Which Apple laptop should you buy?

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Introduction

Apple makes some of the best laptops in the business, but deciding on macOS over Windows and ChromeOS is only half of the battle, as you also need to determine which is the best MacBook for you. 

If you’re struggling to choose which MacBook to buy, then we can help. Our team of experts has reviewed the latest MacBook laptops that Apple currently offers, and we’ve created this guide to give our recommendations while also explaining the differences between each model. 

We’ve also made sure to focus on all of the most important features of a laptop, including battery life, portability and performance. We’ve used each laptop as our main device for at least two weeks to determine this, while also using benchmark software and a colorimeter to see how they compare to other laptops – even if you’re committed to macOS, it’s still good to know how your prospective MacBook compares to its Windows rivals. 

If you can’t see a MacBook that you like right now, then we recommend bookmarking this page and returning later in the year. Apple is rumoured to be releasing a MacBook Air 2022 and 13-inch MacBook Pro 2022 in the second half of this year, so it’s worth keeping an eye on those developments. 

Or if you’re tempted to switch over to a Windows or Chromebook laptop, then you can also check out our Best Laptop and Best Chromebook articles.

How we test

Learn more about how we test laptops

Every laptop we review goes through a series of uniform checks designed to gauge key things including build quality, performance, screen quality and battery life. 

These include formal synthetic benchmarks and scripted tests, plus a series of real world checks, such as how well it runs the most frequently used apps. 

We also make sure to use every laptop we review as our primary device for at least a week to ensure our review is as accurate as possible.

MacBook Air (M1)

Best MacBook for productivity

Pros

  • It’s so fast thanks to M1
  • Exceptional battery life
  • Strong app support
  • Great keyboard

Cons

  • Poor webcam
  • Same design as before
  • Poorly positioned (and only two) USB ports

If you want a laptop for basic tasks such as office work, university essays or entertainment, then the MacBook Air M1 is our top recommendation. 

During testing, we found it to be small and light enough to easily carry around. We did note that the screen bezel looks a little too chunky compared to modern Windows laptops, but it’s a small grievance when you consider it offers the classic Apple quality. 

It’s the performance where this laptop truly excels, as our benchmark tests showed it to be the absolute fastest laptop at its price point due to the power of the M1 chip. Unlike AMD and Intel chips, the M1 chip is an Arm processor, seeing enhanced power and thermal efficiency. Apple has also managed to cram all of the most important computer components into this single chip, including CPU, RAM and GPU. And with such powerful integrated graphics, we found this laptop to be excellent for entry-level creation such as editing photos and videos. 

We were highly impressed with the 13-inch screen, which has a 2560 x 1600 resolution to ensure images look detailed and sharp. Our tests show it’s not quite as vivid as the OLED panel on the Dell XPS 13 OLED, but it’s still nevertheless an excellent display. 

The MacBook Air is one of the best ultra-portable laptops that we’ve ever tested, second only to the Dell XPS 13. But if you’re committed to Apple and would prefer a blazing fast performance over a more stylish design, then we can’t recommend the MacBook Air M1 enough.

Reviewer: Max Parker
Full review: MacBook Air M1 review

MacBook Pro 16-inch (2021)

Best for content creation

Pros

  • Stunning display
  • Amazing performance
  • The ports and MagSafe are back

Cons

  • RAM upgrades are expensive

The MacBook Pro 2021 is designed specifically for those who need additional graphics power for complex tasks such as 8K video editing and 3D animation. Our benchmark tests show it’s one of the most powerful laptops that you can buy, making it overkill for the average office worker, especially when you consider the high price. 

We were in awe with the performance when testing both the M1 Pro and M1 Max configurations. Both of these chips have more CPU and GPU cores than the standard M1 to boost the performance: the M1 Pro packs up to 10 CPU cores and 16 GPU cores, while the M1 Max sports the same 10 CPU cores, but with a whopping 32 GPU cores. 

No matter which task we threw at it, from browsing the web with multiple tabs to editing 4K video, the MacBook Pro kept speeding through with no delay. It even excelled in our SSD benchmark tests, making it very quick at loading and saving data stored on the hard drive. 

