Best MacBook for Students iMore 2020
Whether you're still in high school or racing across your college campus, a laptop is an essential piece of equipment for every student. Apple makes some of the best laptops around with its MacBook lineup. Whether it's a powerful MacBook Pro, or a light and portable MacBook Air, Apple's laptops will power you through any task you'll meet. For most students, the 2020 MacBook Air is the best choice. It has enough power to face most any academic challenge you come up against, while still offering up to 12 hours of battery life.
- Best Overall: MacBook Air (2020)
- Best Value: MacBook Air (2017)
- Best for Power Users: 16-inch MacBook Pro (2019)
- Best Power Alternative: 13-inch MacBook Pro (2020)
Best Overall: MacBook Air (2020)
Most students looking for a new MacBook should pick up the MacBook Air. It's less expensive than other MacBooks, as well as lighter. And though it might not be as powerful as the MacBook Pro, it offers enough power for the average student to get through their daily scholastic workload, especially when outfitted with the optional quad-core Intel Core i7 processor.
The 2020 MacBook Air should also have enough battery to take you from class to class. Like previous versions, the latest iteration of the MacBook Air features up to 12 hours of battery life. This version also features an improved, scissor switch-based Magic Keyboard, just like the 16-inch MacBook Pro.
The MacBook Pro is probably overkill for most students. Sure, some will be able to take advantage of its more powerful processors available to it. Still, if most of what you're doing is writing papers, putting together presentations, or doing research on the web, you probably don't need the level of power a MacBook Pro offers.
- Great balance of price and power
- Light and portable
- Scissor switch keyboard is back
- Touch ID
- Up to 12 hours of battery life
- Limited power compared to other options
Sweet spot of power, portability, and price.
Lightweight, yet with enough power to get you through most academic tasks, the MacBook Air is the perfect student computer.
Best Value: MacBook Air (2017)
Because the 2019 MacBook Air uses the same processor as the 2018 model, you can save a good deal of money by going with the 2017 model of MacBook Pro. No Retina display, no Touch ID, but it's still a fairly capable machine, even if the processor is a few years old at this point.
You should also have enough battery life to get through your daily workload. Like the more recent models, the 2017 MacBook Air is rated for up to 12 hours of battery life.
While I'd still recommend the newest MacBook Air for most people, the 2017 model is still a solid alternative if you're looking to save some money. It's not flashy, and it won't win any awards for speed, but it'll still be a dependable device throughout your academic life.
- Relatively cheap
- Still a solid performer
- USB-A ports
- SD card slot
- Excellent battery life
- Older processor
- Low base storage
A capable computer for the money.
The 2017 revision of the MacBook Air is still a capable machine that will get you through most of your tasks without hassle.
Best for Power Users: 16-inch MacBook Pro (2019)
The 16-inch MacBook Pro is the computer to get if you need the most power that you can afford in a portable package. You can configure it with several options, whether you need that eight-core processor, 64GB of RAM, or 8TB of storage.
But even at its base configuration, a six-core Intel Core i7 with 16GB of RAM, 512GB of storage, and an AMD Radeon Pro 5300M GPU, it'll still handle any task a student can set to it besides the most computationally intense workflows. If you want a no-doubt-about-it machine, get this MacBook Pro.
- Latest Intel processors
- Configurable up to 8TB of storage
- Myriad of expansion options
- Bigger display
- Bigger than other options
- More expensive
- May be overkill for most
Best for Power Users
Most bang for your buck
The 16-inch MacBook Pro will perform great at any task you set it and should last you well after your academic career is over.
Best Power Alternative: 13-inch MacBook Pro (2020)
Though this model won't reach the heights of the 16-inch model, for those students that need or want more power than the MacBook Air can offer while sacrificing as little portability as possible, the 13-inch MacBook Pro is a good choice.
It's missing some advantages of the 16-inch model, namely the bigger screen, large storage options, and discrete GPU. However, it's powered by recent Intel quad-core, 8th-generation Core i5 processors, with options to go up to a 10th-generation Core i7 chip, so you'll still have enough power for fairly demanding tasks, such as photo and video editing, graphic design, and mobile music production.
This model also has the scissor-switch Magic Keyboard, like the most recent versions of the MacBook Air and larger MacBook Pro before it.
- Balances portability and power
- More portable than 16-inch model
- Option for up to four Thunderbolt 3 ports
- Magic Keyboard with greater reliability returns in 2020 model
- No discrete GPU
- Limited to quad-core processors
- Limited storage choices
Best Power Alternative
A big step up from a MacBook Air.
This is the MacBook you should get if you need a step up in power from the MacBook Air.
Whether you need a computer for high school or college, the most recent MacBook Air is the right choice for most students. Whether you're writing papers, putting together a Powerpoint or Keynote presentation, or even editing some images for a photography class, the MacBook Air will be a reliable performer in your academic pursuits.
It doesn't have the power of something like the 16-inch MacBook Pro, nor even the 13-inch MacBook Pro. But it's still a capable machine at a solid price. The Retina display is beautiful and vibrant, and the built-in Touch ID sensor makes everything from authorizing operating system tasks to paying for things online with Apple Pay more convenient and secure.
The MacBook Air, for a long time, was the best Mac for most people, including students. Thanks to recent revisions, it occupies that space again, offering a light, portable package with enough power and battery life to get you through an entire day of school.
Credits — The team that worked on this guide
Joseph Keller is a senior writer at iMore. An Apple user for more than a decade and a half, he spends his time learning the ins and outs of iOS and macOS, always finding ways of getting the most out of his iPhone, iPad, and Mac.
Rene Ritchie has been covering the personal technology industry for a decade. An outspoken analyst and critic, he writes a regular column at iMore.com, and you can find him on YouTube at youtube.com/reneritchie. Follow him @reneritchie on Twitter and Instagram
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