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Few companies can claim to have had as much of an influence on the world of technology than Apple. Tech giants like Microsoft, Google, Amazon, and Facebook are in the same league, but Apple’s integration of software and hardware is almost unmatched. Over the past few years the company has put together a wide portfolio of devices that feature cutting-edge technology in sleek, high-end packages.
Not only that, but its gear was all designed to work together. For example, you can begin a text conversation on your phone, and continue it on your iPad or Mac because all three run the same Messages app. Apple’s gear isn’t perfect — Macs aren’t great for gaming, the iPhone and iPad can only run apps from Apple’s own App Store, and the Apple Watch requires an iPhone to work.
If you can accept these limitations, though, you’ll find a group of gadgets that stand out from the average Windows PC. One of the most overt testaments to the success of Apple’s strategy was Microsoft’s introduction of its Surface tablets, laptops, and desktops, which followed a similar formula. Apple makes a whole lot of gear, but if you’re looking for its best (not necessarily the most powerful) devices, we’ve compiled this guide to help you out.
1. Best Laptop: MacBook Air
Apple’s MacBook Air offers an excellent balance of performance, portability, and technology, which allows it to best the more powerful MacBook Pro for most people.
On the tech specs side, the baseline MacBook Air has a 13.3-inch high resolution “retina” display, which offers excellent reproduction. It has a 1.1GHz dual-core Intel Core i3 Processor, 8GB (gigabytes) of memory, and 256GB of storage. This is more than enough power for most workloads, including writing, creating presentations, working with spread sheets, and light photo, music, or video editing. You’ll also be able to do standard computer tasks like web browsing, posting on social media, and streaming video in HD or 4K.
The MacBook Air features Apple’s T2 chip, which enables security features like SSD (solid state drive) encryption, and TouchID, a fingerprint reader built into the computer’s keyboard. This laptop has two Thunderbolt 3 ports, which allow you to connect accessories — from monitors to hubs that have additional ports — and charge the laptop on the go with an external battery pack. Finally, the MacBook Air has a 720P HD webcam, so you can video chat without having to plug in a peripheral.
These tech specs are packed into a computer that weighs 2.8 pounds, gets up to 12 hours of battery life, and has a wedge shape that tapers down to .16-inches thick. The only place the MacBook Air falters is that it’s not powerful enough for very intense photo, video, or music editing. If you work with 4K footage on a daily basis, the MacBook Pro is probably a better bet. But, if you need a dependable laptop that’s well-suited for most tasks, the MacBook Air is the correct choice.
2. Best Desktop: 27-Inch 5K iMac
Apple has recently refreshed its entire lineup of desktop computers, but the one that stands out is the 27-Inch 5K iMac.
The computer gets its name from its display, whose 5K display hasn’t been matched by any computers on the PC side. This is an all-in-one machine, which means the computer is built into the back of the display. This makes the iMac relatively portable for its size. This is the computer I’ve used for the past three years, and I’ve had little trouble bringing it up and down a couple of flights of stairs.
What make the iMac stand out among Apple’s other desktop computers (besides its massive, high-resolution screen), is its power. The base model, which we’re recommending, has a six-core 3.1GHz Intel i5 processor, 8GB of memory, 256GB of storage, and an AMD Radeon Pro 5300 graphics card with 4GB of video memory. This is enough to handle all but the most resource intensive tasks (think animating movies at PIXAR). My three year old machine can still transcode audio, convert videos, and run a bunch of apps without breaking a sweat. It’s important to note that you can add memory to the iMac after you’ve gotten it to extend its life further.
In terms of ports, the iMac is fully loaded. It has two Thunderbolt 3 ports, four USB ports, an Ethernet Jack, an SD Card reader, and a headphone jack. You should have no trouble connecting all of your accessories to the iMac at once. The 5K iMac features the T2 chip just like the MacBook Air, which enables the exact same features. But, it also intelligently enhances the video of this computer’s 1080P webcam, automatically adjusting the lighting and applying color correction when necessary.
If you’re considering an Apple desktop computer, and don’t mind its large size, the 27-inch 5K iMac is the best choice.
3. Best Media Streamer: Apple TV 4K
The Apple TV 4K is the company’s most advanced media streaming box yet, and it can do more than play videos and music.
