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The best Mac laptop for most people is the 13-inch MacBook Pro (2019, two Thunderbolt 3 ports). It’s more than fast enough for the things that most people use a computer for – internet browsing, working on documents, and photo and video editing – and it has an excellent high-resolution screen, a great trackpad, enough battery life to get most people through a day of work, and a (relatively) reasonable price for a MacBook.
The entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro includes a quad-core processor and much faster integrated graphics than in the Air, both of which will make your work go significantly faster – 2019’s 13-inch Pro is almost as fast as 15-inch models from past years. The laptop does have some shortcomings, but they’re almost all shared by other modern Apple laptops: the low-travel keyboard, a small number of homogenous ports (in this case, two Thunderbolt 3 ports) that may require the use of USB-C hubs or new cables, and a high price relative to Windows laptops with similar performance and features, especially if you need more than 128 GB of storage. But the Pro’s light weight and solid construction make it a good laptop, especially if you also own an iPhone or other Apple devices.
The 2019 MacBook Air is cheaper and quarter pound lighter than the 13-inch MacBook Pro. It also has slightly better battery life, and it’s functionally an identical laptop in most of the important ways: screen, memory and storage, ports, keyboard and touchpad, construction. But its dual-core processor and slower integrated graphics make it a worse choice if you plan on doing much photo and video editing or programming, or if you plan on connecting it to high-resolution external monitors. It also skips the Touch Bar in favour of a row of physical function keys and a standalone Touch ID fingerprint sensor, though depending on how you feel about the flashy but superfluous Touch Bar, you might prefer this.
The 15-inch MacBook Pro is our top Mac pick in our guide to laptops for video and photo editing. You won’t notice a huge speed boost in everyday computing tasks, but our recommended configuration’s six-core Intel Core processor can give it a speed boost of around 30% over the 13-inch Pro when rendering video or compiling code, and its discrete AMD Radeon GPUs provide better performance when running 3D drafting programs or games.
Because you can’t upgrade Apple’s current laptops later – the memory, storage and processors are all built in – you need to make sure to buy the right configuration. We’ve listed our recommended configuration for each of our picks in the sections below.
Who this is for, and when to buy
The best reason to buy a MacBook is if you need or prefer macOS instead of Windows. The operating system is stable and easy to use, but more important, it integrates well with iPhones and iPads – iMessages and SMS messages sent from your Mac also appear on your iPhone and vice versa, and features such as AirDrop and iCloud make it easy to share notes, pictures, videos, reminders, contacts, passwords, bookmarks, and other data between your devices.
Macs aren’t a great choice if you don’t want to spend Rs 1 lakh or more on a laptop, if you want to get the most performance for your money, or if you want to run high-end games. Windows ultrabooks provide as good or better performance, more kinds of ports, and more storage at or below the price Apple charges for the MacBook Air. Budget Chrome OS and Windows laptops are a better choice because they can cost half as much as a Mac. And Windows gaming notebooks, while larger and bulkier than any MacBook, usually have newer and faster dedicated graphics processors than Apple’s laptops do (and you can buy some of them for less than half of what a 15-inch MacBook Pro costs).
It’s best to buy Apple’s laptops soon after they’re introduced so you get the most for your money, but you shouldn’t wait around for a refresh if you need a computer right now – Apple’s laptop update cycles are much less consistent than those for iPhones and iPads, so it’s difficult to predict when or how often the company will release new models.
How we picked
As of this writing, Apple offers four different laptops in multiple configurations. We considered the following criteria when deciding which ones to recommend:
- Performance: Dual-core Intel Core processors are fine for basic browsing and light photo editing – the things most people use their computers for – but a four- or six-core MacBook Pro is worth paying extra for if you do processor-intensive video editing or code compiling. All MacBooks include at least 8 GB of RAM, which is plenty for everyday tasks, but if you’re buying the 13- or 15-inch Pro, you should consider upgrading to 16 GB or 32 GB (respectively), especially if you edit a lot of large files or want to run Windows apps in a virtual machine.
