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Best MacBook for 2022

With so many MacBooks and so many new Apple Silicon chips, it's hard to figure out what to look for if you're shopping for a MacBook Air or MacBook Pro.

Apple offers MacBooks from $999 all the way up to $3,499, and that's just the default configurations without optional upgrades, which can add thousands more. With the new M2 chip, we're now firmly in the second generation of Apple Silicon, and the new M2 MacBook Air is already a favorite, even if it's more expensive than its predecessor. 

The MacBook Air and MacBook Pro are known for excellent design, build quality and ease of use. The generally intuitive nature of MacOS plays a big part in that, as does the fact that Apple makes both the hardware and software, leading to inherent synergies. 

Here are some MacBook shopping tips and answers to common questions, as well as our breakdown of which Mac is right for whom. 

Apple is still offering education deals on MacBooks: Normally, the Apple Store is (ironically) not the best place to buy an Apple laptop (really, almost any Apple product) because sales are all but nonexistent. The big exception to the rule is Apple's education sales, which usually include MacBook deals. If you're a student or teacher, that can mean $100 off a MacBook Air and a free pair of AirPods, plus a 20% discount on the AppleCare Plus extended warranty (which I have mixed feelings about). On the other hand, we've also found Apple laptop deals through Best Buy's Student Deals page.

The TouchBar is (mostly) dead: Despite being announced with great fanfare in 2016, the TouchBar, a slim secondary touchscreen that sits above the keyboard, is now only available on one model, the M2 13-inch MacBook Pro, which retains its dated design, despite having Apple's latest chip. 

Great webcam on the 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pro, and the 13-inch Air; 13-inch MacBook Pro webcam is meh: The jump to a 1,080-pixel resolution camera in the newest MacBooks, as well as the 24-inch iMac, is a game-changer for people sitting in video meetings all day. Here are some tips on making the 720-pixel cameras in those other Macs look better

If you need something bigger and don't mind it being tied to a desk: Apple updated its smaller iMac (formerly 21.5 inches, now 24 inches) in 2021, and it now comes in seven color options and runs on the company's M1 processor. You can also pair a Mac Mini or Mac Studio desktop with the new 27-inch Mac Studio Display

Almost all Macs have transitioned to Apple's own M1 and M2 chips:  Since late 2020, the MacBook Air, 13-inch MacBook Pro, Mac Mini, Mac Studio, 24-inch iMac, 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro now all run either M1, M2, M1 Pro or M1 Max/Ultra chips, which include both CPU and GPU cores. Based on our testing so far, the Apple M1/M2 line has largely delivered on Apple's promises of better battery life and faster performance. You can still find one old Mac Mini and the really old Mac Pro desktop with an Intel chip. 

The key question is how to make sure you're not buying too little MacBook -- or too much. What is the best MacBook for your needs? For most people, the 13-inch Air remains the default choice and rightly so. The new 14-inch and 16-inch Pro models are more powerful, but in a way that only people who need heavy GPU support will appreciate. Yes, you get a better display, new camera and more ports with those, but if you're buying a new Pro just for that, be aware that you're essentially making a vanity purchase. 

Now playing: Watch this: MacBook Air M2 vs. MacBook Air M1: Worth the Extra $200
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Read more: Best Mac VPN for 2022 

MacBook starting configurations


14-inch MacBook Pro 16-inch MacBook Pro MacBook Air (13-inch, M1) MacBook Air (13-inch, M2) 13-inch MacBook Pro (M2)
CPU M1 Pro or M1 Max M1 Pro or M1 Max M1 M2 M2
No. of GPU cores 14-16 (M1 Pro), 24-32 (M1 Max) 16 (M1Pro), 24-32 (M1 Max) 7 8 8
Screen size 14.2 16.2-inch 13.3-inch 13.6-inch 13.3-inch
Screen resolution 3,024x1,964 pixels 3,456x2,234 pixels 2,560x1,600 pixels 2,560x1,664 pixels 2,560x1,600 pixels
Starting storage 512GB 512GB 256GB 256GB 256GB
Starting RAM 16GB 16GB 8GB 8GB 8GB
Webcam 1080p 1080p 720p 1080p 720p
Networking 802.11ax Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.0 802.11ax Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.0 802.11ax Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.0 802.11ax Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.0 802.11ax Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.0
Connections Thunderbolt USB-C x3, HDMI, SDXC card, MagSafe 3 Thunderbolt USB-C x3, HDMI, SDXC card, MagSafe 3 Thunderbolt USB-C x2 Thunderbolt USB-C x2 Thunderbolt USB-C x2
Weight 3.5 lbs 4.7 lbs 2.8 lbs 2.7 lbs 3.0 lbs
Starting price $1,999 $2,499 $999 $1,199 $1,299
Dan Ackerman/CNET

The new-for-2022 MacBook Air gets its biggest refresh in many years, moving to the latest M2 chip and adopting a new design. Thanks to that new MacBook-Pro-like design, larger display (13.6-inch vs 13.3-inch), faster M2 chip and a long-awaited upgrade to a higher-res webcam, it's now my favorite Mac, with one caveat. At $1,199, the $200 increase over the traditional $999 MacBook Air starting price is a disappointment.

The new MacBook Air goes beyond the Pro models it mimics in one important respect – it adds new colors to the space gray and silver, with a new gold-like Starlight and a deep, dark Midnight finish. That Midnight, which appears as a matte black finish, reminds me of the old matte black polycarbonate MacBooks of the mid 2000's, which I've always thought was a very sharp look. 

