Which MacBook Should You Buy? MacBook vs. Air vs. Pro
From the fairly affordable 13-inch MacBook Air and super-light 12-inch MacBook to the new 13-inch and 15-inch MacBook Pros with that crazy Touch Bar, Apple’s laptop lineup has never had more variety. But as a shopper, it’s never been harder to choose which notebook to get.
That’s where we come in. We’ll help you decide which MacBook is worth your money by comparing price, features, performance, battery life and more. Here’s the pros and cons of each model.
Apple’s new 13-inch MacBook Pro, and 13-inch and 15-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar, are the latest models. They all offer slimmer and lighter designs than their predecessors, larger touchpads, brighter and more colorful displays and louder speakers, plus new Thunderbolt 3 ports for the fastest transfer speeds yet. But you don’t get an SD card slot.
Update: We've reviewed the entry-level, 13-inch MacBook Pro, the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar and the new 15-inch MacBook Pro, which also has the Touch Bar.
The 13-inch MacBook Pro starts at $1,499, but the $1,799 version and the $2,399 15-inch MacBook Pro offer a new Touch Bar with Touch ID button. The Touch Bar is a color multitouch display that replaces the function row, offering nifty shortcuts in all sorts of apps, while Touch ID lets you log in to your Mac and make Apple Pay purchases online. Get more details below.
|Most Affordable||Bang for Buck||Most Portable||Most Speed for $||For Multitasking||For Power Users|
||MacBook Pro 13
|MacBook||MacBook Pro 13
(No Touch Bar)
| MacBook Pro 13
|MacBook Pro 15
|CPU||1.6-GHz 5th gen Core i5||2.7-GHz 5th gen Core i5||1.1-GHz 6th gen Core m3||2-GHz 6th gen Intel Core i5||2.9-GHz 6th gen Core i5||2.6-GHz 6th gen Core i7 quad-core|
|Display||13 inches (1440 x 900)||13 inches (2560 x 1600)||12 inches (2304 x 1440)||13 inches (2560 x 1600)||13 inches (2560 x 1600)||15 inches (2880 x 1800)|
|Ports||1 Thunderbolt 2, 2 USB 3.0, SD Card, headphone||2 Thunderbolt 2, 2 USB 3.0, HDMI, SD Card||1 USB-C, headphone||2 Thunderbolt 3||4 Thunderbolt 3, headphone||4 Thunderbolt 3, headphone|
|Graphics||Intel HD Graphics 6000||Intel Iris Graphics 6100||Intel HD Graphics 515||Intel Iris 540||Intel Iris 550||AMD Radeon Pro 550|
|Battery Life||14:00||10:44||9:38||10 Hours (est)||10 Hours (est)||10 Hours (est)|
|Weight||3 pounds||3.46 pounds||2.03 pounds||3 pounds||3 pounds||4 pounds|
* - Starting configurations listed.
Most Affordable, Longest-Lasting: MacBook Air ($999)
Pros: The MacBook Air is the cheapest notebook in Apple’s lineup at $999, especially now that the 11-inch $899 MacBook Air has been retired. It has something else big going for it: 14 hours of battery life on our tests, which makes it the longest running MacBook by far. That kind of endurance and pricing makes the Air a good option for students.
You might also appreciate that the Air comes with full-size USB ports and an SD card slot, which makes it easy to transfer photos from your camera. Not a fan of the new flat butterfly keyboards on the latest MacBook and MacBook Pro? The Air sports a traditional keyboard with more travel, which some may find more comfortable.
Cons: The Air’s design doesn’t wow like it used to, because of the fairly thick bezel around the screen. The 13-inch screen also has a fairly low resolution of 1440 x 900 pixels, while most Windows laptops in this price range have full HD screens. And while Apple has upped the ream RAM to 8GB, you’re getting an older processor.
Best Bang for Your Buck: MacBook Pro 13-inch (2015) ($1,299)
Pros: Apple is keeping its older 13-inch MacBook Pro around, and we’re not complaining, because you get a sharp Retina display, plenty of ports, a comfy keyboard and snappy performance (albeit from an aging CPU) for $1,299. This is a good alternative to the 12-inch MacBook if you prefer something with a larger screen and more than just a single USB-C port.