- Display: A high-resolution IPS display is a must on any laptop at or above Rs 1 lakh. All of Apple’s Retina displays are sharp and colour-accurate, and can display nearly 100% of the sRGB color gamut. MacBook Pro models include screens that support the larger DCI-P3 color gamut, which just means that they can display more shades of some colors than sRGB displays – this feature is nice to have but not necessary for most people.
- Ports: All of Apple’s laptops now use Thunderbolt 3 ports exclusively, for everything from data to video to charging. All of them include at least two of these ports, so you can charge the laptop and connect a second device at the same time – we wish MacBooks still had a greater number and variety of ports than they do, but two ports is a workable bare minimum. We have picks for both Thunderbolt 3 docks and USB-C docks, as well as for USB-C monitors, USB-C data cables and video cables, spare or replacement USB-C chargers, and other accessories that will help you connect all of your old stuff to these new ports.
- Keyboard, Touch Bar, and Touch ID: All of Apple’s current laptops use some version of the same low-travel butterfly-switch keyboard that Apple has been refining since that design’s introduction in 2015 – it’s just something you’ll have to live with. The fourth-generation revision is a bit quieter and more resistant to dust and dirt than older versions, and it also uses “new materials” that Apple says will make the keyboard less failure-prone. All current MacBooks include the TouchID fingerprint sensor; for our tests, the presence or absence of the Touch Bar didn’t factor in one way or the other since it’s a neat feature but still mostly superfluous.
- Size and weight: All of Apple’s laptops are relatively thin and light compared with similar laptops from other manufacturers, but the 13-inch models tend to offer the best combination of size, weight and performance.
- Price: Macs cost a lot, but most people don’t need to buy the most expensive versions. Our recommended configurations balance performance, storage, and price – we especially recommend relying on cloud storage or external storage instead of buying a larger SSD if you can, since Apple’s expensive storage upgrades add a lot of money to the price of its laptops.
- Battery life: When you’re performing basic computing tasks like browsing or emailing, all of Apple’s laptops should be able to get you through most of an eight-hour workday on a single charge. But Apple does note that the Air should last longer than any of the Pro models – for 12 hours of browsing instead of 10 – and that lines up with our experience.
The best all-around Mac laptop: 13-inch MacBook Pro (2019, two Thunderbolt 3 ports)
The best Mac laptop for most people is the 13-inch MacBook Pro (2019, two Thunderbolt 3 ports). It’s more than fast enough for the things you usually need a computer for – browsing, working on documents, and photo and video editing – and it has an excellent high-resolution screen, a great trackpad, enough battery life to last through an eight-hour workday, and a (relatively) reasonable price for a Mac. The Pro’s main shortcomings are almost all shared by other modern Apple laptops: the low-travel keyboard, a small number of homogenous ports (in this case, two Thunderbolt 3 ports) that may require the use of USB-C hubs or new cables, and a high price relative to Windows laptops with similar performance and features. But the Pro’s light weight, solid construction, and industry-leading support still make it a good laptop, especially if you also own an iPhone or other Apple devices.
We recommend the model with a quad-core eighth-generation Core i5 processor, Intel Iris Plus 645 graphics, a 128 GB SSD, and 8 GB of memory. If you regularly work with a couple dozen browser tabs open or edit large image files or videos, consider upgrading to 16 GB of memory. If you need more storage, we recommend adding an external hard drive or SSD rather than paying Apple’s astronomical upgrade prices.
The 13-inch MacBook Pro has a 2560×1600 IPS screen, and it’s sharp, bright and colourful. Unlike on the Air, the Pro’s display supports the wider DCI-P3 color gamut instead of sRGB, so it can display more shades of certain colours. Both laptops now include the True Tone feature, which subtly changes the screen’s color temperature to match the ambient lighting in the room; both models produce nice-looking results, though the feature isn’t necessary or noticeable for most people.
Our recommended 13-inch Pro has just two Thunderbolt 3/USB-C ports for connectivity and charging, both on the left side of the laptop, so you need adapters or new cables to connect your other devices. Each port supports charging, 40-gigabits-per-second data transfers, external displays (up to 5120×2880 resolution, or 5K), and USB peripherals – but the Pro has no other ports aside from a headphone jack. More expensive versions of the 13-inch MacBook Pro include four Thunderbolt 3 ports, as does the 15-inch Pro, but even with those models you’d still need a dongle, hub or dock to connect to most accessories.
