Which MacBook Should You Buy? MacBook vs. Air vs. Pro
Update Dec. 11: We have re-evaluated the 15-inch MacBook Pro from 2015 ($1,999). Based on its comfortable keyboard and ample ports selection, it's still a very viable option.
From the fairly affordable 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 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.
|Most Affordable||Most Portable||Most Speed for $||For Multitasking||For Power Users|
||MacBook||MacBook Pro 13
(No Touch Bar)
| MacBook Pro 13
|MacBook Pro 15
|CPU||1.8-GHz 5th gen Core i5||1.2-GHz 7th gen Core m3||2.3-GHz 7th gen Intel Core i5||3.1-GHz 7th gen Core i5||2.8-GHz 7th gen Core i7 quad-core|
|Display||13 inches (1440 x 900)||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||1 USB-C,||2 Thunderbolt 3||4 Thunderbolt 3,||4 Thunderbolt 3|
|Graphics||Intel HD Graphics 6000||Intel HD Graphics 515||Intel Iris 640||Intel Iris 650||AMD Radeon Pro 555|
|Weight||3 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: 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 much faster 7th-generation Core i5 processor and the latest Intel Iris graphics.
The 13-inch MacBook Pro also offers a brigh display and powerful speakers, plus two Thunderbolt 3 ports for the fastest possible transfer speeds. While the butterfly keyboard is flat, it feels snappy when typing.
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 you don't get an SD card slot.
Best for Multitaskers: MacBook Pro 13-inch with Touch Bar ($1,799)
Pros: If you’re willing to spend $1,799, the Touch Bar and Touch ID button is pretty tempting when you see what they 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 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 3.1-GHz processor and slightly-faster Intel Iris graphics. In our testing, this version of the Pro beat all of its Windows laptop competitors on both the Geekbench 4 performance test and our file transfer test for SSDs.
Cons: This version of the 13-inch MacBook Pro is pricey, and it offers less battery life than the non-Touch Bar version, 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 Keyboard and Ports: MacBook Pro 15-inch without Touch Bar ($1,999)
Pros: What is a laptop that debuted in 2015 doing on our list? Easy. It has the best selection of ports, including two full-size USB 3.0 ports, and HDMI port, two Thunderbolt 2 ports and an SD Card slot. Basically, you get everything you need without having to carry around a dongle.
The traditional keyboard on this 15-inch system is a lot comfier than the flat Butterfly mechanism on the latest MacBook Pros. It has just the right amount of travel, making for fast typing without errors. The Retina display is plenty bright and sharp, and you get over 9 hours of battery life on a charge.
Cons: The old 4th-generation, quad-core Intel Core i7 processor isn't the fastest, and this system is a bit hefty at 4.5 pounds.
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 560 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, 7th-generation 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.
Another pus is the 15-inch Pro's battery life, as it lasted nearly 11 hours on our web surfing 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 keyboard ran a bit warm as well after running our 15-minute video streaming test.
Also, charging $2,399 for just 256GB of storage is not cool. It's an extra $200 for 512GB.