Apple’s MacBook range of laptops come with high price tags, fetching metal unibodies and high-resolution Retina displays. But which is the best MacBook for you: a Pro, an Air and a standard garden-variety MacBook? We explain every MacBook make and model right here.
We’ve searched though all the available ranges to find the best MacBook for you based on your budget and needs. We’ve also highlighted our top recommendation for the best options in each range.
Especially worthy of your attention is the 13-inch MacBook Pro and its bigger, more powerful 15-inch counterpart.
Apple’s new MacBook Air 2018 range is now on sale. These lightweight laptops come with a lot of the features of the new MacBook Pros, such as Retina Displays, Touch ID and Siri, for lower prices. They’re also lighter, slimmer and therefore more portable, but there are fewer ports, the processors aren’t as fast and there are fewer storage and graphics options.
But with MacOS 10.14 Mojave, which offers a new dark mode and enhanced security features, many of the features you’ll enjoy on your new MacBook Air will also work on MacBook Pros as old as 2012, so if you don’t need to upgrade right now, you could save your money, or seek out older stock.
Where does this leave the standard Apple MacBook? With no indication that the MacBook range will be refreshed anytime soon, if you’re after a cheaper Apple laptop and you’re not fussed about the latest and greatest specs, this might be the best option, for the time being. In the meantime, we’ll continue to hope for future MacBooks with something like Intel’s new Whiskey Lake or Amber Lake processors running the show.
Alternatively, a new iPad Pro 2018 with a keyboard dock might be more of what you need, if you do most of your work in the cloud and don’t rely on physical connections as much.
Or, your work requirements may drive you in the other direction. Now that Apple’s refreshed its Mac mini line, there’s never been a better time to shop around for a mini Apple PC.
Nothing official has been confirmed yet, but Apple is expected to refresh its line of MacBooks this year – possibly with a 16-inch version of its MacBook Pro.
Related: MacOS 10.14 Mojave
Which is the best MacBook?
There’s no single best MacBook, although if you want the most powerful then the 15-inch MacBook Pro is the one to go for. It’s also the most expensive. In this MacBook explainer we’ll try and give you the information to decide which is the best MacBook for you, and for your budget.
MacBooks currently come in three flavours, the MacBook Pro, MacBook Air and the standard MacBook. As already mentioned the MacBook Pro is Apple’s performance laptop. It’s geared toward professionals who run power-intensive processes like video editing.
The MacBook Air has been around for ages in its current form, but Apple has updated it with newer processors over the years. It’s the cheapest MacBook you can currently get and is reasonably thin and light which makes it a decent portable laptop. It also has some physical connectivity including two USB ports and an SD card reader.
The plainly-named MacBook is the thinnest and lightest Apple notebook you can get. If you’re after pure portability then this is the best MacBook to buy, but it’s also very light on physical connectivity, so get ready to buy dongles if you want to connect a lot of things to it with wires.
Now we’ll go into more depth on each type of MacBook and explain the configurations they can be bought in an their prices.
Related: MacBook Air 2018
The MacBook Pro is Apple’s range of performance laptops, and at the time of writing, the most recently refreshed.
Designed for professional mobile workers in general, and creatives (read: photographers, videographers and digital artists) in particular, the MacBook Pro range is synonymous with power and high performance on the go.
The most recent MacBook Pro we’ve reviewed is a 13-inch MacBook Pro, from the 2018 line up. This version has the Intel Core i7-8559U 2.7GHz quad-core CPU, 16GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD. This represents the best MacBook Pro 2018 configuration with a 13-inch display.
In both benchmarking and real-world testing it performed well, scoring excellent Geekbench 4 and Blackmagic Disk Tool results and rendering 4K video clips without breaking too much of a sweat.
We will update this section with reviews of other models in the range as and when we get them.
Here’s our overview of the 2018 MacBook Pro range:
MacBook Pro (13-inch) 2018
MacBook Pro (15-inch) 2018
|Processor options||Intel Core i5: 2.3GHz quad-core 8th gen (Turbo Boost up to 3.8GHz)
Intel Core i7: 2.7GHz quad-core 8th gen (Turbo Boost up to 4.5GHz)
|Intel Core i7: 2.2GHz 6-core 8th gen (Turbo Boost up to 4.1GHz)
Intel Core i7: 2.6GHz 6-core 8th-generation (Turbo Boost up to 4.3GHz)
Intel Core i9: 2.9GHz 6-core 8th gen (Turbo Boost up to 4.8GHz)
|Display size (inches)||13.3||15.4|
|Display resolution (pixels)||2560 x 1600||2800 x 1800|
|Display type||LED display with IPS||LED display with IPS|
|Graphics options||Intel Iris Plus Graphics 655||Intel UHD Graphics 630
AMD Radeon Pro 555X with 4GB of GDDR5 memory
AMD Radeon Pro 560X with 4GB of GDDR5 memory
|Memory options||8GB at 2133MHz (LPDDR3 RAM)
16GB at 2133MHz (LPDDR3 RAM)
|32GB at 2400 MHz (DDR4 RAM)
64GB at 2400MHz (DDR4 RAM)
|Storage options (PCIe based SSD)||256GB, 512GB, 1TB, 2TB||256GB, 512GB, 1TB, 2TB
|Dimensions (mm)||14.9 x 304.1 x 212.4||15.5 x 349.3 x 240.7|
|Price (at launch)||£1749-£3329 (Intel Core i5 version
£2019-£3599 (Intel Core i7 version)
|£2349-£5769 (Intel Core i5 version
£2699-£5939 (Intel Core i7 version
£2699-£6119 (Intel Core i9 version)
Which is the best MacBook Pro for me?
