Best MacBook for 2023 – CNET

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Apple offers MacBooks from $999 all the way up to $3,499, and that’s just the default configurations. Optional upgrades can add thousands more to the price. With the new M2 chip, we’re now firmly in the second generation of Apple Silicon, and the M2 versions of the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro are strong performers, even if some models are more expensive than their predecessors. 

The MacBook Air and MacBook Pro are known for excellent design, build quality and ease of use. MacOS, with its intuitive nature, plays a big part in that, as does the fact that Apple makes both the hardware and software, leading to inherent synergies. 

That said, MacBooks aren’t flying off the shelves like they used to. Data from analyst firm IDC says that Mac sales in the first quarter of 2023 were down a whopping 40% from the same period a year ago. Part of that is because so many people bought new laptops during COVID-19, and those generally have a three- to five-year lifespan, so we’re between upgrade cycles at the moment. 

Still, the current M2 version of the MacBook Air, which starts at $1,199, gets my vote as the most universally useful laptop most people can buy right now, and I use one almost daily. 

Below, we go over each MacBook and its strengths and weaknesses, as well as offering some MacBook shopping tips and answers to common questions. 

Apple is still offering education deals on MacBooks: Normally, the Apple Store is (ironically) not the best place to buy an Apple laptop (really, almost any Apple product) because sales are all but nonexistent. The big exception to the rule is Apple’s education discounts, which usually include MacBook deals. On the other hand, we’ve also found Apple laptop deals through Best Buy’s Student Deals page.

The Touch Bar is (mostly) dead: Apple announced the Touch Bar with great fanfare in 2016 but this slim secondary touchscreen, which sits above the keyboard, is now only available on one model. You can find it on the M2 13-inch MacBook Pro, which retains its dated design, despite having Apple’s latest chip. 

Great webcam on the 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pro, and the 13-inch Air; 13-inch MacBook Pro webcam is still meh: The jump to a 1080p resolution camera in the newest MacBooks, as well as the 24-inch iMac, is a game-changer for people sitting in video meetings all day. Only that dated-looking 13-inch M2 MacBook Pro retains the not-great old camera. Here are some tips on making the 720-pixel cameras in those other Macs look better

If you need something bigger and don’t mind it being tied to a desk: Apple updated its smaller iMac (formerly 21.5 inches, now 24 inches) in 2021, and it now comes in seven color options and runs on the company’s M1 processor. You can also pair a Mac Mini or Mac Studio desktop with the new 27-inch Mac Studio Display

Almost all Macs have transitioned to Apple’s own M1 and M2 chips:  Since late 2020, the MacBook Air, 13-inch MacBook Pro, Mac Mini, Mac Studio, 24-inch iMac, 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro now all run either M1 or M2 chips (including Pro, Max and Ultra varieties), which combine both CPU and GPU cores into a single package. Based on our testing, the Apple M1 and M2 line has largely delivered on Apple’s promises of better battery life and faster performance. You can still find the really old Mac Pro desktop with an Intel Xeon chip. 

The key question is how to make sure you’re not buying too little MacBook — or too much. Which is the best MacBook for your needs? For most people, the 13-inch Air remains the default choice and rightly so. The 14-inch and 16-inch Pro models are more powerful but in a way that only people who need heavy GPU support will appreciate.

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Watch this: MacBook Air M2 vs. MacBook Air M1: Worth the Extra $200

 Read more: Best Mac VPN for 2023  

MacBook starting configurations

14-inch MacBook Pro 16-inch MacBook Pro MacBook Air (13-inch, M1) MacBook Air (13-inch, M2) 13-inch MacBook Pro (M2)
CPU M2 Pro or M2 Max M2 Pro or M2 Max M1 M2 M2
No. of GPU cores 16-19 (M1 Pro), 30 (M1 Max) 19 (M2Pro), 38 (M2 Max) 7 8 8
Screen size (inches) 14.2 in 16.2 in 13.3 in 13.6 in 13.3 in
Screen resolution 3,024×1,964 pixels 3,456×2,234 pixels 2,560×1,600 pixels 2,560×1,664 pixels 2,560×1,600 pixels
Starting storage 512GB 512GB 256GB 256GB 256GB
Starting RAM 16GB 16GB 8GB 8GB 8GB
Webcam 1080p 1080p 720p 1080p 720p
Networking 802.11ax Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.0 802.11ax Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.0 802.11ax Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.0 802.11ax Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.0 802.11ax Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.0
Connections Thunderbolt USB-C x3, HDMI, SDXC card, MagSafe 3 Thunderbolt USB-C x3, HDMI, SDXC card, MagSafe 3 Thunderbolt USB-C x2 Thunderbolt USB-C x2 Thunderbolt USB-C x2
Weight (pounds) 3.5 lbs 4.7 lbs 2.8 lbs 2.7 lbs 3.0 lbs
Starting price $1,999 $2,499 $999 $1,199 $1,299

Best MacBooks of 2023

MacBook Air M2 2022 laptop

Dan Ackerman/CNET

The 2022 MacBook Air got its biggest refresh in many years, moving to the M2 chip and adopting a new design. Thanks to that MacBook-Pro-like design, larger display (13.6-inch vs 13.3-inch), faster M2 chip and a long-awaited upgrade to a higher-res webcam, it’s now my favorite Mac, with one caveat. At $1,199, the $200 price increase over the traditional $999 MacBook Air starting price is a disappointment.

