Small powerhouse

MacBook Air (2018)

Ultra portable

MacBook (2017)

Apple's least expensive laptop is also one of its best, thanks to a fantastic design, expansive trackpad, and the inclusion of Touch ID. By all accounts, this is the laptop meant for most people — as long as you don't mind limitations on ports.

$999 at Amazon

Pros

  • Terrific design
  • Touch ID
  • Sharp, vibrant display

Cons

  • Limited ports
  • Shallow keyboard

The 2017 MacBook is an attractive device because of its thin and lightweight design. It offers a sharp, vibrant screen and a wonderful trackpad — plus it offers access to Apple's entire macOS ecosystem. However, it's a couple years old so it's missing out on some key elements, like a Thunderbolt 3 port.

$1,199 at Amazon

Pros

  • Extremely portable
  • Sharp, vibrant display
  • Excellent trackpad

Cons

  • No Thunderbolt 3
  • Underpowered
  • Shallow keyboard

Although the 2017 MacBook is smaller and more portable, the 2018 MacBook Air is the better option. Not only does it feature more powerful guts, but its larger screen makes it better for everyday use.

Breaking down the specs

While the two laptops look fairly similar, they're different in some key ways. Here's how they compare spec-for-spec.

Category MacBook (2017) MacBook Air (2018)
Processor 1..2GHz dual-core 7th-generation Intel Core m3 1.6GHz dual-core 8th-generation Intel Core i5 with Turbo Boost up to 3.6GHz
Display 12-inch LED backlit with IPS technology
2304-by-1440 resolution
13.3-inch LED backlit with IPS technology
2560-by-1600 resolution
Memory 8GB RAM
256GB SSD storage
8GB RAM
128GB SSD storage
Size and Weight Height: 0.14-0.52 inch
Width: 11.04 inches
Depth: 7.74 inches
Weight: 2.03 pounds
Height: 0.16-0.61 inch
Width: 11.97 inches
Depth 8.36 inches
Weight 2.75 pounds
Graphics Intel HD Graphics 615 Intel UHD Graphics 617
Battery Built-in 41.4-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery
Up to 10 hours wireless web
Up to 12 hours iTunes movie playback
Built-in 50.3-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery
Upt to 12 hours wireless web
Up to 13 hours iTunes movie playback
Ports 1x USB-C 2x USB-C (Thunderbolt 3)
Camera 480p 720p

The MacBook is for extreme portability

If you're looking for the most portable Apple laptop money can buy, look no further than the 12-inch MacBook. The laptop weighs just over two pounds and is 0.52 inches thick, making it Apple's most portable laptop available right now.

While the MacBook is attractive for its portability, the base model's specs are decidedly unattractive. You get a 1.2GHz dual-core 7th-generation Intel Core m3 processor, which is fine for casual browsing, but not so great for much else.

The MacBook is a great device if all you care about is portability, but it's not very powerful.

When using the MacBook, you can perform most of the normal tasks you're used to, like listening to music, browsing the web, and editing documents. But the more browser tabs and applications you open, the slower things get. You'll notice how underpowered the base MacBook is pretty quick.

The MacBook Air, meanwhile, is more powerful and just a little bit bigger, at 0.61 inches thick and 2.75 pounds. I'd argue that the larger size — the 13-inch display, for example — is actually better, but you'll hardly notice the difference in thickness and weight.

Sure, the 12-inch MacBook can still say it's the thinnest, lightest MacBook on the market. If you're someone who travels extensively and needs the absolute smallest Apple laptop, then you want the 12-inch MacBook.

But being the thinnest and lightest doesn't come without its compromises. Battery life isn't as good as on the MacBook Air, and you have access to fewer ports, which can become a major annoyance as you accumulate accessories.

Both laptops are very portable, and it's clear which one is the better choice. With the MacBook Air, you get better specs at a more affordable price.

The MacBook Air is for everyone

Let's say you don't want the smallest, lightest laptop Apple has to offer. You should consider the new 2018 MacBook Air, which is only slightly larger than the 12-inch MacBook, and with fewer compromises.

The MacBook Air is essentially Apple's new normal. It's the entry point into Apple's Mac laptop ecosystem, the model most people will walk out of an Apple Store with, and there are many reasons for this outside of price.

The MacBook Air is still small and light like it was all those years ago, and it has been updated in some meaningful ways. It features a Retina display, for example, and Intel's Amber Lake processor, which is powerful enough for most casual tasks.

The new MacBook Air offers a nice blend of design and features, and it's the cheapest laptop offered by Apple.

The smaller MacBook, meanwhile, features an m3 processor, which isn't all that great for tasks beyond sending a few emails and browsing the web.

The MacBook Air also comes equipped with Touch ID, which you can use to unlock the MacBook Air and authenticate payments. If a website supports Apple Pay, you can easily purchase something by simply placing your finger on the sensor.

Some of the other Air's niceties include the most recent redesign to Apple's butterfly mechanism keyboard, as well as a ginormous trackpad. You also get up to 12 hours of battery life and two USB-C (Thunderbolt 3) ports. The MacBook only features one USB-C support with no support for Thunderbolt 3.

All of these features make the MacBook Air incredibly well-rounded, and a good fit for most people. It's a nice size and features many upgrades the 12-inch MacBook doesn't. Plus, it's cheaper, making it a great option for students.

The MacBook Air is the better option

Both the MacBook and MacBook Air are gorgeous machines. But, given the choice, the MacBook Air is the better option. It's small and lightweight—just like the MacBook—and it features Touch ID and more capable specs.

The MacBook Air is the laptop most people should buy because it's plenty fast and can handle casual computing tasks with ease. Even if all you're concerned with is portability, I'd argue that the MacBook Air is still the better option.

The MacBook Air offers 8GB RAM, 128GB of storage, and a 1.6GHz dual-core 8th-generation Intel Core i5 processor. Plus, it has Touch ID—all features that make Apple's latest laptop the better option.

Our Pick

MacBook Air (2018)

The new normal—with Touch ID

The new MacBook Air offers a nice blend of features and power, plus one of the nicest laptop designs on the market. It's the cheapest Mac you can find, and it's barely bigger than the MacBook without all of the major compromises.

Extreme portability

MacBook (2017)

Apple's thinnest, lightest Mac

The 12-inch MacBook offers incredible portability and is more capable than you might think. But it's not the cheapest Mac Apple offers and it doesn't provide as many bells and whistles compared to the 13-inch MacBook Air.

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