Wondering which MacBook to buy? Our MacBook buying guide will help you decide which Apple laptop is best for you.
Right now Apple has two kinds of laptops on offer: the MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro. However, within the MacBook Pro line up there is quite a wide range of capabilities, and the gap between the MacBook Air and the 16in MacBook Pro is vast. Here’s more information on the
differences between the MacBook Air and Pro.
Within those two categories there are two version of the MacBook Air, two 13in MacBook Pro models, two 14in MacBook Pro models, and three 16in MacBook Pro. There are also a number of build-to-order options that you can add such as extra RAM, more storage, or a faster processor.
The processor will be of particular interest now that Apple has transitioned all of its laptops from Intel to it’s own chips. There are now three Apple-made processors to choose from: the M1, the M1 Pro and the M1 Max.
Apple began the transition from Intel in November 2020 when it introduced new M1 processors in some of its Mac laptops (and the Mac mini, and later the 24in iMac). Then in October 2021 Apple launched a 14in MacBook Pro and a 16in MacBook Pro, both of which have the option of a M1 Pro or M1 Max chip.
The other big difference is the price: you could pay anything between £999/$999 to £3,299/$3,499 for a standard Mac laptop (before you add on any build-to-order options).
If you’re thinking about buying a new MacBook Pro or MacBook Air there are a lot of factors to consider. One factor is how recently Apple updated the Mac laptop and whether it is likely to be updating it again soon. Another is how the various components compare. And you may have other things that are important like portability and power.
We can answer that first question quickly:
- Apple updated the MacBook Air (M1) in November 2020.
- The 13in MacBook Pro (M1) models were introduced in November 2020.
- Two 14in MacBook Pro (M1 Pro) models were launched in October 2021.
- Three 16in MacBook Pro (M1 Pro & M1 Max) were introduced in October 2021.
If you’re not sure yet if you want a laptop or desktop, you should also read our
Mac buying guide, which covers both MacBooks and Apple’s desktop Macs.
Which MacBook Air should I buy?
You might be inclined to think that the cheapest Mac laptop will be the one that is the best value, but not necessarily. We’ll start of with that £999/$999 model though, assessing how it matches up to the other MacBook Air that costs £1,249/$1,249. We’ll then compare that MacBook Air with the MacBook Pro that costs £1,299/$1,299.
The £999/$999 MacBook Air (read our
M1 MacBook Air review) is an interesting proposition. This model has seen a few price cuts over the past few years, with a £/$100 price cut earlier in 2020 on top of a £/$100 price cut in 2019. At £999/$999 it’s the cheapest Mac laptop you can buy right now, which makes it looks like an attractive option, but is it?
For your £999/$999 you get a Apple M1 Chip with 8‑Core CPU and 7‑Core GPU, 8GB RAM and 256GB storage. The main difference between this model and its more expensive sibling is that the more expensive model offers an 8‑Core GPU rather than 7-core GPU and twice as much storage at 512GB. That’s £250/$250 more for a slightly better GPU and twice as much storage.
You might be interested to learn that, prior to the introduction of the M1, the more expensive MacBook Air used to cost slightly more at £1,299/$1,299. We imagine the price drop partly reflects the fact that there is less of a leap up from the entry-level Air, but also serves to differentiate between it and the £1,299/$1,299 MacBook Pro. We’ll discuss the comparisons between those similarly priced models in the next section.
We think that the difference between the £/$999 MacBook Air and the £/$1,249 model isn’t really big enough to justify the extra spend – unless you really need the extra storage (and if you think you do we would suggest that you look at
iCloud as a solution where you can get 2TB for £9.99/$9.99 a month).
The other question is whether you need the extra GPU core. If you really think you will benefit from the extra core then maybe you should be looking at the MacBook Pro, which will benefit from a fan to keep it cool when you are pushing that processor. We’ll look at the comparison between these two models next.
Here are the latest deals for the M1 MacBook Air (RRP: £999/$999):
Should I buy MacBook Air or MacBook Pro?
Next we’ll look at two Apple laptops with a very similar price: the £1,249/$1,249 MacBook Air vs £1,299/$1,299 MacBook Pro. By comparing these two models, which have just £/$50 between them, we can demonstrate the differences between the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air. That should give you a good indication of which kind of Mac laptop is best for you.
MacBook Air (review) offers Apple’s M1 Chip with 8‑Core CPU and 8‑Core GPU, 8GB RAM and 512GB storage. The £1,299 13in
M1 MacBook Pro (review), offers Apple’s M1 Chip with 8‑Core CPU and 8‑Core GPU, 8GB RAM and 256GB storage.
