Wondering which type of MacBook to buy? This buying guide will help you decide which Apple laptop is best for you.
Apple makes two types of laptop, the MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro. Within those two categories of Mac are a wide range of capabilities, the gap between the entry-level MacBook Air and the high-end 16in MacBook Pro is vast, but even within the MacBook Pro category you will find huge differences. (We have more information on the differences between the MacBook Air and Pro in another article.)
While there are three MacBook Air models, and seven MacBook Pro models sold as standard, in reality there are multiple combinations if you factor in all the build-to-order options that you can add such as extra RAM, more storage, or a faster processor, with which you can build an even more powerful Mac, should you need to.
Choosing which of the 10 MacBooks to buy can be a tough decision, fortunately we are here to help.
One consideration to make when shopping for a MacBook is how recently Apple updated the laptop and whether it is likely to be updating it again soon. Here is a quick look at when the laptops Apple is selling were released.
It’s easy to think that the cheapest Mac laptop will be the one that is the best value, but that’s not necessarily the case. We’ll start of with that $999/£999 M1 model though, assessing how it matches up to the newer M2 MacBook Air that costs $1,199/£1,249. We’ll then compare that M2 MacBook Air with the 13-inch MacBook Pro that costs $1,299/£1,349.
The $999/£999 MacBook Air (read our M1 MacBook Air review) is an interesting proposition. The entry-level MacBook Air has seen a few price cuts over the past few years, with a $100/£100 price cut earlier in 2020 on top of a $100£100 price cut in 2019. At $999/£999 it’s the cheapest Mac laptop you can buy right now, which makes it looks like an attractive option, but is it?
For your £999/$999 you get an Apple M1 Chip with 8‑Core CPU and 7‑Core GPU, 8GB RAM and 256GB storage. One clear difference between this model and its more expensive sibling is that the more expensive model offers the next generation M2 chip, rather than the M1. The number of CPU cores is the same, but there is an 8‑Core GPU rather than 7-core GPU. Both models offer the same amount of storage 256GB and the same 8GB RAM as standard.
But is the new M2 chip reason enough to spend the extra the difference between the $999/£999 MacBook Air and the $1,199/£1,249 model isn’t really big enough to justify the extra $200/£250? The M1 is still a powerful chip and may be more than enough for your needs. However, there is another big difference between these two MacBook Air models: the M2 MacBook Air also offers a brand new design with an even bigger and brighter screen and more color choices. The design of the new model may be reason enough for you to pay the extra money. Read: M1 MacBook Air vs M2 MacBook Air for more information about the differences.
If your reason for buying the 8-core GPU equipped Air is that you feel you may benefit from the extra graphics core, you may want to consider the 13-inch MacBook Pro which comes as standard with a 10-core GPU and also benefits from an internal fan to help keep things cool when the Mac is working hard. The MacBook Air also has a 10-core GPU option – we’ll look at the comparison between these two models next.
Best prices for the M2 MacBook Air (MSRP: $1,199/£1,249):
Best prices for the M1 MacBook Air (MSRP: £999/$999):
Should I buy MacBook Air or MacBook Pro?
Next we’ll look at two Apple laptops which have a similar price, but very different specs: the $1,199/£1,249 MacBook Air and the $1,299/£1,349 13-inch MacBook Pro.
The $1,199/£1,249 MacBook Air offers Apple’s M2 Chip with 8‑Core CPU and 8‑Core GPU, 8GB RAM and 256GB storage. The $1,299/£1,349 MacBook Pro also offers Apple’s M2 Chip with 8‑Core CPU, 8GB RAM and 256GB storage, but it has an 10‑Core GPU. It’s not just two extra graphics cores on offer here, you also get a couple of hours more battery life in a day (20 hours compared to the Air’s 18 hours); and the Touch Bar. We don’t think the Touch Bar is a deal breaker, especially since the best bit (Touch ID) is available on the Air anyway. There is also the option of a gold and Midnight (black) finish for the Air, while the Pro only comes in silver or Space Gray.
You might assume that the Air would be a lot lighter and smaller than the Pro, but that’s not the case, the Air is slightly lighter, but the Pro is also slim and light. There is just 160g between them (0.3 pounds). You might also assume that the Pro model would offer more superior features than the Air, but actually the Air has the bigger and better screen – a Liquid Retina display at 13.6in instead of a Retina display at 13.3in.
Perhaps the most significant, but least apparent difference, is the inclusion of a fan in the MacBook Pro, while the MacBook Air has no fan, instead relying on an aluminium heat spreader to draw heat away. The lack of a fan may well mean that the MacBook Air struggles when performing more strenuous tasks. It’s probably the key difference between these Mac laptops and the reason why the Pro is better suited to more demanding applications.
