Best MacBook 2018: All the facts on Apple’s Macbook, Pro and Air lines

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 the entire 2018 range 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 recently-launched 13-inch MacBook Pro and its bigger, more powerful 15-inch counterpart, though bear in mind that it’s been a while since Apple properly updated the MacBook Air range. Apple didn’t unveil any new MacBooks, let alone MacBook Airs at its ‘Gather Round’ launch event, but we’re expecting at least one of the two MacBook lines to be refreshed at some point this year.

We could well see new MacBook Airs with skinny bezels, Touch ID and possibly Intel’s new Whiskey Lake or Amber Lake processors running the show. According to a report in Bloomberg, Apple may unveil new MacBooks, along with a refreshed Mac mini, later in the year, possibly after Intel launches its new 9th Gen CPUs.

We did at least learn that the upcoming MacOS 10.14 Mojave update will be dropping on September 24, which will offer a new dark mode and enhanced security amongst other features.

Whatever Apple unveils later in the year, unless you’ve got your heart set on a new MacBook Pro, it’s probably best off waiting for that Apple news to drop before looking for the best MacBook for you.

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 confusingly-named 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 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.

13-inch 2018 MacBook Pro with the default High Sierra image set as the background

MacBook Pro

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 2018 edition, the version with 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:

13-inch MacBook Pro 2018 15-inch MacBook Pro 2018
Processor 2.3GHz quad-core 8th gen Intel Core i5 (Turbo Boost up to 3.8GHz) / 2.7GHz quad-core 8th gen Intel Core i7 processor (Turbo Boost up to 4.5GHz) 2.2GHz 6-core 8th gen Intel Core i7 processor (Turbo Boost up to 4.1GHz) / 2.6GHz 6-core 8th-generation Intel Core i7 processor (Turbo Boost up to 4.3GHz) / 2.9GHz 6-core 8th-gen Intel Core i9 processor (Turbo Boost up to 4.8GHz)
Display 13.3-inch 2560×1600 LED display with IPS 15.4-inch 2880×1800 LED display with IPS
Graphics Intel Iris Plus Graphics 655 Intel UHD Graphics 630, AMD Radeon Pro 555X / 560X, both with 4GB of GDDR5 memory
Memory 8GB / 16GB 2133MHz LPDDR3 RAM 32GB / 64GB 2400MHz DDR4 RAM
Storage 256GB / 512GB / 1TB / 2TB PCIe-based SSD 256GB / 512GB / 1TB / 2TB / 4TB PCIe-based SSD
Dimensions 14.9 x 304.1 x 212.4mm 15.5 x 349.3 x 240.7mm
Weight 1.37 kg 1.83 kg
Price Range  i5 £1749-£3329 / i7 £2019-£3599 i5 £2349-£5769 / i7 £2699-£5939 / i9 £2699-£6119

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

Is the Air the best MacBook?

MacBook Air

As the name implies, Apple’s MacBook Air laptops are very thin and lightweight. Traditionally, they did away with a surfeit of hardware ports, placing an emphasis on wireless (Wi-Fi and Bluetooth) connectivity. Generally, MacBook Airs were very air-y.

As Apple has pared down its MacBook Pros and standard MacBooks over the years, removing hardware ports along the way, the raison d’être of the MacBook Air brand seems to be in jeopardy at the moment.

Apple’s all but shut down the Air range, concentrating instead on its more powerful Pro range first and foremost, and the MacBook range second. The last MacBook Air came out in March 2017, and that was an incremental update on the last significant refresh from two years before.

But fear not, as rumours suggest Apple will be giving the MacBook Air range a refresh before the end of the year. Not only could it come with the upcoming macOS 10.14 Mojave software that’s due to be released in September, but it’s also expected to be sporting ultra-skinny bezels, Touch ID, a gorgeous Retina display and a speedier processor with Intel’s new Whiskey Lake and Amber Lake processors mooted.

These new MacBook Airs could be priced cheaper than MacBook and MacBook Pro counterparts, as a way to differentiate the brand and appeal to a different segment of the market, like the iPhone SE smartphone.

Or alternatively, Apple may ditch the Air range altogether with the vanilla MacBook becoming the new ultra-portable and feather-light option for macOS fans.

One way or another, we expect to know more soon. In the meantime, here’s our overview of the MacBook Air range as it currently stands: 

MacBook Air 2017 
Processor 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)
Display 13-inch 1440 x 900 LED display with IPS
Graphics Intel HD Graphics 6000
Memory 8GB 1600MHz LPDDR3 RAM
Storage 128GB / 256GB / 512GB
Dimensions 3-17 x 325 x 227mm
Weight 1.35 kg
Price Range £949-£1384

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.

Bear in mind that the range has not been significantly updated since 2015 and the rumour is that Apple may even discontinue the line and merge it with the standard MacBook range (or vice versa).

If you need a basic laptop for writing essays, reports and articles and doing some light photo editing, then the MacBook Air represents a cheap(er) alternative to the Pro line. 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 Core i5 2018 MacBook Pros, or one of last year’s MacBooks.

However, we still recommend you wait until the new Apple announcements before buying a MacBook Air.

Related: MacBook Air (2014) Review 

Apple press image of the MacBook 2017.

MacBook

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 it’s keeping under wraps ahead of its event on Wednesday September 12.

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
Price Range £1249-£1429 £1339-£1729 £1049-£1864

 

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)

MacBook competitors

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 Ultrabook 2018

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