There are a number of other key differences. One is immediately apparent from the above: this Air offers 512GB SSD compared to 256GB in the Pro. But the Pro offers plenty in return including a brighter screen (500 nits compared to 400 nits); a couple of hours more battery life in a day (20 hours compared to the Air’s 18 hours); and the Touch Bar. We don’t think the Touch Bar is a deal breaker, especially since the best bit (Touch ID) is available on the Air anyway. There is also the option of a gold finish for the Air, something the Pro lacks.
Perhaps the most significant, but least apparent difference, is the inclusion of a fan in the MacBook Pro, while the MacBook Air has no fan, instead relying on an aluminium heat spreader to draw heat away. The lack of a fan may well mean that the MacBook Air struggles when performing more strenuous tasks. It’s probably the key difference between these Mac laptops and the reason why the Pro is better suited to more demanding applications.
You might assume that the Air would be a lot lighter and smaller than the Pro, but that’s not the case, the Air is slightly lighter thanks to its wedged design, but the Pro is also slim and light. There is just 110g between them.
If you aren’t desperate to get the extra storage, we would recommend the MacBook Pro over the similarly priced MacBook Air because we think that despite looking the same in terms of specs we believe that the lack of fan in the Air will hamper that model. If you need the extra power the Pro is the model for you.
Of course there is one other 13in MacBook Pro model to consider in comparison to this model, so we’ll move on to that next.
Here are the latest 2020 M1 MacBook Air deals (RRP: £1,249/$1,249)
And the deals for 2020 M1 MacBook Pro (RRP: £1,299/$1,299)
Should I buy the 13in MacBook Pro with 512GB SSD?
What of the £1,499/$1,499 MacBook Pro? This model is £/$200 more than the entry-level MacBook Pro and yet the only extra it offers is a 512GB SSD.
If you really want all that storage you might want to consider the much cheaper £1,249 MacBook Air that also offers 512GB storage. If storage is what matters most to you it’s a no-brainer: save your money.
On the other hand, if power and storage are equally important consider whether you really need the extra storage or if you could get by with the cheaper 256GB MacBook Pro and a iCloud subscription for the extra cloud spaced storage.
Of course if power and storage are what’s most important this MacBook Pro may well be the one for you. But, there’s two other MacBook Pro to consider, which we’ll discuss next.
Here are the deals for 2020 M1 MacBook Pro (RRP: £1,499/$1,499)
Should I buy 13in MacBook Pro or 14in MacBook Pro?
The 2021 14in MacBook Pro replaced the Intel-powered 2.0GHz MacBook Pro that started at £1,799/$1,799, so the new entry price of £1,899/$1,999 represents a bit of a price hike – especially when compared to the £1,499/$1,499 13in MacBook Pro. But is it worth the extra money?
There are a lot of impressive new features in the entry-level M1 Pro, but, thanks to that price hike, it’s now £300/$400 more than the most comparable 13in MacBook Pro with M1 chip – that’s quite a leap.
The thing is that these two Macs aren’t really comparable. They might share the same MacBook Pro name, but the 13in MacBook Pro – as great as it is – would be better described as a MacBook, now that the real pros are here.
And that’s the thing, the 14in MacBook Pro is built for pros. The 13in MacBook Pro will be adequate for the average user, but if you use really graphically intensive apps then the Pro is the Mac you probably want to be looking at.
This 14in MacBook Pro offers an 8-core CPU/14-core GPU version of the M1 Pro chip, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD. In comparison the closest 13in MacBook Pro offers an 8‑Core CPU/8‑Core GPU version of the M1, 8GB RAM and 512GB SSD. So the most noticeable difference is that the 14in offers more RAM and more graphics cores – to things that matter to pros.
Does this mean that the entry-level 14in MacBook Pro will be adequate for the most demanding user? Apple clearly doesn’t think so because there are another five MacBook Pro models above it.
Here are the best deals on the 14in MacBook Pro (£1,899/$1,999)
Should I buy the 14in MacBook Pro with more cores and 1TB SSD?
If you thought that the leap from the 13in MacBook Pro to the 14in MacBook Pro was large, the price gap between the two 14in MacBook Pro models is even bigger. The 10-Core CPU/16-Core GPU 14in MacBook Pro with 1TB SSD costs £500/$500 more at £2,399/$2,499.
