- > Which MacBook is the best value for money?
- > Best MacBook for upgrade and build-to-order options
- > Best Mac laptop for portability
- > Best MacBook for battery life
- > Best Mac laptop for storage
- > Fastest Mac laptop?
- > Best Mac laptop for work
- > Best Mac laptop for designers
- > Best Mac laptop for gaming
- > Best Mac laptop for students
Wondering which MacBook to buy? Our MacBook buying guide will help you decide which model is best for you.
Apple has two kinds of laptops on offer: the MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro. Within those two categories there are two version of the MacBook Air, four 13in MacBook Pro models, and two 16in MacBook Pro. There are also a number of build-to-order options that you can add such as extra RAM, more storage, or a faster processor.
You could pay anything between £999/$999 to £2,799/$2,799 for a standard Mac laptop (before you add on any build-to-order options).
While generally the Air is considered a machine that is great for home users and students, and the Pro more suited to working environments, there is a lot of crossover - there is even a MacBook Air and a MacBook Pro that share the same price (£1,299/$1,299).
If you're thinking about buying a new MacBook - MacBook Pro or MacBook Air - there are a lot of factors to consider. One factor is how recently Apple updated the Mac laptop and whether it is likely to be updating it again soon. Another is how the various components compare. And you may have other things that are important like portability and power.
We can answer that first question quickly:
- Apple updated the MacBook Air in March 2020.
- The two 2.0GHz 13in MacBook Pro models were updated in May 2020.
- The other two 13in MacBook Pro models were last updated in July 2019.
- The 16in MacBook Pro was introduced in December 2019.
We anticipate that before the end of 2020 Apple will also update the entry-level 13in MacBook Pros and the 16in MacBook Pro. We may even see a new 14in MacBook Pro.
If you're not sure yet if you want a laptop or desktop, you should also read our Mac buying guide, which covers both MacBooks and Apple's desktop Macs.
However, before we begin there is a bit of an elephant in the room that needs to be addressed. Apple made a big announcement at WWDC in June 2020: it will be transitioning all its Macs from Intel processors to its own Apple Silicon processors (aka ARM) over the next two years.
This means that by June 2022 there will be no more Intel Macs sold by Apple. If you want to know more about what this means read our guide to Apple Silicon here, and if you want to know if this means that buying a new Intel Mac now is a bad idea read this: Should I buy an Intel Mac?
Which MacBook is the best value for money?
As we said above, there are two Apple laptops that cost £1,299/$1,299. So we'll start off by comparing them: by comparing those two £1,299/$1,299 models we can demonstrate the differences between the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air. That should give you a good indication of which kind of Mac laptop is best for you.
We'll then go on to look at the other MacBook's you could spend your money on and whether these would offer better value.
£1,299 MacBook Air vs £1,299 MacBook Pro
The £1,299 MacBook Air offers 1.1GHz Quad-Core Core i5 10th-generation Intel processors with Turbo Boost up to 3.5GHz and Intel Iris Plus Graphics. The 2020 Air also offers 8GB 3733MHz LPDDR4X RAM and 512GB storage.
Both the Air and this MacBook Pro offer two Thunderbolt 3 ports, TouchID and a Retina display with True Tone. As of March 2020 for the Air, and May 2020 for the MacBook Pro, both Apple laptops now offer the improved Magic Keyboard - the keyboard in models sold since 2017 have been plagued by issues.
The £1,299 13in MacBook Pro offers 1.4GHz i5 Quad-Core 8th-generation processors with Turbo Boost up to 3.9GHz and Intel Iris Plus Graphics 645. You also get the Touch Bar - something that the Air doesn't offer. Following the May 2020 update this MacBook Pro now has 256GB storage (prior to the update it only offered 128GB). However, it's still half the storage offered by the Air - and this Pro is still hampered in comparison to the Air by its 8GB 2133MHz LPDDR3 memory and the 8th generation processor.
On that basis it’s hard to recommend the MacBook Pro right now - although it helps that Apple increased storage and updated the keyboard in May 2020. The only thing it has going for it that the Air doesn't is the Touch Bar, which we think it more of a gimmick than an essential feature. The processor might look faster, but it’s an 8th generation processor and there will be benefits associated with that.
