The 13-inch MacBook Pro is the best MacBook you can buy today. It balances power with portability and tops it off with Apple's latest technology — the Force Touch trackpad.

Note: Apple has just announced new the 2016 MacBook line-up, which includes 13- and 15-inch models in silver and space gray with a new Touch Bar above the keyboard, and a lower-end 13-inch designed to appeal to MacBook Air upgraders. We're evaluating them now and will update this article soon.

Ritchie Ritchie Rene Ritchie has been covering Apple and the personal technology industry for almost a decade. Editorial director for Mobile Nations, analyst for iMore, video and podcast host, you can follow him on Snapchat, Instagram, or Twitter @reneritchie.

Best overall

13-inch MacBook Pro

13-inch MacBook Pro

See at Apple

The 13-inch MacBook Pro can currently be maxed out with a 3.1 GHz Intel Broadwell processor and Iris Graphics 6100, 16 GB of DDR3 memory, and up to 1 TB of solid-state storage. It includes a 13.3-inch 2560 x 1600 Retina display, which means the pixels are so dense they disappear at normal viewing distances, and Apple's new Force Touch trackpad, which simulates both standard trackpad clicks, and also enables secondary Force Clicks and pressure sensitive drawing options. It's also got plenty of ports: MagSafe, 2x Thunderbolt, 2x USB, HDMI, SD card, and 3.5mm headphone jack. All this in a durable aluminum unibody that weighs just 3.48 lbs.

Bottom line: With almost as much power as the 15-inch MacBook Pro, and almost as much portability as the 13-inch MacBook Air, the 13-inch MacBook Pro is the best-balanced machine in Apple's lineup.

One more thing: If you need even more power and pixels, and don't mind the weight, go with the quad-core 15-inch MacBook Pro.

Why the 13-inch MacBook Pro the best

Striking the perfect balance between portability and power.

It's no coincidence all of Apple's MacBooks are or have a model around the 13-inch screen size. It's big enough that you can scroll web pages and documents without feeling like the bottom is cut off short, yet it will still fit in every laptop bag, backpack, and sling on the market. The lack of bulk translates into a lack of weight — the 13-inch MacBook Pro not only fits in a backpack, it won't break your back lugging it around between meetings, classes, at conferences, while traveling, or around town. And while it's not as performant at its 15-inch quad-core brother, it still has plenty of power for video editing, compiling, photo editing, and more.

Joanna Stern also found it the best balance, writing for The Wall Street Journal:

If my 1½-year-old MacBook Air were to keel over today, I wouldn't think twice about replacing it with the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display, which starts at $1,300. The Pro's speed, screen and stamina make it the "just right" Goldilocks choice—especially now that the Air has become a lower priority for Apple.

Mark Spoonauer zigged where I zagged, writing for Laptop Magazine:

Our top overall pick for the money is the 13-inch MacBook Air ($999) because of its long battery life and strong performance from its 5th-generation Core i5 processor. But if you're willing to splurge on a sharper and more vibrant screen, the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display ($1,299) is a fantastic choice.

I went back and forth on the 13-inch Air vs. 13-inch Pro several times as well. I've owned a couple of each over the last few years. While the Air is alluring for its price and portability, I ultimately went with, and stuck with, the 13-inch MacBook Pro because:

  1. Once you go Retina is very hard to go back.
  2. When you do need to render video, either for work for holidays, the speed difference is a huge time saver.
  3. Once the new MacBook was introduced, there didn't seem to be a future for the MacBook Air.

There are several versions of the 13-inch MacBook Pro you can find online or in stores, and you can also use Apple's build-to-order (BTO) options to spec out variations and even higher-end models.

All of them, though, are based on Intel's Haswell processors. The next-generation Skylake processors weren't available when Apple shipped the last MacBook Pro update in spring of 2015, and early Skylake processors shipped by other vendors were troubled. Since then, solid Skylake processors have been made available but Apple hasn't yet updated to them. Rumor has a more substantial MacBook Pro update is in the works for later the fall, which would include Skylake as well as a redesign with new features.

If either of those things is important to you, you should wait until at least mid-October before getting your MacBook Pro.

Otherwise, the 13-inch MacBook remains the best-balanced laptop in Apple's lineup, and when you throw in AppleCare and the availability of both telephone, online, and in-store support, one of the best values in higher-end computing.

Best on a budget

13-inch MacBook Air

13-inch MacBook Air

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If you don't need the extra power and don't mind the lack of Retina display, you can save some money and some weight and go with Apple's 13-inch MacBook Air. Starting at just $999 and weighing in at only 2.96 lbs, it's literally the ultralight every other manufacturer has spent the last few years figuring out how to copy. With a 13.3-inch 1440 x 900 display, 2x USB, 2x Thunderbolt, MagSafe, SC card, and 3.5mm headphone jack, it can max out at 2.2 GHz, 8 GB of DDR3 memory, and 512 GB of solid-state storage.

Bottom-line: The 13-inch MacBook Air has been the go-to for tech writers for years, and with good reason. If you don't need the power or the Retina pixels, go with the portability.

One more thing: If you don't mind tiny, you can save a few extra dollars and go even smaller and lighter with the 11-inch MacBook Air.

Best for execs

MacBook (m5)

MacBook

See at Apple

Sometimes jokingly called "ManagerBook", because it's next-generation technology comes with a next-generation price, for most people the Mac of tomorrow isn't quite the Mac of today. If you do want something that's as close as possible to an iPad but still has a clamshell keyboard and still runs macOS, then the MacBook is for you. Just make sure you get at least the m5 if not the m7 version. The m3 is cheaper but isn't a great experience.

Bottom-line: Across campus, across the office, or across the world, the MacBook is tomorrow's laptop today.

One more thing: It comes in space gray, silver, gold, and — oh, yes — rose gold.

Conclusion

Apple now has iPads Pro as well, so the line between tablet and laptop has blurred. If you're considering an ultra-mobile, you may want to t consider one of them instead. Otherwise, the next era of Macs is about to begin, starting with the new MacBooks and continuing later this year with new MacBooks Pro. If you need to buy now, get the 13-inch MacBook Pro or one of my other picks. Otherwise, hold tight.

Best overall

13-inch MacBook Pro

13-inch MacBook Pro

See at Apple

The 13-inch MacBook Pro can currently be maxed out with a 3.1 GHz Intel Broadwell processor and Iris Graphics 6100, 16 GB of DDR3 memory, and up to 1 TB of solid-state storage. It includes a 13.3-inch 2560 x 1600 Retina display, which means the pixels are so dense they disappear at normal viewing distances, and Apple's new Force Touch trackpad, which simulates both standard trackpad clicks, and also enables secondary Force Clicks and pressure sensitive drawing options. It's also got plenty of ports: MagSafe, 2x Thunderbolt, 2x USB, HDMI, SD card, and 3.5mm headphone jack. All this in a durable aluminum unibody that weighs just 3.48 lbs.

Bottom line: With almost as much power as the 15-inch MacBook Pro, and almost as much portability as the 13-inch MacBook Air, the 13-inch MacBook Pro is the best-balanced machine in Apple's lineup.

One more thing: The base model starts at $1299 for 2.7 GHz, 8 GB of memory, and 128 GB of storage.