That’s a lot to spend to get a 10-core CPU/16-core GPU M1 Pro instead of 8-core/14-core M1 Pro, but those extra cores make a big difference.
There’s also a 1TB SSD instead of a 512GB SSD, and a 96W power adapter rather than a 67W adapter. If you don’t need that 1TB SSD there are more cost effective ways to get the extra cores if you look at the build-to-order options.
Here are the best deals on the 14in MacBook Pro (£2,399/$2,499)
Should I buy the 14in MacBook Pro or 16in MacBook Pro?
We’ve just been discussing how the 8-core CPU/14-core GPU M1 Pro equipped MacBook Pro compares to the 10-core CPU/16-core GPU M1 Pro model. If you are considering spending that extra £500/$500 to get your hands on those extra cores there is another option you should consider.
The 14in MacBook Pro M1 Pro with 10-Core CPU/16-Core GPU costs the same as the 16in MacBook Pro M1 Pro with 10-Core CPU/16-Core GPU. There are some differences, for example, the 16in model offers 512GB compared to the 14in’s 1TB, but we think that the fact that you get a 16in screen more than makes up for that. The 16in models also get a 140W power adapter.
The decision may well come down to screen size, but don’t forget you can always plug in an external display when at your desk. Another benefit of the 16in model is the extremely long battery life at 21 hours compared to 17 hours. The 16in model is definitely built for those who are away from their desk a lot (and don’t mind if their Mac is a little bit heavy).
Here’s the best 2021 16in MacBook Pro M1 Pro 10-Core CPU/16-Core GPU pricing right now:
Should I buy the 16in MacBook Pro with 1TB SSD?
If you really want that 1TB SSD in the 16in 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 14in 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.
Here are the best deals for 2021 16in MacBook Pro M1 Pro 10-Core CPU/16-Core GPU, 1TB SSD:
Should I buy the 16in MacBook Pro M1 Max?
Our final MacBook Pro to consider is the 16in MacBook Pro with an M1 Max powered 10-Core CPU and 32-Core GPU. It also has a 1TB SSD. The leap in price is, again, huge. It costs £3,299/$3,499, which is £700/$800 more than the model before it.
That extra £700/$800 gets you 16 more cores and the M1 Max though, so perhaps it’s well worth the extra money.
The price does look eye-wateringly high, but perhaps rather than comparing it to the other 16in MacBook Pro we should be looking at it next to the Mac Pro which offers a 3.5GHz 8‑core Intel Xeon W, 32GB RAM, 256GB SSD, and Radeon Pro 580X graphics (with 8GB of memory) as standard. That Mac has a price of £5,499/$5,999, so you could just save yourself £2,200/$2,500 and buy the 16in MacBook Pro instead.
Here are the deals for 2021 16in MacBook Pro M1 Pro 10-Core CPU/32-Core GPU, 1TB SSD:
Should I buy an Intel MacBook Pro?
Apple no longer sells any Intel-powered MacBooks, but you are likely to find the older Intel MacBook Pro still on sale from third party resellers. If you do you may be wondering whether you should buy one.
The answer to that question will depend on two things: if you want an Intel Mac then you will want to purchase one before availability becomes limited; and if you are going to buy an Intel Mac you must make sure that the price is right.
Here are the latest deals on the 13in 2.0GHz MacBook Pro deals (RRP: £1,799)
Here are the best 16in MacBook Pro deals (RRP: £2,399):
So, the choice is pretty clear in terms of what you get for your money:
Buying an entry-level MacBook Air for £999/$999 will get you a decent Mac laptop for less than a grand. You could pay another £200 to get a bigger SSD but we’d recommend opting for iCloud storage instead.
The M1 13in MacBook Pro models are worlds apart from their predecessors and offer a significant upgrade from the MacBook Air. If you are using remotely powerful apps then we suggest you opt for the Pro over the Air as we believe the lack of fan may hold the Air back from meeting the full potential of the M1 chip.
The 14in MacBook Pro is a good choice and the M1 Pro is going to be just what creative pros have been waiting for. It’s also great news that it offers more RAM and the redesign is a real bonus. It costs a lot more than the 13in model, but if you need a pro Mac then you have to be prepared to pay the price.
The interesting question is the difference between the 14in and 16in MacBook Pro models, with the prices and features being so close that we’d actually suggest that if you were thinking of purchasing the more expensive 14in model you would be wise to consider the 16in MacBook Pro for the better battery life and the bigger screen.