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8 November 2021

Best MacBooks for 2021

Which MacBook is right for you? What's the difference between a MacBook Air and a MacBook Pro? Our expert Apple laptop guide can help.
Michael Passingham
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Apple laptops aren't cheap, so it's important that you consider your MacBook options carefully before parting with your cash.

We take a look at the key differences between the MacBook, MacBook Air and MacBook Pro ranges, so you can be confident that you're buying the right Mac for you.

See also: Best laptops for 2021 | Best Windows 10 laptops | Best laptops for students

Which MacBook should I buy, and should I pick the M1 processor?

It may not be as attention grabbing as a brushed aluminium case or a stunning screen, but a laptop’s processor plays a vital role in how fast and efficient it is. 

The best load webpages in a flash and power through demanding tasks, such as video editing, whereas a cheap processor could make anything more taxing than online shopping slow your laptop to a crawl. 

Apple’s new SoC (‘system on a chip’) M1 processor concentrates everything onto a single chip, unlike the Intel Core i5 and i7 processors in older Macs, which use multiple chips to manage different tasks. SoCs are common in smartphones and tablets, but less so in laptops. 

On paper, the M1 is slower than the Core i5 and i7, which both have higher maximum ‘clock speeds’. Despite this, Apple makes some bold speed claims – for example, that the new MacBook Air should be three times faster when exporting videos from iMovie. 

Does it live up to these claims? Below you can see our summary of the specs and promises of these top-tier laptops, or if you join Which? you’ll be able to access the full reviews to see how they fared.

  • Apple Macbook Pro 13-inch 2020 (M1)

    Apple

    Macbook Pro 13-inch 2020 (M1)

    £1159.00View retailers

    The MacBook Pro and Air received the same treatment for their late 2020 models, with the familiar Intel Core processor choices replaced with just one chip, called the Apple M1. The processor has eight cores (four fast and four slow) and Apple's own graphics hardware. The battery is larger than that found on the MacBook Air, and there is also a cooling fan, which should keep the processor running cooler when it's working very hard on tasks like editing videos. Read our full review to see how it fared.

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  • Apple Macbook Air 2020 (M1)

    Apple

    Macbook Air 2020 (M1)

    £889.00View retailers

    The late 2020 MacBook Air with M1 processor comes with some big promises and some big risks. It's an entirely new processor, ditching the Intel Core processors that Apple has been using for more than a decade. Aside from the processor, not much has changed from the previous version, so is this the model you should plump for? Read our full review to find out.

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  • Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch 2020 (Core i5)

    Apple

    MacBook Pro 13-inch 2020 (Core i5)

    £1299.00View retailers

    The 13-inch MacBook Pro with Intel Core i5 is still available to buy from both Apple and third-party retailers. Ignoring the changes on the inside, the external parts of this laptop are practically identical to the new M1 model and includes the Touch Bar touchscreen and the same high-resolution screen you'd expect from a Pro. Read our full review to see how it fared.

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Table updated September 2021.

See our full collection of MacBook reviews to see how else these models differ.

Mac vs Windows vs Chromebooks

MacOS, Windows 10 and ChromeOS all have their own strengths and weaknesses. MacOS is buttery smooth and is the go-to operating system for many creative industries, but it also requires you to shell out a huge amount of money on a premium Apple device. 

Windows, meanwhile is available on a huge range of devices from ultra-budget to super-premium and, for many, is still the operating system they know best. But it's not without its downsides: Windows 10 updates are still a major sticking point for many people, and the fact that Windows 10 doesn't run particularly smoothly on very cheap laptops.

That's where ChromeOS comes in. This operating system is little more than a fancy web browser, with web apps that work best when connected to the internet. There's a range of budget devices available, and a few premium options as well. There's no faffing with huge updates and since everything is in a browser, there shouldn't be any problems with programs crashing either. 

See how MacOS stacks up against its rivals in our Mac vs Windows and Chromebook advice guide.

What do I need to know about MacOS?

MacOS (formerly known as Mac OSX) is extra useful for people who own iPads and iPhones, with a host of clever features that lets you share and work on files seamlessly on all your devices. You can also make and receive calls on your computer; no need to reach for the phone any more. There's also the Siri voice assistant that'll let you ask questions, set reminders and issue other commands with just your voice.

The latest version of MacOS is called Big Sur, which launched in Autumn 2020. This updated added a lot of new features including easier to access notifications, quick access to settings, updated app designs, privacy enhancements and more. You can read the full list of changes on Apple's website.

And, as ever, MacOS is arguably the best operating system to choose if you already own an iPhone; things sync and work together more seamlessly than other combinations of phones and laptops.

 

Need more help picking the best laptop for you? See our full range of laptop reviews.