As its name suggests, this version of the Apple TV can output video at a maximum resolution of 4K. It also supports Dolby Vision HDR (high dynamic range), a video technology that substantially improves color reproduction, and Dolby Atmos, the latest version of surround sound. Your TV, sound system, and video content will need to support these technologies to look and sound their best, but more A/V hardware than ever is being made with these features in mind. The Apple TV 4K also supports AirPlay 2, an Apple-developed technology that allows you to stream audio and video to the device from your iPhone, iPad, or Mac.
The Apple 4K TV has an App Store, which allows you to access new streaming services when they become available. This media streamer supports all major streaming services available right now, and Apple is quick to make deals to allow new ones to appear quickly. You can access all of these shows (and all of the Apple TV 4K’s other features) by navigating its interface with the Siri remote.
The remote is touch sensitive on top, which allows you to swipe your way through various apps, and has buttons that allow you to control your TV’s volume. There’s also a microphone button, which allows you to communicate with Apple’s smart home assistant, whether it’s to ask questions about the weather, control smart-home accessories, or get to the content you want more quickly.
While the primary reason to get an Apple TV 4K is streaming media, the box is also a causal game console. Many games available for iOS have been ported to the Apple TV, and the device supports all games that are included in the Apple Arcade service, which costs $5 per month. You can play games by using the Siri remote that comes bundled with the box, or connect a more traditional controller over Bluetooth. We recommend the Xbox One controller based on its button configuration and size. This version of the Apple TV 4K has 32GB of storage, which is more than enough for dozens of games and apps.
By pulling double duty as a media streamer and casual gaming machine the Apple TV 4K differentiates itself in a crowded field.
4. Best Tablet: iPad (7th Generation)
The iPad line has grown a lot over the past 10 years, but the 7th Generation iPad is our go-to tablet recommendation.
It has a 10.2-inch high resolution “retina” display that makes text, photos, and videos look incredibly clear. The tablet has two cameras, an 8MP (megapixel) back-facing camera that can record 1080P (full HD) video, and a 1.2MP front-facing camera for taking selfies and video conferencing in 720P (HD). It runs on Apple’s A10 processor, has 3GB of memory, and 32GB of storage. Tech specs don’t matter as much on the iPad, but these are good enough for you to run virtually any app on the App Store with little to no problem. This version of the iPad supports the Apple Pencil, a very precise stylus, and the Apple’s ultra-light Smart Keyboard.
The iPad (7th Generation) has a TouchID fingerprint reader, which allows you to unlock your device and download software without having to remember a password. It has a Lightning port, so you can use the same charging cable that comes with the iPhone, or get a Lightning to USB-C cable an the appropriate charger to enable fast charging. Apple says you should be able to get up to 10 hours of battery life on a single charge, which has been its consistent benchmark for years.
This iPad’s mix of portability and tech specs make it the ideal choice for casual use, students who don’t want a laptop, or kids who are more familiar with touch screen devices.
5. Best Smartphone: iPhone 11
The iPhone is Apple’s most popular gadget by far, and the iPhone 11 offers the right set of features at an excellent price.
This smartphone has a 6.1-inch high resolution “retina” display that will make anything you’re viewing look very clear. It run on Apple’s latest processor, the A13 Bionic, has 4GB of memory, and 64GB of storage. It has a three-camera photo system: A 12MP wide angle and 12MP ultra wide angle lens on the back, and a 12MP front-facing camera.
All three can record video in 4K, and take “portrait mode” photos where one element is in focus and the background is blurred. The back cameras support a feature called Night Mode, which allows them to gather more light in dim settings to pull out more detail. The front-facing camera supports FaceID, which scans your entire face to unlock your phone or download apps.
The iPhone 11 supports both wireless and fast charging, and Apple says you can expect to get up to 17 hours of video viewing on a single charge. How much battery you get will ultimately depend on which apps you run, whether you’re using Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, and your screen brightness settings. You should expect to get about a day’s worth of active use from the phone before having to plug it in.
