Best MacBook: Which Mac laptop should you buy?

MacBook Pro vs. MacBook Air. Here’s what you need to know to pick the right one.

macbook family 2019 Apple

You’re planning on buying a new Mac laptop. So you head over to your local Apple store, or you peruse the pages of Apple’s website, and you find yourself with money to spend but no idea on which MacBook to buy.

Don’t worry! That’s why we’re here. In this guide, we’ll go over Apple’s current MacBook lineup, point out their differences and similarities, and provide you with the information you need to pick the right MacBook for you.

The affordable choice: MacBook Air

Longtime Mac users may remember when the MacBook Air made its debut years ago as Apple’s entry into the ultra-portable laptop market. But times have changed, and starting in 2015, the MacBook was repositioned as Apple’s affordable laptop.

How many models can I choose from? Apple offers two standard configuration MacBook Air models. They are identical except for the amount of storage.

What are the prices for the MacBook Air? $1,099, and $1,299.

What are the MacBook Air specifications?

Here are the specifications for the $1,099 an $1,299 laptops. These are the most current MacBook Air models.

  • 1.6GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor (eighth generation)
  • 8GB of 2133MHz LPDDR3 memory
  • Intel UHD Graphics 617
  • 13.3-inch LED-backlit Retina display with a 2560x1600 resolution
  • Two Thunderbolt 3/USB-C ports
  • Headphone jack
  • Weighs 2.75 pounds

The $1,099 MacBook Air has a 128GB SSD for file storage. The $1,299 model has a 256GB SSD.

What is it good for? The MacBook Air doesn’t use Intel’s most powerful processors, but it’s strong enough to handle typical tasks, like internet access, writing, spreadsheets, presentations, and other productivity-related jobs. It also has enough processing punch for using Apple Photos to edit and manage your pictures, or to create short YouTube videos in iMovie.

Save some money and buy refurbished: Apple’s Refurbished and Clearance online store has a few MacBook Air models for sale. While not brand new, these gently-used laptops have been refurbished to Apple’s strict guidelines and are like new.

Learn more about Apple’s Refurbished and Clearance online store. You can buy brand-new laptops by clicking on the View button in the product.

Macworld’s buying advice: The MacBook Air is a capable laptop for your everyday work—and it won’t take up a lot of room in your bag. If you can, opt for the $1,299 model and its larger SSD capacity.

The lightweight choice: MacBook Air

OK, we know, we just got done talking about how the MacBook Air was released as Apple's lightweight solution, and how it's been repositioned as the company's affordable laptop. Here's the thing: It’s also Apple’s smallest laptop, able to fit in most backpacks, briefcases, satchels, and bags. And it's a tad lighter than the 13-inch MacBook Pro while being about the same size.

How big is it? Here are the specifics on the MacBook Air.

  • Height: 0.16 to 0.61 inch
  • Width: 11.97 inches
  • Depth: 8.36 inches
  • Weight: 2.75 pounds

For comparison, here's the specifications for the 13-inch MacBook Pro.

  • Height: 0.59 inch
  • Width: 11.97 inches
  • Depth: 8.36 inches
  • Weight: 3.02 pounds

Why pick the MacBook Pro instead: The main reason why you might pick the MacBook Pro instead is processing power. The MacBook Pro has two more processing cores, making it a better fit with pro apps. Its graphics card is also a little faster.

Keep in mind that you could end up spending a lot more than you would if you picked a MacBook Air. Apple has a 13-inch MacBook Pro for $1,299, which is tha same price as one of the standard configurations of the MacBook Air, but Apple also sells three other 13-inch MacBook Pro models for $1,499, $1,799, and $1,999. The 13-inch MacBook Pro models are the same size and weight, but you pay for more processing power and more storage.

Save some money and buy refurbished: Apple’s Refurbished and Clearance online store has a few MacBook models for sale. While not brand new, these gently-used laptops have been refurbished to Apple’s strict guidelines and are like new.

Learn more about Apple’s Refurbished and Clearance online store.

Macworld’s buying advice: If you’re road warrior and size and weight are a priority, the MacBook Air will be a nice travel partner. If you need more processing power, though, consider the 13-inch MacBook Pro.