While the MacBook Air is a good choice, if you need more power we would recommend the MacBook Pro over the similarly priced MacBook Air because we think that despite looking similar in terms of specs, the lack of fan in the Air will hamper that model. If you need the extra power the Pro is the model for you.
Of course there is one other 13in MacBook Pro model to consider in comparison to a MacBook Air, so we’ll move on to that next.
Best prices for the M2 MacBook Pro (MSRP: $1,299/£1,349):
When the M2 MacBook Pro goes on sale you will see prices below.
Should I buy the MacBook Pro or MacBook Air with 512GB SSD?
What of the $1,499/£1,549 MacBook Pro and the $1,499/£1,549 – yes you read that right: The MacBook Air and MacBook Pro both have a configuration on offer for the exact same price.
The price isn’t the only thing that is the same. The MacBook Pro offers an M2 chip with 10-core GPU, 8GB memory, 512GB SSD. The MacBook Air also offers a M2 chip with 10-core GPU, 8GB memory, 512GB SSD.
By comparing these two practically identical 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.
In favor of the MacBook Air we have the new design and larger 13.6in Liquid Retina display, which offers better contrast ratio and more colours. It also offers a much better camera for FaceTime calls.
The MacBook Pro has 20 hours battery life (compared to 18 hours) and the Touch Bar. It also, as we explained in the section above, has a fan, so it’s better equipped to cool itself when running particularly processor intensive applications. For that reason we’d suggest that as long as you don’t mind that the 13in MacBook Pro has a lesser screen, it could be a better choice if you are going to be pushing your Mac with the applications you run on it.
If you are really going to be pushing your Mac then perhaps you should look to the 14-inch MacBook Pro – which we will consider next.
Best prices for the M2 MacBook Pro (MSRP: $1,499/£1,549):
When the M2 MacBook Pro goes on sale you will see prices below.
Best prices for the M2 MacBook Air (MSRP: $1,499/£1,549):
When the M2 MacBook Pro goes on sale you will see prices below.
Should I buy 13-inch MacBook Pro or 14-inch MacBook Pro?
There are a lot of impressive features in the entry-level 14-inch MacBook Pro with M1 Pro, but it costs $500/£350 more than the most comparable 13-inch MacBook Pro with M2 chip (that’s quite a leap if you are in the US!) Is it worth spending the extra money?
The thing is that these two Macs aren’t really comparable. They might share the same MacBook Pro name, but the 13-inch MacBook Pro – as great as it is – would be better described as a MacBook when placed side-by-side with the true Pro. And that’s the thing, the 14-inch MacBook Pro is built for pros. The 13-inch MacBook Pro will be adequate for the average user, but if you use really graphically intensive apps then the Pro is the Mac you probably want to be looking at.
The entry-level 14-inch MacBook Pro offers an 8-core CPU/14-core GPU version of the M1 Pro chip, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD. In comparison, the closest 13-inch MacBook Pro offers a 8‑core CPU/10‑core GPU version of the M2, 8GB RAM and 512GB SSD. You might be thinking that the M2 is a newer chip than the M1 Pro, which is true, but that doesn’t make it better – the M1 Pro is an enhanced version of the M1 with more cores and support for more RAM than both the M1 and M2 chips. See M2 vs M1 Pro.
There are a number of key difference between the two models. The 14-inch offers more RAM (all the way up to 32GB rather than the 24GB offered by the M2) and more graphics cores. You’ll also find a bigger and much better display – a 14.2in Liquid Retina XDR display, which offers XDR (Extreme Dynamic Range) for a million to one contrast ratio and 1000 nits standard brightness (1600 peak). These are the sorts of things that matter to pros.
Does this mean that the entry-level 14-inch MacBook Pro will be adequate for the most demanding user? Apple clearly doesn’t think so because there are another five MacBook Pro models above it.
Best prices for the 14in MacBook Pro (MSRP: $1,999/£1,899)
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Should I buy the 14-inch MacBook Pro (16-core GPU, 1TB SSD)?
If you thought that the leap from the 13-inch MacBook Pro to the 14-inch MacBook Pro was large, the price gap between the two 14-inch MacBook Pro models is even bigger. The 10-Core CPU/16-Core GPU 14-inch MacBook Pro with 1TB SSD costs £500/$500 more at £2,399/$2,499.
That’s a lot to spend to get a 10-core CPU/16-core GPU M1 Pro instead of 8-core/14-core M1 Pro, but those extra cores make a big difference.
