The 13-inch MacBook Pro is the best MacBook you can buy today. It balances power with portability and performance with price

Best overall

13-inch MacBook Pro

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The 13-inch MacBook Pro can currently be maxed out with a 3.5 GHz Intel Core i7 "Kabylake" processor and Intel Iris Plus Graphics 650, 16 GB of 2133MHz 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. There's also an option for Touch Bar and Touch ID, the latter of which is incredibly convenient for everything from logging in to authenticating Apple Pay. Thanks to Kaby Lake, it can also hardware accelerate next-generation HEVC (H.265) video. Also now available in silver and space gray.

Starts at $1299.

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.

One older thing: The 2016 MacBook Pro only includes USB-C / Thunderbolt 3 ports. If you need legacy ports and hate dongles, Apple still sells the 15-inch 2015 MacBook Pro with USB-A, Thunderbolt 2, and HDMI ports, and the 13-inch MacBook Air.

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.

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.

There's also Touch Bar and Touch ID as options now. Touch Bar is controversial, with many people not finding it useful for their workflows. Others like how it surfaces previously obscure and arcane shortcuts and makes them easily accessible.

Everyone loves Touch ID, though, which lets you quickly and easily log onto your MacBook Pro, authenticate apps, and even authorize Touch ID purchases on Safari.

USB-C / TB3 only for the ports has also been controversial. Many dislike the need for dongles, though that has always been true for anyone using peripherals with a MacBook Pro — and we have the FireWire adapters to prove it! Those who want to drive a 5K display, or dual 5K displays on the 15-inch version, along with high-speed storage, are happy enough.

Otherwise, the 13-inch MacBook Pro 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.

Starts at $999.

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)

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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.

Starts at $1299.

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

See at Apple

The 13-inch MacBook Pro can currently be maxed out with a 3.5 GHz Intel Core i7 "Kabylake" processor and Intel Iris Plus Graphics 650, 16 GB of 2133MHz 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. There's also an option for Touch Bar and Touch ID, the latter of which is incredibly convenient for everything from logging in to authenticating Apple Pay. Thanks to Kaby Lake, it can also hardware accelerate next-generation HEVC (H.265) video.

Also now available in silver and space gray.

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.

One older thing: The 2016 MacBook Pro only includes USB-C / Thunderbolt 3 ports. If you need legacy ports and hate dongles, Apple still sells the 15-inch 2015 MacBook Pro with USB-A, Thunderbolt 2, and HDMI ports, and the 13-inch MacBook Air.