- Apple’s MacBook line of laptops includes some of the best mobile computing options available today.
- Of all the different MacBook Air and MacBook Pro options, our pick for the best MacBook for most people is the M1MacBook Air.
- Looking for more laptop buying advice? Read our overall best laptops buying guide.
Our picks for best laptops include a range of mobile computing devices, mostly those that run on Windows 10. However, Apple’s line of MacBooks excel in terms of support as well as software and hardware quality. So, across the varied models available today, which is the best MacBook for you?
By default, the late 2020 MacBook Air should be everyone’s starting point. This is Apple’s least expensive laptop model, but it includes some mighty, new M1 processor hardware and helpful features to cover the vast majority of computing needs. Apple also sells a 13-inch MacBook Pro with its M1 chip that has a lot in common with the Air, but is better suited for performance.
In addition to the M1 MacBook Pro, Apple offers Intel-powered versions of the 13-inch MacBook that come with more flexibility in terms of ports, memory, and storage. That could be useful for those that need more choice when it comes to connectivity.
Finally, for the utmost speed and largest screen size, the 16-inch MacBook Pro released in late 2019 is a great choice. This model gets a larger 16-inch screen with the same 15-inch body size. Plus, the display has a sharper resolution, six-to- eight-core Intel processors, dedicated AMD Radeon Pro graphics, and excellent speakers.
Why should you listen to me? I’ve worked in technology media for nearly a decade now and been a Mac user for much longer than that. Both professionally and personally, I’ve tested and used laptops and tablets running macOS, Windows, and Chrome OS. Friends and family aren’t shy about asking which MacBook they should purchase, and these picks below are the same things I’d tell them. The picks change frequently, as Apple updates the line, but see which category you fall into below, and that’s the MacBook you should currently buy.
Here are the best MacBooks you can buy:
- Best Macbook overall: Macbook Air 2020 (M1)
- Best professional Macbook: Macbook Pro 16-inch
- Best middle-road Macbook: Macbook Pro 13-inch (2 Ports)
- Best college Macbook: Macbook Pro 13-inch (4 Ports)
Updated on December 17, 2020: Added Apple’s newer M1-powered MacBook Air as our top overall pick, and the M1 MacBook Pro as our middle-road pick. Added more detail about the 16-inch MacBook Pro.
The best MacBook overall
The latest MacBook Air released in late 2020 gains Apple’s new M1 processor, which brings impressively fast performance and long battery life, for under $US1,000, making it the best Apple laptop overall.
Pros: Fast performance, super-long battery life, much-improved camera
Cons: iPhone apps don’t add much to the experience
The MacBook Air has consistently been the go-to MacBook most people and a solid entry-level computer. But the introduction of Apple’s M1 chip makes it even more powerful than its predecessor for the same price, solidifying its choice as our top pick.
The M1-powered MacBook Air’s battery life alone makes it a worthwhile pick. During my testing, I was able to get more than 12 hours of use out of the MacBook Air, far longer than the roughly seven hours of usage I experienced on the Intel-powered model from early 2020.
The M1 chip’s 8-core processor also brings notable performance gains, making tasks like photo editing and exporting large files a breeze. During my tests, it was faster than the previous Intel-powered MacBook Pro at just about everything. It also uses Apple’s image signal processor for its webcam, meaning you can expect much clearer video quality on your next Zoom call.
Otherwise, it comes with the same sleek wedge-shaped design that’s been present on the MacBook Air line for years, as well as Apple’s much-improved Magic Keyboard. It also has a 2,5600 x 1,600 resolution display with Apple’s True Tone technology for adjusting the screen’s colour temperature to match the surrounding lighting, like the earlier 2020 model.
In terms of storage and memory, the MacBook Air goes up to 2TB of capacity and 16GB of RAM. It comes with two USB-C ports on all configurations.
Laptops like the MacBook Air that are powered by Apple’s own chip can also run iPhone apps, since this chip is based on the same basic architecture as the one in the company’s smartphones. While that’s a nice perk, it’s really the performance and battery life that make Apple’s M1 stand out.
The migration to a new chip architecture also means software makers will have to update their apps for the new chip. Apps that haven’t been optimised yet will automatically run in Apple’s Rosetta 2 emulator, meaning they should work just fine regardless.
Popular apps like Slack, Microsoft Word, and Cisco WebEx ran smoothly in my experience despite not being updated to support Apple’s chip, but it’s still worth considering. Some have noted on Twitter that they have experienced issues when using apps for connecting to peripherals among other programs, for example.
But overall, the M1-powered MacBook Air is the best choice for those in need of a general-purpose laptop. It’s incredibly fast with long-lasting battery life for a machine in its class, and it’s just as portable as before.
The best high-performance MacBook
The 16-inch MacBook Pro‘s powerful performance, larger screen, and high-quality speakers make it a great choice for creative professionals.
Pros: Larger display, great keyboard, lots of configuration options, excellent speakers
Cons: Hefty upgrade prices, only four I/O ports for the size
The end of 2019 brought us the first entirely new MacBook Pro since 2016: a 16-inch version that replaces the long-standing 15.4-inch model. Despite the larger screen size, the computer did not grow any larger and is roughly the same laptop frame as the 15.4-inch, thanks to smaller display bezels. It was also the first laptop to get Apple’s superior new Magic Keyboard.
The 16-inch MacBook Air has plenty to offer when it comes to performance and configuration options. Although it doesn’t run on Apple’s new M1 chip, Apple’s biggest laptop does come with up to an eight-core Intel processor, up to 64GB of memory, up to 8TB of storage, and up to 11 hours of battery life.
