The best MacBook for 2017 – Macworld UK
If you’re considering buying a new MacBook, you’ve probably already realised that the decision between Apple’s laptop options is not as easy as it first seems. Here, we help you decide which MacBook is best for you in our best MacBook 2017 buying guide.
We told you it was confusing! But we’re here to help. Read on for a full description and comparison of each MacBook, and our recommendation about who each is best for.
We also discuss the various sizes and configurations of each MacBook, to help you make your final buying decision.
[You should also read our Best Mac buying guide, which covers both MacBooks and Apple’s desktop Macs]
MacBook Air buying advice
The MacBook Air is a slim, lightweight laptop that’s available with a 13in screen. You’ll get the choice between 128GB or 256GB of flash storage from Apple, but those are the only two configurations the company offers.
There was once an 11in model of the MacBook Air, but that has been discontinued so is no longer available from Apple.
Each of the MacBook Air models has a 1.6GHz processor with 8GB RAM. That’s not powerful enough for most gamers or video editors, but for students, commuters and casual users, this is a good option, and the cheapest too.
The 128GB model of the MacBook Air costs £949, while the 256GB model costs £1,099.
There is a more portable MacBook available, which is simply called the MacBook (we talk more about it in a moment). However, we’d still recommend the 13in MacBook Air to anyone wanting to travel often with their laptop.
The design of the MacBook Air hasn’t changed in years, while the MacBook is gorgeous and is available in several colours. It also offers a Retina screen while the Air does not. But it remains a strong and (by Apple’s standards) just-about-affordable option. It certainly offers far more bang for your buck than the costly and arguably underpowered MacBook.
And if you’re open to the idea of Air-style laptops from other companies, check our roundup of the best alternatives to the MacBook Air.
MacBook Pro buying advice
There’s quite a lot of choice in the MacBook Pro range, with two different screen sizes available as well as the option to forgo the Touch Bar in order to reduce its price.
The Touch Bar is a touchscreen portion of the base of the MacBook Pro that replaces the function keys. Its display changes depending on the task you are undertaking, and it is fully customisable too. It also features Touch ID, bringing fingerprint security to the Mac following its introduction to the iPhone and iPad.
One problem with the MacBook Pro that will get better over time but will prove frustrating to start with is the lack of port variety. The MacBook Pro (in all sizes and Touch Bar or not) has four USB-C ports and a headphone jack. That’s it.
USB-C is the new standard of USB that will soon be widespread, but for now there’s an awkward transition phase that’ll mean you’ll need adapters (and they don’t come cheap) in order to use some accessories and peripherals.
The model without Touch Bar has two USB-C ports rather than four, and is also only available with a 13in screen.
Apple also still sells the 2015 MacBook Pro both 13in and 15in screens, which are the best option if you want to save some money and also still have the full range of ports.
Thanks to its higher specs, the MacBook Pro offers more power than the MacBook Air, and the display also offers a significantly higher resolution. Internally, each of the MacBook Pro with Retina display models differ, but we’ll come to that later.
Here’s what the various base specs of the MacBook Pro cost:
- MacBook Pro 2015 13in, 128GB: £1,249
- MacBook Pro 2016 13in (without Touch Bar), 256GB: £1,449
- MacBook Pro 2016 13in (with Touch Bar), 256GB: £1,749
- MacBook Pro 2016 13in (with Touch Bar), 512GB: £1,949
- MacBook Pro 2015 15in, 256GB: £1,899
- MacBook Pro 2016 15in (with Touch Bar), 256GB: £2,349
- MacBook Pro 2016 15in (with Touch Bar), 512GB: £2,699
MacBook buying advice
The MacBook, introduced in April 2015 and given a substantive update in April 2016 – is available in gold, silver, Space Grey or Rose Gold.
Colour choices aside, there are two models of MacBook to choose from: either 1.1GHz with 256GB of flash storage (£1,249) or 1.2GHz and 512GB (£1,549).
- MacBook, 12in, 1.1GHz, 256GB: £1,249
- MacBook, 12in, 1.2GHz, 512GB: £1,549
While the clock speeds are the same as those featured in 2015’s 12in MacBooks, they are considerably faster in practice thanks to new Intel Core M chips. The RAM is faster, too: 1866MHz, up from 1600MHz.
The newer, more energy-efficient chips also help with battery life, adding up to an hour more than their predecessors: 10 hours of web use, or 11 hours of movie watching.
While this is the lightest and perhaps prettiest Mac available, it’s also one of the most expensive, and – while the new Skylake chips have closed the gap – they remain relatively low-powered to boot. While it is an utter joy to look at, and nice to use, we still feel it costs too much for too little.
Which MacBook should I buy for portability?
The 12in MacBook is the lightest and thinnest MacBook available. However, there are sacrifices to be made in terms of power, this being Apple’s lowest specced computer. It’s also one of the most expensive Macs, so not one for the budget-conscious.
The only thing is you might find the 12in MacBook limiting due to its diminutive screen size. That said, the 12in MacBook offers a much better quality display than the slighly bigger-screened MacBook Air – more on that later.
We think that the best Mac for portability is the 13in MacBook Air; sure, it’s bigger and heavier than the MacBook, but at 1.35kg it is not a lot heavier than the old 11in model, and it is lighter than the 2015 13in MacBook Pro (1.58kg).
To help you decide between the current 13in MacBook models, you can read our which 13in Apple laptop article.
