Apple Product Buying Guide

Which Apple Products Are Really Worth Your Money? (Updated)


Tech By Photo by Apple

Updated October 2017: We’ve updated this story with the current crop of Apple products. Prices and links have also been updated.


Chances are you own an iPhone. If not, you know a hundred people who do. Apple makes roughly two-thirds of its total revenue each quarter from iPhone sales. Macs, iPads, iPods, Apple Watches and Apple TVs combine to form the final third.

And just how much of that third is worth the investment? Editor in Chief Eric Yang and Tech Writer Tucker Bowe have their say.

iPhone X

Verdict: Buy if you need the latest tech and willing to deal with the inventory shortages.

Eric Yang, Editor in Chief: Buy. This is a no-brainer if you love adopting Apple products early, your iPhone is your hub and you’re willing to deal with small learning curves. Or you’re an eBay flipper (ugh) looking to take advantage of the expected demand. There could be some pitfalls due to the new iOS interface — the lack of a home button and Face ID could pose challenges for the impatient. The advantages of the camera are obvious and will become even more so when we get a hands-on look at what it can do. While I own an iPhone 7 Plus, I prefer the size of the standard iPhone, so having a 5.9-inch screen in a smaller phone overall may be the goldilocks blend I’ve been waiting for.

Tucker Bowe, Associate Staff Writer: Don’t Buy. I’m going to cut against the grain and say you should skip this one. It’s super expensive and if you’ve used an iPhone for the past decade, this feels completely different. You’re going to have to learn new swipe gestures and discover what life is like without Touch ID or a home button.

What Others Are Saying:
• “If camera quality is a primary concern and you prefer a bigger screen, the iPhone 8 Plus packs in dual rear camera sensors, a larger, higher-resolution display, and most of the features you get with the iPhone X.” — Ajay Kumar, PCMag

• “The iPhone X has anodized/DLC steel sidings in comparison to the iPhone 8’s aluminum edges. Not only does it give the X a classic iPhone look, it also gives the smartphone an edge of security — I feel a lot less scared to drop my phone with a steel edge redirecting force.” — Serenity Caldwell, iMore

iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus

Verdict: Buy if you have an iPhone 6. Wait if you have an iPhone 7.

EY: Don’t Buy. I think one day we’ll look back and see the iPhone 7 as an underappreciated leap forward for the iPhone (a bit like the 5). The rougher edges of the iPhone 6 and 6S came together with the 7’s design. Glass, instead of aluminum, makes the 7 a much easier phone to hold, and after using our review unit, we found no reason to doubt that it’s a faster phone; but I’m of the camp that if you’re happy with your iPhone 7 or 7 Plus, you should wait for what’s next. Unless you have an upgrade cycle to burn.

TB: Buy. Despite looking nearly identical to the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, the 8 and 8 Plus were upgraded with the much more powerful A11 Bionic chip. It runs iOS 11 more smoothly and you’ll get better battery life out of it. The new 12MP dual-camera system on the 8 Plus is pretty fantastic as well.

Read our iPhone 8 Plus review, here.

What Others Are Saying:
• “The only difference between the rear cameras on the iPhone 8 Plus and those on the iPhone X is that the X has optical image stabilization for both the wide-angle and telephoto lenses, for sharper images, especially in low-light settings. The iPhone 8 Plus has OIS for only the wide-angle lens, like the iPhone 7 Plus before it.” — Dave Smith, Business Insider

• “If you want an awesome iPhone, this is it. I’d recommend the 8 Plus, if you can stomach the size, because the added camera power and battery life are really nice to have. But both are fantastic phones, upgrades over even last year’s model.” — David Pierce, Wired

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iPhone 7 and 7 Plus

Verdict: Don’t buy.

EY: Don’t Buy. This really shouldn’t be an option for you if you have any way to get the 8. Maybe for your mom or dad, if all they care about is iMessage and iCloud Photos (which, let’s face it, is a lot of people).

TB: Don’t Buy. Last year’s iPhones have shed some weight (price), but the new processing chips in the iPhone 8, 8 Plus and X are worth the upgrade. Also, Apple isn’t selling the 256GB iPhone 7 anymore, so if you want the extra storage you’ll have to go iPhone 8.

