Which MacBook Should You Buy? MacBook vs. Air vs. Pro

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From the new 13-inch MacBook Air and super-light 12-inch MacBook to the 13-inch and 15-inch MacBook Pros with the Touch Bar, Apple’s current laptop lineup offers a ton of variety. But as a shopper, it can be tough to decide 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. There are also rumors that Apple might be launching a 16-inch MacBook Pro in 2019.

Apple has come under fire for the quality of its Butterfly keyboards, and has even apologized to the "small number" of those affected. So you're looking for good MacBook alternatives, check out our Best Ultrabooks roundup and Best Laptops overall, as well as our review of the Dell XPS 13

MacBooks Compared: MacBook vs MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro

  Best for Most Most Portable Most Speed for $ For Multitasking For Power Users
  MacBook Air  mb-12MacBook  macbook pro 13 no touchbarMacBook Pro 13
(No Touch Bar)
macbook pro 13 touchbar MacBook Pro 13
(Touch Bar)
macbook pro 15 touchbarMacBook Pro 15
(Touch Bar)
Price $1,199 $1,299 $1,299 $1,799 $2,399
CPU 1.6-GHz 8th gen Core i5 1.2-GHz 7th gen Core m3 2.3-GHz 7th gen Intel Core i5 2.3-GHz 8th gen Core i5 quad-core 2.2-GHz 8th gen Core i7 6-core
RAM 8GB 8GB 8GB 8GB 16GB
Display  13.3 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 2 Thunderbolt 3 1 USB-C, 2 Thunderbolt 3 4 Thunderbolt 3 4 Thunderbolt 3
Graphics Intel UHD Graphics 617 Intel HD Graphics 515 Intel Iris 640 Intel Iris Plus 655 AMD Radeon Pro 555X (4GB)
Storage 128GB 256GB 128GB 256GB 256GB
Battery Life (hrs) 9:32 9:29 9:50  8:31 10:20
Weight 2.75 pounds 2.03 pounds 3 pounds 3 pounds 4 pounds

*Starting configurations listed.

Best for Most People: New MacBook Air ($1,199)

Pros: The new MacBook Air delivers pretty much everything you could want in an Apple laptop. It's lighter and thinner than the original MacBook Air and does away with those unsightly thick bezels.

new macbook air 2018

The screen is much sharper, too, with a resolution of 2560 x 1600 pixels, up from just 1440 x 900 on the previous model. Another welcome new feature is Touch ID, which makes it easy to unlock the system, make secure payments and replace passwords.

Powered by a 8th-gen Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM and 128GB of fast flash storage, the baseline specs for the new MacBook Air should provide enough oomph for everyday computing tasks. The battery life is very good at 9 hours and 32 minutes, but other utlraportable laptops last longer on a charge. There's two Thunderbolt 3 ports on board. 

Cons: The starting price is fairly steep at $1,199, up $200 from the previous Air. We also wish the base model came with 256GB of storage instead of 128GB. The flat Butterfly keyboard offers fast typing, but some may wish for more travel, and some owners say the keyboard's space bar has an issue where it inserts a space twice with a single press.

The Y Series Intel processor isn't sluggish by any means, but other Windows laptops come with Intel's more powerful U series chips. You'll want to step up to a 13-inch MacBook Pro is you want more power. Lastly, the Retina display could be a bit brighter, as it registered less than 300 nits on our tests.

MORE: New MacBook Air 2018 - Full Review and Benchmarks

Most Affordable: MacBook Air Non-Retina ($999)

Pros: At least for now the original MacBook Air is sticking around, and it's the cheapest notebook in Apple’s lineup at $999. It has something else big going for it: about 10.5 hours of battery life on our tests, which makes it one of longer lasting ultraportables. That kind of endurance and pricing makes the Air a good option for students. The latest version offers a slightly faster Core i5 processor.

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. Check out the pros and cons of the MacBook Air for students.

 MacBook Air
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 clock speed to 1.8 GHz, it's still a 5th-generation Intel chip and not the latest 8th-gen CPU.

