With the recent switch to in-house processors, the Californian tech giant’s line of computers grows ever more enticing
Apple is one of the bigger, if not the biggest, names in technology for the majority of tech consumers. While nowadays the company may be more well known for its line of iPhones and iPads, it’s hard to forget its impact on the home computer space. It’s been 15 years since the first MacBook was released to the public, and a full three decades since the launch of Apple’s previous line of laptops, the PowerBook family, in 1991.
Originally running on Power PC architecture, MacBooks then moved to more conventional processors made by Intel, with the Air and Pro line of products employing Intel’s Core i5 and Core i7 chips for almost 15 years. That’s until 2020, when Apple decided to make the switch to its own proprietary chipset in the form of an ARM-based mobile processor, the Apple M1.
In order to see if this shift in design is worth considering, we’ve analysed the fine details and differences to help find the best MacBook for you.
Best MacBook: At a glance
- Best overall MacBook: M2 MacBook Air | Check price (From £1,149)
- Best MacBook for creatives: M1 MacBook Pro 13in | Buy now (From £1,150)
- Best high-end MacBook: MacBook Pro 16in | Buy now (From £2,399)
- Best cheap(er) MacBook: MacBook Air 13in (2017) | Buy now (£406)
- Best ultraportable Macbook: M2 MacBook Air (2022) | Buy now (£1,503)
How to buy the best MacBook for you
Why should I buy a MacBook instead of a Windows laptop?
Mac OS has a sleek, clean interface that tends to appeal to professionals in the creative industries more than Windows 10. Couple that with the fact that MacBooks tend to be stylish, lightweight and quiet and you have a set of computers perfect for everyone from photographers and students to writers and visual designers.
READ NEXT: M1 Apple MacBook Pro 13in review
What’s more, Apple’s computers tend to come with a better suite of free software out of the box when compared to similarly priced Windows machines. Perhaps the biggest plus to considering a MacBook is the Retina display; glossy and vibrant screens with expressive colours and deep blacks. Mac computers can also be more secure than Windows units since there’s less software that is considered harmful on that platform.
What is the best MacBook to buy right now?
This question comes down entirely to preference. If you’re buying a MacBook to use as your everyday workhorse machine then a MacBook Air should suit your needs. However, if you work in the creative industries, or spend a lot of time on processor-intensive applications such as video-editing software, then a Pro model with its increased specs and performance will be better.
How much should I expect to spend?
If there’s one thing you should know about Apple products it’s that they certainly don’t come cheap. You’re definitely paying for a premium on the design and brand when buying an Apple device, be that a phone, tablet or laptop, and the current MacBook line is no exception.
READ NEXT: Apple MacBook Pro 16in review
You can expect to spend between £940 and £999 for the 2020 MacBook Air, with the MacBook Pro coming in anywhere from £1,100 to £1,350 depending on hard drive size. If an increased form factor is what you’re looking for, and you’re more comfortable working on a conventional laptop system, the 16in MacBook Pro will run you around £2,100 depending on the retailer.
This is not to say they’re poor value, though – far from it. In fact, the M1 MacBook Air is a faster more capable laptop than most of its Windows rivals at the price. It’s just that Apple doesn’t sell budget machines.
How long will my MacBook last?
When spending serious money on a laptop for work or study, the expectation is that it will last you at least four to five years with moderate use. MacBooks are well regarded for their solid heat dissipation, which is due to a lower clock speed of their processors, ensuring things like thermal throttle and general slowdown is less likely than with some equivalent Windows machines.
What is the Apple M1 chip and why is it important?
The move to the new M1 chips as opposed to the Intel Core i3, i5 and i7 CPUs of old, means that the new M1 MacBooks are faster than ever. They’re quicker than the MacBooks they’ve replaced and also significantly than rival Intel laptops at around the same price.
The advantages don’t stop at raw performance, though. The M1 chip has proven not only faster but also more efficient than the previous Intel-based MacBooks. This is in part due to the processor’s 5nm manufacturing process but also to the makeup of the processor itself, with four of its eight-cores CPUs reserved for low-power tasks. This keeps things running as efficiently as possible, with the four high-powered, more power-hungry “Firestorm” cores only kicking in when needed.
The best MacBooks to buy in 2023
1. M2 MacBook Air: The best overall MacBook
Price: From £1,149 | Buy now from Amazon
The M2 MacBook Air takes everything that made the M1 so good and improves it across the board. There’s a new chassis design that does away with the famous wedge-shaped profile a new M2 chip that bumps performance up a notch, a larger screen and – incredibly – even better battery life than last time. The price has risen, unfortunately, to a base of £1,149 but this laptop is worth every penny.
It’s stylish, light, robust and hugely practical. Better still, with no fan, the M2 MacBook Air runs completely silently. It remains the best MacBook for most people and it’s also our favourite ultraportable across all laptop types.
Read our full M2 MacBook Air review for more details
Key specs – Display size: 13.6in; Resolution: 2,560 x 1,664 pixels; Chipset: Apple M2; Battery life: up to 18 hours (8-core or 10-core); RAM: 8GB standard (manufacturer upgradable to 24GB); Colours available: Midnight, Starlight, Space Grey, Silver
2. M1 MacBook Pro 13in: The best MacBook for Creatives
Price: From £1,150 | Buy now from Amazon
This iteration of the MacBook Pro shares a lot in common with the M1 MacBook Air. It has the same screen size and resolution and it has the same M1 processor as the Air but includes a few revised additions to help it stand out, with one being its improved TouchBar and another being its beamforming microphones, which allow you to record high-quality near-podcast standard audio.