What Others Are Saying:
• “Apple claims the performance cores [of the iPhone 8 and 8 Plus] operate about 25 percent faster than the previous iteration and the high-efficiency cores operate about 70 percent faster than the previous generation. But here’s the thing: When is the last time your iPhone 7 actually lagged or couldn’t complete a task because the processor was too slow? It’s probably never happened to you because the iPhone 7 is a perfectly capable phone that can run Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and other apps with ease.” — Michael Nuñez, Mashable

• “We’d suggest skipping the iPhone 8 if you’ve already got an iPhone 7 or iPhone 7 Plus, but if you’ve got the iPhone 6s or older it could be a worthwhile upgrade, particularly if your contract is coming to an end.” — Ashleigh Macro, Macworld

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iPad Pro 10.5

Verdict: Buy if you don’t need highly specific applications.

EY: Buy. I’ve seen how my cofounder, Ben Bowers, uses the iPad, and it’s pretty amazing. He works on it more furiously than a Supreme Court stenographer. iOS 11 has also transformed the iPad into the long-overdue productivity machine it needs to be. However, I’m a dyed-in-the-wool mouse guy and I’m most productive with that setup. That’s the only thing that holds me back. To me, the iPad decision is simple. Do you need a laptop for full-fledged applications like proper Excel or Adobe Creative Suite? If so, pass; if not, the iPad can pretty much do 95 percent of the work or leisure activities you need.

TB: Respectfully, don’t buy. The iPad Pro is amazing and, in many ways, can take the place of your laptop (and even your iPhone, in most ways). But I love my non-clip-on keyboard. And I’m not the creative type, always editing on Photoshop.

Read our review of the 10.5-inch iPad Pro, here.

What Others Are Saying:
• “I think that most people need to go through a careful calculus of value before deciding to buy an iPad that costs this much, and I think the end of that equation should either be ‘the iPad Pro can be my main computer’ or ‘I have plenty of money to spend on a nice thing.’” — Dieter Bohn, The Verge

• “This iPad Pro may be the closest I’ve gotten to a MacBook replacement, and for some people it could be their main computer in the future with ‘future’ being the operative word here. Apple is betting on computers becoming more like mobile devices and completely wireless. But we’re not quite at that future just yet. Heck, the iPad Pro still has a headphone jack for a reason.” — Oscar Raymundo, Macworld

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9.7-inch iPad

Verdict: Buy if you just want to watch Netflix.

EY: Don’t Buy. The iPhone (plus AirPods) is easier to hold in bed for those late-night binge sessions. Plus, reading news or other content in the vertical format with your thumb is without a doubt the best way. And also, if you’re going to watch a great film, try to watch it on a proper large-format TV with great sound and honor the creators’ medium. See Apple TV 4K below.

TB: Buy. Never has an iPad ever been so affordable. If you’re the type to just use an iPad for streaming Netflix, reading the news or playing Fruit Ninja, this is actually a great deal. I recently bought my father one.

What Others Are Saying:
• “Apple’s new iPad feels like a cheaper, but more advanced, take on the previous models (remember, the original iPad launched at $500 in 2010). That’s great for a lot of tablet tasks, but the category has shown some real evolution over the past few years.” — Dan Ackerman, CNET

• “The new iPad is, however, better than almost every Android tablet on the market right now, and with its low price it’s a great choice for anyone looking to buy a new tablet.” — James Peckham, Techradar

Apple Watch Series 3 (With LTE)

Verdict: Buy if you need any kind of fitness tracker.

EY: Buy. If you have any use for a tracker, fitness, or simpler notifications, the Apple Watch is amazing. Being able to take calls on it truly untethers it as a standalone device. Outside of a few user-experience foibles and a small learning curve, there’s never been a reason to doubt the Apple Watch. But, I won’t buy one for myself because I’m at the point where I’m seeking less digital connectivity in my life and I can’t find a use case for it to make me more productive. I also like mechanical watches too much, and I only have one left wrist. Also, let’s face it – the “looking at my Apple Watch notification glance” has become the “talking on my jabra” social plight of the decade.

And Tucker’s arms aren’t weak. He just wants you to think that.

TB: Pass. I’m not the type of person who needs to always be connected. Also, holding a watch to your face to talk and listen can get tiring — I have weak arms.

