16-inch MacBook Pro vs. 13-inch vs. AirSource: Rene Ritchie / iMore

Best MacBook iMore 2020

You'd be hard-pressed to find any other website out there that does as much deep-dive research into everything about Apple's Mac notebook lineup other than iMore. We have run every model and every version of MacBook from Apple through their paces (and then some) to determine which is the best MacBook for the average person, which is best for the pro, and everyone in-between. Our best overall pick is the MacBook Air. With Touch ID, a sharp Retina Display, and sleek and slim design, this is the one to beat for most people. Plus, the recent update to the Air includes the new scissor-switch keyboard that was first introduced with the 16-inch MacBook Pro, so your typing experience should be vastly improved.

Best Overall: MacBook Air

MacBook Air 2018Source: iMore

With a major update in 2020, the MacBook Air now has a faster processor, Touch ID, a Retina display, the new scissor-switch keyboard (goodbye, butterfly), and is still thin enough to fit into a manila envelope.

The Retina display specs are 2560-by-1600 resolution at 227 pixels per inch (ppi) with an sRBG color gamut, and the bezels are slim, providing as much screen landscape as possible on a 13-inch Mac laptop.

Though you don't get the much-loved MagSafe (RIP) charging port, you do get two USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports instead, along with the 3.5mm headphone jack. That means 40Gbps high-speed data transfer so you can move photos, videos, and huge documents between hard drives or other computers lickety-split. The base model of the MacBook Air now starts with a 256GB SSD, and you can configure it up to 2TB. The RAM starts at 8GB, but you can bump that up to 16GB if needed.

The MacBook Air also now supports Touch ID for biometric security. You can not only use it to unlock your MacBook Air, but also pay for things online that use Apple Pay — what a time saver! The 2020 refresh also brings the new and improved scissor-switch keyboard mechanism that debuted with the 16-inch MacBook Pro. This means a better typing experience for you, since it is less faulty than the previous butterfly keyboards.

Pros:

  • Retina display
  • High-speed data transfer
  • Touch ID
  • Affordable with a new low price
  • 12-hour battery life
  • New scissor-switch keyboard

Cons:

  • Only two Thunderbolt 3 ports
  • RAM caps out at 16GB

Best Overall

MacBook Air

The perfect Mac laptop for most people

The MacBook Air has the perfect balance of features and affordability with the Retina display and great software tools.

Best Value: 13-inch MacBook Pro (two Thunderbolt 3 ports)

13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar close upSource: iMore

The lower-priced 13-inch MacBook Pro is feature-rich without being too much computer for the average person's needs. It's got the highest-quality Retina display with 3DPI wide-color gamut, two high-speed Thunderbolt 3 ports for 40Gbps data transfer, and an ultra-fast processor with the quad-core 8th-generation Intel i5. It starts at 256GB SSD for storage and 8GB of RAM, and can be configured to up to 2TB SSD and 16GB of RAM. Plus, the new 2020 13-inch MacBook Pro even comes with the updated backlit Magic Keyboard, so it dumps the butterfly mechanism and goes back to the scissor-switch for a better typing experience. If you don't need more than two Thunderbolt 3 ports, support for heavy graphics, or daily lengthy video rendering, the smaller MacBook Pro has the best feature-to-price ratio, making it the best value of the MacBook lineup.

Pros:

  • Portable
  • Ultra-fast storage
  • High-speed data transfer
  • Retina Display
  • Comes with updated backlit Magic Keyboard

Cons:

  • Only two ports

Best Value

13-inch MacBook Pro (two Thunderbolt 3 ports)

The biggest bang for your buck

The 13-inch MacBook Pro is just right in terms of portability. It has power but comes in a lightweight body to go anywhere.

Best for Pros: 16-inch MacBook Pro

16-inch MacBook ProSource: Rene Ritchie / iMore

For the pro on the go, there's the 16-inch MacBook Pro, which packs in a bigger screen with less bezels in the familiar chassis of the previous 15-inch. This workhorse of a laptop can support up to 8 cores of Intel's latest Coffee Lake refresh processor chip with turbo boosts of up to 4.8GHz and SSD read speeds of up to 3.2Gbps. It's got four Thunderbolt 3 ports (the most in the entire Mac laptop line) and can be spec'd out to as much as 64GB of memory and an 8TB SSD hard drive with Radeon Pro 5300M or 5500M graphics with up to 8GB of GDDR6 memory. It's fast. It's powerful. It'll sing for you while it renders your videos (not literally).

Pros:

  • Latest Intel processor (9th-gen) and advanced GPUs
  • Return to scissor-switch keyboard
  • Starts at 512GB SSD, configurable to 8TB
  • Starts at 16GB RAM, configurable to 64GB
  • Up to 8 cores
  • Touch ID and Touch Bar
  • Retina display with True Tone

Cons:

  • Most expensive model
  • Heaviest (4 lbs)

Best for Pros

16-inch MacBook Pro

A pro laptop for the pro user

The 2019 16-inch MacBook Pro gives you the most power and performance, though mobility is limited, and the price tag is high.

Best for Versatility: 13-inch MacBook Pro (4 Thunderbolt 3 ports)

MacBook Pro with two 5K displaysSource: iMore

The four Thunderbolt 3 port 13-inch MacBook Pro starts about $500 higher than the base two Thunderbolt 3 port model, but those extra ports may be the most important thing you'll need. It has the highest-quality Retina display with 3DPI wide-color gamut, four high-speed Thunderbolt 3 ports for 40Gbps data transfer, and an ultra-fast processor chip with Intel's 10th-generation i5 with quad cores. It starts out with a 512GB SSD and 16GB of RAM, and configurable up to 4TB SSD of storage and 32GB of RAM. And you also get the updated backlit Magic Keyboard that uses the scissor-switch mechanism instead of the butterfly, so you won't find a better typing experience. If you're going to be plugging in more than two peripherals that need Thunderbolt 3's fast data transfer capabilities, you're going to want to spend the extra money on those extra ports on the higher end 13-inch MacBook Pro.

Pros:

  • Portable
  • Ultra-fast storage
  • High-speed data transfer
  • Retina Display
  • Updated backlit Magic Keyboard

Cons:

  • More expensive

Best for Versatility

13-inch MacBook Pro (four Thunderbolt 3 ports)

Versatility at a lower price

The 13-inch MacBook Pro has four high-speed Thunderbolt 3 ports for flexibility and everything you need.

Bottom line

The MacBook Air is our overall pick for the best MacBook for most people. That's because it's super lightweight and portable, so you can take it anywhere without it being cumbersome. And despite the small size, the MacBook Air has everything you would need to get work done while you're out and about, whether it's some lightweight writing for work or school, simple photo editing, or just watching some movies or telelvision series to pass the time.

On top of it all, the MacBook Air has Touch ID for biometric security and Apple Pay support, making it more secure and convenient than ever before. It even comes in three gorgeous finishes: Space Gray, Gold, and Silver, so you can pick the one that suits your style the best. And when you take into account that it's the least-expensive Retina Display MacBook, well, that's just the icing on the cake.

Credits — The team that worked on this guide

Lory Gil is iMore's managing editor and has extensive knowledge of the MacBook lineup. Though she doesn't own every single MacBook ever, she's got a pretty decent-sized pile building up.

Rene Ritchie is iMore's resident Apple analyst and has studied every aspect of every MacBook. He puts his MacBooks through their paces and knows exactly what each one's limits are.

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