The Air on the other hand has the 10th generation processor, we haven’t been able to run tests on these new chips yet, but we expect that the newer chips are likely to be comparable to the older chips even though they run slightly faster. It also has faster RAM: 8GB 3733MHz LPDDR4X memory rather than 8GB 2133MHz LPDDR3 memory, and there is a 512GB SSD rather than a paltry 128GB SSD.
For now our advice is: don’t buy the £1,299/$1,299 MacBook Pro. We talk about this here: Why you shouldn't buy the entry-level MacBook Pro. We think an update will be released later this year or potentially these entry-level MacBook Pro models could be discontinued with a new MacBook model taking their place.
The other 13in MacBook Pro
What of the £1,499/$1,499 MacBook Pro? is it worth paying a bit more to get a more professional machine? In that case for your £200 extra you will get 512GB storage (up from 256GB prior to May 2020). Given that the Air costs £200/$200 less than this Pro, and also has 512GB storage, if storage is what matters most to you it's going to be a no-brainer: save your money.
What of the other two 13in MacBook Pro models? These two mid-range MacBook Pros had their components upgraded in May 2020 - so they now feature 10th generation processors and 16GB RAM as standard. But they start at £1,799/$1,799, which is £500/$500 more than the £1,299/$1,299 Air. We review the 2020 2.0GHz MacBook Pro here.
With such a price jump you'd be correct in thinking these are very different beasts. Is the MacBook Pro worth £500/$500 more than the Air?
In that case you get a 2.0GHz Quad-Core 10th-generation Intel Core i5 Processor with Turbo Boost up to 3.8GHz and Intel Iris Plus Graphics. You'll also get four Thunderbolt 3 ports rather than two. The faster processor will be a boost - the Air features a 1.1GHz Quad-Core i5 processor (Turbo Boost to 3.5GHz), but it is disappointing that the processor doesn't look as impressive as the previous generation did: prior to the May 2020 update you'd have got a 2.4GHz Quad-Core 8th-generation Intel Core i5 Processor with Turbo Boost up to 4.1GHz.
It's good news that the RAM was updated in this model in May, though. Prior to the update the RAM was inferior: 8GB 2133MHz LPDDR3 memory. Now you will find 16GB 16GB 3733MHz LPDDR4X memory as standard in these two mid-range models. The extra RAM is certainly a good reason to buy these MacBook Pros.
If you choose instead to add 16GB to the MacBook Air for £200/$200 while 16GB RAM in the entry-level £1,299/$1,299 MacBook Pro costs £200/$200, the price having doubled at the end of May (but note this is still 2133MHz LPDDR3 memory).
Could you spec up a MacBook Air to be anything like the £1,799/$1,799 MacBook Pro model? To start, you could spend the extra £200/$200 for 16GB RAM. You could also spend another £150/$150 on a 1.2GHz quad-core 10th-generation Intel Core i7 processor (Turbo Boost up to 3.8GHz). Your fully specced MacBook Air would then cost a comparable £1,649/$1,649. That processor wouldn't be all that different to the 2.0GHz Quad-Core 10th-generation Intel Core i5 Processor (Turbo Boost up to 3.8GHz) in the £1,799/$1,799 MacBook Pro.
At that point it really does become a question of whether the other benefits of the MacBook Pro matter to you - such as the Touch Bar. Or if the lighter design of the Air appeals more.
£999 MacBook Air
There's one other MacBook Air to consider and the new, lower-priced, MacBook Air is an interesting proposition. The £100 price cut compared to 2019 (which was already a £100 price cut compared to 2018) looks like an attractive option, but is it?
For your £999 you get a 1.1GHz Dual-Core Core i3 processor with Turbo Boost up to 3.2GHz. Note that it's a dual-core processor, compared to the quad-core in the more expensive model. It also represents a reduction in processor power compared to the 2019 entry-level model that offered a 1.6GHz Dual-Core processor with Turbo Boost up to 3.6GHz, all-be-it 8th generation rather than 10th.
But the £999 model does offer more storage and better RAM than the 2019 model did, and in terms of what will make the most difference to the majority of users, that is probably it.
So, while we'd recommend the £1,299 model over the £999 if you can afford it, we'd suggest that the £999 MacBook Air is still a good buy and that even if you were able to get your hands on the 2018/2019 equivalent models at a lower price than £999 you'd probably still be wise to buy the 2020 model.