Whether you opt for the 14-inch or 16-inch model, the Mini LED screen is very impressive too. Compared to your standard LED screens, the Mini LED panel here is able to pack in far more LED diodes in the backlight, resulting in a more vivid and vibrant display than almost any other laptop we’ve tested including the cheaper MacBook Air. We also found the 120Hz ProMotion feature to make quick scrolling appear smoother, although we do admit this is more beneficial on touchscreen devices such as Apple’s iPad and iPhone. 

While we’ve tested plenty of other laptops that are great for content creation, such as the Microsoft Surface Laptop Studio and Gigabyte Aero 15 OLED (2021), they don’t offer the same high quality for both performance and design as the MacBook Pro 2021. If you want an ultra-powerful laptop for creation with lots of ports for added versatility, the MacBook Pro 2021 is our top recommendation.

Reviewer: Max Parker
Full review: MacBook Pro 16-inch review

MacBook Air 2020

Best budget MacBook

Pros

  • New keyboard is a huge improvement
  • The most affordable Mac
  • Design still holds up
  • Great speakers and fast Touch ID

Cons

  • Performance not as good as Windows rivals
  • Little improvement to battery life
  • Terrible webcam
  • Port layout is a bit annoying

Apple no longer sells the MacBook Air 2020 since it uses the older Intel chip rather than the revolutionary M1 processor. But if you’re on a strict budget, you can find this laptop at a very good price if you’re happy to purchase it refurbished or second hand from third-party retailers. 

Our benchmark tests show it’s not as fast as many affordable Windows laptops, including the superb Surface Laptop Go, but we still found it to outperform a number of Chromebooks. We would recommend you only use this laptop for very basic tasks though, as testing showed it to struggle with the likes of photo editing. 

The design holds up well, with essentially the same shell as the new and improved M1 model. We found it to be very easy to lug to and from the office, and is durable enough to last you multiple years, with Apple also promising to support the Intel processor for the foreseeable future. 

Of course, the MacBook Air M1 is comfortably the better laptop, while the Surface Laptop Go arguably offers better value if you’re happy to switch to Windows. But if you can bag the MacBook Air 2020 at a discounted price, this is still a great option for those on a budget.

Reviewer: Max Parker
Full review: MacBook Air 2022 review

MacBook Pro 13-inch

Best MacBook with TouchBar

Pros

  • Design still holds up
  • Excellent keyboard
  • Top-drawer display
  • Loads of options for RAM, SSD

Cons

  • Low-end models miss out on big internal upgrades
  • Couldn’t we have some slimmer bezels?
  • Still no SD card slot

The MacBook Pro 13-inch (2020) is another laptop that Apple no longer sells, but can be purchased at a discounted price from various retailers. Truth be told, there aren’t many great reasons to purchase this laptop in 2022, with our benchmark tests showing that MacBook Air M1 offers faster speeds despite the lower RRP. But it could still be a worthwhile option if you like the look of the TouchBar.

During the review process, we weren’t overly impressed with the OLED TouchBar panel, but it does allow you to access custom shortcuts for select apps such as the Adobe Creative Cloud suite. Apple is phasing this feature out of its Mac range, so don’t expect future support, but it’s still compatible with some of the most popular creativity apps.

There are also some benefits to opting for an Intel-powered Mac, as they’re a worthwhile option if you frequently use an app that doesn’t play nice with Apple Silicon or you want to Boot Camp into Windows. And while our tests have proven that the MacBook Air M1 is substantially speedier, the Intel-powered 13-inch MacBook Pro still offers a competent performance that can keep up with modern Windows portables. If you’re sticking to basic productivity tasks, the Intel chip here should be absolutely fine. 

Aside from the thick screen bezel that’s certainly out of fashion in 2022, this is still a good looking laptop. You’ll arguably be able to find better value by looking at Windows laptops such as the Acer Swift 3 (2021), but it’s still worth keeping an eye out for this laptop in the sales if you’re really keen to try out the divisive OLED TouchBar.

Reviewer: Max Parker
Full review: MacBook Pro 13-inch (2020)

FAQs

Which is the cheapest MacBook?

The MacBook Air is currently the cheapest MacBook that Apple has to offer.

What’s better a MacBook Pro or MacBook Air?

Neither is better, as they cater to different audiences. The MacBook Pro is very powerful and aimed towards professional creators, while the MacBook Air is more portable and optimised for the likes of office and university work.

Which Mac is best for students?

The MacBook Air is the best option for students, unless they need to work with 8K video or 3D animation on their course.

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