Among the suprises in Apple's WWDC Mac announcements—besides the fact that the MacBook Air lives on—was that the 12-inch Apple MacBook and the 13-inch MacBook Pro now start at $1,299 in their respective base configurations.
With a price difference eliminated and a Kaby Lake update, both are attractive options, but which laptop is the better buy for you? We're here to help you make that decision.
Sizing Them Up
The two laptops haven't changed from their 2016 physical specs, aside from a slight weight gain. The 12-inch MacBook is Apple's thinnest laptop, measuring 0.52 by 11.04 by 7.74 inches (HWD), and weighing 2.03 pounds. The 13-inch MacBook Pro is a bit larger, at 0.59 by 11.97 by 8.36 inches and 3.02 pounds.
All colors carry over from last year; both systems are available in silver and space gray finishes, while the 12-inch MacBook also comes in gold and rose gold. So aside from the difference in hues, you'll be carrying a larger, heavier laptop in the MacBook Pro, but neither would be a burden in hand or a commute bag.
Power on the Inside
Let's go with something easy to compare: memory and storage. Both come with 8GB of RAM (configurable up to 16GB), but they differ on storage.
The MacBook comes with a 256GB SSD, while the MacBook Pro comes with half that. However, the MacBook Pro can be configured at purchase with a 1TB SSD for another $800. You'll need to move up to the $1,599 version of the MacBook to get a larger 512GB SSD, along with a faster processor. That lower storage capacity is certainly one of the drawbacks when you go for the more powerful model at the base price, but as you'll see below, it's probably worth it.
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The MacBook comes with a 1.2GHz Intel Core m3 processor, while the MacBook Pro has a faster 2.3GHz Core i5 processor. The m3 processor helps Apple design the MacBook without a fan, which in turn reduces thickness and weight. On the other hand, as seen in our testing of previous iterations of the MacBook, the MacBook Pro's Core i5 processor should help it perform faster on our benchmark tests, and in real-life situations. Both laptops have topped 11 hours on previous battery tests, with an edge to the MacBook Pro, thanks to a larger battery pack.
The Pro's Screen Wins
Both systems have bright and clear IPS screens, but the 13-inch MacBook Pro has an advantage in screen size, resolution (2,560 by 1,600 versus 2,304 by 1,440), brightness (500 nits versus 300 nits), and DCI-P3 color gamut (the 12-inch MacBook has standard sRGB color). True to its name, if you're a digital arts professional (or prosumer) who will take advantage of the extra screen room and more vibrant colors, then the MacBook Pro is an easy choice.
Second-generation butterfly keyboard switches are now included on the MacBook's keyboard. The key action is extremely shallow, and it feels far different compared to typing on a full-sized desktop or laptop keyboard, so you'll want to try it out in your local Apple Store. Both have the Force Touch trackpad, and neither base model has a touch screen or the Touch Bar.
Last but not least are ports: Both have USB-C physical ports, but the MacBook only has one, while the Pro has two. Having the extra port is vitally important when you're using an external device like a USB-C SSD and the charger simultaneously. Also, the MacBook Pro's ports have Thunderbolt 3 (TB3) technology built in, which takes advantage of the faster throughput with TB3 drives and peripherals like external 5K displays.
Power vs. Size
The $1,299 price point is attractive to power users, as that is the point where you'll start to pay for premium features like all-aluminum clamshells, and higher-than-full-HD screens, as well as more memory, storage, and power than budget and midrange laptops. The MacBook is a good laptop for folks who want the smallest, lightest possible Mac. However, most users should consider the base MacBook Pro as the primary choice, since you'll receive a larger, brighter screen and more computing power for the same amount of cash.
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