Apple MacBooks are great laptops. Contrary to what you might think, the MacBook Air is arguably the most powerful portable computer you can get for under a grand, and if you're after the best laptop, pretty much any MacBook is guaranteed to fit the bill.
Wondering whether you should buy one instead of a Chromebook or Windows laptop? We'll run through the pros and cons in this article, but let's start with the quick version.
MacBooks have great screens, excellent touchpads, they're slim, light and good-looking. Laptops with Apple's M1 processors, the MacBook Airs and MacBook Pro 13s, are truly groundbreaking too.
They use chipsets derived from iPhone CPU tech. Years ago we might have laughed about a laptop with a phone-style processor, but the Apple M1 is kind of awesome. It blows away direct rivals from Intel in terms of raw performance, and its efficiency is incredible. MacBooks with M1 processors generate almost no heat and the battery lasts an age even if you use an app that stresses the CPU.
For an all-purpose laptop, MacBooks are hard to beat. So why wouldn't you buy one? Relatively few games support Macs, there are some compatibility issues with Apple's new processors, their keyboards are on the shallow side and if your budget is less than a grand, new MacBooks are off the menu. Still, you can still get a lot of laptop for not much money; check out our list of the best laptops under £500.
Whether you should spend £1000-plus on a MacBook or hundreds less on a Lenovo, Acer, Asus or other Windows laptop rests on how much you like the sound of the Mac USPs we'll look into right now.
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- MacBook Air M1 vs MacBook Air Intel 2020: how the two compare
MacBook Air: one of the best screens you can get for £1000
The MacBook Air's display is a bit of an unsung hero in Apple's laptop range. It is one of the best displays among laptops under £1000, because there's a laser focus on what the average pair of eyes will actually appreciate.
Most Windows laptops at the price have 1080p screens, but the Air's is 1600p. That is 2560 x 1600 pixels, against the 1920 x 1080 Windows standard.
In person this proves what Apple's "Retina" display standard is all about. You don't see the pixels from a normal viewing distance, giving you 85% of the benefit of the ultra-high resolution and 4K laptop screens you can get if you pay even more.
Sure, the Air doesn't have the ultra-deep colour of the MacBook Pro range. But if you forget the stats and go by the impression you get when you just look at the display with your eyeballs, the MacBook Air is great for the money.
MacBook Pro 16: The best laptop speakers, bar none
Sometimes there's a shift in tech quality that makes us ask, how can this be real? That was our reaction to the MacBook Pro 16's speakers.
They embarrass the speakers of virtually every Windows laptop, sounding more like drivers of a half-decent wireless speaker. There's bags of volume, real bass and surprisingly clarity.
It's great news if you want your laptop to double as your TV. The MacBook Pro 16 does the job better than anything else out there, pretty much. MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro speakers aren't on the same level, but still beat those of most Windows laptops.
MacBook Pro range: Touch Bar is actually neat (for some)
Apple introduced the Touch Bar in 2016. Lots of people called it a gimmick. Some still do, and there are rumours Apple will get rid of it in the next MacBook Pros. But it's an interesting piece of tech many Mac owners love.
The Touch Bar is a slim OLED touch panel that offers a customisable row of shortcuts. You can choose what goes in there, lots of app have their own Touch Bar presets and if you want to get advanced, apps like BetterTouchTool let you create your own.
For the light stuff, you might use the Touch Bar to add emojis into your iMessage or WhatsApp chats. It's also great for apps with stacks of shortcuts, like music app Ableton or image editor Photoshop.
Asus tried its own take on the Touch Bar, putting a display into some of its laptop touchpad, called ScreenPad 2.0. But Apple's is still better.
AirDrop: A killer feature for iPhone owners
A lot is made of how you need a MacBook if you use an iPhone. This is oven overstated. You can use a Windows laptop if you have an iPhone just fine. But we do love one Apple-only feature: Air Drop. This is a quick and easy way to transfer files between MacBook and iPhone (or iPad) wirelessly.
iMessage will be important for some too. This lets you receive texts that would normally go to your iPhone, on your MacBook. Of course, if you're more of a WhatsApp fan you can carry on conversations on Macs or Windows computers.
