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 laptops, the MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro. Within those two categories of Mac is 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 five MacBook Air models and nine 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 14 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 models here: Which MacBook Pro.
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.
- 13-inch MacBook Air (M1): November 2020
- 13-inch MacBook Air (M2): July 2022
- 15-inch MacBook Air (M2): June 2023
- 13-inch MacBook Pro (M2): June 2022 DISCONTINUED in October 2023
- 14-inch MacBook Pro (M3, M3 Pro & M3 Max): October 2023
- 16-inch MacBook Pro (M3 Pro & M3 Max): October 2023
We expect that the MacBook Air will be updated to the M3 chip in the spring of 2023.
What happened to the 13-inch MacBook Pro?
Before we begin, there’s a MacBook missing from the lineup that we should mention briefly. The 13-inch MacBook Pro is no longer sold by Apple, but it will no doubt be available from resellers and Apple’s refurbished store for a while yet. There were two standard 13-inch MacBook Pro to consider. The only real difference is storage here though:
- M2, 8-Core CPU, 10-Core GPU, 8GB Unified Memory, 256GB SSD Storage: Was $1,299 / £1,349
- M2, 8-Core CPU, 10-Core GPU, 8GB Unified Memory, 512GB SSD Storage: Was $1,499 / £1,549
The 13-inch MacBook Pro has been replaced by the M3 version of the 14-inch MacBook Pro, which costs more, but has a far superior screen, better battery life and many other benefits that we will discuss below.
The 13-inch MacBook Pro had a few advantages over the MacBook Air, better cooling being of importance to anyone who would be pushing the machine to any extent. The other advantage of the 13-inch MacBook Pro is the Touch Bar, which is something that some people enjoyed, while others weren’t convinced by. If you want a Touch Bar you’ll want to snap up one of the last 13-inch MacBook Pro before they run out.
MacBook buyers guide
We’ll start by running through the different MacBooks Apple sells, giving an overview of the pros and cons of each model, and reasons why each might be ideally suited to your needs. You’ll also be able to see the best prices right now, so that you don’t spend more than you need to.
We will also look at different components and features for each model, so you can make an informed decision about how much RAM, which chip, how big the SSD should be and the best price, so you don’t spend more than necessary.
1. Apple 13-inch MacBook Air (M2, 2022)
Price When Reviewed:
$1,099 (WAS $1,199)
The MacBook Air is the cheapest way to get a Mac laptop. Starting at $999/£999 for the older M1 model, or $1,099/£1,149 for the M2 model (reduced in July 2023 from it’s original $1,199/£1,249).
There are five standard MacBook Air to consider: one 13-inch model with an M1 chip, two 13-inch models with M2 chip, and two 15-inch MacBook Air with M2 chip. We’ll be discussing the 15-inch models next, first we will focus on the 13-inch models.
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. The M1 MacBook Air (see our M1 MacBook Air review) is the cheapest Mac laptop you can buy right now, but you only have to spend another $100/£100 to get a far superior machine with M2 chip with an 8âCore GPU rather than M1 chip with a 7-core GPU. Both models offer the same amount of storage 256GB and the same 8GB RAM as standard.
With the M2 13-inch MacBook Air you also get a brand new design with an even bigger (13.6-inch vs 13.3-inch) and brighter screen (500 vs 400 nits) and more color choices (Midnight, Starlight, Space Gray and Silver, rather than Space Grey, Silver and Gold). 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.
Back when Apple still sold the 13-inch MacBook Pro there was a question of whether the MacBook Pro would be a better option than the MacBook Air. The price difference wasn’t that great and the size and weight difference probably wasn’t as much as you would expect. The Air had a lot going for it, the lighter, slimmer case, a bigger screen (13.6-inch vs. 13.3-inch), and a much better FaceTime camera being a few points in its favor. But the 13-inch MacBook Pro had a big benefit compared to the Air: the inclusion of a fan instead of relying on an aluminum heat spreader to draw heat away.
Although Apple no longer sells the 13-inch MacBook Pro, this is still relevant because the lack of a fan may well mean that the MacBook Air struggles when performing more strenuous tasks and the 14-inch MacBook Pro might be a better option. Because the MacBook Pro has a fan it is able to keep cool it isn’t necessary for the Mac to slow down to stop overheating in processor-intensive applications. It’s probably the key difference between these Mac laptops and the reason why the Pro is better suited to more demanding applications. This kind of thing could make a big difference to you if you do that sort of work. Unfortunately, the price difference between a MacBook Air and MacBook Pro is a lot bigger than it was before Apple discontinued the 13-inch model.
