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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.
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|
|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|
Best MacBooks of 2023
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.