Whether you’re looking to replace an aging MacBook or are diving into Apple hardware for the first time, Apple’s laptop lineup is not as simple as it seems. There are just two options, the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro, but depending on the configuration, a new MacBook can cost between $999 and $6,500, so there’s considerable variation between the two makes.
All current models run on the company’s own M-series processors that combine CPU, GPU, unified memory and other functions on a single chip, giving the latest MacBooks longer battery lives, better multitasking performance and faster operating speeds over the previous Intel chips.
The most recent iteration is the M2 chip, but we’re pretty confident the new M3 chip will arrive in October of this year. That doesn’t necessarily mean you should put off buying a machine if you need one now, as history indicates, Apple will likely continue to sell and market previous-generation devices. For those who aren’t preoccupied with needing the latest edition, the Apple laptops we recommend here should give you years of reliable use. Based on our testing, here are the best MacBooks for everyone from students to power users.
Best overall: MacBook Air M2
Our resident laptop expert Devindra Hardawar called the MacBook Air M2 a “near-perfect Mac” in his review, awarding it a high score of 96. It’s the newer of the two Air models Apple still sells, and notably a better buy than the 13-inch MacBook Pro, as the latter is both heavier and more expensive. The Air was built around the new M2 chip and completely refreshed for 2022 with a new, squared-off design that ditches the wedge shape.
The 13.6-inch Liquid Retina screen hits up to 500 nits, making it both bigger and brighter than the previous generation. The 60Hz refresh rate doesn’t deliver the butter-smooth scrolling you get on Pro models, but it’s lovely nonetheless. The quad speaker array pumps out great sound, filling a room at max volume without distortion, and the three-mic array does a good job of picking up your voice for video calls. The 1080p webcam is an improvement over previous generations. It even beats our top Windows laptop, Dell’s XPS 13 Plus which still sports a 720p camera, but Devindra found the image the Air captures to be drab.
Despite being thinner than ever, the M2 Air manages to hang on to its 3.5mm headphone jack and includes two USB-C Thunderbolt ports and a MagSafe connector. That means you don’t have to block a potential data port while charging. The battery life is ample, lasting 16 hours and 30 minutes in our rundown test, which should be more than enough for a day (or two) of work.
The M2 processor gives the Air enough speed to play games, particularly those from Apple Arcade. Streaming and cloud gaming work well through Safari, and you’ll find a handful of compatible titles on Steam. However, many of the bigger AAA releases still aren’t compatible with Macs – though Apple is looking to change that. Our review unit performed well in benchmark tests, beating the Air M1 and nearly matching the performance of the 13-inch MacBook Pro M2. It’s a fanless system which means it’s quiet, but to keep things cool, the CPU does have to be throttled occasionally.
Overall, it’s an excellent choice for everyday use and can handle most tasks. Of course, if you’re planning on doing intensive video editing, you’ll likely want something more powerful, such as the MacBook Pro M2, but the Air is arguably the best multipurpose, ultraportable laptop that Apple makes.
Our review MacBook Air had an M2 chip with a 10-core GPU, along with 16GB of memory and 1TB of storage. That configuration will run you $1,799. We think the processing power of the Air is plenty capable without the GPU bump and the terabyte of storage is probably overkill for most casual users. Instead, we recommend the $1,499 setup with an 8-core GPU, 16GB of memory and 512GB of SSD storage.
The 13-inch MacBook Air is certainly the best laptop for anyone that prizes portability above all else. However, if a slightly larger screen size is tempting to you, don’t sleep on the 15-inch MacBook Air M2. The new laptop does everything that 13-inch model does well, while giving you a larger screen to work with in a still-svelte package. It doesn’t side-step the very Apple issue of having a little less RAM and storage than we’d prefer in its base model (8GB, 256GB SSD), but that doesn’t hold it back. It’s one of the best MacBooks we’ve used recently and it gives fans of the Air lineup a new configuration to consider. And since it’s starting price is only $200 more than that of the 13-inch Air, the jump isn’t as cost-prohibitive as, say, the 14-inch MacBook Pro, which starts at a whopping $2,000.