Students, writers, journalists, or anyone who wants a powerful performance device but won’t be dabbling in high-end photo or video editing will want to check out the entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro with the Intel Core i5 CPU. You really should avoid paying for extra processing power that you don’t need.
Creatives will likely be best placed looking at the 15-inch version. If you’re not doing video work then the Core i7 option with Intel graphics will work fine. But, if you’re going to be doing some video work or 3D modelling on the go you may want to to look at the Core i9 and upgraded AMD Radeon Pro 560X graphics options.
Whatever your needs, note that what really ramps up the price of the MacBook Pros is storage.
The difference between a 1TB, 16GB RAM 15-inch MacBook Pro with a 2.2GHz i7 CPU and the 2TB equivalent, for example, is £720.
If you don’t need 2TB or 4TB internal drives, get a cheaper 1TB option and spend the difference on external drives for back up purposes. You can currently get a 1TB portable G-Technology drive, which supports data transfer rates up to 560MBps, from Apple’s own site for £275.
While that can’t touch the maximum 3.2GBps speeds of the internal drives, if you’re happy juggling files around and time isn’t of the essence, doing this will save you a big chunk of cash.
Remember that you can get 2TB of iCloud storage for £6.99/month as well, and, if your line of work sees you collaborating closely with teams and sharing individual files, this might be a better option for you anyway.
Related: 13-inch MacBook Pro Review
Apple’s new MacBook Air 2018 range has been announced, bringing up to date specs and features to the party, while retaining the iconic tapered look. It’s the first time the range has been updated significantly since the last big redesign in 2015.
As the name implies, Apple’s MacBook Air laptops are very thin and lightweight, with the latest models weighing just 1.25kg.
Laptops from the MacBook Air 2018 range come with just Type-C USB ports, supporting Thunderbolt 3, and a 3.5mm headphone jack. A scarcity of ports has always been the case with MacBook Airs, which historically placed an emphasis on lightness and portability.
Running macOS 10.14 Mojave out of the box, the new Apple MacBook Airs are on sale now.
Here’s how the new MacBook Air range compares with the previous range:
|MacBook Air 2018||MacBook Air 2017|
|Display||13.3-inch Retina Display, 2560 x 1600 LED||13.3-inch, 1440 x 900 LED with IPS|
|Processor||1.6GHz dual-core 8th‑generation Intel Core i5 processor (Turbo Boost up to 3.6GHz), 4MB L3 cache||1.8GHz dual-core 5th‑generation Intel Core i5 processor (Turbo Boost up to 2.9GHz) / 2.2GHz dual-core 5th‑generation Intel Core i7 processor (Turbo Boost up to 3.2GHz), 3MB / 4MB L3 cache|
|Memory||8GB / 16GB 2133MHz LPDDR3 RAM||8GB 1600MHz LPDDR3 RAM|
|Storage||128GB, 512GB, 1.5TB SSD / 256GB, 512GB, 1.5TB SSD||128GB / 256GB / 512GB|
|GPU||Intel UHD Graphics 617||Intel HD Graphics 6000|
|Ports||2 x Type-C USB, 3.5mm headphone jack||2 x Two USB ports, 2 x Thunderbolt 2 ports, SDXC card slot, MagSafe 2 power port, 3.5mm headphone jack|
|Connectivity||802.11ac Wi‑Fi, Bluetooth 4.2||802.11ac Wi‑Fi, Bluetooth 4.0|
|Misc||720p FaceTime HD camera, TouchID, T2 security chip, 3rd-gen butterfly switched keys||720p FaceTime HD camera, scissor switched keys|
|Dimensions||4.1–15.6×304.1×212.4 mm||3-17 x 325 x 227mm|
|Weight||2.75 lbs (1.25kg)||2.96 lbs (1.35 kg)|
|Battery||Up to 13 hours video playback (iTunes)||Up to 12 hours video playback (iTunes)|
Which is the best MacBook Air for me?
The 2018 MacBook Air is aimed at mobile workers who want a dependable laptop which they can get a day’s use out of, or more generally, anyone who wants a lightweight and eye-catching laptop for work and entertainment.
