best Mac for your own needs and budget.
Which MacBook is the Best for You?
The three lineups in the MacBook range available today are the MacBook, MacBook Air and MacBook Pro. Each has its strengths, but rest assured that not one is a dud.
- MacBook Air (13-inch) – Best MacBook for everyday users: The cheapest MacBook available, the MacBook Air has just received a further price cut, and there's never been a better time to pick one up. With an 8th generation processor, it's a better value prospect than the (now much older) 12-inch MacBook. It might not have the raw power of the Pro, but for the average user it's a fantastic choice.
- MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2020) – Best for Pro users keeping to a sensible budget: The 13-inch MacBook Pro has all new specs for 2020, including a TouchBar and an improved keyboard. It doesn't quite have the specs (or size) of the top-end 16-inch MacBook Pro, but it's impressive all the same, and an ideal laptop for anyone who wants enough power for high-end tasks.
- MacBook Pro (16-inch) – Best for Designers: You're spending serious money at this point, in excess of $2,000. You won't be disappointed by the return on your investment. The top-end MacBook Pro has a fantastic processor and outstanding screen, making it perfect for graphic design work. The TouchBar is a nice touch, too, with its simple functions lending themselves well to design programs.
- MacBook (12-inch) – Best for Portability: Recently discontinued by Apple, the 12-inch MacBook is harder to recommend these days. It beats the famously svelte MacBook Air when it comes to portability, being lighter and smaller. But, with the Air's recent price cut and more powerful spec, it's no surprise Apple have ditched it.
Apple has built a solid reputation for its excellent hardware, and there's a reason why its customers are so evangelical about the brand. Any one of the laptops above would do you proud for day-to-day computing. If you need to step up to harder-going graphics tasks, think Pro. For value, not something normally associated with Apple, go for the MacBook Air.
Measured diagonally across.
In pixels - the higher the number, the greater the screen detail.
As claimed by the manufacturer – actual performance will vary depending on daily tasks.
The built in storage space for files, programs, apps and the operating system
More RAM tends to help a computer to run quickly and multitask
For MacBooks, this is the newer style of keyboard, replacing the unpopular Butterfly keyboard
Runs along the top of the keyboard, lets you give certain commands depending on the program running
For secure login by fingerprint recognition
MacBook Pro 13 (2020)
MacBook Pro 16
The go-to MacBook for anyone but the most demanding users. Perfect for daily browsing and work, it's slim, light and runs like a dream
Lots of power, a brilliant screen and an improved keyboard make this the perfect MacBook for demanding users, though the Air is cheaper
The absolute pinnacle of MacBooks, and everything a design professional could want – but at an eye-watering price
Discontinued by Apple, this is the smallest MacBook available. It's only worth buying if you find it at a big discount, versus the newer Air
2560 x 1600
2560 x 1600
3072 x 1920
2304 x 1440
Intel core M3
Intel Iris Plus Graphics
Intel Iris Plus Graphics 645
AMD Radeon Pro 5300M
Intel HD Graphics 615
The best MacBook for day-to-day casual users, and beautifully portable
The MacBook Air had been slightly neglected compared to Apple's other offerings lagging behind the 12-inch MacBook, but a 2018 update to the Air model brought it bang up to date.
With an 8th generation i5 processor under the hood, it more than packs a punch now. It might not be able to take on the Pro, but the average user won't have any complaints, and for day-to-day browsing, emailing, streaming and running programs, it's a fantastic laptop. It's also received an upgrade to its screen, with a super-sharp Retina display.
With a 12-hour battery life, the Air will last you an entire day out of the office, and the 30-day standby time means you can be up and running at a moment's notice, even if you haven't plugged it in for weeks.
It may not be as slim or light as the MacBook 12-inch, but it's still impressively svelte, and will pack into your bag without taking up too much room or ruining your posture. It's also something of a bargain (for a MacBook, that is).
Verdict – The Air is Apple's ‘budget' offering, but don't assume it's under powered. In fact, its latest update makes it more powerful than the standard (and more expensive) 12-inch MacBook. For all but the most demanding of users, the Air is a fantastic all-rounder, available at a decent price.