The other, more significant, differences between the Pro and Air are increased battery life, which is a quoted 20 hours to the MacBook Air’s 18 hours, and active cooling (ie it has a fan). The latter means the Pro can sustain maximum performance for that bit longer than the MacBook Air, which means it’s better suited to heavy workloads such as video rendering and editing, jobs that put sustained pressure on the CPU for extended periods of time.
Is it worth the extra money over the MacBook Air, though? For most people, no. However, if you must have one of the fastest M1 Macs available, this is the machine to buy.
Read our full M1 Apple MacBook Pro 13 review for more details
Key specs – Display size: 13.3in; Resolution: 2,560 x 1,600 pixels; Chipset: Apple M1; Battery life: Up to 20 hours; RAM: 8GB standard (manufacturer upgradable to 16GB); Colours available: Silver, Space Grey
3. MacBook Pro 16in: The best high-end MacBook
Price: From £2,399 | Buy now from Amazon
If you’ve got cash to burn and are looking for something high-end and able to meet your demands, then the new MacBook Pro 16in is your best bet.
The Macbook Pro 16in is out of the clutches of Intel and now comes shipped with the M1 Pro chip as standard, which has ten CPU cores and 16 GPU cores. It’s also got 16GB of unified memory, upgradeable to 32GB and even 64GB if you choose the more expensive but powerful M1 Max chip. SSD storage runs from 512GB to a maximum of 8TB of SSD storage, although you can expect to pay a king’s ransom for the latter.
In our review, we found the Liquid Retina XDR display to be supremely enjoyable. Apple’s ProMotion technology adjusts between refresh rates of 10Hz to 120Hz depending on the on-screen activity to ensure that you’re getting a supremely smooth experience at all times. The display measures 3,456 x 2,234 and shines bright whilst remaining stunningly colour accurate.
With the battery life lasting 16hrs and 20 mins in our tests too, this is simply a phenomenal Macbook that’s worth every penny.
Read our full Apple MacBook Pro 16in review for more details
Key specs – Display size: 16in; Resolution: 3,456 x 2,234 pixels; Chipset: Apple M1 Pro/Max; Battery life: 21 hours; RAM: 16GB; Colours available: Space Grey, Silver
4. Apple MacBook Air 13in (2017): The best cheap(er) MacBook
Price: £406 | Buy now from Amazon
While it may not benefit from the newer technology found in the above entries, the 2017 refresh of the MacBook Air is still a solid and very stylish laptop, with a better balance between price and features than its more recent counterparts. Compared to the M1 MacBook Air, for instance, you get the same amount of RAM and storage capacity, at less than half the cost.
The internal specs received nominal changes from the 2015 version, with highlights including a 1.8GHz dual-core Intel i5 processor, with maximum ‘Turbo Boost’ clock speeds of up to 2.9GHz, and an upgrade to 802.11ac WiFi. This relative lack of improvements may have been an issue when buying new, but with the refurbished price being nearly half of the original retail cost, these specs are perfectly respectable.
A great perk of buying through Amazon’s Renewed Store is the one-year guarantee, which promises a replacement or refund if the product doesn’t work as expected or look like new during the first year. You can also opt for a Full-Product Protection warranty to cover you in case of damages, either paying £62 for two years or monthly instalments of £2.57.
Read our full MacBook Air (2017) review for more details
Key specs – Display size: 13in; Resolution: 1,440 x 900 pixels; Chipset: 1.8GHz dual-core Intel Core i5-5250U; Battery life: up to 11 hours; RAM: 8GB; Colours available: Silver
5. M2 Apple MacBook Air (2022): Best ultraportable MacBook
Price: £1,503 | Buy now from John Lewis
It isn’t the cheapest MacBook, and it isn’t quite the trendsetter its predecessor was, but the 2022 M2 excels in portability like no other. Weighing in at 1.24kg, with a quoted battery life of up to 18 hours and a screen size of 13.6in, you won’t find a better option for taking on the go. In our review, we awarded the M2 five stars thanks to its beautiful design and superb performance, and it was only short of our “best buy” award due to its lofty price.
The M2 chip is an impressive bit of engineering. It’s an octa-core processor with four cores like the M1 chip, except it runs at a higher 3.49GHz clock speed and has more memory bandwidth to support a maximum 24GB of RAM. In short, there are not many laptops we’d rather use for day-to-day tasks. Just note that the M1’s SSD storage speeds were a bit quicker, and with the lower capacity 256GB SSD model, the M2 was reported to be significantly slower due to the way the inner chips are configured. Overall though, this is a superb ultraportable that’s capable of any daily computing task you have. What’s more, the battery will last you a whole day, and then some.
Read our full M2 Apple MacBook Air review for details
Key Specs – Display size: 13.6in; Resolution: 2,560 x 1,664; Chipset: Apple M2; Battery life: 18 hours; RAM: 8-24GB; Colours available: Space Grey, Silver, Starlight, Midnight