What Others Are Saying:
• “The Apple Watch Series 3 often feels like two devices in one. When it’s connected to a phone, it’s an improvement over its predecessors in just about every way that matters. More important, the tight integration of improved hardware and more thoughtful software give the Series 3 a very notable edge over its smartwatch competition. It’s that good. As a standalone device, though, the Series 3 can be maddeningly limited.” — Chris Velazco, Engadget

• “Overall, the Apple Watch Series 3 has become a solid fitness tracker and the watchOS 4 update cements this. This is paired with one of the best smartwatch implementations, even if there’s still plenty of room for improvement. Perhaps, unsurprisingly, this is the best Apple Watch to date, offering plenty of refinements and improvements, but also the best smartwatch available.” — Richard Easton, TrustedReviews

Apple Watch Series 1

Verdict: Don’t buy.

EY: Don’t Buy. See above.

TB: Pass. Smartwatches are still a novelty to me. Knowing my heart rate and getting wrist-bound notifications is pretty nice, but until Spotify gets an Apple Watch app, I’m not entirely sold.

What Others Are Saying:
• “For me personally, I’ve mostly used my original Apple Watch for the last two years for checking the time and staying on top of Facebook Messenger, Slack, text, and email notifications. I hardly ever use apps directly on the device itself, and I rarely use the Glance feature to control music or check the weather when those are tasks I’d more easily be able to do from my phone screen… So I don’t think I’ll be getting a Series 3, at least not while the device on my wrist today keeps functioning at more or less the same efficiency.” — Nick Statt, The Verge

• “If you don’t need LTE connectivity or a GPS for fitness tracking, and you just want an attractive smartwatch that offers the best experience when paired with an iPhone, Series 1 is still a decent device. It’s also much more affordable at $249.” — Killian Bell, Cult of Mac

MacBook

Verdict: Buy if you need a mouse or trackpad to work efficiently.

EY: Buy. Kaby Lake processors, the latest-generation Intel processors, make these computers much faster. And they’re ridiculously light. The coming iterations of the MacBook function as, for the next several years, what the MacBook Air has been in prior years. Also, definitely purchase this over the iPad of you want something as light as an iPad but you need a pointing device and are more accustomed to macOS.

TB: Don’t buy. The MacBook walks the line between the high-end MacBook Pro and the more affordable Air. I’d suggest going one way or the other. Anyway, the MacBook’s claim to fame is its slim, lightweight and portable design, but the even those differentiators are minimal when compared to the Pro and Air.

What Others Are Saying:
• “Since the MacBook is designed with portability in mind, it doesn’t have a fast processor. Its performance is a bit faster than the MacBook Air, but it lags behind the thirteen-inch MacBook Pro.” — Roman Loyola, Macworld

• “But our biggest complaint concerns the twelve-inch MacBook’s price: It’s significantly slower than the cheapest current MacBook Pro, with a smaller screen and fewer ports, at a price that’s only $200 lower for similar storage. We understand that people always pay for portability, but we’re looking forward to seeing the 12-inch MacBook come down in price.” — Dan Frakes, The Wirecutter

MacBook Air

Verdict: Don’t buy.

EY: Don’t buy. … Unless you work for a .org or .edu. I believe the current generation of the MacBook Air is one of Apple’s most prevailing devices of the last 10 years. They’re everywhere. Nearly everyone I know who has an Apple laptop has recently had a MacBook Air. But 72 DPI screens are yesterday’s news, and the svelte new MacBook makes the Air seem downright portly. These will be the machines we disconnect from the internet and let our toddlers pound on in a few years. We’ll remember them fondly, but that doesn’t mean you should buy one.

TB: Don’t buy. Pretty much everything the Air has is bettered by what the new MacBook Pro (sans Touch Bar) has — it’s even thinner, lighter, more powerful with a better-looking display. If you’re cost-conscious and just looking for something to answer emails, read the news and check Facebook, I’d suggest a cheap-yet-dependable Chromebook.

What Others Are Saying:
• “The MacBook Air is the cheapest notebook in Apple’s lineup at $999, especially now that the eleven-inch $899 MacBook Air has been retired. It has something else big going for it: about 10.5 hours of battery life on our tests, which makes it one of longer lasting ultraportables. That kind of endurance and pricing makes the Air a good option for students.” — Mark Spoonauer, Laptop Mag

• “All told, even with the slight processor boost, the MacBook Air is still fundamentally a laptop from 2015 with a design from 2010. It was a wonderful general-consumer laptop for a remarkably long time, but it stood still as the years passed.” — Jeff Dunn, Business Insider

MacBook Pro (Sans Touch Bar)

Verdict: Buy, but if you’re not in a rush, wait.