MORE: Apple MacBook Air (13-inch,) Review

Most Portable: 12-inch MacBook ($1,299)

Pros: Very slim and very light, the 2-pound MacBook is the ultraportable to consider if you’re constantly on the go. You’ll barely notice this 2-pound notebook in your bag or backpack. We also like the sharp and colorful Retina Display, and you get a pretty strong 9.5 hours of battery life.

The latest version offers a faster Kaby Lake chip, which gives this machine more pep than its predecessor, as well as a sightly improved keyboard for better typing comfort.

Apple-MacBook-12inch-ontheGo
Cons:
 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 okay for video chats.

The $1,299 cost is now our biggest issue with this system, which places it $100 above the new MacBook Air. You should not have to pay such a premium for one less port and a weaker processor. But if you really want to travel light, the 12-inch MacBook may be worth a look.

MORE: 12-inch MacBook 2017 Full Review

Most Speed for Your Money: MacBook Pro 13-inch ($1,299)

Pros: The 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 faster 7th-generation Core i5 U series processor and Intel Iris graphics.

The 13-inch MacBook Pro also offers a bright display and powerful speakers, plus two Thunderbolt 3 ports for the fastest possible transfer speeds. 

MacBook Pro 13-inch
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. There have also been several complaints around the MacBook Pro's keyboard in terms of reliability issues.

MORE: MacBook Pro 13-inch Review

Best for Multitaskers: New MacBook Pro 13-inch with Touch Bar ($1,799)

Pros: If you’re willing to spend $1,799, the new MacBook Pro 13-inch with Touch Bar is up to twice as fast as its predecessor, packing a 8th-gen, quad-core Core i5 CPU, 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. In our testing, this MacBook Pro wiped the floor with Windows laptops on both the Geekbench 4 benchmark and especially our SSD benchmarking.

The new model also offers a True Tone display that adjusts its color based on ambient lighting, and a quieter keyboard. The new keyboard reportedly is also reportedly more durable, thanks to a new thin membrane underneath the key caps.

Touch Bar
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.

This version of the 13-inch MacBook Pro also offers two more Thunderbolt ports than the $1,299 model, as well as faster Intel Iris graphics.

Cons: This version of the 13-inch MacBook Pro is pricey. Also, we’d like to see 512GB of storage (instead of 256GB) and more than 8GB of RAM at this price. The battery life, at 8 hours and 31 minutes, is decent; however, other ultraportables last longer on a charge.

MORE: Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch with Touch Bar (2018) - Full Review ...

Best for Power Users: New MacBook Pro 15-inch ($2,399)

Pros: Whether you edit gobs of RAW photos, tackle 4K video editing projects with silky smooth performance or compile code, the new 15-inch MacBook Pro is a beast. It offers up to 70 percent faster performance than its predecessor, thanks to new 6-core, 8th-generation Intel processors, up to 32GB of RAM and up to a 4TB SSD. 

On Geekbench 4, for example, the 15-inch MacBook Pro scored 23,138, which beats the Dell XPS 15, HP Spectre x360 and even a Dell Precision 3530 workstation.

The standard configuration comes with powerful Radeon Pro 555X graphics, but you can upgrade to Radeon Pro 560X. There's four Thunderbolt 3 ports on board for plugging in peripherals.

The 15-inch MacBook Pro also sports the sharpest resolution you can get on a Apple laptop at 2800 x 1800 pixels, and it offers a True Tone display that offers realistic colors in any lighting conditions. Other perks include a super-large Force Touch trackpad and loud and rich stereo speakers.

Another plus is the battery life. The 15-inch MacBook Pro lasted 10 hours and 20 minutes on the Laptop Mag battery test.

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. 

The graphics performance from the AMD Radeon Pro 560X is swift, but it's not the best for gaming. Also, charging $2,399 for just 256GB of storage is not cool. It's an extra $200 for 512GB.

MORE: 15-inch MacBook Pro (2018) Review

Author Bio
Mark Spoonauer
Mark Spoonauer, LAPTOP Editor in Chief
Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptop Mag and Tom's Guide, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.
Mark Spoonauer, LAPTOP Editor in Chief on