Thinking about making an end-of-year MacBook purchase? We've got you covered. In this comparison, we look at the 12-inch MacBook, the MacBook Air, the 13-inch MacBook Pro (with and without the Touch Bar) and the 15-inch MacBook Pro.
Don't be confused by the nomenclature – the MacBook Air is no longer the thinnest or lightest of the lineup. In order of size, from smallest to largest: the 12-inch MacBook, the 13-inch MacBook Pro, then the MacBook Air and the 15-inch MacBook Pro.
The heaviest machine, the 15-inch MacBook Pro, is almost twice as heavy as the compact 12-incher. The mid-sized devices have a weight difference of a mere 30 grams (just a hair over an ounce).
Apple maintains its characteristic aluminum unibodies.
The 12-inch MacBook has the most color options, with four different metallic offerings. The rest are available in 1-2 shades of silvery-gray.
The 2016 MacBook lineup includes three different display sizes: 12 inches, 13.3 inches and 15.4 inches (measured across the diagonal).
The MacBook Air is the outlier here, with the lowest pixel density by far. The others have very similar resolution in the 220 pixels-per-inch range.
Again, only the MacBook Air holds onto older trackpad tech. It has that "diving board" hinge mechanism that makes it a little easier to compress on the bottom than on top.
The others have Force Touch trackpads, which is Apple's solid-state capacitive technology. The trackpad doesn't actually move, but its haptic feedback mimics the physical sensation of a click.
The Touch Bar is a fingertip-operated bar that replaces the F1-F12 function keys above the main keyboard which populates with app-specific dynamic shortcuts. The 13-inch MacBook Pro is available either with or without a Touch Bar. All of the 15-inch Pros have them.
The Touch Bar also has a Touch ID fingerprint sensor, a security measure not found on the other models.
The chipsets have very similar names over several different configurations. Of these, only the MacBook Air uses older fifth-generation Intel core processors. All of the others include sixth-generation (Skylake) Intel chipsets.
Here and throughout the comparison, asterisks denote a custom configuration only available directly from Apple.
With the exception of the 15-inch MacBook Pro, all MacBooks use graphics cards built into their processor. The 15-inchers also include a Radeon Pro graphics card – Radeon Pro 450 for the base model, and Radeon Pro 455 for the souped-up version.
8 GB of RAM is the lowest amount you'll find in a current-gen MacBook. A 16 GB version of the 13-inch MacBook Pro is available as a custom configuration. The 15-inch Pro comes with 16 GB of RAM off the shelf.
There are several tiers of internal storage available, depending on which model you choose.
On the base model 13-inch MacBook Pro, 512 GB and 1 TB sizes are custom configurations. On the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar, 256 GB and 512 GB are both standard options, while the 1 TB size is custom.
With the 15-inch MacBook Pro, the base model is only available with 256 GB or 512 GB off the shelf. 1 TB storage demands custom configurations. However, if you upgrade to the 3.6GHz i7 processor, the 512 GB option is standard, and 1 TB or 2 TB are available directly from Apple.
Only the MacBook Air has traditional USB Type A ports. With any of the other models, count on using adapters if you need to use anything but USB-C peripherals.
SD card slot
Again, only the MacBook Air has a built-in SD card slot. Its absence from the latest "Pro" models has sparked some ire.
On the 12-inch MacBook and the MacBook Pros, count on using one of those Thunderbolt/USB-C ports for charging. The MacBook Air has a dedicated MagSafe charging port.
On the new MacBook Pro, USB-C for charging could be seen as an improvement, as you can plug power into either side of the device.
Every laptop in the current MacBook lineup has a traditional 3.5 mm audio jack.
While manufacturers' battery estimates are strictly ballpark figures (and often generous ones) we've included them here for comparison's sake. In theory, the MacBook Air should last the longest.
The 12-incher is the only model that doesn't meet the HD 720p standard. You'll look a little grainier when you FaceTime.
Since this is Apple we're talking about, all of the current lineup automatically receives updates to the newest operating system. Right now, that's macOS Sierra.
The current configuration of the MacBook Air was released last year – that's why it holds onto ports, processors, and trackpad tech that Apple has since axed. Everything else was updated this year.
The oldest of these – the MacBook Air – will set you back the least amount of dough. Considering its relative plentitude of ports, and the fact that you can make performance upgrades on the processor and RAM, it could very well be the best MacBook value.
However, you'll have to upgrade if you prioritize specs like display resolution, internal storage, or the Touch Bar. And since the MacBook Air is the oldest model, it's most likely the one that Apple will stop supporting first.
If you're considering one of the Pro models, you can check out New Atlas' impressions of the 13-inch Pro without the Touch Bar or our full-length review of the Touch Bar model.
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