The price of the 13in MacBook Air is a lot better than that of the MacBook too, starting at £949 rather than £1,249. You get the best of both worlds: a light laptop with a decent screen size.
You can also find out more in our Which MacBook Air is best? article.
Which MacBook is best for battery life?
The battery life of the 13in MacBook Air is the highest of any MacBook available. Apple calls it an “all-day battery” but what that means is up to 12 hours, and a whopping 30 days of standby time.
Next up is the 13in Retina MacBook Pro which can manage 10 hours wireless web (and Apple claims 12 hours if you are just watching video in iTunes). It’s also 10 hours for the 2015 MacBook Pro that it still sells.
Apple also claims 10 hours of web use – but just 11 hours of film watching – for 2016’s updated version of the 12-inch MacBook.
The 15in MacBook Pro with Retina display offers 9 hours of battery life for wireless web (10 hours for iTunes on the Air, while the MacBook Pro offers 9 hours of iTunes).
Finally, the old MacBook Pro without the Retina display offers just 7 hours of wireless web browsing.
Which MacBook is best for storage?
One thing to consider if you work with large files, as many creative professionals do, is the capacity of the storage inside the Mac.
There are two types of storage available: flash (also known as SSD) or a traditional hard drive.
You will find SSD options of 256GB and 512GB for the Retina MacBook Pro.
You can upgrade the 15in Touch Bar model’s hard drive to 512GB (£180), 1TB (£540) or 2TB (£1,260).
The MacBook Air also has either 128GB or 256GB depending on your preference.
The 12-inch MacBook is available with 256GB or 512GB.
The build-to-order options for the new MacBook Pro line include an additional £90 for a 3.1GHz processor or an additional £270 for 3.3GHz and an Intel Core i7 processor. There’s also the option to boost to 16GB RAM from the standard 8 by adding £180.
We think that buying a separate hard drive and plugging it in when necessary (or using network attached storage) is a better, and cheaper, solution
Which MacBook is fastest?
As Apple’s fastest Mac laptop, the 2.6GHz quad-core MacBook Pro may be a good choice for you. There’s even a build to order option of a 2.9GHz quad-core.
The quad-core processor in the 15in MacBook Pro means it has double the processor power of the other dual-core Macs. This is likely to make a real difference to processor intensive work.
It’s the priciest option, though. We recommend that if you think you want the most speed you can get for your money, find the build-to-order option within your budget that offers the fastest processor.
Find out the difference between i7 and i5 processors here.
Best MacBook for work
You’ll get iWork for free when you buy any new Mac laptop, which means you’ll be able to use Apple’s Pages, Numbers and Keynote applications (the rivals to Microsoft’s Word, Excel and PowerPoint).
There has been some research that suggests that the bigger the screen the more productive you will be (Monitor Size and Aspect Ration Productivity Research), so it might be best to opt for a 15in MacBook Pro to maximise the effect of the extra screen space.
Best MacBook for designers
If you want to use your MacBook for more powerful tasks like running creative applications, then the MacBook Air and MacBook might not be the best option.
If you’re a graphic designer, video editor or photographer, then the likelihood is you’ll benefit from a bigger display and a more powerful Mac. There’s no longer a 17in MacBook Pro option, but there are 15in MacBook Pro with Retina display models available.
The first MacBook Pro 15-inch has a 2.6GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 processor and costs £2,349. It has 16GB 2133MHz memory and 256GB flash storage.
The second MacBook Pro has a 2.7GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 processor and 16GB 2133MHz memory. It has 512GB of flash storage and costs £2,699.
The 2.6GHz model also has a discrete graphics card – the AMD Radeon Pro 450, whereas the 2.7GHz processor with 512GB has the Radeon Pro 455.
Best MacBook for gaming
The Mac is growing in popularity as a gaming machine, especially since the launch of the Mac App Store. Plus, the ability to install Windows via Boot Camp on a Mac means Mac gamers can run Windows games too.
If you want to buy a MacBook for gaming, then we’d recommend the (unfortunately most expensive) high-end MacBook Pro with Retina display. It’s got AMD Radeon R9 M370X graphics card, which should enable it to provide the best performance out of all of the MacBooks available, and some Mac desktops.
However, even the Intel graphics in the 13in MacBook Pro models could be sufficient for your gaming needs. The Intel HD Graphics 6100 in the 13in model, and Intel Iris Pro Graphics in the 15in model are plenty fast enough for many of today’s games.
Read next: Best Mac games
Best MacBook for students
We’d suggest that students will have similar needs to business users. They’ll want to be able to carry their MacBook to and from lectures, and probably won’t need them to be hugely powerful (unless they’re on a graphic design or video editing course…).
In that case, we’d suggest the MacBook Air again. Take a look back at the advice we gave at the beginning of this article when discussing portability for more information. You can find out more in our complete guide to buying a Mac for students.
If money is the deciding factor when it comes to buying a MacBook, then the cheapest model available is the 128GB 13in MacBook Air, which costs £949. At £300 more, you can get the 12in MacBook, and add another £200 to that and you can buy the Retina MacBook Pro with Touch Bar.
It’s also worth taking a look on Apple’s refurbished store, which often has MacBooks available to buy at reduced prices. Apple puts the products in the refurbished store through vigorous testing, so you’ll hardly know the difference between a refurbished Mac and a brand new one.