16in MacBook Pro?
The 16in MacBook Pro is really in another league but it has a price to match starting at £2,399.
For that you get 2.6GHz 6-core 9th-generation Intel Core i7 processor with Turbo Boost up to 4.5GHz. You also get discrete graphics (AMD Radeon Pro 5300M with 4GB of GDDR6 memory), 512GB SSD and a 16in display.
This is clearly on another level to the MacBook Air. There are certainly people for whom only the 16in MacBook Pro will do - those who need a discrete graphics card, for example. But if you are just looking for a Mac for work the £1,299 MacBook Air will probably be your best option right now.
So, the choice is pretty clear in terms of what you get for your money: Right now buying an entry-level 13in MacBook Pro (the £1,299/$1,299 or £1,499/$1,499 models) would be unwise because there are so many benefits right now to be had from the MacBook Air.
The other 13in MacBook Pro models have now been updated for 2020 and at least offer 16GB RAM and 10th generation processors. But if you take advantage of the build-to-order options at the point of sale the gap between the Air and those Pros isn't as big as it once was.
However, if you need the ultimate Mac laptop only the 16in MacBook Pro will do.
There are other reasons to consider these different Mac laptops though, as you will find if you read on.
Best MacBook for upgrade and build-to-order options
There are various build-to-order options available on the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro that could make them a more attractive purchase, so we'll examine them below.
The MacBook Air is a slim, lightweight laptop with a 13.3in screen. Apple updated the MacBook Air in March 2020 with better processors, more storage and improved RAM.
- 2020 MacBook Air, 13in, 1.1GHz Dual-Core i3, 8GB RAM, 256GB: Buy from Apple for £999/$999
- 2020 MacBook Air, 13in, 1.1GHz Quad-Core i5, 8GB RAM, 512GB: Buy from Apple for £1,299/$1,299
You can upgrade that processor to a 1.2GHz Quad-Core i7 for another £150, there is also the option to choose 16GB RAM as a build-to-order option for £200. If you need even more storage you can up it to 1TB for £200 or 2TB for £600.
While the Air probably still isn't powerful enough for gamers or video editors, but for students, commuters, and casual users, it is a good option - and the cheapest too.
Connectivity is limited; it's a small and thin laptop so you sacrifice some ports. You get two Thunderbolt 3 (USB‑C) ports, which support DisplayPort monitors, Thunderbolt and USB C, as well as being a means to charge the laptop. There will be disappointment that MagSafe 2, the two USB 3.0 ports, and the SDXC card slot are long gone.
If you want to buy a new MacBook Air check out our roundup of the best money-off deals.
The MacBook Pro range gives you the option of two different screen sizes. In November 2019 the larger of the two got a slight bump in size, so the options are now 13in and 16in. Read our MacBook Pro 16in review for more info on that.
All the MacBook Pro models currently available feature a Touch Bar - a touchscreen portion of the keyboard that replaces the function keys. Its display changes depending on the task you are undertaking, and it is fully customisable too. It also features Touch ID, bringing fingerprint security to the Mac following its introduction to the iPhone and iPad. It's the closest to a touchscreen you can get on a Mac.
Here's what the various base specs of the MacBook Pro cost. All are available in silver or Space Grey.
- MacBook Pro 2020 13in, 8th-gen 1.4GHz quad-core Core i5, 8GB RAM, 256GB: Buy for £1,299/$1,299
- MacBook Pro 2020 13in, 8th-gen 1.4GHz quad-core Core i5, 8GB RAM, 512GB: Buy for £1,499/$1,499
- MacBook Pro 2020 13in, 10th-gen 2.0GHz quad-core Core i5, 16GB RAM, 512GB: Buy for £1,799/$1,799
- MacBook Pro 2020 13in, 10th-gen 2.0GHz quad-core Core i5, 16GB RAM, 1TBGB: Buy for £1,999/$1,999
- MacBook Pro 2019 16in, 9th-gen 2.6GHz 6-core Core i7, 16GB RAM, 512GB: Buy for £2,399/$2,399
- MacBook Pro 2019 16in, 9th-gen 2.3GHz 8-core Core i9, 16GB RAM, 1TB: Buy for £2,799/$2,799
Beyond the base configurations, you can upgrade the 13in models up to 2TB storage for the 1.4GHz models and 4TB for the 2.0GHz models. The 16in models go up to an insane 8TB storage (an extra £1,980/$2,200), and you can also upgrade the processor, the RAM (32GB) and the discrete graphics card.
