21.5in iMac (2019) vs 13in MacBook Pro, Touch Bar (2019) full review
First the iMac was updated for 2019 and now the MacBook Pro has been updated too (we have a review of the 2019 MacBook Pro here.). But which of these two powerful Apple computers is right for you? We take a look at the pros and cons of these very different Macs, considering price, specs, design, features and more, to help you decide whether an iMac or MacBook Pro is best for your needs.
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.
In theory the iMac is the cheaper option here, starting at £1,049/$1,099 - but that's an old model from 2017 that we don't recommend, so we'll be pretty much ignoring it here. We were previously advising against the non-Touch Bar MacBook Pro from 2017 but that has been updated now (in July 2019) as well.
Discounting the outdated models, the iMac starts at £1,249/$1,299 and the MacBook Pro starts at £1,299/$1,299. Let's take a look at the models on offer. There is also the iMac Pro but that starts at £4,899/$4,899 so will be out of most people's budget.
- 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
- 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 for £1,949/$1,999
- 3.7GHz six-core 9th-gen Core i5, 8GB RAM, 2TB Fusion Drive, Retina 5K display, Radeon Pro 580X for £2,249/$2,299
These are official Apple prices; for the latest deals from other retailers, read Best iMac deals.
MacBook Pro 13in
- With Touch Bar, 1.4GHz quad-core 8th-gen Core i5, 8GB RAM, 128GB SSD for £1,299/$1,299
- With Touch Bar, 1.4GHz quad-core 8th-gen Core i5, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD for £1,499/$1,499
- With Touch Bar, 2.4GHz quad-core 8th-gen Core i5, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD for £1,799/$1,799
- With Touch Bar, 2.4GHz quad-core 8th-gen Core i5, 8GB RAM, 512GB SSD for £1,999/$1,999
MacBook Pro 15in
- With Touch Bar, 2.6GHz 6-core 9th-gen Core i7, 16GB RAM, 256GB SSD, Radeon Pro 555X for £2,399/$2,399
- With Touch Bar, 2.3GHz 8-core 9th-gen Core i9, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD, Radeon Pro 560X: £2,799/$2,799
The above numbers are Apple's official prices. Browse our roundup of the best MacBook deals for the latest offers.
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 would be well advised to get the 27in iMac with its 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. Following the July 2019 update, all Pro models have a Retina display with True Tone technology, making the laptop more attractive at the cheaper end of the scale. 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.
These Macs come with 8GB or 16GB of RAM as standard but the iMac has faster 2666MHz memory and can be configured to 64GB which is double the MacBook Pro 15in's 32GB maximum. Consider upgrading if you're looking at a model with 8GB and you're planning on doing heavy-duty work.
The MacBook Pro has the advantage of coming with an SSD as standard with at least 128GB, and can be configured to a whopping 4TB if you have cash to splash (the 13in model foes to 2TB). 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 645 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.
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. One rule is to avoid the cheapest iMac which has an old 7th-gen Intel processor and basic 1080p screen.
Otherwise, it depends on things like whether you need portability or not. If so then the MacBook Pro is the obvious answer and is now more attractive, despite a slight price bump in the UK, following the July 2019 update which gave the cheapest 13in models the Touch Bar and 8th-gen processors.
If you're not looking for portability then the iMac provides more bang for your buck, offering a dedicated graphics card even at the £1,249/$1,299 level.