Another benefit of the MacBook Pro over the Air is longer battery life. The 14-inch MacBook Pro with M3 offers up to 22 hours compared to 18 hours for the 13-inch MacBook Air. We’ll discuss the 14-inch MacBook Pro in more detail below.
The MacBook Air is a good choice, especially now that the entry-level of the MacBook Pro range is much higher than it was. The main disadvantage right now is that Apple hasn’t yet updated the MacBook Air to the M3 chip, while the 14-inch MacBook Pro is already furnished with one. We expect that Apple will soon update the MacBook Air with the M3, so if you can wait until the spring or 2024 we recommend you do. If you need more power we recommend the MacBook Pro due to the lack of fan in the Air.
Read our full
Apple 13-inch MacBook Air (M2, 2022) review
2. Apple 15-inch MacBook Air (M2, 2023)
Price When Reviewed:
When Apple introduced the 15-inch MacBook Air in July 2023 it answered a need for anyone who wanted a larger screen without having to fork out $2,000 (at the time) for a 14-inch MacBook Pro. The 15-inch MacBook Air starts at $1,299/£1,399. The 14-inch MacBook Pro now starts at $1,599/£1,699 for the M3 version, which is significantly less than the $1,999/£2,149 the M2 Pro model sold for. But the 15-inch Air will still cost you $300/£300 less, so if the only thing that matters is getting a big screen then it’s a great option.
If the choice is between the 13-inch and 15-inch MacBook Air, other than the bigger screen there are a few other differences to consider, including better audio capabilities on the larger model (six speakers, rather than four). The entry-level 13-inch MacBook Air starts at $1,099/£1,149, but that model offers only an eight-core GPU, while the entry-level 15-inch Air, which is $200/£250 more at $1,299/£1,399, offers a 10-core GPU. To add that GPU option to the 13-inch Air could cost an additional $100/£100. The price gap is so small that it’s definitely worth getting the larger model if you want a larger screen.
Read our full
Apple 15-inch MacBook Air (M2, 2023) review
3. Apple 14-inch MacBook Pro (M3, 2023)
Price When Reviewed:
Apple has discontinued the 13-inch MacBook Pro and replaced it in the lineup with an M3 version of the 14-inch MacBook Pro (you can’t get the M3 in the 16-inch MacBook Pro). This move brings many benefits: it’s not just bigger, the 14-inch MacBook’s HDR ProMotion display is significantly better than the 13-inch model’s, it also offers twice the storage, HDMI, SDXC slot, better battery life, and a newer design. Mind you, the 14-inch model, while starting at the lower price of $1,599/£1,699 (versus $1,999/£2,149 for the M2 Pro model), is quite a bit higher than the $1,299/£1,349 price that the 13-inch model sold for.
The higher starting price for the M3 MacBook Pro also means the difference between the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro is wider than it was. Apple did sell two almost identically specced machines for a very similar price. But now the 14-inch MacBook Pro costs an astonishing $500/£550 more than the entry-level 13-inch MacBook Air. The MacBook Pro now has a better screen, better battery life, and other benefits. It is also a chip generation ahead, but that is unlikely to be the case for long and when Apple updates the MacBook Air it will make the choice even simpler. Save your money and buy a MacBook Air, but wait until the M3 model arrives since it will support up to 24GB RAM-speaking of RAM, we don’t think the standard 8GB RAM is enough!
4. Apple 14-inch MacBook Pro (M3 Pro, 2023)
Price When Reviewed:
At the same time that it introduced the M3 14-inch MacBook Pro, Apple also introduced the M3 Pro and M3 Max. Both the 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro can be bought with various configurations of those two chips. You don’t need to buy a 16-inch MacBook Pro to get the best specs.
For those deciding between the 14-inch MacBook Pro and 16-inch model the best place to start is to compare like-for-like. The 12-core CPU, 18-core GPU M3 Pro with 18GB unified memory and 1TB SSD 14-inch MacBook Pro costs $2,399/£2,499 compared to the almost identically specced 16-inch model with 12-core CPU, 18-core GPU M3 Pro with 18GB unified memory and 512GB SSD for $2,499/£2,599. So you are paying $100/£100 more to get a larger screen, but also forfeiting half the SSD. If you want an equivalent 1TB SSD in the 16-inch that’s an extra $200/£200..
