Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2020)
The Best All-Arounder
The new Air is a lot like the MacBook Pro models, with a sharp 13-inch Retina display, a responsive trackpad, the new Magic Keyboard, surprisingly potent speakers, and two USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports for charging and hooking up peripherals. It also comes in gold, if that’s your jam.
On the inside is a 1.1-GHz quad-core 10th-generation Intel Core i5 processor and a 512-gigabyte solid state drive, along with up to 16 GB of RAM. Having only two USB-C ports can feel limiting. You’ll need to buy multiport adapters like this one to plug stuff in and stay charged at the same time.
There are a few things you might miss from higher-end MacBook Pros. Those pricier machines sport extra USB-C ports, beefier batteries, higher-resolution screens, as well as the Touch Bar (though on the latter, you’re not missing much).
Small Savings: We think most people should spend a little more for the MacBook Air with the Core i5 processor, but you can save some dough by opting for the base Core i3 model for $999. Performance just won’t be as good. ($999 from Apple, $949 from Amazon).Apple MacBook Pro (16-inch, 2019)
The Best for Power Users
The 2019 16-inch MacBook Pro (9/10 WIRED Recommends) is a return to form for Apple. It’s familiar in a good way and, more importantly, reliable. That’s a big deal, considering the problems with MacBooks of the past few years.
The keyboard problems are gone thanks to a new mechanism (and Escape is a physical key again). Even better are the improvements to the thermal architecture—while it gets hot, and the fans may be loud, it won’t affect performance too much. The ninth-generation Intel Core i7 processor (upgradable to Core i9) is no slouch either. Whether you’re editing video or gaming, this machine won’t let you down, though the beefy battery does deplete quickly when running intensive tasks.
Four Thunderbolt 3 ports mean you’ll have plenty of places to plug in the rest of your devices too. The base model now comes with a 512-GB SSD, but Apple will gladly upgrade this MacBook Pro all the way up to 8 terabytes if you can pony up the $2,400 upgrade fee. Video editors will be happy to know that you can get up to 64 GB of RAM.
The biggest downsides are the device’s size and weight. If you need a laptop you can take anywhere without much hindrance, look elsewhere.
The Goldilocks Book
If the new MacBook Air isn’t powerful enough and the 16-inch MacBook Pro seems too much, consider the 13-inch MacBook Pro. It might be just right.
We haven’t had a chance to test it yet as Apple just announced it, but it offers more RAM to the top-end models than its predecessor, doubles the storage, and adds the same Magic Keyboard as all the other newer MacBooks.
The 13-inch MacBook Pro straddles the power and weight divide between the Air and the 16-inch MacBook Pro. Offering powerful quad-core processors and “all-day battery life” in a reasonably portable 3-pound package, it’s the best of both worlds for many people. You get the Touch Bar and a faster chip than the Air, but avoid the extra weight and bulk of the 16-inch model.
MacBook Pro (13-inch, 512 GB) costs $1,799 from Apple
Small Savings: If you don’t need four USB-C ports or as much storage, you can save a little by going with the $1,299 13-inch MacBook Pro. It’s using an older eighth-generation Intel processor, has slower and less RAM, and two USB-C ports. It’s not as much of an update as the higher-end models, but it’ll still serve you well.Quirks and Issues to Be Aware Of
There are eccentricities and problems with Apple’s laptops that you should know about before you buy.
Bland Touch Bar: When Apple debuted the Touch Bar in late 2016, it touted the thin touchscreen strip above the keyboard as the next-generation of user input. Unfortunately, this hasn’t panned out. There seems to be little interest from third-party software designers in doing anything innovative with the tiny display. The only good thing to come of it is Touch ID, which lets you log in and access sensitive data with your fingerprint. The Touch Bar is only available in the new MacBook Pro models.
Palmy Trackpad: Apple’s trackpads are among the best in the computer business, but with the newest MacBooks, these input devices have been blown up to unbelievable proportions and crammed right up against the bottom of the keyboard, right where you rest your palms while typing. Although there’s supposed to be intelligent palm rejection software at work, the trackpads are susceptible to accidental input. Your mileage may vary.
Keyboard Killer: Apple’s now notorious 3rd-generation “butterfly switch” keyboards are gone from the entire new MacBook lineup. And good riddance. WIRED editor Jeffrey Van Camp and senior writer Lauren Goode had multiple issues with the 2017 Pro keyboard. If you’re buying an older model MacBook, Apple does replace the keyboards for free and did add extra dust guards to the late-2018 and early-2019 models. Apple has detailed instructions on how to clean the keyboard if yours gets flaky, which is a decent first line of defense against busted keys. Apple also extended its keyboard repair program to cover repairs on all Macs that have been purchased within the past four years, regardless of warranty status. Still, unless you’re getting it really cheap, we suggest sticking with the newer models that feature the much-better Magic Keyboard.
Parched for Ports: Then there’s the port situation. All of Apple’s current MacBooks feature one port type: USB-C. It’s a newer port that might not work with some of the devices you own. You’ll want to invest in a few adapters (like this Aukey adapter) if you plan on hooking your computer up to a projector, or want to use things like USB keys or SD cards. Plan to buy some dongles