Those are the highest configuration options for memory and storage across Apple’s laptop lineup. Compared to the other laptops Apple sells, the 16-inch Pro also has the most selection when it comes to graphics, with the option to configure it with a variety of AMD Radeon Pro GPUs.
But it’s not just the broader configuration options and larger size that makes this the best choice for pros. The 16-inch MacBook Pro comes with a three-microphone array and is the only Apple laptop with a six-speaker audio system, making it a better choice for media professionals that may need high-quality audio playback. The speakers can also come in handy if you’re on a lot of Zoom calls throughout the day and need a system that’s a bit louder and clearer.
Like other MacBook Pro laptops in Apple’s lineup, the 16-inch model comes with the Touch Bar: a touch screen strip with digital function keys and shortcuts that change depending on the app. It’s a nice addition, but not something that’s useful enough to weigh as a heavy factor in your buying decision.
All told, the 16-inch MacBook Pro’s bigger size, variety of configuration options, and high quality speakers are ideal for those shopping for something that isn’t quite as large and powerful as a desktop, but is closer to the desktop experience than any of Apple’s other laptops.
But if you’re not in a hurry to upgrade, it could be worth waiting to see if Apple has any announcements in store over the coming months. The company is rumoured to be working on a new version of the 16-inch MacBook Pro that runs on its own processors. If the company’s release cycle for 2021 is anything like 2020, we could see new MacBooks in the spring.
The best middle of the road MacBook
For anyone that needs as much power as Apple is willing to cram within a 13-inch laptop, the MacBook Pro with M1 is worth a look.
Pros: Fast performance, long battery life, great keyboard and webcam quality
Cons: Same configuration options as the Air despite the higher price
The MacBook Air is powerful enough for everyday tasks. But the 13-inch MacBook Pro with M1 is better-suited for those who need more power in a laptop that’s not as big as the 16-inch. It shares many similarities with the MacBook Air; they both come in nearly identical configuration options, the same number of ports, and have very similar screens.
But since the MacBook Pro has a fan-powered cooling system unlike the Air, it’s probably better at maintaining high performance for longer periods of time. So if you frequently run heavy workloads that involve crunching a lot of data, for example, the Pro is probably a better bet. Another added benefit: it has slightly longer battery life than the M1-powered Air.
Those are the biggest differences between the M1-powered Pro and Air, but the former’s processor also has an extra core in its GPU at the base level compared to the Air. Its screen is also slightly brighter, and the Pro’s speakers support high dynamic range unlike the Air’s.
I haven’t tested the M1-powered MacBook Pro personally. But judging by the performance I experienced in the Air, it should be a powerhouse.
Like the Air, the Pro has two USB-C ports, a 720 camera that uses Apple’s image signal processor, Touch ID, and the Magic Keyboard.
The 13-inch M1 MacBook Pro falls into a strange place in Apple’s lineup. It doesn’t have the perks that make the 16-inch Pro stand out, like a six-speaker audio system and flexible configuration options. But it also doesn’t have much that distinguishes it from the Air to justify the $US300 starting price difference. Still, that’s exactly what makes it the right choice for buyers who find themselves in the middle. It’s a great option for those who want a bit more than what the Air has to offer along with the benefits of Apple’s M1 chip.
Read our full comparison to learn more about the differences between the M1 MacBook Air and M1 MacBook Pro.
The best college MacBook
The best MacBook for college is very similar to the other 13-inch MacBook Pro pick. It packs power into a compact, 13-inch laptop sized space, but expands the connectivity options to four USB-C ports instead of two and runs on Intel’s processors.
Pros: More storage and RAM, two extra USB-C ports for connectivity, great keyboard
Cons: Shorter battery life than M1 MacBook Pro and Air
Apple’s Intel-powered versions of the 13-inch MacBook Pro fill in the gaps when it comes to storage, memory, and connectivity compared to the M1 model.
Unlike the 13-inch MacBook Pro with M1, the Intel version offers up to 32GB of memory, up to 4TB of storage, and four USB-C ports. The M1 model, by comparison, tops out at 16GB of memory, 2TB of storage, and two USB-C ports. In other words, the 13-inch Intel-powered Pro is a step below the 16-inch MacBook Pro in this regard.
That extra ports alone could make this model worth it for college students, who may need to charge their laptop, plug in their iPhone, and connect a hard drive containing large video projects for class all at the same time. Plus, the Intel-powered MacBook Pro may be a safer option if you rely on specific, niche software for classwork since Apple’s M1 architecture is still new and app makers are still updating their programs for it.
The Intel-powered 13-inch MacBook Pro comes in models that run on a Core i5 or Core i7 chip, which should be more than capable of managing hefty workloads. It has the same Retina display as Apple’s M1 laptops, which support True Tone and the P3 wide colour gamut. It also has Apple’s Magic Keyboard, so you won’t be missing out on the improved typing experience Apple introduced over the past year. Like its M1-powered sibling, the Intel-based 13-inch Pro also has speakers with high dynamic range.
Although the Intel-powered 13-inch MacBook Pro offers the right balance of performance, portability, and flexible choices that make it ideal for the college experience, there are reasons students should consider Apple’s M1 laptops, too.
The M1 MacBook Air, our overall top pick, may be a better fit if you need a laptop for little more than writing papers and prioritise long battery life and portability over additional configuration options. The Intel 13-inch MacBook Pro is only rated for up to 10 hours of battery life, while the M1 MacBook Air is said to reach 18 hours and the M1 MacBook Pro may hit up to 20 hours on a single charge.