Apple: Best and Worst Laptop Brands
It's good to be the king -- and it's good for you, too. Apple is simply the best laptop maker when it comes to reviews, performance, tech support, keyboards and touchpads, audio quality and preloaded software. It's the sixth year in a row that Apple has earned a first-place finish in the Best & Worst Brands report. While some of the designs are getting a little long in the tooth, overall Apple remains the laptop maker to beat.
Not surprisingly, Apple remained in the top spot in the reviews category. Although the company sells relatively few laptops -- we reviewed just three last year -- all are excellent. Two of them, the 11-inch and 13-inch MacBook Air, earned Editors' Choice awards. The 13-inch Air remains one of the best notebooks overall.
Tech Support (19/20)
The proof is also in the support provided, and Apple is simply at the top of its game when it comes to helping customers. The company's representatives were quick, friendly and accurate via online chat and phone. Apple.com is well organized and helpful. The only thing holding Apple back from a perfect score is the lack of social networking assistance.
Apple dropped some points in the design category, because the models that debuted during our consideration window didn't mix things up enough. Aside from shaving off a tenth of an inch here and there, both the MacBook Pro and Air haven't changed much from 2012. That's not necessarily a bad thing since nearly every PC maker has a MacBook lookalike on its roster.
But even classic can become boring, and that's why we're happy to see that the new 12-inch MacBook brings three color options (silver, space gray and gold). It's also only 2 pounds.
Keyboard & Touchpad (14/15)
Apple has been using the same keyboards and touchpads on all of its laptops for a number of years now -- and that's a good thing. The keyboards are extremely snappy despite their shallow 1 mm of travel, and the touchpads are the most accurate you can find on any device.
Apple's screens are some of the brightest in the business, at an impressive 306 nits. Otherwise, the panels are of mixed quality. The MacBook Air has a modest resolution and decidedly subpar color accuracy and limited gamut, but still provides a good media-viewing experience. The Retina displays on the 13-inch and 15-inch MacBook Pro, on the other hand, offer high resolution and significantly better colors, with an 87 percent gamut rating (closer to 100 is better).
While Apple hasn't made any major changes to its MacBook hardware of late, the company's latest OS X Yosemite software update gives you new ways to use it. The software's new Continuity features makes your Mac work seamlessly with your iOS devices, meaning you can answer a phone call on your MacBook or start an email on your notebook and finish it on your iPad.
MORE: Best Laptops
The innovations didn't happen in time to be considered for this year's survey, but we certainly see the new MacBook's Force Touch trackpad that Apple is innovating in hardware.
Despite being soft-spoken, Apple's laptops provide solid audio quality. On average, the three notebooks we tested in 2014 measured 81 dB, making Apple’s machines softer than your typical notebook (85 dB). The 11-inch MacBook Pro delivered full and balanced sound, while the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display produced clear vocals and smooth audio overall.
Value and Selection (2/5)
Sure, there's something to be said about doing a few things, and doing them right. Unfortunately, that doesn't leave a lot of room for value or selection. The least expensive Apple notebook is the base $899, 11-inch MacBook Air with a 1.4-GHz Intel Core i5 CPU, 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD. At the top end, there's the 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display, which costs a whopping $2,499, and that's before the $200 upgrade to a faster Core i7-CPU. That's the type of money you'd spend on a gaming PC, but what you're getting is a 2.5-GHz Intel Core i7 CPU, 16GB of RAM, 512GB SSD and a 2-year-old Nvidia GeForce GT 750M graphics card.
Upgrades don't come cheap, either, moving up from 8GB to 16GB of RAM on the 13-inch MacBook Pro costs an extra $200, twice what it costs from other computer makers such as Acer or Dell. Apple makes great laptops, but those wanting a sub-$800 system or a wide variety of options are better off elsewhere.
Apple continues to impress us with its comprehensive operating system and new features to make your life easier, earning it top marks in this category. OS X Mavericks brought the useful iWork and iLife suites of apps to iOS and Mac users for free last year, while adding more performance enhancements. With OS X Yosemite, Apple added iCloud drive for easier cross-device sharing and a handy Handoff feature to let you finish documents or emails on a second device. You can even send and receive calls or SMS messages on your Mac, even if your iPhone is in the next room.
The OS also got a facelift with a flat, translucent new design, more powerful Spotlight search tool and a new Today view in the notifications center.