Whether you’re still in high school or the middle of college, a laptop is an essential piece of equipment for every student. Apple makes some of the best laptops in the world with its MacBook lineup. Whether it’s the powerful MacBook Pro or hyper-portable MacBook Air, Apple’s laptops will power you through any task you’ll meet. For most students, the MacBook Air (M1,2020) is the best choice. It has enough power to face almost any academic challenge you come up against. There are other MacBooks to consider, depending on your situation, as you can see below.
Best Overall: MacBook Air (M1, 2020)
In mid-2020, Cupertino announced Apple silicon. Six months later, the first non-Intel-based MacBooks in over a decade arrived, starting with the MacBook Air (M1, 2020). The best MacBook for students this year, the latest MacBook Air packs a punch for anyone on a smaller budget, starting with its battery life — up to 18 hours between charges, depending on what you’re doing.
At 2.8 pounds, the MacBook Air is the lightest Apple tablet on the market despite having the same screen size as the smallest MacBook Pro model. Along with being less weighty, the MacBook Air also contains the same essential internals — Apple’s all-new M1 SoC. The laptop also includes a backlit Magic Keyboard and a Touch ID sensor.
No doubt, the MacBook Air is appealing. However, it comes with drawbacks, including fewer Thunderbolt 3 ports, less display brightness, and more inferior speakers than most MacBook Pro models. It also offers 2 hours less battery life between charges than the 13-inch MacBook Pro (M1, 2020). None of the disadvantages should stop you from buying it, however.
The MacBook Air (M1, 2020) is also our favorite Mac for all users this year.
- Same screen size as 13-inch MBP
- Up to 18 hours of wireless web between charges
- Apple M1!
- Only two Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) ports
- Maximum storage is 2TB
MacBook Air (M1, 2020)
Great price, super internals
The MacBook Air is a great looking device and the practical choice for most students. Plus, there’s no denying the sweet price.
Best for Power Users: 16-inch MacBook Pro (2019)
The 16-inch MacBook Pro is the computer to get if you need the most power possible. You can configure it with several options, whether you need that eight-core processor, 64GB of RAM, or 8TB of storage.
But even at its base configuration, a six-core Intel Core i7 with 16GB of RAM, 512GB of storage, and an AMD Radeon Pro 5300M GPU, it’ll still handle any task a student can set to it besides the most computationally intense workflows. If you want a no-doubt-about-it machine, get this MacBook Pro. Keep in mind, however, Apple’s likely to update this machine before the end of 2021.
- Latest Intel processors
- Configurable up to 8TB of storage
- Myriad of expansion options
- Bigger display
- Could get replaced this year
- More expensive
- May be overkill for most
Best for Power Users
16-inch MacBook Pro (2019)
The most bang for your buck
The 16-inch MacBook Pro will perform great at any task you set it and should last you well after your academic career is over.
Best Alternative: 13-inch MacBook Pro (M1, 2020)
The 13-inch MacBook Pro is in a transition period thanks to the arrival of Apple Silicon. As things stand, there are entry-level Apple M1 13-inch MacBook Pro models and those that still offer Intel-based processors. This split can be confusing, especially when you throw in the 13-inch MacBook Air.
If you need more than 2TB of storage and 16GB of unified memory, go with the Intel-based model presented below. Otherwise, keep reading.
When comparing the 13-inch MacBook Pro (M1, 2020) with the MacBook Air (M1, 2020), three factors stand out. First, the Pro model offers Touch Bar versus only Touch ID on the Air. Second, the former offers up to two more battery life hours. The Pro model also offers slightly more screen brightest and better speakers. For these extras, you’ll pay at least $300 extra.
- Better options than MacBook Air version
- Touch Bar included
- Slightly better display
- Do you need the extras?
- Price can rise quickly as you add components
13-inch MacBook Pro (M1, 2020)
A step up
There’s much to love about this model, which offers ever-so-slightly better internals than the MacBook Air.
Best Power Alternative: 13-inch MacBook Pro (2020)
The remaining Intel-based 13-inch MacBook Pro models were also released in 2020. With these models, you can upgrade to 4TB of storage and 32GB of memory. You’ll also find four Thunderbolt 3 ports versus the two found on the less expensive model and MacBook Air.
One reason to skip all 13-inch MacBook Pro models right now is that the Intel-based versions will probably get replaced later this year as Cupertino transitions the entire MBP lineup to Apple silicone.
- More options than the M1 versions
- It’s much cheaper than the 16-inch MBP model
- Could be replaced in 2021 by an M1-based model
Best Power Alternative
13-inch MacBook Pro (2020)
Add more storage and memory
If you still want Intel, but don’t want a 16-inch screen, this is the (only) Mac for you.
Whether you need a computer for high school or college, the most recent MacBook Air is the best MacBook for students this year. Whether you’re writing papers, putting together a Powerpoint or Keynote presentation, or even editing some images for a photography class, the MacBook Air will be a reliable performer in your academic pursuits.
The Retina display on the MacBook Air is beautiful and vibrant. The built-in Touch ID sensor makes everything from authorizing operating system tasks to paying for things online with Apple Pay more convenient and secure.
With the addition of Apple silicon, the MacBook Air is even better by offering much more power and battery life than before. Did we mention the great price?
Credits — The team that worked on this guide
Joseph Keller is a senior writer at iMore. An Apple user for more than a decade and a half, he spends his time learning the ins and outs of iOS and macOS, always finding ways of getting the most out of his iPhone, iPad, and Mac.
Bryan M. Wolfe is a dad who loves technology, especially anything new from Apple. Penn State (go Nittany Lions) graduate here, also a huge fan of the New England Patriots. Thanks for reading. @bryanmwolfe