Which Mac should you buy?

November 20, 2020 

If you're reading this article, chances are you're thinking about buying a new Mac computer and may be in need of a little guidance. Fortunately, we're quite familiar with Apple's Macs, and we're happy to help you choose the right Mac for you.

This buying guide provides an overview of all the Mac models available, and what each model is best suited for. To get more details, you can read the full review by clicking the product name in the product boxes that have mouse ratings.

For great holiday deals on Apple gear see our roundup of the best Black Friday deals on iPads, AirPods, Watches, MacBooks, and more.

MacBook Air

Models for sale were originally released March 2020.

What is it? The MacBook Air is Apple's affordable line of laptops. Apple currently offers two 13-inch models.

Who's it for? The MacBook Air is ideal for the budget conscious. It's also for anyone who is always on the go, doesn't want to be bogged down by a regular-size laptop, and needs a computer that's more versatile than an iPad.

apple macbook air keyboard Apple
MacBook Air

What are the specifications? The two MacBook Air models have tenth-generation Intel Core processors and 8GB of RAM. All MacBook Air models come with integrated Intel Iris Plus Graphics technology. Apple claims 11 hours of battery life for both wireless web and 12 hours Apple TV app movie playback.

The main difference between the laptops is storage. The $999 model has 256GB of flash storage, while the $1,299 model has 256GB.

How do I connect stuff? The MacBook Air has built-in Wi-Fi for connecting to a network. It also provides built-in Bluetooth for wirelessly connecting a mouse or other peripherals. If you want to connect to an ethernet network, you'll need an adapter.

The $999 and $1,299 models have only a pair of Thunderbolt 3/USB-C connectors. If you want to connect USB-A devices, you need either a USB-C to USB adapter, like Apple's $19 one, or a USB-C hub that has USB-A ports.

How fast is it? The MacBook Air is quite capable of handling everyday tasks, such as sending and receiving email, browsing the web, and using office applications. You can even use it for editing short videos, or for working with JPEGs from your iPhone or point-and-shoot camera.

Macworld's buying advice: The MacBook Air is a great affordable laptop for someone who does general-purpose work and moves around a lot, such as a student or a self-employed person. You can't easily upgrade the storage after purchase, so you should buy the model with the largest amount of storage you can afford.

Ready to buy a MacBook Air? Go to the Apple Store

MacBook

Apple discontinued its 12-inch laptop in July 2019. You may be able to buy one in Apple's Refurbished and Clearance Store, but supplies won't last long.

MacBook Pro

13-inch models were released May 2020. 16-inch models released November 2019, replacing the 15-inch models.

macbook pro 2019 Apple
MacBook Pro

What is it? The MacBook Pro features a high-density display with so many pixels that images and text look especially smooth and clean. At normal viewing distances, you can't discern individual pixels.

Who's it for? The MacBook Pro is for the demanding user who wants a portable computer that also performs well. MacBook Pro models sit at the top of the performance chart of Mac laptops.

What are the specifications? The MacBook Pro is available in screen sizes of 13 inches and 16 inches. All laptops include the Touch Bar interface at the top of the keyboard.

There are four 13-inch models:

  • $1,299 model: 1.4GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 (8th generation) processor, 8GB of memory, 256GB SSD, Intel Iris Plus Graphics 645 integrated graphics, two Thunderbolt 3 ports
  • $1,499 model: 1.4GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 (8th generation) processor, 8GB of memory, 512GB SSD, Intel Iris Plus Graphics 645 integrated graphics, two Thunderbolt 3 ports
  • $1,799 model: 2.0GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 (10th generation) processor, 16GB of memory, 512GB SSD, Intel Iris Plus Graphics integrated graphics, four Thunderbolt 3 ports
  • $1,999 model: 2.0GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 (10th generation) processor, 16GB of memory, 1TB SSD, Intel Iris Plus Graphics integrated graphics, four Thunderbolt 3 ports

Apple has two 16-inch MacBook Pros:

  • $2,399 model: 2.6GHz 6-core Intel Core i7 (9th generation) processor, 16GB of memory, 512GB SSD, Intel UHD Graphics 630 integrated graphics, 4GB Radeon Pro 5300M discrete graphics
  • $2,799 model: 2.3GHz 8-core Intel Core i7 (9th generation) processor, 16GB of memory, 1TB SSD, Intel UHD Graphics 630 integrated graphics, 4GB Radeon Pro 5500M discrete graphics

The 13-inch Retina display has a native resolution of 2560x1600, and macOS offers a scaled resolution up to 1680x1050. The 16-inch Retina display has a native resolution of 3072x1920, and macOS''s highest scaled resolution on those laptops is 2048x1280. These high-scale resolutions can accommodate the workspace of a larger-screen standard Mac laptop on a smaller Retina MacBook Pro if you can tolerate the smaller icons, text, and other graphics on the screen. If you use a third-party app such as QuickRes, you can set the Retina screen to use resolutions higher than the scaled settings macOS offers, including the native resolution.

The MacBook Pro does not have a SuperDrive, so if you need one, you'll have to buy an external USB optical drive.

What is the Touch Bar that's mentioned in the specs above? The Touch Bar is a input device that sits on top of the keyboard. It's basically a narrow touchscreen. The buttons and controls available on the Touch Bar change depending on the software you are using. Learn more about the Touch Bar.

How do I connect stuff? No need to worry about wireless connectivity: The MacBook Pro has Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

It's the wired connectivity you need to be concerned with. The MacBook Pro has only Thunderbolt 3 ports, which are compatible with USB-C. The $1,299 and $1,499 13-inch MacBook Pro models have two ports, while every other MacBook model has four.

If you have a Thunderbolt 3 device, you can plug it directly into the laptop. The same goes for any USB-C device. However, if you have wired devices that aren't USB-C or Thunderbolt 3, you'll need an adapter. We have a separate MacBook Pro Thunderbolt 3 adapter guide to help you decide which ones you'll need. Unfortunately, be prepared to shell out a good amount of extra cash.

How fast is it? The MacBook Pro models are, to no surprise, the fastest laptops Apple has ever released. If it's processing power you seek, it's the MacBook Pro you want.

What about the 15-inch MacBook Pro? Apple replaced the 15-inch model with the 16-nch MacBook Pro in November 2019. If you really want a 15-inch model, try looking in Apple's Refurbished and Clearance Store.

Macworld's buying advice: For the most demanding mobile Mac user--someone whose work requires a lot of processing power--the MacBook Pro is the ticket. If you're looking at a 13-inch model, the $1,799 Retina MacBook Pro hits a sweet spot for price and performance. The money that separates the two 16-inch Retina MacBook Pro models is a hefty chunk of change; the $2,799 MacBook Pro is the top-of-the-line Mac laptop, offering the strongest performance. If your work mostly involves internet access and other productivity tasks, however, go for a MacBook Air.

Ready to buy a MacBook Pro? Go to the Apple Store

Apple has refurbished MacBook Pro models available in the company's Refurbished and Clearance Store. Refurbs offer a modest savings over new models, though the inventory for refurbs runs out quickly. You may find only older models, so check back at a later date to see if there are any 2019 laptops available.

Apple tests and certifies all products in the Refurbished store. Supply is limited, so Apple could run out of refurb stock, and you'll have to check back if you missed your opportunity to buy. But once Apple receives your payment, the company guarantees your purchase.

Refurb products come with a one-year warranty.

Next page: Mac mini, iMac, iMac Pro, and Mac Pro

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