Digital Trends may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site.

The best MacBook for 2020

Confused about what MacBook you should buy? Fear not — we have all the info you need right here.

In November, Apple finally released the MacBook Pro 16 after many months of speculation, phasing out the MacBook Pro 15 in the process. But with the MacBook Pro 13 still available and the MacBook Air completely redesigned, it’s harder than ever to know which MacBook is right for you. Meanwhile, the laptop market is swimming in solid competition. This guide should help you sift through the sea of similar-looking Macs to find the gems.

Interested in other laptops too? We have a guide to the best laptops (including our favorite MacBook) as well.

Your choices

Here are the three MacBook models currently available, counting different display sizes as distinct models.

  • MacBook Air 13-inch — $999 from Best Buy
  • MacBook Pro 13-inch with Touch Bar — $1,199 from Amazon
  • MacBook Pro 16-inch with Touch Bar — $2,249 from Adorama

That’s a pretty succinct selection compared to prolific brands like Dell or HP. Let’s run them down one by one.

The MacBook Air

Wondering about the 12-inch MacBook? You’re out of luck, as Apple killed it off in 2019. While it was super portable, it seems Apple felt it was just too similar to the redesigned MacBook Air, which now takes its place as Apple’s most mobile laptop.

Apple finally refreshed the MacBook Air lineup in 2018 with a new 13-inch Retina model, which we now consider a strong candidate for a first-time Mac buyer. At 2.8 pounds and 0.16 to 0.63 inches in thickness, the latest MacBook Air comes in a familiar thin and light design but outfitted with new rose gold, silver, and space gray colors. It also picks up the same butterfly keyboard, Thunderbolt 3 ports, and larger trackpad as the MacBook Pro 13.

Apple even cut out the thick, silver borders from the MacBook Air for a new edge-to-edge Retina display, which modernizes it a bit. It’s still not as thin and light as the former 12-inch MacBook, but it’s a bit slimmer than the MacBook Pro. The onboard Retina display also keeps the same resolution as the MacBook Pro, at 2,560 x 1,600, but in our testing, it only goes up to 291 nits of brightness. That might not be very bright, but it still produces accurate colors, which makes it a good choice for photographers and graphic designers.

On the inside, the new 2020 MacBook Air receives a slight upgrade from the 2018 overhaul. That includes a jump to tenth-generation Intel processors, which isn’t quite the leap as seen with 2018’s move from 5th-gen to 8th-gen. Still, the latest refresh sees the introduction of quad-core chips to the MacBook Air line: The Core i5-1030G4 and the Core i7-1060G7. The entry-level model features Intel’s dual-core i3-1000G4 chip.

The 2020 refresh also sees double the entry-level storage at 256GB versus the original 128GB. It has a new entry-level price too at $999 (or $899 for students), down from $1,099 in 2019 and $1,199 in 2018. The latest model ditches Apple’s “butterfly” keyboard switches as well, opting for the more traditional scissor-based design. After several generations, Apple simply couldn’t resolve its “butterfly” issues.

What if you’re thinking of going Pro?

The MacBook Pro is your best bet if you need serious power. In 2019, Apple updated the 13-inch MacBook Pro, giving every model a Touch Bar and an eighth-generation Intel processor. Two months before that, Apple updated the rest of its Pro range to come with faster eighth- and ninth-generation Intel Core processors, meaning better performance and more bang for your buck. Also, there’s now an option to kit your MacBook Pro out with an eight-core Intel Core i9 beast of a chip — the first time in this range of Apple’s notebooks, and a key differentiator from Apple’s more affordable options.

So, which MacBook Pro model should you choose? There are two main choices: 13-inch and 16-inch. Let’s start with the entry-level 13-inch Touch Bar model, which received a serious upgrade.

While in the past it lagged behind Apple’s other MacBook Pro models due to its 7th-gen dual-core Intel chip, it received a hefty upgrade to an 8th-gen quad-core processor. That makes it much more capable, and even outdoes the high-end MacBook Air in many ways: It’s got a better chip, a better screen, more Thunderbolt 3 ports, and better graphics options, all for the same price when you buy direct from Apple. Not bad!

The notable update to the entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro makes it a little harder to justify the more powerful 13-inch options. The entry-level device is now capable enough that if you want a proper boost in performance, you need to start looking at the 16-inch models.

So, what’s on offer if you decide to go for the larger MacBook Pro? There are two options here, and both come with the Touch Bar, four Thunderbolt 3 ports and 16GB of memory as standard.

The main differences lie in the processors, storage and graphics chips. While the entry-level 16-inch MacBook Pro comes with a 2.6GHz 6-core 9th-generation Intel Core i7 processor, a 512GB SSD and an AMD Radeon Pro 5300M GPU, the high-end model has a 2.3GHz 8-core 9th-generation Intel Core i9 processor, a 1TB SSD, and an AMD Radeon Pro 5500M GPU with 4GB of video RAM.

The 16-inch also comes with a few design changes, including a more conventional keyboard, smaller bezels, and a new thermal system. Before purchasing, you can configure both models with up to a 2.4GHz 8-core 9th-generation Intel Core i9 processor, 64GB of memory, a whopping 8TB SSD, and an AMD Radeon Pro 5500M GPU with 8GB of video RAM.

Starting at $2,399 and $2,799 respectively, there’s no doubting these MacBook Pro models are expensive, but they’re the ones to go for if you need true power.

And the winner is…

If you’re looking at the lower end of the spectrum, the entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro now gets our recommendation. You get more bang for your buck compared to the high-end MacBook Air, and its new quad-core processor will make a noticeable difference compared to its previous dual-core chip. While the entry-level MacBook Air is cheaper, we’d recommend stretching for the Pro if you can afford it.

For more professional Mac fans, we recommend the 16-inch MacBook Pro. It’s the only option that has enough power to handle more intense applications and heavier workloads. Unless there’s a very specific feature that catches your eye, stay away from the others.

Editors' Recommendations