Buying a new laptop can be a confusing experience, especially if you choose the Windows OS. Things are a little simpler with Macs although finding the best Macbook can still give you headaches if you’re new to the scene. That’s because of yearly upgrades and variants although there are a few more things you’ll need to keep in mind as well.
How to Choose the Best MacBook for Your Needs
While you may think choosing a new MacBook is as simple as looking at the latest Pro or Air, it’s not quite that easy. You won’t have to wade through dozens of 2-in-1 laptops or dig into the pixel density of 4K displays, but you will need to think about why you’re buying one, so you can find the right fit.
To keep it simple, the MacBook Pro is the company’s flagship laptop and their answer to all those high-spec’d Windows machines. While it can certainly deliver on most fronts and is ideal for professionals, it’s also not cheap if you want the top model with the Touch Bar and a big solid-state drive.
The newest versions of the MacBook Air are not far behind the Pro now, but are lighter and built for portability and speed. They come with many of the same bells & whistles found on flagship models while the regular MacBook falls somewhere between those two styles.
In a nutshell, the Pro is geared towards professionals and power-hungry consumers while the Air is ideal for students. There are also older models to consider along with a half-dozen configurations for each device.
There’s not a lot to say when it comes to specs as Apple does things a bit differently. That means there are no exotic GPU to choose from and only a handful of components across the board. Every year those parts get refreshed, but the entire lineup primarily consists of the Intel Core-i5 and i7 processors for the most part which is backed by 8GB of RAM in the mid-range. On the high-end, you’ll get 16GB and most models allow you to “boost” the machine in key areas from Apple but it comes at a premium.
While that’s not exciting, every modern machine will have a fast solid-state hard drive and a colorful display. Their Retina display is your best bet although it can’t hold a candle to the best 4K panels on the market. As for the ports, we’re not going to spend much time there as you won’t get many. It’s a common complaint with Mac users along with the keyboard so be prepared to buy an adapter or two.
Most laptops don’t have great warranties, and even the best Apple laptops are no different. The standard warranty is 1-year, but you might luck up and pick up a model being sold with Apple Care. If not, an extended warranty is always an option and highly recommended if available. Macs are built to run forever and be crash-free machines, but they aren’t something casual consumers can work on. That means it pays to buy right the first time as they are not upgrade-friendly either.
5 Best Macbooks in 2020
Apple MacBook Pro 15-inch with Touch Bar
The Best MacBook Pro
With some products, the most expensive isn’t necessarily the best, but that isn’t the case this time around. The Apple MacBook Pro is our choice for the best MacBook overall, and while it’s expensive, it’s worth every penny if you’re a power user or pro.
The MacBook Pro is Apple’s flagship laptop, so you’re getting their top model with all the bells & whistles. That includes a Touch Bar along with Touch ID and four Thunderbolt 3 ports. While not in the Air class, it’s still light at 4.02 pounds and has “good” battery life with around 10 hours depending on your usage. If you’re using high-end editing programs or other intensive apps on the go, you can definitely expect that number to drop.
When a laptop carries a “Pro” moniker, it needs to have some pop, and this one doesn’t disappoint. We went for the Core i7 variant with 16GB of RAM and a 256GB solid-state drive as it provides a good value for the price. There are other options available however including the Intel Core i9 with 512GB if you need more power. Other tech specs of interest include a DisplayPort, Bluetooth 5.0, and Dual-band Wi-Fi.
Graphics come courtesy of the Radeon Pro 555X with 4GB of VRAM, but the display is arguably the star of the show. It’s a 15.4-inch retina display with True Tone tech and a resolution of 2,880 x 1,800. It can hit 500 nits and looks great whether you’re gaming, watching videos or just browsing the web. On the other hand, it’s about time Apple ups the resolution considering the price and displays on Windows-based machines.
There are no big surprises here as the best MacBook is usually the Pro model each year. It’s quicker than other machines with better specifications, and the operating system ensures you won’t hit nearly as many snags. That makes an excellent laptop for video editing or almost any professional need. On the downside, it’s expensive, and we still don’t have 4K or a touchscreen display. The MacBook Pro is available in Space Gray or Silver with a 1-year warranty.
- It’s quick and reliable
- Touch ID & Touch Bar
- 16GB of RAM
- x4 Thunderbolt 3 ports
- The keyboard could be better
- The price
Apple MacBook Air with 13-inch Retina Display
The Best Apple Laptop for College
While all Apple products are a bit more expensive, some MacBooks are reasonable for the average consumer. The MacBook Air is one of those options, and the newest generation brought some significant improvements to the table.
One of the big differences between the Pro and Air was the display and a few other flagship features. The new MacBook Air now has a 13.3-inch Retina display with a resolution of 2,560 x 1,600 which is a huge leap from 1,440 x 900. It’s sharper, but not quite as colorful as the Pro although it does have 48% more colors than a non-retina model.
The bezels are also thinner this time around, and the laptop measures just 0.61”H x 11.97”W x 8.36”D with a weight of 2.75 pounds. Despite its size, there is an 8th generation Core i5 and a 128GB/256GB solid-state drive inside (upgradable up to 1TB if you order on the Apple website). There’s only 8GB of RAM (16GB available on Apple website) and the Intel UHD 617 chips, so it’s not built for gaming but is a nimble little machine nonetheless.
Other areas of improvement on the new MacBook Air include Touch ID, better speakers, a more responsive keyboard, and a larger Force Touch Trackpad. It also has the company’s T2 security chip and is made from recycled aluminum making it a Green PC to a degree. Battery life is around 12 hours per charge depending on how hard you work it, and there are two Thunderbolt 3 ports on this model.
