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

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Update Nov. 6: Our new MacBook Air review is live, and we've updated this guide with the results and pros and cons.

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 laptop lineup has never had more 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.

  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. 

The Y Series Intel processor isn't sluggish by any means, but other Windows laptops come with Intel's more powerful Y series chips. 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 much faster 7th-generation Core i5 processor and the latest 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. While the butterfly keyboard is flat, it feels snappy when typing.

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. 

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
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61 comments
  • Calle2003 Says:

    Actually the MacBook Pro 13 also is 13.3 inches and the MacBook Pro 15 is 15.4 inches, verified with Apples website.

  • Anuradha Kanwar Says:

    Really nice product... I like it very much... Superb

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  • Sam Josephson Says:

    You wrote:

    “The flat Butterfly keyboard offers fast typing and should be fairly , but some may wish for more key travel.”

    Should be fairly, what?!

    Enjoyable?

    Responsive?

    Problematic?

    Error-free?

    Similar to Apple's other weak, unreliable keyboards?

    LOL!

    Please fill in the blank!

  • Jessica Wilson Says:

    I can't wait to see this updated with the newly released Macbook Air compared to the current pro versions. With many of the same features as the current Pro for a much cheaper price I want to know how capable and fast it is compared to the more expensive ones.

  • Debra Says:

    I want to replace my pc with a laptop. I have an in home daycare. Will want to have quick books or similar. Use a word program for contracts and other communications. Email and maybe do a little with photos . Very basic. No games. Please advise. I have not ever owned a laptop. Also would want to use a mouse:)

  • MarylandUSA Says:

    With the June 2017 refresh, the MacBook has a faster CPU (2.2 GHz base vs. 2.1 GHz), a faster GPU (now an Intel HD Graphics 615), and a faster SSD. The keyboard feel has been improved, too.

  • JuanSoto Says:

    I like the (fictitious) Macbook that combines the best features of each:

    $999 (Air), 2.03 lbs (MacBook), 10+ Battery (Air, Pro 15), 256gb (3of5 listed), AMD Radeon Pro 555 (Pro 15), Ports Selection (Air), 13 inches and resolution (Pro 13), 16gb RAM (Pro 15), 2.8 ghz i7 (Pro 15), No Touchbar (3of5 listed)

    Also: make bezel-free, loud front-firing speakers.

    Note to Apple... stop being so "courageous".

  • Steven Says:

    The Air is still a great machine. Are the bezels a tad thick yea maybe but it’s nothing unbearable. How much thinner do you need a computer. The design is great. If you’re trying to do graphic intense tasks then of course it will push this machine. I still use mine from 2011 and fine with it completely. Plenty fast enough. In the end it comes down to the end users use set.

  • Mitchell P Rozonkiewiecz Says:

    Macbook Pro's could be pro machines, put 32/64GB RAM in them already. As a commercial developer I've been holding out, looks like I'll have to go back to Windows to get all in one. Touch, Pencil, 2-in-1, 32GB, 1TB SSD in 15" machine.

  • Chris Says:

    Which computer is better the MacBook Air or the mac book pro . And what's the difference in price.thank you

  • Catherine Says:

    Hi all you mac geeks. Am thinking of investing in a mac pro laptop to replace my outdated PC desktop. Will need to process lots of raw photos due to photography buisness and also undertaking a web design course. Lots of questions I have, but for starters is this a dumb idea? Thanks anyone out there..😊

  • Gary Rozenman Says:

    There is a major mistake in this article. the most speed for $ is not the 2016 version of macbook pro without touch bar but the macbook pro 2015 version.
    The 2016 version (no touch bar) has an under powered 2ghz i5 cpu which is slightly faster than the old 2015 macbook air.
    the 2015 version has a fast 2.7ghz i5 cpu.
    almost as fast as the expensive 1799% macbook pro 2016.

  • Blake de raat Says:

    This was a very comprehensive review of each product, and helped me choose the correct laptop for my needs. Thank you.

  • Tom Rainbow Says:

    In case anyone else browses the comments, there is a marked difference of opinion on the MacBook Air's keyboard!

    It's like typing on a brick!

    Nowhere near as good as keyboards of yore!

  • Tommy Rainbow Says:

    "Apple is keeping its older 13-inch MacBook Pro around..."

    Where, pray tell?!


