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 eight 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 11 MacBooks to buy can be a tough decision, fortunately we are here to help.
If you’re not sure yet if you want a laptop or desktop Mac, you should also read our Mac buying guide, which covers both MacBooks and Apple’s desktop Macs. We also compare all the MacBook Pro here: Which MacBook Pro: 13, 14, 16-inch compared.
There are various sections in this article. If you aren’t sure which Mac laptop you want then read on, if you have a vague idea but are choosing between two similar models, or if your needs are more professional than personal, then you might find the models further down this article more relevant. In that case, we suggest that you jump to the section that is most relevant to your needs. See the Table of Contents above.
MacBook release dates
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.
MacBook Air (M1): November 2020
MacBook Air (M2): July 2022
13in MacBook Pro (M2): June 2022
14in MacBook Pro (M2 Pro & M2 Max): January 2023
16in MacBook Pro (M2 Pro & M2 Max): January 2023
For more information about the 2023 MacBook Pro read: Everything we know about the new M2 Pro MacBook Pro models.
What MacBooks does Apple sell?
There are two types of Mac laptop, but a grand total of 11 MacBooks to choose from, including three MacBook Air models and eight MacBook Pro models sold as standard, and many more combinations if you factor in all the build-to-order options. However, it really breaks down to four laptops: the MacBook Air, 13-inch MacBook Pro, 14-inch MacBook Pro and 16-inch MacBook Pro.
We’ll start with an overview of the laptops Apple sells, before running through how different models in the line up compare.
The MacBook Air is the cheapest way to get a Mac laptop. Starting at $999/£999 for the older M1 model, or $1,199/£1,249 for the M2 model.
There are three standard MacBook Air to consider–one features an M1 chip, the other two M2 chips:
The 13-inch MacBook Pro is comparable to the MacBook Air, with similar specs and a similar price. We think the main difference is that the cooling is a little better in the Pro, so you can push it a bit further. There are two standard 13-inch MacBook Pro to consider. The only real difference is storage here though:
Apple updated the 14-inch MacBook Pro in January 2023. It now comes with a M2 Pro or M2 Max chip. It’s a powerful machine, and you don’t have to compromise if you’d prefer the smaller and cheaper 14-inch model. There are three 14-inch MacBook Pro to consider with quite a leap from the entry-level to the mid-range:
There is a lot more to consider than the above though. You might not be deciding between the 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro, but rather between the M2 Pro and M2 Max models, or maybe you are considering how the MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro compare. We have attempted to compare every comparable MacBook laptop below to help you decide which MacBook is right for you.
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.
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 (from 2022), rather than the M1 (from 2020). 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 $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 M2 Pro, but it costs $500/£600 more than the most expensive 13-inch MacBook Pro with M2 chip. 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 14-inch Pro is the Mac you want to be looking at.
The entry-level 14-inch MacBook Pro offers a M2 Pro with 10-core CPU and 16-core GPU, 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. The M2 Pro is an enhanced version of the M2 with more cores and support for more RAM.
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/£2,149, previous generation was £1,899)
Which 14-inch MacBook Pro with M2 Pro?
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 12-Core CPU/19-Core GPU 14-inch MacBook Pro with 1TB SSD at $2,499/£2,699 costs $500/£550 more than the 10-Core CPU/16-Core GPU model with 512GB SSD at $1,999/£2,149.
That’s a lot to spend to get a 12-core CPU and 19-core GPU, instead of the 10-core/16-core M2 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: you can pay $300/£350 extra for the same chip and just stick with the 512GB storage.
Best prices for the 14in MacBook Pro (MSRP: $2,499/£2,699, previous generation was £2,399)
Should I buy the 14-inch MacBook Pro or 16-inch MacBook Pro?
We’ve just been discussing how the 10-core CPU/16-core GPU M2 Pro equipped MacBook Pro compares to the 12-core CPU/19-core GPU M2 Pro model. If you are considering spending that extra $500/£550 to get your hands on those extra cores there is another option you should consider.
The 14-inch MacBook Pro M2 Pro with 12-Core CPU/19-Core GPU costs the same as the 16-inch MacBook Pro M2 Pro with 12-Core CPU/19-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 22 hours compared to 18 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/£2,699, previous generation was £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/£2,899, previous generation was £2,599)
Should I buy the 14-inch or 16-inch MacBook Pro with M2 Max?
Our final MacBook Pro comparison to consider is the 14-inch MacBook Pro with an M2 Max powered 12-Core CPU and 30-Core GPU, 32GB unified memory and 1TB SSD versus the 16-inch MacBook Pro with an M2 Max powered 12-Core CPU and 38-Core GPU, 32GB unified memory and 1TB SSD.
Both Macs have really high prices, the 14-inch is $3,099/£3,349 and the 16-inch is $3,499/£3,749. That’s a $400/£400 leap in price to get a larger screen, better battery life, and eight more cores in the 38-core GPU. If it’s the 38-core GPU you are after you don’t have to get the 16-inch MacBook, you can choose that M2 Max system on chip at point of sale, it’s an extra $200/£200. So the question here is whether the bigger screen and better battery life are worth another $200/£200 to you.
The other significant question is whether you really need the M2 Max. The M2 Pro might be adequate, in which case you could save a lot of money.
And if you really do need the extra power of the M2 Max then perhaps rather than considering the MacBook Pro you should be looking at the Mac Studio, which offers an M1 Max with 10-core CPU and 24-core GPU for $1,999/£1,999. It’s a variant of the M1 chip, but still a great option if you want value for money.
Best prices for the 14in MacBook Pro, M2 Max (MSRP: $3,099/£3,349)
Best prices for the 16in MacBook Pro, M2 Max (MSRP: $3,499/£3,749, previous generation was £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 the Air’s better display and new design, but it’s still hampered a bit by the lack of fan for cooling.
The gap between the 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 is if you find a good discount on the previous generation models with M1 Pro and M1 Max, which are still great machines. For the latest MacBook Pro discounts, including discontinued models, check out our round up of the Best MacBook Pro deals.