Which MacBook Is Best for You?
The 2019 16-inch MacBook Pro is a return to form for Apple. It’s familiar in a good way and more importantly, reliable. That’s a big deal, considering the problems with MacBooks of the past few years.
The keyboard problems are gone thanks to a new mechanism (and Escape is a physical key again). Even better are the improvements to the thermal architecture—while it gets hot, and the fans may be loud, it won’t affect performance. The ninth-generation Intel Core i7 processor (upgradable to Core i9) is no slouch either. Whether you’re editing video or gaming, this machine won’t let you down, though the battery does deplete quickly when running intensive tasks.
Four Thunderbolt 3 ports mean you’ll have plenty of places to plug in the rest of your devices too. The base model now comes with 512 GB SSD, but Apple will gladly upgrade this MacBook Pro all the way to 8 terabytes if you can pony up the $2,400 upgrade fee. Video editors will be happy to know that you can get up to 64 GB of RAM.
The biggest downsides are the device’s size and weight. If you need a laptop you can take anywhere without much hindrance, look elsewhere.
The Goldilocks Book
If the new MacBook Air isn’t powerful enough and the 16-inch MacBook Pro seems too much, consider the 13-inch MacBook Pro. It might be just right.
The 13-inch MacBook Pro straddles the power and weight divide between the Air and the 16-inch MacBook Pro. Offering powerful quad-core processors and all-day battery life in a reasonably portable 3-pound package, the entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro will be the best of both worlds for many people. You get the Touch Bar and a faster chip than the Air, but avoid the extra weight and bulk of the 16-inch model.
MacOS Catalina’s Sidebar feature works a treat here if you do need a little extra screen space: pair your iPad for an extra screen (or drawing pad) on the go.
That said, we suggest holding off on this one right now. When Apple updated the 16-inch model, it did not touch the 13-inch model, which means this model will likely soon receive a similar upgrade with the new keyboard, thermal architecture, and possibly upgraded chips.
Unlike previous generations of MacBook, there are eccentricities and problems with Apple’s laptops that you should know about before you buy.
Bland Touch Bar: When Apple debuted the Touch Bar in late 2016, it touted the thin touchscreen strip above the keyboard as the next-generation of user input. Unfortunately, this hasn’t panned out. There seems to be little interest from third-party software designers in doing anything innovative with the tiny display. Those Touch Bar-packing laptops have Touch ID, which lets you log in and access sensitive data with your fingerprint, but what’s been swapped out for that is something you’ll miss: a physical Esc key (barring the 16-inch MacBook Pro). To get around this you can always map CapsLock to Esc.
Palmy Trackpad: Apple’s trackpads are among the best in the computer business, but with the newest MacBooks, these input devices have been blown up to unbelievable proportions and crammed right up against the bottom of the keyboard, right where you rest your palms while typing. Although there’s supposed to be intelligent palm rejection software at work, the trackpads are susceptible to accidental input. Your mileage may vary.
Keyboard Killer: The flat style of Apple’s 3rd-generation “butterfly switch” keyboards might not be to everyone’s liking, but widespread stories of nonresponsive keys are worrying. Perhaps the most famous screed on the subject is Casey Johnston’s post detailing her keyboard woes for the Outline. WIRED editor Jeffrey Van Camp and senior writer Lauren Goode also have had multiple issues with the 2017 Pro keyboard. Apple now replaces the keyboards for free and has added extra dust guards in the newer models. Apple has detailed instructions on how to clean the keyboard if yours gets flaky, which is a decent first line of defense against busted keys. Apple also recently extended its keyboard repair program to cover repairs on all Macs that have been purchased within the past four years, regardless of warranty status. The new 16-inch MacBook Pro shouldn’t have any of these problems as it does away with the old Butterfly switch style for a new one.
Parched for Ports: Then there’s the port situation. All of Apple’s current MacBooks feature one port type: USB-C. It’s a newer port that might not work with some of the devices you own. You’ll want to invest in a few adapters (like this Aukey adapter) if you plan on hooking your computer up to a projector, or want to use things like USB keys or SD cards. Plan to buy some dongles.
The Old MacBook Air: This slim laptop was groundbreaking when it debuted in 2010. Unfortunately, the MacBook Air didn’t change much until 2018. It rocks a dowdy-looking, non-Retina screen and weak Intel chips that are years old. It might not require the dongles that a newer MacBook might, but the newer laptops will undoubtedly feel faster for longer. Don’t let its price tag tempt you—there are way better laptops you can nab for that kind of cash. How to spot it: The older Air has a thick silver border (bezel) around its screen, instead of black glass like the new models.
The 15-inch MacBook Pro: This time-tested design seems like it’d be a great buy … until you see the $2,200 price tag. It’s not that it’s a bad machine, but your risk of problems is considerably higher than it should be for a $2,000 computer. This 15-inch model is a poor value for money. How to spot it: Use caution when buying from Amazon, we’ve seen several of these labeled 16-inch in Amazon ads, but then when you click through you land on a page selling the 15-inch model.
The 12-Inch MacBook: This model was canceled in July 2019. If you find one of the final models and get a good bargain (well under $1,000), it may be worth a look, but we generally recommend you opt for a current model for longevity and better customer support. This one will not work with Sidecar.
It depends which model you’re going to get. Apple updated the its top-line MacBook Pro in October 2019 and refreshed the Air in July. We suspect a major update is coming for the 13-inch model at some point in spring 2020. That said, there’s always a newer, better model around the corner
None of Apple’s MacBooks are cheap, and replacement parts are nightmarishly expensive. Since the entire computer is fully integrated into Apple’s tightly designed aluminum chassis, you’re one coffee spill away from a shockingly large repair bill. This is why Apple’s AppleCare+ is worth it—starting at $249, AppleCare extends your factory warranty to three years, gives you matching telephone support, and throws in two accidental damage repairs as well. A minimum $99 service fee later and when whatever you did to kill your shiny new Mac is undone, you’ll be back to hammering away on your keyboard.