    We've rummaged the website like crazy and not seen the 2015 model anywhere. Please provide a link for the many disbelievers!

    Nice write-up, otherwise!

  • Dzinky Says:

    Well, you should buy a notebook with USB3 and F-keys on the keyboard. That's why I've bought an old Macbook pro last Friday and will never again buy a notebook from Apple, as they leave out ports and now also the keys from keyboard. It's so sad I could cry, after all that machines I loved so much from them. I hope MS Surface gets better in the coming years so developers can switch to MS HW without looking back..

  • Rick F. Says:

    One Technical Spec note - the new MacBook Pros (some photographers pointed out) does not have an SD Card reader any longer as you have listed at the top of the article. Sad, but true.

  • Frank Hardy Says:

    You forgot about one of the important things! THE KEYBOARD.

    However I make it easy.

    The Macbook Air's keyboard: It's incredible. Much better than 95% of laptops.

    Mackbook Pro: Even better than the Air's. Probably the best keyboard in any laptop on the market right now.

    Mackbook's keyboard: Pure and utter poop. I may have but off the top of my head I can't think of any laptop that I've ever used that had LESS key travel than the Macbook. That right there is why a consumer would have to love flushing his money down the toilet in order to get a Macbook over a Macbook Pro.

  • Katie Says:

    Table for comparison is not viewable on mobile...

  • Matthew doci Says:

    Great article. Learned a lot apple and pro and air. Great port and meme pry information.

  • Hawa Alishirdon Says:

    Question : Which Mac has the most gigabytes MacBook,MacBook Air or MacBook Pro?

  • Richard Says:

    Wracking my brain hard as I struggle to choose between buying a 13" MacBook Air and 13" Pro. Found this article very comprehensive and through in its comparison. Immunology PhD student here, doing some basic programming too.

  • Nema Toda Says:

    Sorry, there's a typo my original post: 256GB, not "256GM"

  • Nema Toda Says:

    I'm trying to decide between the Macbook and the 13" Macbook Air. I appreciate the comparative analysis here, but the writer neglects an important fact when comparing the prices of the Macbook and Macbook Air.

    If you get the Macbook Air with the same SSD storage as the base Macbook (i.e., 256GM) there is only a $100 price difference, not a $300 difference.

  • sanjay Says:

    All the comparisons are meant for fun users and children who only want movies,music,ganes and photos,(It would be better if they label the laptops as Video game player or something, rather than a laptop,) not the serious technical users who work on IT(Information technology).With most of the tools like CD Drive,Ethernet port absent, how the hell are the Laptops supposed to connect to networks-just the WI-FI? It looks APPLE thinks the users live in a well and are supposed to think that,it is the world.With such narrow mind thinking,APPLE wants to take the world customers to 19th century.

  • Kevin Says:

    Having been commissioned (by my HBIC ) to research the differences for 13 MBAir and the MBP13, I found your article indespensible. I also appreciated the sept 5 date from above reviewer. Thanks for the article.

  • Ted Roberts Says:

    As to a couple of other people's questions...


    I have a 13" MacBook Air and really like it (it takes time getting use to its keyboard). It's better than the Pro in one key regard-- a larger palm rest. The tapers front edge combined with the larger palm rest means that the Air does not dig into your palm or wrist the way the 13" Pro does.

    Never had any real probs with the Air's lower rates screen... However, if you tilt the monitor back and forth the colors, tint, and contrast change greatly. That's hard on photos, and determining colors of things you want to buy off the web.

    The other thing that happens-- and you should go into a store to compare and see this-- is that the screen flickers when scrolling down a page, say the New York Times. That's a distraction and does NOT happen (or, at least virtually not) on a MacBook Pro's screen.

    Hope that helps others!

    Note: if you can wait until September, I'd recommend doing so. Post- September 5, Apple will be introducing new products and we'll all have a better idea of what to buy then and what our choices are.

  • Ted Roberts Says:

    Great comparison.... Very helpful.

    One nitpick, though, about your very important warning.

    "Update July 6: There are rumors that Apple may not update the MacBook Air at all this year, and that it may focus more on the MacBook and MacBook Pro. Expect to see discounts on the Air soon if that's the case."

    In fact, it could be that we'll start to see discounts on the MBPs to clear out back inventory and avoid complaints when new machines come in and people have recently paid similar amounts for older tech.