EY: Don’t Buy. Tucker is right: the MacBook Pro without Touch Bar is the best-value MacBook Pro. For its price, it’s well equipped and has tactile function keys. That said, I’d wait for the next processor and spec refresh if you’re not in dire need of a new computer. If you need a computer in the next month, the MacBook Pro is a solid machine.

TB: Buy. I tested both of the new MacBook Pro models (with and without the Touch Bar) and ended up buying this one. Sure, price was a factor. Additionally, the Touch Bar felt like overkill. But the biggest thing was that my five-year-old Pro was on its last legs and I couldn’t convince myself to switch over to a Windows 10 device.

What Others Are Saying:
• “All of that said, this machine seems to be between a rock and a hard place. It’s too expensive for MacBook Air owners to upgrade with no questions asked, and it lacks the Touch Bar and the power to make it worth it for those willing to depart with the additional cash. It’s certainly not a bad laptop by any stretch of the imagination, it’s just a little…boring, and more expensive than I think is justified.” — Jeff Benjamin, 9to5Mac

• “The 13-inch MacBook Pro without Touch Bar is an achievement in industrial design that fulfills Apple’s commitment to usability and user experience. It is a happy middle ground between the thin-and-light twelve-inch MacBook (MacBook Air is going away very soon, folks) and Apple’s top-of-the-line 13- and 15-inch MacBook Pro models with Touch Bar.” — Mikey Campbell, Apple Insider

MacBook Pro with Touch Bar

Verdict: Wait until the next refresh.

EY: Don’t Buy. I want to love the new MacBook Pro with Touch Bar so much. The idea of the Touch Bar, Space Gray, and the computer’s new form factor are irresistible. But after using one after the June refresh I’m disappointed to report that mine, and evidently others, appear to have reliability issues that simply weren’t there with the last generation of Apple devices. The High Sierra update has provided more stability to my device, but paired with an LG 5K Ultrafine display, the MacBook Pro with Touch Bar has been a very different experience compared to my previous setup, a 27-inch iMac Retina 5K. I’m sure Apple will work out the kinks soon, including the crash-prone Touch Bar. If you’re not desperate to upgrade, consider waiting for the upcoming refresh.

TB: Don’t Buy. The Touch Bar takes some getting used to and isn’t worth the additional cost.

What Others Are Saying:
• “The Touch Bar might not be the reason to buy the MacBook Pro, but it’s certainly a deal-sweetener.” — Michael Passingham, TrustedReviews

• “Do you desperately need a new laptop right this second? If not, wait. Run your current (and probably still excellent) machine into the ground, then buy a new one. In a year or two USB-C accessories will be everywhere, developers will have figured out what the Touch Bar is good for, and Apple may even give the Pro spec bump.” — David Pierce, Wired

iMac Pro

Verdict: N/A

EY: We’ll see. I’m excited about this one. Most “normal” users benefit from the commoditization of Apple devices that are replaced every couple of years and have minimal upgrade capabilities. The devices are built better and (probably) more reliable, but pros need options, so a sealed iMac Pro begs consideration and better pre-planning when you’re speccing out your machine. But, from what Apple is touting (up to 18 processor cores and 16GB of video memory) it seems like the iMac Pro will be the machine to buy this December until the new Mac Pro is revealed. The gravy is the space gray color (and exclusive matching peripherals).

TB: As beautiful (5K display!) and powerful (upgradeable to an 18-core processor) as it is, I don’t have the creative skills or responsibilities necessary to get the most of the iMac Pro. If I were a graphic designer, however, I’m sure I would be all over this.

iMac

Verdict: It’s safe to buy one right now, but if you’re not in a rush, consider waiting for the refresh.

EY: Buy. The choice is simple. If you need a desktop, the iMac is a consistent no-brainer. Just decide how big of a screen you need and configure it to taste. Done. I don’t recommend comparing the iMac to a laptop-and-screen setup; they’re two different ways to work. There hasn’t been a lot of coverage about the iMac 21.5-Inch Retina, but I’ve seen used it in person and it’s a great machine that’s underappreciated for its price.

TB: Don’t buy. I don’t need a desktop, and if I wanted a bigger screen for my laptop, there are 4K monitors I could buy for a fraction of the price.