There’s also a 1TB SSD instead of a 512GB SSD, and a 96W power adapter rather than a 67W adapter. If you don’t need that 1TB SSD there are more cost effective ways to get the extra cores if you look at the build-to-order options.
Best prices for the 14in MacBook Pro (MSRP: $2,499/£2,399)
Should I buy the 14-inch MacBook Pro or 16-inch MacBook Pro?
We’ve just been discussing how the 8-core CPU/14-core GPU M1 Pro equipped MacBook Pro compares to the 10-core CPU/16-core GPU M1 Pro model. If you are considering spending that extra £500/$500 to get your hands on those extra cores there is another option you should consider.
The 14-inch MacBook Pro M1 Pro with 10-Core CPU/16-Core GPU costs the same as the 16-inch MacBook Pro M1 Pro with 10-Core CPU/16-Core GPU. There are some differences, for example, the 16-inch model offers 512GB compared to the 14-inch’s 1TB, but we think that the fact that you get a 16in screen more than makes up for that. The 16-inch models also get a 140W power adapter.
The decision may well come down to screen size, but don’t forget you can always plug in an external display when at your desk. Another benefit of the 16-inch model is the extremely long battery life at 21 hours compared to 17 hours. The 16-inch model is definitely built for those who are away from their desk a lot (and don’t mind if their Mac is a little bit heavy).
Best prices for the 16in MacBook Pro (MSRP: $2,499/£2,399)
Should I buy the 16-inch MacBook Pro with 1TB SSD?
If you really want that 1TB SSD in the 16-inch MacBook Pro it will cost you an extra £200/$200. The 1TB version costs £2,599/$2,699. This model essentially offers the same specs as the top of the range 14-inch MacBook Pro for just £200/$200 more, which to be fair doesn’t seem like a bad deal given the larger screen and increased battery life.
Best prices for the 16in MacBook Pro (MSRP: $2,699/£2,599)
Should I buy the 16-inch MacBook Pro M1 Max?
Our final MacBook Pro to consider is the 16-inch MacBook Pro with an M1 Max powered 10-Core CPU and 32-Core GPU. It also has a 1TB SSD. The leap in price is, again, huge. It costs £3,299/$3,499, which is £700/$800 more than the model before it.
That extra £700/$800 gets you 16 more cores and the M1 Max though, so perhaps it’s well worth the extra money.
The price does look eye-wateringly high, but perhaps rather than comparing it to the other 16-inch MacBook Pro we should be looking at it next to the Mac Pro which offers a 3.5GHz 8‑core Intel Xeon W, 32GB RAM, 256GB SSD, and Radeon Pro 580X graphics (with 8GB of memory) as standard. That Mac has a price of £5,499/$5,999, so you could just save yourself £2,200/$2,500 and buy the 16in MacBook Pro instead.
Best prices for the 16in MacBook Pro (MSRP: $3,499/£3,299)
So, the choice is pretty clear in terms of what you get for your money:
Buying an entry-level M1 MacBook Air for £999/$999 will get you a decent Mac laptop for less than a grand. You could pay a bit more and get an M2 MacBook Air with a brand new design, a bigger screen, and the next generation of Apple chips. But the M1 will probably be enough for most MacBook Air users.
The M2 MacBook Pro pales in comparison to the M2 MacBook Air, thanks to its better display and new design, but it’s still hampered a bit by the lack of fan for cooling.
The gap between the M2 13-inch MacBook Pro and 14-inch MacBook Pro models isn’t perhaps as large as it was now that the M2 in the 13-inch model can support up to 24GB memory, plus the 14-inch model is a lot more expensive than the 13-inch MacBook Pro. But the screen on the 14-inch MacBook Pro is a long way ahead of that on the 13-inch, so if that’s the sort of thing that matters in your line of work you should consider it.
It’s great that the 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro offer the same specs. It used to be that the models with the larger screen offered better specs, but that is no longer the case. Now you can just choose the screen size that works for you and a 16-inch display doesn’t cost a lot more than the 14-inch display. The 16-inch model does offer the best battery life of all MacBooks though, which might swing it for you.
The only real reason not to buy a 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro right now is the likelihood that Apple will upgrade the processors in early 2023. However, while we wait for Apple to do that there have been some pretty huge discounts on these Mac laptops–we’ve regularly seen $400 off in the U.S.–so if you do see a good deal our recommendation is to buy one because these are great machines! For the latest MacBook Pro discounts check out our round up of the Best MacBook Pro deals.