We've got a lot of different MacBook models, prices and specs to keep track of. To sum it up, the key reasons you're going to prefer the new M2 Air over the previous M1 model are:

  • Slimmer, more modern design in new colors
  • Upgraded full-HD webcam
  • Larger, brighter display (13.6 inches vs. 13.3 inches)
  • Faster M2 processor 

Read our full review of the MacBook Air M2

Dan Ackerman/CNET

This model has been surpassed, but not replaced, by the new M2 MacBook Air. Because it's staying on as Apple's sole $999 laptop, it still deserves a place on this list. 

For many years, this Apple laptop was everyone's favorite laptop. It was reasonably priced, thin, light and built like a tank. It could last for years and take lots of falls and bumps. For any college student or coffee shop creative type, $999 would get you sorted. 

You only get two Thunderbolt 3 USB-C ports, but for most people that's enough, as long as you can get a whatever-to-USB-C dongle.  

The 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pro laptops, like the new M2 MacBook Air, have better displays, faster processors and more ports. The Pro models also have HDMI and SD card slots. 

Read our full review of the MacBook Air M1

Read our Apple MacBook Air 11 review.

 

Dan Ackerman/CNET

Compared to the 13-inch Pro, the screen size here jumps from 13.3 to 14.2 inches. It's what Apple calls a Liquid Retina XDR display, which is basically a mini LED screen, like in the 12.9-inch iPad Pro. It also has the same HDMI, SD card and MagSafe ports as the 16-inch MacBook Pro, and the same 1080 webcam. 

Both the M1 Pro and M1 Max chips are available in the 14-inch, and it can be configured with the same 64GB RAM and 8TB storage as the 16-inch Pro. But one thing you can only get on the 14-inch are a couple of lower-end Apple M1 Pro options not available for the 16-inch, with fewer CPU and GPU cores, and a lower cost. 

If you're a college student, coffeeshop writer or other mainstream laptop user, consider that this is a hefty premium to pay for a better screen, better webcam and more ports. It might be like buying a sports car just for driving on city streets. Bring in all-day, every day web video meetings, you might be able to make a good case, but the new M2 Air also solves that problem. 

Read our full review of the 14-inch MacBook Pro

Dan Ackerman/CNET

The 16-inch MacBook Pro is the biggest, most-powerful MacBook you can buy. It's a true desktop replacement and a worthy heir to the late, great 17-inch MacBook Pro, last seen in 2012. 

Both this and the 14-inch version add the same resurrected ports, new Mini-LED display, MagSafe power connection and improved webcam. Both are available with either the M1 Pro or M1 Max chip, which are precisely what a slice of the creative pro market has been waiting for. These new chips offer up to 36 GPU cores (and up to 10 CPU cores) and replace the need for both an Intel CPU and discrete AMD graphics, a combo previously found in only a few high-end Macs. In other words, after a long wait, professional video editors and 3D modelers have a MacBook aimed squarely at them.

The border around the display here has gotten so thin that there's not even room for a webcam any longer. Here the camera gets slotted into an iPhone-like notch at the top of the display. Yes, just like an iPhone. And like the iPhone, it's annoying and too obvious at first. But it's worth the tradeoff, as the higher-res 1,080 camera will spoil you quickly if you're used to the lower-res 720p cameras in other laptops. 

With a starting price of $2,450, just keep in mind that if you're not specifically going to use these new GPU capabilities, this is a pretty expensive way to get an HDMI port and SD card slot.

Read our full review of the 16-inch MacBook Pro.

Dan Ackerman/CNET

This new 2022 version of the 13-inch MacBook Pro looks just like the 13-inch MacBook Pro that was part of Apple's first wave of M1-chip Macs in late 2020. Same body, same camera, same limited ports, same Touch Bar. Yes, this remains the last holdout of the Apple Touch Bar, a clever-but-underused second screen that's fallen out of favor. 

And that's exactly what this system is: The 2020 13-inch MacBook Pro, with the initial M1 chip swapped out for the new M2 chip. That makes it Apple's most powerful 13-inch laptop, and it edges out the otherwise similar new M2 MacBook Air because its active cooling allows it to run at higher temperatures. 

Read our full review of the M2 13-inch MacBook ProThat means it's less likely to be your best choice for a MacBook. But there are some reasons you may still want the 13-inch MacBook Pro over either the new MacBook Air or the much-more-expensive 14- or 16-inch MacBook Pro. We outlined the most obvious reasons here, and they include:

  • It's the last opportunity to get a Touch Bar MacBook.
  • It's the smallest MacBook with the longest battery life (at least until we test the new Air model).
  • It provides platform continuity for your company or creative shop.

Read our full review of the M2 13-inch MacBook Pro

Which MacBook should I buy?

My TL;DR advice is as follows.

  • If you need a MacBook for everyday work, schoolwork, web surfing, movies and light creativity, go with the MacBook Air. For most people, this is all the MacBook they'll need. 
  • The new design and camera are great, as is the bigger screen, but the $999 M1 version of the MacBook Air is still great if you don't want to spend $200 more on the M2 version. 
  • The 13-inch MacBook Pro remains a tough sell. More expensive than the Air, but essentially the same performance and same Apple M2 chip. It's also the last holdout of the Touch Bar. 
  • The 16-inch MacBook Pro is the one high-end creative types have been waiting for. The video editor and creative pros I've spoken to have flocked to it, and usually with the highest-end M1 Max chip. 
  • The 14-inch MacBook Pro can do almost everything the 16-inch can, but in a smaller package. It's either a premium mainstream laptop splurge or a work tool for creative types who need something a little more portable.