Cons: We’d like to see 256GB of storage at the starting $1,299 price, which you do get on the smaller 12-inch MacBook at the same price. The 5th-generation Core i5 processor isn’t slow, but it’s behind the times. The only other strike against this system is that you don’t get Thunderbolt 3 ports, which give you the fastest transfer speeds and the ability to connect two 4K monitors.
Most Portable: 12-inch MacBook ($1,299)
Pros: Very slim and very light, the 2-pound MacBook is the ultraportable to get if you’re constantly on the go. You’ll barely notice this notebook in your bag or backpack. We also love the sharp and colorful Retina Display, which puts the Air’s panel to shame, and you get a pretty strong 9.5 hours of battery life, which is better than many Windows ultraportables this thin.
Cons: Don’t expect blazing speed from the 6th-gen Core m processor; it’s not as fast as a full Core i chip. Having just a single USB-C port means you can’t charge the MacBook and plug in another device without using a dongle, which costs extra. Plus, the port doesn’t support Thunderbolt 3 for the fastest transfer speeds and connecting multiple 4K displays. The 480p webcam is low-res but it’s still okay for video chats.
Most Speed for Your Money: MacBook Pro 13-inch ($1,499)
Pros: The new 13-inch MacBook Pro crams a lot of power into a slim and light 3-pound chassis. This machine is the same weight as the MacBook Air, but you get a much faster 6th-generation Core i5 processor and the latest Intel Iris graphics.
The new MacBook Pro also offers a brighter display and more powerful speakers, plus two Thunderbolt 3 ports for the fastest possible transfer speeds. While the butterfly keyboard is flat, this second-generation mechanism feels a bit snappier than the one on the 12-inch MacBook.
Cons: You don’t get the snazzy new Touch Bar that the pricier $1,799 MacBook Pro offers, and you’ll have to live with two fewer ThunderBolt 3 ports. Also note that the new Pro ditches an SD card slot.
Best for Multitaskers: MacBook Pro 13-inch with Touch Bar ($1,799)
Pros: If you’re willing to spend $1,499 for the new MacBook Pro, jumping up another $300 to this version with the Touch Bar and Touch ID button is pretty tempting when you see what it can do. The multi-touch screen above the keyboard provides all sorts of contextually relevant buttons and controls as you use various apps.
You’ll see editing buttons in the Photos app, buttons for open tabs in Safari, emoji in Messages, shortcuts in Final Cut and a lot more. Apple has already opened the Touch Bar up to developers, such as Adobe for Photoshop and Microsoft Office.
This version of the 13-inch MacBook Pro also offers two more Thunderbolt ports than the $1,799 model, as well as a faster 2.9-GHz processor and slightly-faster Intel Iris graphics.
Cons: This version of the 13-inch MacBook Pro offers less battery life, partly because it simply has a smaller battery. Like all the new MacBooks, this one doesn’t offer an SD card slot, and we’d like to see 512GB of storage (instead of 256GB) and more than 8GB of RAM at this price.
Best for Power Users: MacBook Pro 15-inch ($2,399)
Pros: Whether you edit gobs of RAW photos or you want to tackle 4K video editing projects with silky smooth performance, the AMD Radeon Pro 450 graphics inside the 15-inch MacBook Pro is what you need. Apple also pairs 16GB of RAM and 256GB of fast flash storage with a quad-core Core i7 CPU for maximum horsepower.
The 15-inch MacBook Pro also sports the sharpest resolution you can get on a Apple laptop at 2800 x 1800 pixels, and it’s brighter and offers a wider color gamut than the previous 15-incher. Other perks include a super-large Force Touch trackpad and loud and rich stereo speakers.
Cons: Photographers might be miffed that they can’t plug in an SD card; instead, you’ll have to use a card reader and plug it into one of the four ThunderBolt 3 ports. Also, charging $2,399 for just 256GB of storage is not cool. That’s an extra $200.