Does your high school student need a MacBook?
Best answer: A MacBook of any type is an excellent tool for most students. For high school students, the MacBook Air is a great choice, with its balance of portability, a decent amount of power, and battery life.
MacBooks are excellent tools for learning
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Kids that don't have access to technology are increasingly left behind. It's true that many schools nowadays have computer labs, or provide easy access to laptops, tablets, or other computers. However, for a lot of students, having their own laptop makes it easier to do things like taking notes during class, work on assignments, study, research, or even just stay in touch with friends through services like Apple's iMessage.
Speaking as someone who grew up in a house that always had a single desktop computer that sat in one room, a great MacBook would also be great for your student to have for home use. They can work where they feel most comfortable, whether that's in their room or down in the kitchen near the rest of the family.
Macs are well-built computers, and the MacBook lineup, from the now-discontinued MacBook to the portable powerhouse known as the MacBook Pro with M2, should be capable of completing any academic task. For most students, the latest M2 MacBook Air, which we reviewed and loved, is the best choice and will perform well throughout their high school career. In fact, when it comes time to head off to college, your MacBook Air should still be going strong, and will easily make the transition to higher learning.
What's so great about the MacBook Air?
The MacBook Air with M2 (2022) is the best MacBook for most people, including students, right now. It's the perfect mix of portability and power. The 13.6-inch Liquid Retina display is crisp and sharp, making anything look absolutely fantastic on the screen. Though the new MacBook Air has moved away from the tapered design of previous iterations, it is still incredibly slim at just 0.44-by-11.97-by-8.46 inches, and it only weighs 2.7 pounds. It is definitely super light, making it one of the best choices for a portable laptop.
This is the second generation of MacBook Air with Apple's own in-house silicon, the M2 chip, inside. What this means for students is a ton of power and performance, all while being incredibly efficient. The M2 chip features an 8-core CPU that has four performance cores and four efficiency cores, an 8-core GPU, and a 16-core Neural Engine. If you really want your high school student to have the best of the best, then you can even configure it up to a 10-core GPU for even better graphics performance.
Thanks to the efficiency cores of the M2 chip, the MacBook Air can last pretty much all day on battery. According to Apple's spec sheet, you can get 18 hours of video playback and 15 hours of web browsing, all on a single full charge of the 52.6-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery. If you get the base M2 with 8-core GPU, you'll have a 30W USB-C Power Adapter, but if you go for the 10-core GPU upgrade, you'll have a 35W Dual USB-C Port Compact Power Adapter included (extra charge for the 8-core GPU configuration).
The MacBook Air also uses MagSafe 3 for charging, so if your high schooler tends to be clumsy and trip over things like cables, they won't be bringing the entire laptop crashing down to the floor if they do so. There are four gorgeous colors for the M2 MacBook Air, including a stunning Midnight color, and the MagSafe cable will match the body color of the laptop.
Finally, there's the software. macOS runs well on any MacBook and is packed full of useful features, like Stage Manager in macOS Ventura. It supports not only Apple's own Pages, Keynote, and Numbers, but Microsoft's Office suite of productivity apps, as well as a library of excellent third-party apps, from writing apps like Ulysses, note-taking apps like Agenda, and unique calculators like Soulver.
You've also got every major web browser, like Safari, which is built into macOS, Google Chrome, and Firefox. Microsoft is even making a browser for the Mac again with the latest beta versions of Edge.
There is also the new 13-inch MacBook Pro with M2 as well, which we also reviewed. While it also uses the M2 chip, it comes with a base 10-core GPU, making it better for those who need more power for resource-intensive programs. The MacBook Air also doesn't have fans, while the MacBook Pro does, so it can cool down when you're pushing it to the limits, instead of being throttled like the MacBook Air. You'll also have the Touch Bar on the MacBook Pro, which can be a good or bad thing depending on how you look at it and how much you'd prefer a standard F-row of keys. And lastly, the MacBook Pro does have two more hours of battery life than the MacBook Air, if you really want to stretch out the time away from a charger.
Price (pain) points
MacBooks can be fairly pricey, no doubt about it. Even the base-model MacBook Air with M1, which is still being sold by Apple, costs over $1,000 brand new with taxes. While you'll get the longest life out of a top-of-the-line, current year MacBook Air, Apple does sell certified refurbished MacBooks at a bit of a discount. It's not that impressive, and if you went on sites like Amazon or eBay, you might be able to get an even better deal. But when you buy through Apple, you know that you'll be getting a "like new" experience at a bit of a discount.
Refurbished items arrive with complete documentation, and every unit has been rigorously inspected to meet Apple's quality standards. Getting a refurbished Mac is a lot like getting one brand new. If you're so inclined, you can even get an AppleCare protection plan with an extended warranty, just as you can with a new Mac.
The Mac laptop for most people.
Apple's current lightest laptop balances power and portability and is a perfect companion for both high school and college students.
If you need a little more power, the 13-inch MacBook Pro is a good choice with its base 10-core GPU. It has fans to help cool it down if you're working with more resource-intensive programs, and it has two more hours of battery life than the M2 MacBook Air. It also retains the Touch Bar instead of using a standard F-row of keys.
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Christine Romero-Chan was formerly a Senior Editor for iMore. She has been writing about technology, specifically Apple, for over a decade at a variety of websites. She is currently part of the Digital Trends team, and has been using Apple’s smartphone since the original iPhone back in 2007. While her main speciality is the iPhone, she also covers Apple Watch, iPad, and Mac when needed.
When she isn’t writing about Apple, Christine can often be found at Disneyland in Anaheim, California, as she is a passholder and obsessed with all things Disney, especially Star Wars. Christine also enjoys coffee, food, photography, mechanical keyboards, and spending as much time with her new daughter as possible.