The MacBook Air goes beyond the Pro models it mimics in one important respect — it adds new colors to the space gray and silver, with a new gold-like starlight and a deep, dark midnight finish. Midnight, which appears as a matte black finish, reminds me of the old matte black polycarbonate MacBooks of the mid 2000s, which I’ve always thought was a sharp look. 

We’ve got a lot of different MacBook models, prices and specs to keep track of. To sum it up, the key reasons you’re going to prefer the new M2 Air over the previous M1 model are:

  • Slimmer, more modern design in new colors
  • Upgraded full-HD webcam
  • Larger, brighter display (13.6 inches vs. 13.3 inches)
  • Faster M2 processor 

Read our full review of the MacBook Air M2

M1 MacBook Air on a table

Dan Ackerman/CNET

This model has been surpassed, but not replaced, by the new M2 MacBook Air. Because it’s staying on as Apple’s sole $999 laptop, it still deserves a place on this list. 

For many years, this Apple laptop was everyone’s favorite laptop. It was reasonably priced, thin, light and built like a tank. It could last for years and take lots of falls and bumps. For any college student or coffee shop creative type, $999 would get you sorted. 

You get only two Thunderbolt 3 USB-C ports, but for most people that’s enough, as long as you can get a whatever-to-USB-C dongle.  

The 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pro laptops, like the new M2 MacBook Air, have better displays, faster processors and more ports. The Pro models also have HDMI and SD card slots. 

Read our full review of the MacBook Air M1

The Apple MacBook Pro 16 sitting on a wood desk, open and angled to the left showing the orange-flower desktop, against a purple-blue background

Lori Grunin/CNET

Apple’s 2023 update to its flagship MacBook Pro 16-inch line follows the company’s usual MO. It offers a modest refresh from the more significantly redesigned 2021 model; notably, upgrades to the latest generation of M2-class processorsWi-Fi 6E and HDMI 2.1, which means support for displays up to 8K, 60Hz and 4K, 240Hz and variable refresh rates.

We awarded it our Editors’ Choice award for its combination of the old and new. It’s a powerhouse Mac for creation and development work. 

Read our full review of the MacBook Pro 16-inch

The 16-inch Macbook Pro from 2021 on a table

Dan Ackerman/CNET

Compared with the 13-inch Pro, the screen size here jumps from 13.3 to 14.2 inches. It’s what Apple calls a Liquid Retina XDR display, which is basically a mini LED screen, like in the 12.9-inch iPad Pro. It also has the same HDMI, SD card and MagSafe ports as the 16-inch MacBook Pro and the same 1080 webcam. 

We last tested a 14-inch Pro in 2021, but the performance and configuration options remain substantially similar to the 16-inch M2 MacBook Pro, which we tested and reviewed in 2023. 

If you’re a college student, coffeeshop writer or other mainstream laptop user, this is a hefty premium to pay for a better screen, better webcam and more ports. It might be like buying a sports car just for driving on city streets. Bring in all-day, every day web video meetings, you might be able to make a good case, but the new M2 Air also solves that problem. 

Read our full review of the 14-inch MacBook Pro

The Apple MacBook Pro M2 13-inch laptop 2022

Dan Ackerman/CNET

This new 2022 version of the 13-inch MacBook Pro looks just like the 13-inch MacBook Pro that was part of Apple’s first wave of M1-chip Macs in late 2020. Same body, same camera, same limited ports, same Touch Bar. Yes, this remains the last holdout of the Apple Touch Bar, a clever-but-underused second screen that’s fallen out of favor. 

And that’s exactly what this system is: The 2020 13-inch MacBook Pro, with the initial M1 chip swapped out for the new M2 chip. That makes it Apple’s most powerful 13-inch laptop, and it edges out the otherwise similar new M2 MacBook Air because its active cooling allows it to run at higher temperatures. 

That means it’s less likely to be your best choice for a MacBook. But there are some reasons you may still want the 13-inch MacBook Pro over either the new MacBook Air or the pricier 14- or 16-inch MacBook Pro. We outlined the most obvious reasons here and they include:

  • The last opportunity to get a MacBook with a Touch Bar
  • Smallest MacBook with the longest battery life (at least until we test the new Air model)
  • Platform continuity for your company or creative shop

Read our full review of the M2 13-inch MacBook Pro

Which MacBook should I buy?

My TL;DR advice is as follows.

  • If you need a MacBook for everyday work, schoolwork, web surfing, movies and light creativity, go with the M2 MacBook Air. For most people, this is all the MacBook they’ll need. 
  • The new design and camera are great, as is the bigger screen, but the older $999 M1 version of the MacBook Air is still great if you don’t want to spend $200 more on the M2 version. 
  • The 13-inch MacBook Pro remains a tough sell. More expensive than the Air but essentially the same performance and same Apple M2 chip. It’s also the last holdout of the Touch Bar. 
  • The 16-inch MacBook Pro is the one high-end creative types have been waiting for. The video editor and creative pros I’ve spoken to have flocked to it and usually with the highest-end M2 Max chip. 
  • The 14-inch MacBook Pro can do almost everything the 16-inch can, but in a smaller package. It’s either a premium mainstream laptop splurge or a work tool for creative types who need something a little more portable.

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