Apple exclusively puts more powerful Radeon Pro discrete graphics cards in the 16in. The 13in models all have integrated Intel GPUs included so get the 16in model if you need to do intensive tasks such as video editing.
The MacBook Pro shares the MacBook's reliance on USB-C, but at least has a few additional options: the 1.4GHz 13in models have two USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports, while the rest have four. Every model comes with a headphone jack too, but that's it. All models now have True Tone displays and include the T2 chip first seen in the iMac Pro.
If you want to buy a new MacBook Pro check out our round up of the best money-off deals here.
The 16in MacBook Pro offers the most in terms of standard specs and upgrade options. Prior to Apple's update to the MacBook Air in March 2020 the build to order upgrade options were limited, but now there are additional processor options and the cost of adding up to 2TB storage has fallen.
As for the 13in MacBook Pro: the two mid-range models were updated in May 2020 with new 10th generation processors and all four 13in models got the new Magic Keyboard and more storage. But even those changes weren't really enough to beat the MacBook Air which simply offers more for your money.
If you have to carry your laptop around then you will want to know which model is smaller and lighter.
There's an easy answer to that: The best choice for portability is the MacBook Air.
The measurements for all three laptops are as follows:
MacBook Air: 30.41cm (11.97in) x 21.24cm (8.36in). Due to the tapered design at the smallest edge is 0.41cm (0.16in) but the thicker edge is 1.61cm (0.63in). It weighs 1.29kg (2.8lb)
13in MacBook Pro: 30.41cm (11.97in) x 21.24cm (8.36in). There is no tapered design, so the edge is 1.49cm (0.59in). It weighs 1.37kg (3.02lb)
You'll notice that despite the tapered design the MacBook Pro is actually slightly thinner over all. So, although the MacBook Pro is heavier it's debatable which is the thinnest design. We'd say there's too little difference to really give the MacBook Air the upper hand here.
Best MacBook for battery life
The battery life of the MacBook Air was always the highest of any MacBook available. Apple calls it an "all-day battery". The company still makes the same claim, but whereas before Apple claimed 12 hours of wireless web usage, now it only claims 10 hours. It can still manage 12 hours of non-stop iTunes video watching, though.
The 13in MacBook Pro is rated at 10 hours for both wireless web and video. (For comparison, the discontinued MacBook was rated at 10 hours of the former but 12 hours of the latter.) The 16in model is rated at 11 hours. Every model can last 30 days on standby.
It's worth noting that all of these are based on Apple's battery tests, and not our own - but either way, there's not a huge amount between the various MacBooks when it comes to battery.
Best Mac laptop for storage
If you have serious storage needs, the 16in MacBook Pro is the only way to go, giving you storage options all the way up to 8TB - but the price will reflect this.
The entry-level 13in MacBook Pro models go up to 2TB while as of May 2020 the two mid-range MacBook Pro now offer 4TB storage. As of March 2020 the MacBook Air also has a build-to-order 2TB option (previously it only went to 1TB).
However, the key difference between the storage options that come as standard - following the May 2020 update the MacBook Pro does at least match the MacBook Air options (prior to that change the Air had double the storage as standard).
Currently the best option here is the MacBook Air, which will not only give you the most storage as standard it will do so for less money.
You might find that you don't need to opt for lots of built-in storage though. Buying a separate external hard drive and plugging it in when necessary (or using network attached storage) is generally a cheaper solution, or you can just opt for cloud storage services to take the strain off your local storage.
Fastest Mac laptop?
The 16in MacBook Pro is comfortably the fastest laptop in the lineup, going all the way up to a build-to-order 2.4GHz i9 eight-core option, which when paired with the standard 16GB of RAM - or 64GB RAM for the ultimate machine - will breeze through most things you throw at it. The 9th-gen six-core processor in the cheaper 16in MacBook Pro still has substantially more processor power than the other MacBooks.
The entire 13in MacBook Pro range offers quad-core processors. Prior to March 2020 both MacBook Air models only offered dual-core processors, but that changed with the arrival of the Quad-Core processor in the £1,299/$1,299 model. As a result that MacBook Air is likely to be comparable to the 13in MacBook Pro.
