Apple: 2017 Brand Report Card
After seven years of dominance, Apple's reign at the top of our Best & Worst Brands list is over, as the company sinks into a tie for fifth place. With the MacBook Air likely on its way out, the company seems to be abandoning mainstream shoppers in favor of those with $1,300 or more to spend. At the same time, some of Apple's premium notebooks didn't completely justify their high prices.
Apple's Key Strengths
- Tech Support: Nobody's as speedy, wise or chipper.
- Stylish, but dated designs: Slimmer MacBook Pros and a Rose Gold MacBook turned heads, even though Apple's aesthetic has remained the same for years.
- iOS features come to Mac: Siri, Touch ID and Apple Pay are finally here.
Apple's Main Weaknesses
- Value and variety: The company has only a handful of laptops, and most start at $1,299.
- Do not touch: Apple still doesn't offer a 2-in-1 or any laptop with a touch screen (Touch Bar doesn't count).
- Dongles: The newer MacBooks have USB Type-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports only.
Apple earned the top overall review score last year, but, oh, how the mighty have fallen. It dropped to fifth place this year, when we reviewed four of the company’s laptops but only one — the 15-inch MacBook Pro -- received our Editors’ Choice award, and a 4.5-star score.
We love USB Type-C here at Laptop Mag, but a lack of port options on the 13-inch MacBook Pro (with and without Touch Bar) and the regular MacBook, as well as a lack of the latest components, didn’t help Apple. We still liked the Mac line’s excellent battery life and vivid displays, but we weren't completely sold on the value of the Touch Bar. (That’s why the non-Touch Bar version got 4 stars, and the fully-featured model received 3.5 stars).
Just call it the rose-gold standard. At long last, Apple has given the MacBook faithful something other than its typical two-sometimes-three-tone pallette, with the introduction of the rose-gold variation of the 12-inch MacBook. It should be noted, however, that the 13- and 15-inch MacBooks are caught between two shades of gray, which is boring.
Lack of color options aside, Apple continues its quest to make the thinnest, lightest laptops around. Somehow, the company managed to make a 13-inch MacBook Pro that has 23 percent less volume and is 17 percent thinner than the previous model, while the 15-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar is 0.66 inches thick, matching a MacBook Air.
That svelteness comes at the price of your ports, though: The 13-inch Pro starts with just two Thunderbolt 3 ports, and the 15-inch model has four. Hope you like dongles!
Apple maintains its position as the standard-bearer of tech support. The company's highly informative support site is easy to navigate, and the Apple agents offer a winning combination of answers and positivity. The only serious chink in the company's armor is a lack of support via Facebook.
Apple has finally shaken up its stale lineup by introducing its Touch Bar on the 13-inch MacBook Pro and 15-inch MacBook Pro. The thin touch display above the keyboard provides easy access to numerous shortcuts, and several apps have started to tap its potential, including Microsoft Office and Photoshop. We’d still prefer a touch screen, but it’s a step in the right direction. We’re also glad to see Touch Bar MacBook Pros with fingerprint sensors that support both Apple Pay and Touch ID, and we’re happy that Siri has finally come to macOS.
Value and Selection (6/15)
If you're looking for an affordable laptop, don't look at Apple. Featuring just five systems spread across three lines with the least expensive starting at $999, Apple doesn't exactly have a wide range of computers to choose from. Even worse, the MacBook Air, the company's only sub-$1,000 laptop, hasn't gotten a refresh in over two years, and we wouldn't be surprised if the company phased it out soon.
Unlike its PC competitors, Apple doesn't believe in combining a tablet and laptop into one device, so you won't find a MacBook 2-in-1 or even one with a touch screen. We do like both the 2016 13-inch and 15-inch MacBook Pro quite a bit, but to get the most basic model, you'll have to spend at least $1,499 (the 2015 model still goes for $1,299).
Apple backs its MacBooks with one-year limited warranties, though the company gives you only 90 days of phone support. Unlike some competitors, Apple pays for shipping if you need to send your laptop in for repair.
The MacBook maker comes out on top in this category, because it offers consumers the option of bringing their laptops for in-person service at one of the company's many Apple Store Genius Bars. Upgrading the RAM or storage does not void your warranty.
Rather than offering a lot of different choices for extended protection, Apple gives you just one major option. You can purchase an AppleCare Protection Plan, which extends both the warranty and phone support to three years, for prices ranging from $249 to $349, depending on your laptop model.