- Cheapest MacBook
- 12 hour battery
- Light and easy to carry
- Storage is limited
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A solid MacBook with a Magic Keyboard, not a Butterfly one
You don't need to buy a 16-inch MacBook Pro to get your hands on the TouchBar. There is also a 13-inch model that packs in great specs as well as Apple's fancy TouchBar. It starts at $1,299 (compared to the Air's $999 starting price), with a top-end version costing $1,999.
Granted, the specs are relatively modest, with just an Intel Core i5 processor under the hood, rather than an i7. But most people won't find it lacking for power. For those who do? The entry-level model is configureable to a 8th‑gen Intel Core i7, and the top-end one goes as high as a 10th‑gen i7.
One big update with this model: The much-hated Butterfly Keyboard is gone, replaced with a backlit Magic Keyboard. Plus, a TouchBar is included in all 13-inch models. Apple's attempt to reinvent the way we control our laptops isn't the game-changer that the humble mouse was, but it's a nice addition.
The TouchBar's use depends on what you're doing on the MacBook at the time, and varies from scrolling through pages, scrubbing through video and images to presenting context-dependent buttons. It's versatile, but its main use case is for image and video editing, so could be handy for a designer.
Verdict – This 13-inch model has the slight edge over the standard 13-inch model, but its key selling point really is the TouchBar and little else.
- Magic Keyboard
- Touch Bar
- 8th gen processor
- Big price bump from Air
An extraordinary laptop that will make any designer happy, but the price is sky-high
The 16-inch MacBook Pro is Apple's flagship laptop, with specs and price that reflect its status. That's right, it's not cheap. The entry level model comes in at $2,399, and goes up to a jaw-dropping $2,799 for the top-end version.
For the money, you get a lot of laptop. Even at entry-level, that means a powerful 2.6GHz 6‑core Intel Core i7 processor – which turns into a 2.3GHz 8‑core Intel Core i9 with the pricer version, for some serious firepower.
The entry-level version also comes with 512GB SSD, though it's configurable to anything from 1TB to 8TB. The retinal LED‑backlit display has 3072‑by‑1920 native resolution at 226 pixels per inch with 500 nits brightness and support for millions of colors.
You'll also get the same Magic Keyboard and Touchbar offered by the 13-inch Pro. Combined with the 16-inch's stellar specs, that means this laptop is big, beautiful, and gets crazy expensive with top configurations. It's a great investment for design professionals who aim to make their living through it.
Verdict – The best MacBook Apple has to offer, and incredibly powerful. But it's pricey.
- Largest MacBook screen yet
- Stuffed with killer specs
- Future-proof for many, many years
- 16-inch screen could be overkill for some
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Only choose this model if you have to have the slimmest MacBook possible
The MacBook is Apple's smallest, slimmest laptop. If you're wondering why anyone would pick up 13-inch MacBook Air instead, it's because the 12-inch MacBook costs more and is actually less powerful than the Air model.
The MacBook has always felt like it was designed to replace the Air, but with the Air newly updated, the 12-inch MacBook now occupies a slightly odd space. Choosing between the Macbook and Air isn't immediately obvious, but our advice is to save some money and go for the Air instead. Apple seems to agree with us, having ditched the 12-inch MacBook from its line-up entirely.
The MacBook has seventh generation Intel Core processors powering the range, versus the 8th-gen processor in the new Air.
Is this a bad laptop? Not at all. It's stunning, beautifully portable and if you pick one up, it'll be sometime before you're looking for a replacement. However, we think you're better off with the only-slightly-larger 2018 MacBook Air, which will save you some money and give you more power, too.
Verdict – The 12-inch MacBook is a great choice if you want the slimmest model possible. But the newer 2018-released MacBook Air is a smarter purchase, and only a little larger.