The Pro uses the fourth revision of Apple’s low-travel butterfly-switch keyboard, which we still don’t love. Like the third-generation version, it includes a rubber membrane that is allegedly better at keeping out dirt and dust, and it adds “new materials” that Apple says will improve reliability (though the 2019 MacBook Pro and Air models have the dubious honour of being eligible for a repair program from the day they were introduced). The keyboard also includes Apple’s Touch Bar along with Touch ID, instead of a dedicated function row. The Touch Bar is a high-resolution touchscreen that dynamically changes to display controls specific to the current app (if the app supports that). It’s intermittently useful, depending on how you work and what you use it for, but many Wirecutter staffers prefer a row of function keys instead. Apple now includes the Touch Bar on every MacBook Pro and not just on the more expensive models – even if you never use it, getting the added performance of the Pro is worth putting up with the Touch Bar.
All of our picks include the same Force Touch trackpad, which remains the best trackpad we’ve used on a laptop because of its large size and its accuracy. It has no hinge, so it recognises presses anywhere on the surface, but it also has haptic feedback that makes it feel and sound as if it’s “clicking” even though it doesn’t move.
The 13-inch MacBook Pro weighs 3 pounds, just 0.25 pound more than the 2019 Air, and has the same 11.97-by-8.36-inch footprint; it’s just slightly thicker, since it’s the same thickness throughout instead of tapered like the Air. It’s comfortable enough to carry around, and it’s one of the fastest laptops you can buy without getting something bigger. Most people wouldn’t notice the extra weight, and we think the speed increase over the Air is worth the trade-off.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
Current MacBook models use Thunderbolt 3 for all connectivity, including power. This means that if you own any hard drives, scanners, printers, thumb drives or card readers that use USB Type-A ports, you need a hub or adapter; similarly, if you want to use an external display or projector, you need the right video adapter. It also means you don’t get Apple’s late, great MagSafe magnetic power connection. The only other port is a 3.5 mm headphone/mic jack.
Apple’s mediocre, low-profile laptop keyboard is another major sticking point. The keys are still full size, but they feel stiff and shallow. Although you can get used to typing on the keyboard, “you can get used to it” is a long way from Apple’s excellent earlier keyboards. We’d gladly give up a couple of millimeters of laptop thinness for better keys.
Cheaper but slower: Apple MacBook Air (2019)
The 2019 MacBook Air is cheaper and quarter-pound lighter than the 13-inch MacBook Pro, and it’s functionally an identical laptop in most of the important ways: the screen, its memory and storage, its two Thunderbolt 3 ports, the keyboard and touchpad, and its construction. Plus, it has slightly better battery life than the Pro. But its dual-core processor and slower integrated graphics make it a worse choice if you plan on doing much photo and video editing or programming, or if you plan on connecting it to high-resolution external monitors – for more money, the MacBook Pro offers twice the speed, performance you’ll notice if you’re doing a lot of processor-intensive work. It also skips the Touch Bar in favour of a row of physical function keys and a standalone Touch ID fingerprint sensor. Depending on how you feel about the flashy but superfluous Touch Bar, however, you might regard that omission as a feature rather than a bug.
We recommend the entry-level model with 8 GB of memory and a 128 GB SSD; you can upgrade the storage if you know you’ll need more room, but Apple’s high upgrade prices make cloud storage or external storage a more economical option. You can upgrade to 16 GB of memory for more money, but if you’re doing the kind of work that can benefit from that much memory, you’re also doing work that would benefit from the improved performance of the Pro.
The Air runs on a dual-core eighth-generation Intel Core i5 processor, and you have no options for upgrading to a faster model. For everyday tasks that don’t require the processor to run at full speed for sustained periods of time, the MacBook Air feels about the same as the MacBook Pro. But for intensive tasks such as encoding video or compiling code, the Air is around half the speed of the quad-core MacBook Pro. The integrated graphics processor in the 2019 Air is also around half the speed of the one in the 13-inch MacBook Pro – the Air is fast enough to use with an external 4K or 5K display, but you may experience choppy framerates, and you shouldn’t expect it to run high-end games.
