Five years. That’s how long Apple has now finished in first place in our Best & Worst Brands report. Getting a perfect score in our reviews category certainly helped, as did a near-perfect score in tech support, design, keyboard/touchpad, and display and audio. Apple also upped the software ante with OS X Mavericks; it doesn’t represent a huge leap, but the update provides welcome enhancements for power users, while offering more synergy with iOS. Yes, the starting prices for MacBooks are relatively steep, but they’re very much worth it.
Apple doesn’t debut many notebooks per year, but when it does, it gets them right. Earning the company first place in this category, all four MacBooks we reviewed received an Editor’s Choice award. One in particular, the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display, garnered a 4.5-star rating, the highest score we bestowed to any notebook all year. That system also happens to be our favorite laptop overall.
It seems a safe bet to assume Apple employees really are geniuses. With a score of 19, the Cupertino-based company ties for first in the Tech Support category, thanks largely to its in-store Genius Bar and online Express Lane for support articles. The company’s live chat and phone service were both quick and efficient, but its lack of social media-based support ultimately held Apple back.
Often imitated, never duplicated. The clean, modern look of Apple’s MacBook has set the standard for portability and power, which is why so many other notebooks look like clones. The company even managed to shave a few ounces and inches off the MacBook Pro 13-inch Retina Display. Still, for such an innovative company, it seems as though Apple has fallen into a rut — a pretty rut, but a rut nonetheless. We’d like to see the company add even a dollop of color to its iconic lineup.
Apple doesn’t change its keyboards or touchpads much from year to year, because the company knows not to mess with a good thing. The MacBook keyboards continue to offer strong tactile feedback, large keys and good layout. Apple’s touchpads continue to impress, offering completely accurate navigation and flawless support for multitouch gestures, without a hint of the jumpiness we still encounter on other button-less designs.
Apple continues to impress with its lineup of Retina Display MacBook Pro models. Both the 15-inch MacBook Pro’s 2880 x 1800 display and the 13-inch version’s 2560 x 1600 screen dazzled in our reviews. Plus, Apple’s Mac App Store offers 250 Retina-optimized apps to make the most of its gorgeous displays. We only wish Apple would give its MacBook Airs the same Retina treatment. With an average light meter reading of 302 lux, Apple’s 2013 lineup breezed past the 242-lux laptop category average in display brightness.
Apple’s newest MacBook Pro and MacBook Air models produced rich and clear audio during our testing. Even smaller systems such as the 11-inch MacBook Air pumped out sound loud enough to fill a small testing room.
Lacking a complicated operating system like Windows 8, Apple hasn’t had to come up with new ways for users to interact with its laptops. That left the engineers in Cupertino more time to focus on other types of improvements. With the MacBook Air 13-inch, for example, Apple managed to squeeze an impressive 11 hours and 40 minutes of juice out of the laptop using one of Intel’s Haswell processors. That runtime is a lot longer than what you get from similarly sized Windows machines.
Apple keeps it simple, with just the Air and Pro lines of laptops, which are widely available through Apple.com, as well as Best Buy and Newegg. The MacBook Air sells at a hefty starting price of $999. When the average laptop today costs around $500, that’s a big hike. The good news is that you can configure your system online as you see fit, something other brands like ASUS and Samsung don’t offer. And, for the money, Apple’s MacBooks provide a great design and user experience via OS X Mavericks.
Apple once again reigns supreme in the software department. The free OS X Mavericks upgrade brought iBooks, Maps and an improved Safari to the MacBook. We also love the new tab feature in Finder and the interactive notifications. In many ways, MacBooks deliver a more traditional desktop-like experience than Windows 8 machines provide. Now, both MacBook Pro and Air users have free access to Apple’s iWork and iLife app suites, which allow for both productivity and creativity. And thanks to iCloud keychain, you can store your password and payment info for instant logins and purchases across your Apple devices.