- Smallest MacBook, with 12-inch screen
- Lightweight and slim
- Plenty of power
- New MacBook Air is better value
- Same entry-price as more powerful Pro
- Just one USB-C port
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MacBook vs MacBook Air
If you're after the slimmest, most portable MacBook, your choice comes down to the 12-inch MacBook or 13-inch MacBook Air. And we'll make this one easy – go for the MacBook Air. It has more power under the hood, costs less, and is only a little larger.
The 12-inch MacBook (once, simply called ‘the MacBook' by Apple) has been discontinued by Apple – though you can still find it from some retailers selling off old stock or selling refurbished models. While it is the lighter and slimmest of the two, the Air is no brick by any stretch. The older 11-inch Air model is no longer available, incidentally.
Both the MacBook and the MacBook Air are great choices for daily users who want to work, browse, catch up on social media and stream video or music. What they aren't good at is heavy graphics work. Yes, you could get away with some image editing, but heavy duty video work or serious gaming is out.
The recently updated MacBook Air has surpassed the more expensive 12-inch MacBook.
Both the MacBook and Air boast excellent battery life means you could take either out for the day without running out of power.
When it comes to specs, the MacBook Air has a faster processor and a superior screen. This has made the 12-inch MacBook now look somewhat redundant, in all but size – we have to assume that this is why Apple have now discontinued it.
Verdict: With its recent updates and price cuts, the Air is now the clear entry point for those looking for a great Apple all-rounder.
MacBook vs MacBook Pro
If you're debating between the 12-inch MacBook and the MacBook Pro, then you're serious about your laptops and have set aside a healthy budget. The decision needs to come down to portability vs power.
The now discontinued 12-inch MacBook range starts at $1,299, going up to $1,599, while the Pro range starts at $1,299 and goes up to $2,799 for the premium 15-inch model.
If you're looking to do heavy graphic design, image-editing and video work, then don't bother looking at the 12-inch MacBook. Go for the Pro. The specs are designed with this type of work in mind and it will handle your asks with ease. That's why we've picked out the MacBook Pro as one of the Best Laptops for Designers in 2020.
For graphic design, image-editing and video work, then don't bother looking at the 12-inch MacBook. Go for the Pro.
If that's not your field, then consider what you need. The entry-level MacBook and Pro 13 both start at $1,299. The entry-level Pro 13 is more powerful and has a larger screen, so it could seem like a no brainer. However, it's also larger and heavier, and if you travel a lot, may not be the ideal companion compared to the ultra compact and light MacBook.
The further you extend your budget, the bigger the gulf between the MacBook and the Pro becomes. Go all the way to the top-end MacBook Pro 16, and you've got a massively powerful laptop that will do everything you want, and more, with the Touch Bar thrown in. You'll also get a deliciously detailed 16-inch screen. Go for the top-end 12-inch MacBook, and you'll get…a slightly better MacBook.
Verdict: For any kind of design work, you'll need the MacBook Pro — 13-inch or 16-inch, depending on your price range. The MacBook Air may be slimmer, but it won't be powerful enough to keep up.
Best MacBook Pro to Choose
The MacBook Pro range starts with a decent-spec laptop that will suit most users, to a power-packed head turner for those with a seriously generous budget. Realistically, you don't need to plump for the top-end model unless you're really looking to do some serious graphics work.
The Touch Bar is a feature on all 13-inch and 16-inch Pros. It's essentially a slim touchscreen that is “context sensitive”, and can be used for scrolling through photos or scrubbing through a video. Is it essential? No. Is it cool? Yeah, it is.
All models also enable Touch ID as a way to log into sites or pay for items. Again, its a nicety, not a necessity.
Average users will get away with the entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro. It may not have the processing power of the pricier models, but they won't miss that if they're simply surfing, streaming and working.
Opt for a 16-inch model and you'll get a beautiful 3072 by 1920 Retina screen. Both are perfect for designers. Although, with storage purely solid state drive (SSD) based, you might want to look into a decent external hard drive for all those large image files.
Verdict: There's no ‘bad' MacBook Pro to choose, but only opt for the 16-inch models if the kind of work you do means you can really justify the expense. Otherwise, it's power you may not need.
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