Game-changing Apple processors: The good stuff
You need to know about Apple M1 processor before you buy any laptop in 2021, whether it's an Apple one or not.
This represents something we've talked about for years: Apple laptops using iPhone tech. This processor has a lot in common with the Apple A14 CPU used in the iPhone 12 range, and the results are mind-blowing.
You get raw performance that easily beats the Intel and AMD Ryzen processors you'd see in similar slim and light laptops.
But the truly amazing part is efficiency, and what it means for battery life. Do something intensive like video editing on a Windows laptop and you can expect a charge to last a couple of hours. MacBooks with Apple M1 processors let you work all day doing jobs that strain the processor, away from the charger.
So while there are several Apple, Lenovo, LG and Samsung laptops that really can last well over 10 hours between charges, Apple ones drain much more slowly when you turn up the heat.
Not all MacBooks use the Apple M1 processors, mind. 16-inch MacBooks continue to use Intel CPUs, and 13-inch MacBook Pros are available with either Apple or Intel CPUs.
Apple processors: The bad stuff
Why would Apple continue to use some Intel processors if its own ones are so good? Apple's M1 chips are part of a completely new line and not all that many apps have been tweaked to work perfectly with them.
MacBooks do have a piece of software that lets apps made for Intel CPUs work, called Rosetta 2. This works wonders, but results in more bugs than you would see using an Intel MacBook.
Buy one of those Intel versions, though, and who knows how long Apple will actively support it? Three or four years is a good run for a phone. But a laptop? A good MacBook can last seven years or more in our experience, by which time Apple laptops with processors from another brand will probably seem a distant memory.
This is the top reason to buy an Apple M1 laptop rather than an Intel CPU one. Apple has made it clear the future is its own processors, not Intel's. But you'll have to put up with some teething problems.
MacBooks: still not the best choice for gamers
Gamers should also think twice before buying a MacBook. None of them use Nvidia's brilliant graphics cards, you have to spend a fortune to get dedicated graphics hardware, in the 16-inch MacBook line. But the real problem is an awful lot of games just don't support Macs.
The Witcher 3, The Outer Worlds, Control, Assassin's Creed Valhalla… we could carry on listing games that don't support Macs all day. You might as well list the console games that are supported. There aren't that many. Tomb Raider, Life is Strange, Civilization and Dirt 4 are some of the most notable titles you can play.
Fortnite and Minecraft are playable too, though, so at least some of the essentials are covered.
MacBooks' Magic Keyboard
MacBooks have what Apple calls the Magic Keyboard. This is an improvement on the Butterfly keys Apple used for a few years, when it started making very shallow laptop keyboards.
However, you might find them shallow if you're upgrading from an old MacBook or another laptop.
The Magic Keyboard has key travel of around 1mm, shorter than the 1.4mm standard. And far off the 1.6mm of a laptop like the LG Gram 16.
This leads to a more clicky, less meaty feel to the keyboard. Apple's Magic Keyboard isn't really a "pro" or "con". It's a good keyboard, but the shallower feel is something to bear in mind if you spend all day typing away.
Are MacBooks worth it?
Apple MacBooks are "worth it", sure. We're big fans of the entry-level versions of the Air, the MacBook Pro 13 and the MacBook Pro 16. We're not fans of amount Apple charges for upgrades, mind, and this is a good reason to consider one of the alternatives.
Get this: the Acer Swift 3 nets you 1TB storage, a great AMD Ryzen CPU and solid battery life for under £700. An upgrade to 1TB space costs £400 alone in the MacBook Air.
The Lenovo Yoga 7 Slim is also a class act, with a much lower starting price than any MacBook. Laptops like these have high-quality casings, great performance and good specs. Sure, Apple's build and design is usually even better, but it's worth considering whether these cheaper Windows machines might suit your needs just as well.