21.5in iMac (2019) vs MacBook Pro 13-inch (2018) full review

The iMac has been updated for 2019, but should you buy one instead of a MacBook Pro? We take a look at the pros and cons of these very different Macs to help you decide.

Price

Of course, buying a Mac of any kind isn't that simple. You'll need to choose from a range of different models including different sizes and various hardware configurations – each of which can be customised so the combinations are almost endless.

We'll take a look at the build-to-order options in a bit more detail later but for now let's look at the standard models on offer.

The iMac is the cheaper option here starting at £1,049/$1,099 but that's an old model so we'll be pretty much ignoring it here as we do not recommend buying that model. It's from 2017 and shouldn't really be in the line-up.

There's a similar issue with the MacBook Pro where the models without a Touch Bar have 7th-gen chips so you should look to the newer models if your budget stretches. They are more viable than the older iMac 

Discounting that outdated iMac model, the iMac and MacBook Pro both start at £1,249/$1,299. Let's take a look at the models on offer – including the cheapest iMac, just for a comprehensive list. There is also the iMac Pro but that starts at £4,899/$4,899 so will be out of most people's budget.

Browse the Mac range at Apple.

iMac 21.5in

  • 2.3GHz dual-core 7th-gen Intel Core i5, 8GB RAM, 1TB HD, Full HD display, for £1,049/$1,099
  • 3.6GHz quad-core 8th-gen Intel Core i3, 8GB RAM, 1TB HD, Retina 4K display, Radeon Pro 555X for £1,249/$1,299
  • 3.0GHz six-core 8th-gen Intel Core i5, 8GB RAM, 1TB Fusion Drive, Retina 4K display, Radeon Pro 560X for £1,449/$1,499

iMac 27in

  • 3.0GHz six-core 8th-gen Core i5, 8GB RAM, 1TB Fusion Drive, Retina 5K display, Radeon Pro 570X for £1,749/$1,799
  • 3.1GHz six-core 8th-gen Core i5, 8GB RAM, 1TB Fusion Drive, Retina 5K display, Radeon Pro 575X £1,949/$1,999
  • 3.7GHz six-core 9th-gen Core i5, 8GB RAM, 2TB Fusion Drive, Retina 5K display, Radeon Pro 580X £2,249/$2,299

MacBook Pro 13in

  • Without Touch Bar, 2.3GHz dual-core 7th-gen Core i5, 8GB RAM, 128GB SSD for £1,249/$1,299
  • Without Touch Bar, 2.3GHz dual-core 7th-gen Core i5, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD for £1,449/$1,499
  • With Touch Bar, 2.3GHz quad-core 8th-gen Core i5, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD for £1,749/$1,799
  • With Touch Bar, 2.3GHz quad-core 8th-gen Core i5, 8GB RAM, 512GB SSD for £1,949/$1,999

MacBook Pro 15in

  • With Touch Bar, 2.2GHz six-core 8th-gen, 16GB RAM, 256GB SSD, Radeon Pro 555X for £2,349/$2,399
  • With Touch Bar, 2.6GHz six-core 8th-gen, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD, Radeon Pro 560X: £2,699/$2,799

iMac

Design

We're not really bothered with how these devices look in this comparison. They're both elegant and extremely well-made as you'd expect from Apple.

The more important question here is what you need a Mac for.

If it's just for somewhere like your home or office then the iMac will do nicely. If you need to be able to take it around with you then the MacBook Pro is the obvious answer.

You'll mainly want to factor in which screen size you want since it goes from 13- to 27in here, bearing in mind that you can hook the MacBook Pro up to a monitor when you're at your desk.

It's also worth noting that the iMac has a wider range of ports such as USB 3.0 and a microSDXC card reader. The MacBook Pro just has four USB-C ports (all Thunderbolt 3) as well as a headphone jack so you'll likely need an adapter or two.

Specs and features

As mentioned above, you'll need to pick your screen size wisely based on how much space you have and what you need the Mac for. Designers will be rewarded by getting the 27in iMac with it's fantastic 5K display. The smaller 21.5in iMac is still 4K in resolution unless you buy the cheapest model which is just full HD – one of the many reasons we suggest avoiding it.

The MacBook Pro still has a decent display at Retina quality and the smaller 13in model will be great for those looking to do work like word processing on the go. The newer models with a Touch Bar also come with True Tone technology, which means it can automatically adjust the display for the best viewing experience. Designers might want to switch this feature off, though.

As you can see in the price section, there are plenty of different hardware configurations to choose from. It gets pretty complicated when you factor in processor, memory, storage and graphics depending on your usage.

We'd avoid getting a 7th-gen processor if possible because you'll be future proofing your Mac. If you have the money, you can configure the MacBook Pro and iMac to a Core i9 – albeit different chips.

MacBook Pro 2018

Generally these Macs come with 8GB of RAM but the iMac has faster 2666MHz board and can be configured to 64GB which is double the MacBook Pro 15in. Consider upgrading if you're looking at a model with 8GB and you're planning on doing heavy duty work.

The MacBook Pro does have the advantage of coming with an SSD as standard of at least 256GB if you get a Touch Bar model and can be configured to a whopping 4TB if you have cash to splash. The first two iMac models come with a traditional hard drive, then come with a Fusion Drive so we'd suggest upgrading if you're going with one of the cheaper models.

When it comes to graphics, the 13in MacBook Pro relies on Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640 or 655. Then the 15in has a Radeon Pro 555X or Radeon Pro 560X and you can configure up to a Radeon Pro Vega 20.

The iMac, ignoring the 2017 model, comes with a dedicated graphics card as standard so you'll at least get a Radeon Pro 555X. There are lots of different cards available across the range with the 27in model going up to a Radeon Pro Vega 48 with 8GB of VRAM.

Verdict

With all these different options, it's very hard to compare the iMac with the MacBook Pro – especially since we don't know what you personally need it for.

As a general rule of thumb then, whether MacBook or iMac, you should avoid 7th-gen models as you'll benefit from the performance boost and longevity of the newer chips.

This means you're looking at £1,749/$1,799 for the MacBook Pro or a more reasonable £1,249/$1,299 for the iMac. Even upgrading that iMac to a Fusion Drive and more powerful i7 processor comes out cheaper so we'd go with this if you don't need something portable as you'll get more bang for your buck.

If you really do need the portability of the MacBook Pro and also need it for demanding work, look to the 15in model with a Radeon Pro 555X which is £2,349/$2,399.

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