The main differences between this phone and the iPhone 11 Pro are its lack of a 2X zoom camera, its screen size (the Pro is available in 5.85 and 6.46-inch configurations), and screen technology (LCD vs. OLED). In the long run those features are nice to have but inessential. The iPhone 11 is an incredibly capable smartphone, and the one whose balance of technology and value make a cut above the rest.
6. Best Smart Watch: Apple Watch Series 5 (GPS)
Apple has iterated on the Apple Watch significantly since it was originally released in 2015, and the Series 5 is its best offering by far.
The Watch is available in two sizes: 40MM (millimeter) and 44MM, with or without LTE networking. The 40MM GPS version hits the sweet spot in terms of size, and has all the same features as the other models (sans cellular networking). The biggest change to this generation of Apple Watch is its always-on display. Previously, you’d need to flick your wrist up to activate its screen, but now you can view it at a glance. Apple has done this without reducing the Apple Watch’s 18-hour battery life.
Although you can download and run apps, the Apple Watch is primarily useful for two things: notifications and health tracking. By default of your phone’s notifications — texts, calls, social media updates, news alerts — will be sent to the watch, so you can view them on your wrist. You can manually disable certain notifications from reaching the watch if you’d prefer.
Most notifications are passive (you can view them, but can’t do anything about them), but calls and texts are different. You can place calls or send texts by activating Siri, Apple’s smart assistant by holding the circular crown on the side of the watch, or raising it toward your wrist. You can answer calls by tapping the green phone icon that appears on its screen when a call comes in, and respond to texts using Siri.
On the health side of things, the Apple Watch Series 5 is very sophisticated. It can track your heartbeat, and send you alerts if it senses something is wrong. It can automatically detect some forms of afib (atrial fibrillation) aka an irregular heartbeat, and allows you to take an ECG (electrocardiogram) to closely scan your heartbeat for additional issues. While these sophisticated features are great to have, the Apple Watch Series 5 cannot detect a heart attack, or catch every single possible heart problem, so it’s still wise to check in with a doctor if you’re feeling ill.
The Series 5 Apple Watch has a feature called fall detection, which senses when you’ve fallen down hard by tracking the rate at which you’ve dropped, and how your arms moved. It’ll send you an alert, and send a message to a specified emergency contact if you don’t respond within 30 seconds. This feature is sophisticated enough to only activate when you’ve had a serious fall, with very few false positives.
To encourage a healthy lifestyle the Apple Watch Series 5 will encourage you to fill out its three “rings,” by standing up once an hour, exercising for more than 30 minutes, and burning a specific about of calories. You can increase all of these goals as your fitness improves. All of this health data is automatically logged in Apple’s Health app for iOS, where you can access it to track your progress, or show your doctor.
If you want a smart fitness tracker with additional health features, and need a way to screen notifications to reduce the number of times you pick up your phone, the Apple Watch Series 5 is the right choice.
7: Best Accessory: AirPods Pro
The AirPods Pro is Apple’s newest product, but it’s arguably the best pair of totally wireless earbuds available right now.
Its standout feature is ANC (Active Noise Cancellation), which blocks out sustained noise (think airplane engines and busy streets) with surprising accuracy. I’ve worn AirPods Pro while traveling and walking around New York City, and been impressed with how little outside sounds break through. Because of ANC, you’re able to listen to music at a lower volume, since you’re not trying to drown out the world, which is ultimately better for your ears.
These are gummy-tipped earbuds, which means they fit inside your ear and form a seal around your eardrum to insulate it. Apple includes three sizes of ear tips with the AirPods Pro (S/M/L), so you can find the set that fits best in your ears. I’ve traditionally had some trouble with getting a good fit with gummy-tipped earbuds, but haven’t had that difficulty with this pair.
The AirPods Pro get up to five hours of music playback per charge — your listening volume and ANC settings will impact this — and an additional 18 hours of battery life via their charging case. The case itself can be charged by plugging it into a power adapter with a Lightning cable, or setting it on a wireless charging pad. You can use any wireless charging pad you like, but we recommend this one from Anker because it can charge both the AirPods Pro and a smartphone (iPhone or Android) at their maximum charging speeds.
If you’re looking for a pair of totally wireless earbuds, and appreciate the level of noise cancellation you’d find on an over-ear pair of headphones, you should strongly consider the AirPods Pro.