The 2019 Air’s display is the same size and resolution as the screen in the 13-inch Pro, so it can fit the same amount of information. Unlike the Pro, it doesn’t support the wider DCI-P3 color gamut, so it can’t display as many shades of certain colors, but it does support the True Tone feature, which changes the tint of the display to match your ambient lighting. Neither feature is something most people need or even notice, though True Tone is a nice addition that Apple left off the 2018 version of the Air.
Also like the Pro, the Air uses the fourth revision of Apple’s mediocre low-travel butterfly-switch keyboard, just with a standalone Touch ID button and dedicated function keys rather than the Touch Bar. We think most people can easily live without the Touch Bar, so this omission isn’t really a strike against the Air.
The 2019 MacBook Air has the exact same footprint – 11.97 inches wide and 8.36 inches deep – as the 13-inch MacBook Pro, but its tapered design makes it just a bit thinner. It’s also 0.25 pound lighter, at 2.75 pounds. Carrying it feels very similar to carrying the Pro.
The biggest, fastest MacBook: 15-inch MacBook Pro (2019)
The 15-inch MacBook Pro is our top Mac pick in our guide to laptops for video and photo editing. You won’t notice a huge speed boost in everyday computing tasks, but our recommended configuration’s six-core Intel Core processor can give it a speed boost of about 30% over the 13-inch Pro when rendering video or compiling code, and the optional eight-core processor can add an even larger speed boost. The 15-inch Pro’s discrete AMD Radeon GPUs provide better performance when the laptop is running 3D drafting programs or games, and they make it the only MacBook that can use two 5K external displays instead of just one. It’s the only MacBook that can use up to 32 GB of memory, too. Its 15-inch Retina display is the biggest and highest-resolution display you can get in a Mac laptop, and it has four Thunderbolt 3 ports. But it costs around twice as much as the 13-inch MacBook Pro, it’s about a pound heavier, and its battery life is relatively mediocre. It’s worth considering only if you know you’ll use all that extra power.
We recommend the configuration of the 15-inch Pro that includes a six-core Core i7 processor, 256 GB of storage, 16 GB of memory and the AMD Radeon Pro 560X graphics processor. Although 16 GB of memory is plenty even for most pros, you can have 32 GB of memory for more money. Only creative professionals who make their living editing video, doing 3D drafting or coding apps should even consider paying more for an eight-core processor and Radeon Vega graphics – the added cost is too much to justify otherwise, and our recommended configuration is still plenty fast. You can also have as much as 4 TB of internal storage, but Apple’s storage prices are so high that cloud storage or external storage is a more economical option.
The 15-inch MacBook Pro’s screen includes DCI-P3 color gamut support and the True Tone feature, just as the screen on the 13-inch Pro does, but its higher, 2880×1800 resolution allows it to fit more stuff at once. It’s also physically larger, of course.
But other than the performance, the larger screen, the pair of extra Thunderbolt 3 ports (two on each side), and the bigger size and weight, the 15-inch MacBook Pro is a lot like the 13-inch version we recommend. It has the exact same low-travel butterfly-switch keyboard, Touch Bar, and Touch ID sensor, and aside from its Force Touch trackpad being even larger, using that trackpad feels exactly the same as doing so on the 13-inch Pro and the Air.
Although the 15-inch MacBook Pro is considerably larger and heavier than any of Apple’s 13-inch laptops – it’s 13.75 inches wide and 9.48 inches deep, and it weighs 4 pounds – it is small and light next to other 15-inch laptops we’ve tested with similar specs. It’s also more expensive than those laptops, though: Dell’s XPS 15, for example, offers comparable processors and as-good or better GPUs, 16 GB of memory, and 512 GB of storage for around Rs 2 lakh, and that’s typical of larger, more powerful laptops aimed at creative professionals. That isn’t helpful if you need or prefer to use macOS, but it does put Apple’s pricing in perspective.
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