What Others Are Saying:
• “Although 2015 sounds recent, the tech used in those models has been around even longer, and seems to have aged rather quickly. The average user probably shouldn’t splurge on these machines for basic tasks like web browsing and media streaming, but there’s definitely a market for this sort of power and feature set.” — Matthew Buzzi, PCMag

• “You can get a lot of life out of your desktop computing by turning your brand new MacBook Pro into your workstation with the cost of a display screen, which could be a lot easier on the pocketbook than a full iMac purchase.” — Lory Gil, iMore

HomePod

Verdict: N/A

EY: We’ll see. I’m optimistic, but the Amazon Echo is damn good.

TB: Pass. Apple’s smart speaker is unfortunately too late to the game. Even if you’re super invested in Apple’s ecosystem, there are other options. The Sonos One speaker, for example, will gain AirPlay 2 support (and also Siri) sometime in 2018, so you’ll likely be able to control your Sonos speakers by saying either “Hey Siri” or “Alexa.” It’s just a more convenient option — and that’s coming from somebody who owns several Sonos speakers.

AirPods

Verdict: Buy.

EY: Buy. This is a product worthy of a Steve Jobs presentation, and one I’m confident Apple has had in the works for many years but held off on releasing until they got the software and pairing right (the W1 chip that makes Bluetooth actually work). I don’t mean to sound hyperbolic, but the AirPods are the greatest product Apple has released since the iPhone.

TB: Buy. If you love the original EarPods, then you’ll love these. They fit the same way, and no, they don’t fall out of my ears, though I wouldn’t recommend working out with them, as they’re not water resistant. They work best with the iPhone, but you can still use them with any Android device via standard Bluetooth.

Read our review of Apple AirPods, here.

What Others Are Saying:
• “Of course, sound is the most important quality for any audio equipment. Apple’s AirPods are sure to please casual listeners looking for a reliable pair of wireless earbuds. Unless you’re a hardcore audiophile, the rich, clear sound quality will be more than satisfactory. Through the AirPods, music sounded well-balanced, with just enough bass to add depth without feeling overwhelming.” — Lisa Eadicicco, TIME

• “The ability to constantly charge AirPods is comforting, but the battery life of the AirPods themselves is also fantastic. I got every bit of the five hours Apple promises, and that’s not even considering the fact that you’re almost never going to use these for five hours straight.” — Sean O’Kane, The Verge

Apple TV 4K

Verdict: Buy if you have or are planning to get a 4K TV.

EY: Buy. There’s much to love about the Apple TV 4K and none of it is actually new. The 4K resolution and HDR compatibility are great, and even glorious if you have a properly equipped TV. The new tvOS is handsome and the implementation of Siri here has convinced me that voice control is the future. It’s a bit more pricey than the competition, but it’s worth every penny. In many ways, the Apple TV 4K does exactly what Apple touts, it just works. I’m planning to get one for every TV I have (all two of them).

TB: Pass. The new Apple TV 4K has a lot going for it. It supports 4K HDR video, and if you’ve purchased HD movies on iTunes, Apple will upgrade them to 4K HDR quality for free. But, frankly, there are too many cheaper 4K streaming options out there for most people to need this.

What Others Are Saying:
• “If you’re an ‘Apple person’ with a nice TV and a yen for improved image quality, the Apple TV 4K is definitely worth getting — and if you already own the non-4K one and you have cash to spare, it’s a good excuse to kick that box to a secondary room.” — CNET

• “While Apple hasn’t done a bad job generally of making a decent amount of 4K HDR content available from the Apple TV 4K’s launch, there are a few problem areas. Perhaps the worst of which is the lack of support for HDR or 4K playback from the world’s biggest video content platform, YouTube.” — John Archer, Forbes

Apple TV (Fourth Gen)

Verdict: Don’t buy.

EY: Don’t buy. You may not have a 4K TV now, but you will. Don’t purchase this one unless you plan on sticking with a 1080p TV for a while. Plasma TV and Pioneer Elite TV owners, you know who you are.

TB: Pass. I have a fourth-gen Apple TV and it works great. However, it’s not worth it if you have a 4K TV. And it’s pretty expensive compared to the streaming devices made by Google, Amazon and Roku.

What Others Are Saying:
• “If you don’t have a 4K TV anyway, then definitely don’t upgrade [to the Apple TV 4K] — you won’t get any benefit from the new model.” — Dominic Preston, Macworld