Read our full review of the 13-inch Apple MacBook Air M2
Best budget option: MacBook Air M1
The MacBook Air M1 may not have the most current Apple silicon, but it gets so much right that it’s still an excellent laptop, and probably the best MacBook for college students. It earned a high score of 94 in our review and Devindra declared it one of the fastest ultraportables you could buy at the time. Of course, now that the M2 is on the scene, its numbers are comparatively less impressive – but with a base price of $999 (and often on sale for less), it’s a relatively affordable way for students or those with tight budgets to snag an entry-level machine that’s both fast and capable.
The Air’s 13.3-inch Retina display looks beautiful and is ideal for binge sessions. The laptop’s sturdy, wedge-shaped unibody case weighs just 2.8 pounds, making it easy to take to class or work. You can even fire it up in the quietest library without making a sound, thanks to a heat sink and passive cooling that eliminate the need for a fan. The keyboard offers a satisfying amount of depth despite its thin profile and the trackpad is smooth.
The performance of the M1 chip really makes the MacBook Air M1 stand out. It’s impressively responsive, launching apps nearly instantly and running them effortlessly. Safari delivers a slick browsing experience, loading complex pages quickly. The M1 chip is also behind the Air’s long battery life. We managed to get 16 hours and 20 minutes during our video rundown test, which should be more than enough to get you through a full-day grind.
Of course, it’s not without drawbacks. The M1 Air houses a 720p webcam, which isn’t as sharp as the M2 Air’s 1080p camera and it only comes with two Thunderbolt ports and a headphone jack. If you’re charging your computer, there’s only one available plug for accessories. There’s no SD card slot, either, and since Apple hardware isn’t the easiest to upgrade yourself, you’ll want to buy all the storage you need right out of the gate.
We recommend sticking with the base configuration (8GB RAM/256GB SSD) if you’ll mostly be using web-based programs and cloud-based apps. For an extra $200, you can upgrade to 16GB of memory which is good if you stream heavily, like to have a lot of open tabs or want to run a ton of apps at once. Alternatively, the same amount could get you 512GB of storage if you want to keep a lot of files and photos locally.
Read our full review of the 13-inch Apple MacBook Air M1
Best for creatives: MacBook Pro M2
The 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pros came out in January of 2023, both using more powerful versions of the M2 chip: the M2 Pro and the M2 Max. For creatives, the new machines are a blessing positioning them as the best MacBooks for video editing and music production.
The 14-inch MacBook Pro with a 19-core GPU M2 Pro chip can easily handle 4K video editing, effects processing and whichever Mac-compatible digital audio workstation you prefer. The 14.2-inch screen is a bright and vibrant MiniLED Liquid Retina XDR display with a 120Hz refresh rate for smooth scrolling and animations. A six-speaker array produces crisp, punchy sound that’s better than what most laptops can deliver and the built-in mics are great for video calls.
As you’d expect with a high-end Pro model, you get a full complement of ports, including an SD card slot, headphone jack, HDMI port and three Thunderbolt 4 sockets. There’s even a MagSafe charging port. We got a respectable 15 hours and 10 minutes of battery life out of the 14-inch model and, according to Apple, the 16-inch model can get up to 22 hours on a charge.
If you’re planning on processing a lot of 8K video, complex 3D scenes or more expansive music compositions, you may want the better performance provided by the faster M2 Max chip. In that case, we recommend the 16-inch MacBook Pro, as its larger battery can better match the chip’s higher power consumption. As long as cost isn’t a deciding factor, the 16-inch Pro with the M2 Max is the way to go. It’s one of the more powerful MacBooks available, with a bigger screen, 12-core CPU, 38-core GPU, 64GB of memory and 2TB of storage. Those options will run you $4,299, but should serve even the most demanding user well for years.
Read our full review of the Apple MacBook Pro M2
This post originally appeared on TechToday.