The £999/$999 dual-core MacBook Air will be less powerful, but likely sufficiently powerful for most users.
Even the mid-range MacBook Pro updated in May 2020 faces competition from the MacBook Air, which following its update in March 2020 has been offering a great deal for a lot less money. As for the entry-level MacBook Pro, which wasn't updated in May 2020 (beyond getting more storage and a new keyboard), it looks very poor by comparison.
But for now the 16in MacBook Pro is the only one to consider if you need a powerful Mac.
Find out the difference between i9, i7, i5 and i3 processors.
Best Mac laptop for work
You'll get Apple's iWork apps (Office equivalents Pages, Numbers and Keynote) and lots of other software for free when you buy any new Mac laptop. So you should have everything you need for your working life.
If you expect to be working directly off the laptop extensively, you might consider the 16in MacBook Pro due to its larger screen, but if you'll be hooking the laptop up to an external monitor on your desk then screen size doesn't matter.
A related factor is the number of ports. The two more powerful MacBook Pro models offer four Thunderbolt/USB C ports, while the MacBook Air and entry-level 13in MacBook Pro only offer two. You may find the additional ports useful in a work environment.
Normally we'd say the MacBook Pro is the best for work. The Pro in its name being the clue. But for now, as of the March 2020 update, the MacBook Air is a better option - unless you need a more powerful Mac or more ports.
Best Mac laptop for designers
If you want to use your MacBook for more powerful tasks such as running creative applications, then the MacBook Air would not be the best option.
If you're a graphic designer, video editor or photographer, then the likelihood is you'll benefit from a bigger display and a more powerful Mac. In that case the 16in MacBook Pro models are a good choice.
They're the only MacBooks that don't use integrated graphics, instead giving you a choice between a Radeon Pro 5300M or 5500M. They also have 9th-gen Intel processors, ideal for more intensive image and video processing.
The 13in MacBook Pro models might seem like an appealing way to save money, but be warned: because they're limited to integrated graphics, they're not in the same performance class as their bigger siblings.
Read more here: Best Mac for designers.
Best Mac laptop for gaming
The Mac game library is growing. Plus, the ability to install Windows via Boot Camp on a Mac means Mac gamers can run Windows games too.
If you want to buy a MacBook for gaming, then we'd recommend the (unfortunately most expensive) 16in MacBook Pro. It's got an AMD Radeon Pro 5300M or 5500M graphics card with 4GB VRAM (upgradable to 8GB), which should enable it to provide the best performance out of all of the MacBooks available, even beating some Mac desktops.
However, even the Intel graphics in the 13in MacBook Pro models could be sufficient for your gaming needs. The Intel Iris Plus Graphics 655 in the 2018/2019 13in models should be plenty fast enough for many of today's games, though don't expect to use the highest quality settings. You also have the option of an external eGPU - that could cost you around $699/£599, and you can buy one from Apple here. (Read about how to use an eGPU with your Mac.)
Realistically, the MacBook Air just isn't powerful enough for most modern games - although it could be enough if you only want to play older titles or less intensive indie games.
Read more here: Best Mac for gaming.
Best Mac laptop for students
We'd suggest that students will have similar needs to business users. They'll want to be able to carry their MacBook to and from lectures, and probably won't need them to be hugely powerful (unless they're on a graphic design or video editing course).
In that case, we'd probably suggest the MacBook Air. Take a look back at the advice we gave on portability for more information. You can find out more in our guide to buying a Mac for students, and you might also want to check out how to get an Apple education discount.
Cheapest Mac laptop
If money is the deciding factor when it comes to buying a MacBook, then the cheapest model available is the 1.1GHz Dual-Core MacBook Air, which costs £999/$999. It's a good deal we think.
However, we'd also recommend that you take a look on Apple's refurbished store, which often has Mac laptops available to buy at reduced prices. Apple puts the products in the refurbished store through vigorous testing, so you'll hardly know the difference between a refurbished Mac and a brand new one (plus you still get the standard year's guarantee on your purchase). We have an article dedicated to this question here: Why you should buy a refurbished Mac. We also have a separate article about the best MacBook Pro deals and best MacBook Air deals.