    The MBA discounting is, in fact, already going on, but so is it for the MBPs--picked up a 13" the other day for $200 off.

    However, the bottom will fall out of these prices, so if one doesn't NEED to buy a laptop, one should definitely wait until fall.

    I mean if a 2.5-3 pound 13" comes in with multiple USB-C ports or a 14" or 15" at only 3.5-4 pounds, then current tech will be sadly dated and overpriced. OTOH, sometimes new tech creates new problems (loss of ports, require,nets for new adapters, first gen teething issues), so the one-year old models at a discount are a value laden bargain!

  • Richard Says:

    Hi Mark, I am thinking of buying a mac book pro from https://www.powermax.com/productcategory/used-macs-macbook-pro

    I live in california which attracts a 7.5% sales tax. Powermax is located in Oregon which attracts no sales tax.

    My question is, if I buy from Orgeon and have shipped to Califonia, do I have to pay sales tax?

  • Marian florida Says:

    I love it! I just bought my Macbook Air yesterday and its so fast and easy to bring anywhere because its thick and light weight :)

  • sominder arya Says:

    I want apple laptops ,, bt i can't choose in MacBook Pro or air tell ,, plz regarding mbbs

  • Hillary G Says:

    I'm looking at the 15.4 inch and the AMD graphics option is actually $10 cheaper than the Intel Iris Pro, but it sounds like from the article the AMD is the better option? I will be using it primarily for editing photos (Lightroom and Photoshop), writing and research. Thanks!

  • Emily La Voi Says:

    Hi! Based on this chart and article, I am thinking Mac Air 13.3; longest battery life with 2 usb. Not sure you need the super sharp image (doesn't appear to be much different reading article) for the extra money. Let me know what you think.

    Hope trip is going well. Love You!

  • Paul Robinson Says:

    Great review!

    These types of in-depth, feature by feature, test by test comparisons are really valuable!

    Keep up the good work.

  • Jacks Says:

    The release I'm referring to is the release of the new 2016 MacBook Pros expected to come out.

  • Jacks Says:

    For me price is what's important, so my question is when is the best time to get the 2015 MacBook Pro 13 Retina? Currently Best Buy is selling them for $1149. How much can you see this price dropping leading up to the release and after it?

    Thanks

  • Joe S. Says:

    Great article. I mean really good.

  • Diana Says:

    I just got the 13'macbook air ( former owner of pro) and I love it. Its fast and lightweight since I travel a lot. Its a great choice. Hopefully in the future they make it with retina display.

  • Dale Strauss Says:

    Sorry, but this is all irrelevant. With every news outlet predicting a June +/- announcement of all new MacBook Airs/Pros (or a blending of the two lines) why would you buy ANYTHING unless you just dropped your current Mac down a flight of stairs...

  • Jordan Says:

    These price comparisons don't seem to match the equivalent RAM / Storage Capacity builds. Granted the macbook doesn't offer many options.

  • Habung Says:

    Must i wait for new macbook air or buy the 2015 model now..im bit confuse in my decission..pls expertise help me..i got 70000 thousand hardly im still student and belongs from middle class family

  • Charles walker Says:

    Thanks shopping for a new laptop

  • James Mark Says:

    Thanks for the information,I bought a mac book air.
    #Apple Mac book Air

  • Ruturaj Says:

    I guess now is not good time to buy a macbook especially 15 inch pro, since skylake update is due, apple might redesign whole line up this time.

  • Juan J. Says:

    Very thorough and helpful. Thank you!!

  • Richard Y Says:

    Thanks for your comprehensive study and views. Looks like the MB Pro 13 is good enough for my use.

  • datnaijaguy Says:

    I have a mid-2014 MacBook Pro 15" with an nVidia GT 750M and the amazing quadcore processor. I also have a Lenovo Thinkpad W541 which is a mobile workstation also at 15". In regards to keyboards, I think Thinkpads have the best keyboards in the 11 to 15" category. In regards to trackpads/mousepads, Apple by far has the best mousepad. I love both laptops personally. OS X is a good Operating system and my thinkpad is running the latest version of Ubuntu GNU/Linux. Both are great. Both have high resolution 3K screens. I like the Aluminum construction and the speakers of the macbook pro more though

  • AFTAB Says:

    Very usefull for me and i set my mind for Air 13

  • Martha Welch Says:

    Very helpful! Serious about the Pro 13.

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