If you are on the market for a new Mac laptop then you will no doubt be wondering which of Apple's MacBooks is best. In this article we'll aim to answer the question of what is the best MacBook to buy, comparing the MacBook, MacBook Air, and the 13in and 15in MacBook Pro models.
That's already a lot of choice, but the decision is even more complicated because for each model there are quite a few configurations to choose from. It's not even a simple choice that you can make based on money, because the different Mac laptop categories all have similar starting prices.
Just to complicate things even further, at various points during the year Apple tends to update its range of Macs, upgrading the processors, graphics cards, and other features to better equip users for the future. The company updated the MacBook Pro in July 2018, and the MacBook Air was (finally) updated in October 2018 (the first time since 2015). But the 12in MacBook hasn't been updated since June 2017.
As for the MacBook Pro, as we said above, that machine has been upgraded already in 2018 - back in July - but there are two entry-level models (the ones without Touch Bar) that have yet to be updated. So, as with the MacBook, we would advise that you don't buy these models as they will probably be updated soon.
In this article we will look at the four basic models of MacBook available and assess which is best for most people looking to buy a MacBook in 2018.
Best MacBook 2018
1. MacBook Air (2018)
For a long time the MacBook Air has been languishing at the bottom of our list because Apple had neglected it for more than three years. But that all changed on 30 October when Apple finally updated and completely redesigned its lowest-priced Mac laptop.
The new MacBook Air costs more than the old MacBook Air - prices start at £1,199/$1,199 for the new model. The old MacBook Air is still available for £949/$999 but we'd disuade you from buying that model at all, a computer that hasn't been updated since March 2015 really isn't worth that price.
The 2018 MacBook Air comes in three colour choices: Gold, Silver and Space Grey. It's smaller and thinnner than the older MacBook Air, but still recognisable as a MacBook Air thanks to that tapered edge. It's larger than the 12in MacBook and smaller than the 13in MacBook Pro.
It has the best battery life of any MacBook around, with a promised 12 hours, which Apple referrs to as "All day battery life". The 13.3in screen is big enough to work all day on, and now that Apple has finally given the MacBook Air a Retina display it's a pleasure to look at. The Retina display is a big leap from the previous generation’s 1,440 x 900 pixels to the new 2,560 x 1,600 native resolution at 227 pixels per inch (the same as the 13in MacBook Pro).
The processor is a 1.6GHz Core i5 Amber Lake CPU (as opposed to the 2014 Broadwell processor in the older model). This should be enough for most people’s everyday computing needs, although it you are gaming, or using processor intensive apps, or if you are a creative professional, then the MacBook Pro will be more suited to your needs.
This price gets you 8GB RAM and 128GB storage, two Thunderbold/USB-c ports, and a headphone jack. You’ll be able to power a 4K display or run an eGPU from one of those Thunderbolt ports - which could make the Air appropriate for high-end use.
The older model has USB-A and an SD card slot, as well as a MagSafe charger – that 2015 Air is the only MacBook to still offer these ports. The only reason to buy one is if you really need those ports.
If you want the cheapest route to macOS in laptop form then the MacBook Air is the way to go, but we can't emphasise enough that you should ignore the £949/$999 model.
2. 13-inch MacBook Pro (2017)
We thought long and hard, and we recommend the MacBook Pro without Touch Bar, despite the fact that when Apple updated the MacBook Pro in July 2018 it left the two non-Touch Bar models untouched.
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 (with the same MacBook keyboard problems) 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.
Note: this version of the MacBook Pro wasn't updated in July 2018, Apple may update it before the end of the year, or it might discontinue it now that the MacBook Air has been updated.
3. 13-inch MacBook Pro (2018)
Prior to Apple's update to the Touch Bar verison of the 13in MacBook Pro in 2018 we found it hard to recommend based on the fact that we felt that the "pro" name was a bit of a misnomer. While the 15in model offered what we considered pro features, such as quad-core processors and a high spec graphics card, the 13in models were more suitable for office workers. We think there is a distinction between professional office workers and pro creatives, and that the 13in MacBook Pro definately didn't suit the latter.
However, all that changed when the July 2018 update (to only the Touch Bar models) bought new quad-core Coffee Lake chips. Finally the gulf between the 13in and 15in MacBook Pro laptops narrowed.
Of course, a professional machine comes with a professional price-point. The MacBook Pro with Touch Bar costs from £1,749, which is hefty £500 more than the version without it. Luckily you are getting more than a gimmicky Touch Bar for your money.
You also get a Touch ID sensor, a much faster processor, better graphics (although still an Intel integrated GPU) and four USB-C ports rather than two.
But is this enough to justify the very high price? That depends on what you need from your Mac laptop. If you need a powerful Mac, but you don't want to be spending £2,349 or more for a 15in MacBook Pro, then we think this is a good option, although you might want to consider an iMac as an alternative.
4. 12-inch MacBook
We think that the next best MacBook for most people is the 12in MacBook. The reason we've relagated it is that the biggest problem for the MacBook right now is the MacBook Air. Why buy the MacBook when you can get a only slightly heavier machine that offers better specs for a lower price?
The MacBook 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.
The 12in Retina display 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 overestimate, but it charges pretty fast. The shallow keyboard won't be to everyone’s tastes and there have been reports of problems with the MacBook keyboard.
Until October 2018 it was available in four colours including Rose Gold, but after the 30 October event Apple removed the Rose Gold model from the line up, which is a shame as it was popular, we thought.
In an increasingly wireless world people don't need USB sticks and DVDs so we aren't too worried about the lack of ports. The MacBook was ahead of its time when it came out, but in 2018 it represented the future of computing - until the new MacBook Air came along and stole its thunder.
Note: the MacBook hasn't been updated since June 2017. We still expect Apple to update it before the end of 2018, even though it didn't in October 2018.
5. 15in MacBook Pro (2018)
The 15in MacBook Pro isn't at the bottom of our list because it's not a fabulous computer, it is. It's just going to be overkill for most people.
With prices starting at an eye-watering £2,349 - that's £400 more than the most expensive 13in model - you'll get 256GB storage, 16GB RAM, Radeon Pro graphics, and a 2.2GHz 6-core, Coffee Lake Core i7 processor.
If you do any gaming or video work then the discrete graphics card will probably be attractive, and the 6-cores desirable.
It’s the best MacBook for creative pros, and right now the specs are better than what the iMac has to offer, but that may well change soon (watch this space for the 30 October event we keep mentioning).
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.