The choice for heavy-duty workloads: MacBook Pro

The MacBook Pro is Apple’s top-of-the-line laptop. If you want a laptop that can handle any task you throw at it—and you don’t have a constraining budget—the MacBook Pro is the laptop you want.

macbook pro microsoft powerpoint 2019 Apple

How many models can I choose from? Apple offers six standard configuration laptops: four 13-inch models, and two 15-inch versions. Each model is available is Silver or Space Gray.

What are the prices for the MacBook Pro? The 13-inch models go for $1,299, $1,499, $1,799, and $1,999. The 15-inch models are $2,399 and $2,799.

What are the MacBook Pro specifications? Here are the specifics on each model. We’ll start with the 13-inch laptops and then list the 15-inch ones.

There are four 13-inch models:

  • $1,299 model: 1.4GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 (8th generation) processor, 8GB of memory, 128GB SSD, Intel Iris Plus Graphics 645 integrated graphics, two Thunderbolt 3 ports
  • $1,499 model: 1.4GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 (8th generation) processor, 8GB of memory, 256GB SSD, Intel Iris Plus Graphics 645 integrated graphics, two Thunderbolt 3 ports
  • $1,799 model: 2.4GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 (8th generation) processor, 8GB of memory, 256GB SSD, Intel Iris Plus Graphics 655 integrated graphics, four Thunderbolt 3 ports
  • $1,999 model: 2.4GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 (8th generation) processor, 8GB of memory, 512GB SSD, Intel Iris Plus Graphics 655 integrated graphics, four Thunderbolt 3 ports

Apple has two 15-inch MacBook Pros:

  • $2,399 model: 2.6GHz 6-core Intel Core i7 (8th generation) processor, 16GB of memory, 256GB SSD, Intel UHD Graphics 630 integrated graphics, 4GB Radeon Pro 555X discrete graphics
  • $2,799 model: 2.3GHz 8-core Intel Core i7 (8th generation) processor, 16GB of memory, 512GB SSD, Intel UHD Graphics 630 integrated graphics, 4GB Radeon Pro 560X discrete graphics

Save some money and buy refurbished: Apple’s Refurbished and Clearance online store has a few 13-inch MacBook Pro models for sale. While not brand new, these gently-used laptops have been refurbished to Apple’s strict guidelines and are like new. Stock ebbs and flows, so it’s possible you may not find refurbished versions of the 2018 laptop, and only find older models.

Learn more about Apple’s Refurbished and Clearance online store.

What is it good for? If you have a heavy workload, the MacBook Pro has the power to handle it, no sweat. Video production, graphics and animation, serious data crunching—you name it, the MacBook Pro is built for it. The MacBook Pro isn’t as powerful as a desktop computer, but it is strong enough to serve as your only computer.

All this processing prowess comes at a price—the MacBook Pro is Apple’s priciest laptop. And it’s also its heaviest, with the 15-inch models pushing just past 4 pounds. That may not sound like a lot, but imagine yourself on the road, meeting with people, working remotely. The weight wears on you as the day goes on.

Save some money and buy refurbished: Check Apple’s Refurbished and Clearance online store for stock of the 2018 15-inch MacBook Pro. While not brand new, these gently-used laptops have been refurbished to Apple’s strict guidelines and are like new. Plus, you can save some money. The inventory fluctuates a lot, however, and it’s possible that you wil only find older models.

Learn more about Apple’s Refurbished and Clearance online store.

Macworld’s buying advice: Picking a MacBook Pro is a little complicated, not just because of the size differences, but the differences between the features offered within each size category.

If you want power on a budget, consider the $1,799 13-inch MacBook Pro. It’s a good combination of speed and price. The 256GB SSD is the major compromise you’re making here. If you plan to do a lot of creative work that results in large files, the SSD could fill up quickly.

macbook pro touch bar emoji

The Touch Bar on the MacBook Pro.

The 15-inch $2,799 MacBook Pro is the laptop with all the bells and whistles. It’s the one for the most demanding users, who will like the hefty discrete graphics card.

If you really need to keep the price down, consider the $1,499 13-inch MacBook Pro. The 128GB SSD in the $1,299 version is probably too small and most people will fill it up quickly, which is why you should think about the $1,499 model, which has a 256GB SSD. 

Because the new MacBook Pros rely on Thunderbolt 3, you’re going to need to stock up of adapters to connect items like an external display, hard drive, and more. We have a MacBook Pro Thunderbolt 3 adapter guide to help you find the ones you need.

  
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