Apple: 2018 Brand Report Card
Once the king of laptops, Apple slid to fifth place in 2017 and fell even further, to seventh, this year. That continued slide should come as little surprise, though, as Apple's MacBooks stayed the same as last year's models, aside from some small boosts.
The company still hasn't offered customers a respectable notebook for under a grand (the aging MacBook Air doesn't count), and a continuing lack of touch screens makes these Macs feel antiquated.
Apple's Key Strengths
- Tech Support: Still the standard-bearer
- macOS moves forward: The subtle changes of a new file system and new media-compression codecs to save space make for a smoother ride.
Apple's Main Weaknesses
- Hardware stuck in the sand: The MacBooks are good machines but saw barely any improvement, just minor speed boosts. Where's the love for touch screens?
- Minimal selection: Apple's sole sub-$1,000 laptop is the company's super-outdated $999 MacBook Air, and all of Apple's other laptops start at $1,299, pricing many customers out of the land of the Mac.
- Dongles, all the way down: You can't get USB 3.0 ports on Apple's modern Type-C-only MacBooks, while the MacBook Air has no Type-C ports, only a Type-A port.
Top-Rated Apple Laptops
With their polarizing, low-travel keyboards; lack of modern ports; and worn-out design language, MacBooks just don't scream "ahead of the curve" like they used to do. Apple still puts out a solid, though very-limited laptop lineup, with standout systems like the powerful 15-inch MacBook Pro and well-made mobile-productivity powerhouses like the 13-inch MacBook Pro.
However, at least at publication time, the company's mainstream consumer offering, the MacBook Air, is so many years out of date that it's a vestigial organ in Apple's body of work. And the slim MacBook 12-inch is too underpowered to really impress.
Outside of incorporating the Touch Bar and slimmer dimensions, Apple hasn't done much with design innovation. The Air is available only in the iconic silver-aluminum chassis, while the MacBook Pros extended the palette to Space Gray and the MacBook added Gold and Rose Gold. Although the company's laptops have inspired a bunch of clones over the years, the overall design is becoming less iconic and more dated.
Apple's still living la vida dongle. In the race to be the slimmest, Apple released three of its four laptops with nothing but a headphone jack and USB Type-C ports. Looking for a USB 3.0 port? You'll have to invest in the now-classic 13-inch MacBook Air.
Support and Warranty (19/20)
Apple continued to reign as the masters of tech support in our showdown, with agents who provided correct answers every time, speedy responses on social media and an overall upbeat attitude. We couldn't even stump the company by asking how to fight against Spectre and Meltdown or editing the new autoplay settings in Safari.
Apple's warranty service is also great, sending customers a prepaid shipping box for getting broken hardware sent to the company and covering shipping fees for returning the hardware back to you. Also, Apple is one of two companies (the other being Microsoft) that offer retail stores where you can get your laptop serviced. Its AppleCare+ warranty even covers repairs for accidental damage, though the company tacks on a fee for those repairs.
Apple had a relatively quiet year for innovation. The company's MacBooks were refreshes of the ones from the previous year, and the latest version of Apple's operating system, macOS High Sierra, was largely just a stability update.
The OS accomplished the massive task of adding a new, faster file system (and Apple pulled this off without people noticing it), and the company's new HEVC video codec compresses video so that it takes up far less space on your hard drive. Apple is extremely secretive, so we have no idea what it will have up its sleeve this year, though there are rumors of a cheap, new 13-inch MacBook and a universal App Store for Macs and iOS.
Value and Selection (6/15)
Apple prides itself on selling a well-made, beautiful notebook, but the company sure doesn't offer a lot of variety. With just four laptops (each in a few configurations) in Apple's lineup, there are very few options to choose from. The cheapest notebook is the MacBook Air, which starts at $999 (making it Apple's only sub-$1,000 notebook); it's a machine that some people think needs to die altogether. That cheap machine gets you an almost-4-year-old CPU and a low-res display.
MORE: The Best Apple Laptops
There are no touch-screen options and no 2-in-1s among Apple's offerings, as the company seems to be relegating all touch screens to its iPads. Apple's new 12-inch MacBook starts at $1,299 and comes with a Core m3 CPU, or you can get it for up to $1,600 with a Core i5. The MacBook Pro starts at $1,299 for 13 inches and $2,399 for 15 inches, but to get the maxed-out specs that creatives need, you'll have to spend a lot more.