Apple’s promising us 12 hours of video playback, but that’s based on a benchmark using iTunes – we’ve no way of telling how it would perform when streaming content from Netflix or BBC iPlayer.
Students, freelance writers or anyone who needs a lightweight device to grab and go at a moment’s notice will appreciate the MacBook Air. The lack of ports mean that you will inevitably have to splash out on some dongles to get more use out of the MacBook Air, whatever your working situation is.
Photographers or photography students tempted by the MacBook Air would be better off looking at a laptop from the 2018 MacBook Pro range. The 2018 MacBook Pro 13-inch boasts one of the best displays we’ve seen on any laptop, and while Apple promises that the MacBook Air’s Retina Display will cover the entire sRGB colour gamut, the processors and GPU options you get with the 2018 MacBook Pros are simply better equipped to handle heavy photo editing,
Until we’ve tested one, we’ll reserve our judgement, but our feeling is that if you’re after a laptop primarily for photo editing, the MacBook Air might not be your best Apple option.
Related: MacBook Air 2018
Is it worth buying a MacBook Air 2017?
Compared to the MacBook Pro line up, where prices end at over £6000, the best MacBook to buy for those on a really tight budget right now is arguably the MacBook Air. Here, price options start at £949 and end at £1384.
But with the new MacBook Air range out now, stock clearances may be swift and brutal. If you’re in two minds about whether or not to get a MacBook Air 2017, you should buy one before they’re no longer available.
If you need a basic laptop for writing essays, reports and articles and doing some light photo editing, then the MacBook Air 2017 represents a good and cheap(er) alternative.
That said, if your budget can stretch to the upper echelons of the current Air range, then you might as well look at getting one of the cheaper MacBook Air 2018s, or even the Core i5 2018 MacBook Pros.
Related: MacBook Air (2014) Review
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Apple relaunched the MacBook brand back in 2015, pitching it somewhere between the bigger, more powerful Pros and the lighter, more portable Airs.
As we said above, the Air range appears to be in stasis right now. So what does this mean for the MacBook brand?
The most recent refresh last year gave us a range of ultrabooks with Intel Kaby Lake architecture 7th Gen processors and 12-inch displays, with an uncommon native resolution of 2304 x 1440.
Apple has yet to announce a refresh for 2018, but there’s likely to be some MacBook-related news announced today.
Here’s our overview of the current range:
|MacBook 2017 (Intel Core m3 version)||MacBook 2017 (Intel Core i5 version)||MacBook 2017 (Intel Core i7 version)|
|Processor||1.2GHz dual-core 7th‑generation Intel Core m3 processor (Turbo Boost up to 3.0GHz)||1.3GHz dual-core 7th‑generation Intel Core i5 processor (Turbo Boost up to 3.2GHz)||1.4GHz dual-core 7th‑generation Intel Core i7 processor (Turbo Boost up to 3.6GHz)|
|Display||12-inch 2304 x 1440 resolution LCD screen with IPS||12-inch 2304 x 1440 resolution LCD screen with IPS||12-inch 2304 x 1440 resolution LCD screen with IPS|
|Graphics||Intel HD Graphics 615||Intel HD Graphics 615||Intel HD Graphics 615|
|Memory||8GB / 16GB 1866MHz LPDDR3 RAM||8GB / 16GB 1866MHz LPDDR3 RAM||8GB / 16GB 1866MHz LPDDR3 RAM|
|Storage||256GB PCIe-based SSD||256GB / 512GB PCIe-based SSD||256GB / 512GB PCIe-based SSD|
|Dimensions||35-13.1 x 280 x 196mm||35-13.1 x 280 x 196mm||35-13.1 x 280 x 196mm|
|Weight||0.92 kg||0.92 kg||0.92 kg|
Which is the best MacBook for me?
Compared with the MacBook Air range, the standard MacBooks are a little more powerful, thanks mainly in part to the faster RAM (with the option of going up to 16GB, double the Air’s threshold) better graphics processor and also come with higher resolution displays. The current MacBooks are also actually lighter than the MacBook Airs, despite what the naming convention implies.
So if you don’t really need a high performance laptop like the new MacBook Pros, but want something a bit more future-proof than an Air, this is worth your consideration.
Bear in mind that it’s likely that Apple will refresh the MacBook range soon, so your options are, snap one up now, or wait for a new line-up to be announced and hope that there’ll be a price drop on older stock/buy a 2018 MacBook instead. As mentioned the MacBook also lacks physical connectivity. There’s a 3.5mm headphone jack and a single USB Type-C port, which also acts as the charging port.
Related: MacBook Review (2016)
In addition, while we’re looking at Apple’s powerful ultrabooks, it’s worth considering what the competition has to offer, if you’re not wedded to macOS. The following laptops and hybrids all run Windows 10 as opposed to Apple’s macOS:
Related: Best laptop 2019