On the other hand, if you are considering spending more to get the M3 Pro rather than the M3 in an MacBook Pro, the price difference is much greater. The 14-inch MacBook Pro with 8-core CPU and 10-core GPU M3, with 8GB Unified Memory and 512GB SSD costs $1,599/£1,699, while the 14-inch MacBook Pro with 11-core CPU and 14-core GPU M3 Pro, 18GB Unified Memory and 512GB SSD costs $400/£400 more at $1,999/£2,099. The jump from M3 to M3 Pro is an expensive one, but you are getting a lot for your money: more memory, more cores, essentially a more powerful machine in every way.
But if you don’t have that kind of budget then the M3 MacBook Pro has proven to be equal to the M2 Pro in terms of performance when measured by Geekbench 6.
5. Apple 16-inch MacBook Pro (M3 Pro, 2023)
Price When Reviewed:
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.
6. Apple 14-inch MacBook Pro (M3 Max, 2023)
Price When Reviewed:
Sticking with the 14-inch model for now, what if you want an even more powerful machine. The M3 Max chip will offer that and more to you, but there is a high price to pay with the difference between the standard M3 Pro and M3 Max models being $800/£800.
If you want more memory then the M3 Max is the way to go though. This is not just because the M3 Max can support 48GB, 64GB, 96GB and 128GB Unified Memory, while the M3 Pro only offers 18GB or 36GB Unified Memory. The M3 Pro MacBook Pro ships with 18GB memory as standard while the M3 Max model ships with 36GB memory as standard. That 36GB memory, if you added it to the M3 Pro model as a build-to-order option would cost you an extra $400/£400, bringing the price to $2,799/£2,899, which is still $400/£400 less than the entry-level M3 Max at $3,199/£3,299, but you do get more 14-core CPU, 30-core GPU rather than a 12-core CPU, 18-core GPU. So you are getting a lot for your money if you choose the M3 Max.
Read about why one of our editors sent their M3 Pro back and switched to an M3 Max.
Read our full
Apple 14-inch MacBook Pro (M3 Max, 2023) review
7. Apple 16-inch MacBook Pro (M3 Max, 2023)
Price When Reviewed:
The story is much the same if you are considering the 16-inch MacBook Pro. The leap from M3 Pro to M3 Max if you look at the standard options is $600/£600, but if you were to up the RAM in the M3 Pro model to 36GB then that would be $400/£400, leaving a difference of $200/£200 for the 14-core CPU, 30-core GPU (compared to the 12-core CPU/18-core GPU of the M3 Pro).
If you need the M3 Max Apple is making the upgrade worthwhile, but it’s still a high price to pay.
Read our full
Apple 16-inch MacBook Pro (M3 Max, 2023) review
Which Apple MacBook: Verdict
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, but it only costs $100/£150 more to get an M2 MacBook Air with a brand new design, a bigger screen, and a newer chip. The only reason not to buy the M2 MacBook Pro right now is that Apple is likely to upgrade it to the M3 soon–but when it does so expect the M1 model to disappear from the lineup.
The 15-inch MacBook Air shook up the range when it arrived in July 2023, also featuring an M2 chip. It lowered the price of getting a larger screen on a Mac laptop. Even now that price of entry for the 14-inch MacBook Pro has been lowered the 15-inch MacBook Air is still an attractive proposition, but again, we’d wait for the M3 model to arrive.
Now that the 13-inch MacBook Pro has been retired the price of entry for a MacBook Pro has risen, which is another point in favour of the MacBook Air. But the 14-inch MacBook Pro is a far superior machine to the old 13-inch model thanks to a much better screen. The M3 chip supports more memory – and we recommend you get as much Unified Memory as you can afford because the standard 8GB is not nearly enough these days.
The price of the M3 Pro models is high, but these MacBook Pro models offer the kind of specs professional users, especially creatives, need, including support for up to 36GB Unified Memory, and more CPU and GPU cores. If you can afford to stretch to the M3 Max then you will get the ultimate Mac without a doubt, but you may need to remortgage to afford to.
When it comes to the choice between the 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro it really is all down to the screen size. The 16-inch models are more expensive, but once you spec them out in such a way to be comparable the price difference is really minor. So if you want 16-inch screen then go for it. Alternatively plug your MacBook into an external display when you are at your desk. This being the other major benefit of the M3 Pro and M3 Max chips compared to the M3–the M3 will only support one external screen while you can plug in multiple displays and use them with an M3 Pro or M3 Max MacBook Pro.
For the latest MacBook Pro discounts, including discontinued models, check out our round-up of the Best MacBook Pro deals.