For many, the choice of which laptop to buy is actually simpler: which MacBook should I buy?
There are quite a few configurations to choose from even if you decide which model to go for, but that is quite a granular, personal decision. The biggest decision is actually which basic model to go for now that Apple has priced them all roughly in the same ballpark.
Just a few years ago we would have said without hesitation that the best MacBook for most people was the MacBook Air. But things aren’t so simple anymore.
The Air used to define what a light, thin laptop was not just for Apple but for the entire laptop market. But its design has barely changed since 2008, and since then Apple has not only slimmed and refined its MacBook Pro, but also released the MacBook. It's also almost three years since the MacBook Air was last updated, apart from a small spec boost to a 2015 processor.
These computers all have similar, confusing names and fairly similar specs. Here, we look at the four basic models of MacBook available and decide which is best for most people looking to buy a MacBook in 2018.
Best MacBook 2018
1. 12-inch MacBook
Possibly for the first time, we think that the best MacBook for most people is the 12in MacBook. Not Air or Pro, just MacBook. It is expensive starting at £1,249 and only has one USB-C port for physical connectivity.
But it is incredibly lightweight (less than 1kg), slim and increasingly powerful. Its thinness is achieved by running a solid-state drive with no fan, batteries that are layered cleverly to maximise capacity but minimise size.
It also has a Retina display vastly superior to that of any MacBook Air. The 12in screen is enough for most people who want to word process, email, surf the web and sit in bed with Netflix. The base Intel Core m3 processor is enough for most needs, but you’ll want to upgrade to i5 or i7 if you do any level of gaming, or music and video production.
It offers 10 hours of battery life which in our experience is an over estimate but it charges pretty fast. The shallow keyboard won't be to everyone’s tastes but Apple improved it for 2017 and it is the same as the MacBook Pro's.
It's also available in four colours including Rose Gold. In an increasingly wireless world people don't need USB sticks and DVDs. The MacBook was ahead of its time when it came out but in 2018 it represents the future of computing - and we feel it's time everyone got on board.
2. 13-inch MacBook Pro (2017)
We thought long and hard, and we recommend the MacBook Pro (without Touch Bar) over the MacBook Air too. It starts at the same price as the 12in MacBook and has a larger 13.3in screen, a more powerful Core i5 processor and 10 hours battery life.
It is heavier and thicker than the MacBook despite the name, but you should pick it if you want more power behind your computing. It has two USB-C ports instead of one, and can manage photo and light video editing without breaking a sweat.
It has the same shallow keyboard as the MacBook but if you like it you will get on with it just fine as the build quality on show is second to none. This model keeps the normal function row of keys, meaning you don’t have to get used to the Touch Bar and can fall into your normal Mac workflow easily.
For the same cost you get a 2.3GHz i5 processor instead of 1.2GHz m3, a better graphics card and 8GB of faster RAM, but only 128GB instead of 256GB. This is the Pro’s slight downside for the price as you’ll probably want to invest in more storage at point of sale, or at least get a hard drive.
There are no USB-A ports on the MacBook Pro, so you will want to factor that in if your workflow currently relies on the ports. The Pro remains a solid, dependable MacBook even if we do think it’s a touch too expensive now.
3. Apple MacBook Air
So here it is, the MacBook Air. It is by no means a bad laptop, but nine years into its lifecycle - and not having been updated in three years - it is no longer our go-to recommendation. But to start with the good things, it still has the best battery life of any MacBook around, with a promised 12 hours (but regularly clocking more).
The 13.3in screen is big enough to work all day on, and the 1.8GHz Core i5 Broadwell (2015) processor might still be enough for some people’s everyday computing needs. The main thing in its favour is that at £949, it is £300 less than the cheapest MacBook or MacBook Pro so is better value (although we still that is too much to spend on a laptop with a chip that's three years old).
This price gets you 8GB RAM and 128GB storage, two USB-A ports, an SD card slot, a Thunderbolt 2 port and a MagSafe charger – the Air is the only MacBook to still use Apple’s clever MagSafe charging system.
The visual downside to the Air is the inferior display. It has a 1440 x 900 resolution screen – not Retina - with sizable bezels. Side by side with the 12in MacBook or MacBook Pro it really shows its age, and if your work is in photo and video it really isn’t an option.
But, if you want the cheapest route to macOS in laptop form then it is still here, and still powering careers in offices, schools and coffee shops all over the world. It is in many ways the quintessential laptop, and still has Apple’s full depth keyboard that millions are used to.
You can no longer buy the 11in version, but if you want familiarity and solid all-round performance, it’s still a decent choice, that will cost less.
4. MacBook Pro with Touch Bar
The MacBook Pro is also available with a Touch Bar that replaces the traditional function row of keys on the keyboard. It costs from £1,749, which is hefty £500 than the version without it.
That gets you the Touch Bar, Touch ID sensor, a marginally faster processor and four USB-C ports rather than two. But is this enough to justify the very high price?
We think, when considering the base specs and price of each model of MacBook, no. It is a marvellous computer no doubt, but for most people it is overkill. Professional users who opt for it will end up spending more on upgrading the specs to their needs.
The £1,749 gets your 256GB storage, 8GB RAM and a 3.1GHz 7th- gen Core i5 but if you do any gaming or video work you would expect 16GB RAM for the price, but Apple will charge you £180 extra for this.
It’s the best MacBook for the interesting functionality afforded by the Touch Bar, the USB-C ports and the power you can upgrade into it. But if all you use a MacBook for is writing, emails, web surfing and Netflix then there is no way you need to spend this much money on a MacBook.