- This article originally appeared on iMore and has been inducted into our Back to School guide
Most students looking for a new MacBook should pick up the MacBook Air. It's less expensive than other MacBooks, more powerful, and has a bigger display than the 12-inch MacBook while remaining lightweight. And though it might not be as powerful as the MacBook Pro, it should provide enough power for the average student to get through their day.
- Our pick: MacBook Air (2018)
- More power: MacBook Pro
- Value pick: MacBook Air (2017)
- Our pick: MacBook Air (2018)
Who should buy this computer?
College students who want a Mac for writing papers, doing research, surfing the web, light photo editing and just entertaining themselves should get the MacBook Air. It should also be a great computer for you when your academic career is over and you're headed out into the world.
Is it a good time to buy this computer?
The current MacBook Air came out in October 2018, so now is a great time to buy this Mac. Some solid discounts are popping up at retailers like Amazon, and we're likely many months away from a potential refresh. It's been a while since Apple refreshed any of its Macs in less than a year.
Reasons to buy
- Great balance of price and power
- Light and portable
- Retina display
- Touch ID
Reasons not to buy
- Limited customization
- Butterfly keyboard may irk some
The MacBook Air is a great Mac for students, successfully riding the line between power and portability
For students, portability is a chief concern when it comes to buying a computer. Whether you're walking through your high school's hallways to your history class or sprinting across a college campus to make it your next lecture on time, you don't want to be lugging around a heavy computer. You want something fairly light. At the same time, you don't want a computer that's underpowered. The MacBook Air occupies the happy medium of that ideal. It's more powerful than the MacBook and thinner and lighter than the MacBook Pro.
For the longest time, the MacBook Air was Apple's thin-and-light computer. Many credit MacBook Air with paving the way for the 'ultrabook' genre of computers that gained prominence in the early part of this decade. But Apple has since introduced the 12-inch MacBook, which debuted with a Retina display and was even thinner and lighter than the Air. Surely, if portability is your main concern, you should get the MacBook, right?
Well, let's take a look at the modern MacBook Air. It now also (some would say 'finally') has a Retina display, without adding any bulk. And no, it's not as small as the MacBook, but it's almost as light. The MacBook Air comes in at 2.75 lbs, less than a pound heavier than the MacBook's 2.03. You're not making much of a sacrifice on weight. If the footprint of the computer is a concern, check out the MacBook, but you're gaining only about half-an-inch each on width and depth, so maybe the larger Air won't present much of a size problem.
The other consideration the MacBook versus the MacBook Air is power. While the MacBook Air's eighth-generation Intel processor won't really keep up with those found in the current generation of MacBook Pro, it's more than a match for the 7th-generation processors found in the MacBook. For everything from web browsing to photo editing, the MacBook will find itself outmatched by the Air, all while the MacBook Air is priced at least $100 under the current MacBook.
Speaking of power, the MacBook Pro is probably overkill for most students. Sure, some will be able to take advantage of its more powerful processors available to it, but if most of what you're doing is writing papers, putting together presentations, or doing research on the web, you probably don't need the level of power a MacBook Pro offers. And again, you'll be saving a bit of money if you get the MacBook Air, which is always something to consider.
Ultimately, when looking at the current MacBook lineup through the lens of a student, the MacBook Air successfully rides the line between the thin-and-light MacBook and the powerful MacBook Pro. It will meet the needs of most students, and should still be a great Mac to have when you're ready to leave academics behind and head off into the world.
Alternatives to the MacBook Air
The MacBook Air might be the best MacBook for most students, but different people have different needs. If you're looking for more power, then check out the MacBook Pro. It'll be a more capable machine for almost everything you want to do, with more expensive models offering an ever-increasing amount of power for tasks like photo and video editing, app development, scientific programs, illustration, and music production. It will last longer than the MacBook Air and perform at higher levels the entire time.
If you're looking for more of a budget option, unfortunately, you're going to have to settle for something older from Apple. It's still a MacBook Air, but it lacks the Retina display of the newer model, and its processors are older. But, it still has all-solid-state storage, which means a lot when it comes to boot times. If budget is your chief concern and you still want a Mac, the older MacBook Air that Apple still sells should work just fine, if not quite as well as the new model.
The MacBook Pro offers a lot of customization options that allow you to create the computer you need. Offers everything from a seventh-generation dual-core Intel processor to an ninth-generation, eight-core i9 beast, configurable up to 32GB of memory with AMD Radeon graphics for the most intensive tasks. If power is what you want, that's what you'll get with the MacBook Pro.
Apple quietly bumped the specs on the MacBook Air in 2017, introducing a couple of new processors to choose from. Despite its lack of Thunderbolt 3 ports or a Retina display, the older MacBook Air should still be able to meet most of your needs. It even still has an SD card reader, something many Mac owners thought was lost to the ages (or at least the Mac).
If you want an excellent "medium" Mac laptop, get the MacBook Air. Offering enough power to meet most of the needs of student life while being almost as portable as a MacBook, the Air strikes a great balance between the other offerings in Apple's laptop lineup.
It's also among the most affordable of the portable Macs, especially when you start getting into the upper echelons of what that MacBook Pro has to offer and even compared to the 12-inch MacBook.