If you don’t need the power of the Pro or a mid-level Windows machine, the MacBook Air is an excellent choice and a great all-around laptop. This sleek aluminum machine won’t break the bank or your back and is a vast improvement over the previous generations which makes it well worth the price.
- Big improvement from previous generations
- 13.3-inch Retina display
- Excellent battery life
- Touch ID
- Underwhelming power
- Only two Thunderbolt ports
Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch with Retina Display
An Excellent Mid-Range Mac
We’ll admit, the newest version of the MacBook Pro is a sweet machine. That said, it’s not the only Pro around as the prices on previous generations drop when new laptops arrive. That makes this 13-inch PC a bargain if you want to get your hands on their flagship model but don’t require as much horsepower.
This laptop gets its power from an 8th gen 2.4GHz dual-core i5 processor and 8GB of RAM. An Intel Iris Plus 655 lends a hand when it comes to graphics and gaming while a solid-state drive takes care of the storage. We chose the 256GB edition considering Apple and upgrades aren’t two things that go together, but a 512GB variant is available as well (and 128GB with a 1.4Ghz i5).
Regardless of the hard drive, you’ll get the company’s famous Retina display with a resolution of 2,560 x 1,600 which clocks in at 13-inches. All the usual boxes are ticked in the connectivity department along with two Thunderbolt 3 ports and Bluetooth 4.2. Touch ID is not an option nor is a Touch Bar, but the battery life is excellent at around 10 hours per charge.
The Pro has a backlit keyboard, but it’s not the updated version found on the newer models. There’s not much to stay from a design standpoint. It looks like a MacBook, is well-built and likely to outlast other PCs by a decade. It weighs about the same as their 13-inch flagship model at a little over 3 pounds and measures 0.59”H x 11.97”W x 8.36”D.
As much as we enjoy the Touch Bar, it is not for everyone and comes at a premium. This iteration of the MacBook lets you join the club at a discount, but is still fresh enough to hold its own for years to come. It has the same standard Apple warranty as the rest of our options and is available in Silver or Space Gray.
- 13-inch Retina display
- Iris Plus 640 Graphics
- 256GB SSD
- Battery life
- Touch ID
- Lack of ports
Apple MacBook 12-inch
The Best MacBook for Travel
Apple doesn’t offer their laptops in as many sizes as other manufacturers, but they do have some interesting options like the 12-inch MacBook. It’s our favorite choice for consumers on the go and packs some surprising specifications despite its size.
This MacBook is a little older than the rest of our picks but still performs admirably. That’s due to a 1.3GHz dual-core chip with a Turbo Boost speed of 3.2GHz and 8GB of LPDDR3 RAM. Apple’s software and optimization technique have something to do with that as well, but the graphics take a bit of a hit with the Intel HD 615.
While this laptop measures 0.52”H x 11.04”W x 7.74”D, it only weighs 2.03 pounds. It’s lighter than the MacBook Air, and this particular model sports a 512GB solid state drive to boot. As with most MacBook laptops, there aren’t enough ports to go around, and you’ll only get one USB-C port on this one. That’s a huge disappointment given the price and the fact it’s just a few years old.
On a positive note, the Retina display on the 12-inch MacBook is sharp with vibrant colors. The resolution is listed at 2,304 x 1,440 with 226 pixels per inch, so your battery life won’t take a hit from the panel. The company claims 10 hours on a charge, but you can get longer from this one as it isn’t necessarily built for gaming or dealing with high-end programs.
This laptop has a lot going for it despite a few common issues like the keyboard and lack of ports. Most of those problems affect all the older models, so it’s not as much of a negative as a nuisance when you’re informed. The 12-inch MacBook is available with a 256GB SSD or m3 chip if you’re looking to save a few bucks as well. Either way you roll, you’ll have four hues to choose from with Space Gray, Silver, Gold, and Rose Gold.
- Portable and light at only 2.03 pounds!
- 512GB solid-state drive
- Fanless design
- Color options
- Shallow keyboard
- Only one port
Apple MacBook Air 13-inch
A Speedy Mac with a Large SSD
If the love the design of the new MacBook Air but need a quicker processor, the 2017 version is well worth a look. This laptop is a little more configurable and just as capable with a large solid-state drive and plenty of speed.
The Apple MacBook Air lineup are some of the best laptops for programming, and this one certainly fits that bill. While it still has the standard 8GB of RAM, the processor is a dual-core i7 clocked at 2.2GHz. Storage is top-notch thanks to a 512GB solid-state drive, which should be large enough to satisfy most consumers’ needs. It’s also just as light as the rest of our options at under 3 pounds but has a slightly thicker waistline at 0.68 inches.
While the innards are solid, the display isn’t nearly as sharp as the newest MacBook. They’re both the same size, but this glossy panel has a resolution of 1,440 x 900. The graphics aren’t bad, but nothing to write home about considering it’s the Intel HD 6000 chip. We do think you’ll be pleased with the connectivity options however as there is a Thunderbolt 2 port, two USB 3 ports, a MagSafe 2 port, and an SDXC card.
Bluetooth is a bit dated at 4.0, but wireless is stable overall, and the battery life is excellent. You can get 10 – 12 hours before the need to recharge which is long enough to get most folks through the day. The keyboard could still use some work, but overall it’s an excellent machine that’s portable and built to be reliable.
Apple excels at cramming a lot of tech into a small package, and they definitely pulled that off with this 13-inch MacBook Air. It’s slim, with solid hardware under the hood and we’re pleased with the ports even if the display is a little bland. If you don’t need that much power or storage, the Core i5 model with the 128GB SSD is also a steal.
- Core i7 processor
- 512GB SSD
- Excellent battery life
- USB 3.0, MagSafe & Thunderbolt 2 ports
- Low-resolution display
- The price tag