Apples entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro would be considered an exciting, if not innovative, laptop, if it wasnt for the fact that Apple already teased us with the Touch Bar-sporting version.
Instead, the $1,499 MacBook Pro comes across as a strong, sexy upgrade for budget-minded MacBook Pro owners. To get the bells and whistles of the fascinating Touch Bar, two additional Thunderbolt-3 ports and even a faster Core i5 processor, youll have to pay at least $200 more.
The new 13-inch MacBook Pro looks like a cross between the venerable MacBook Pro circa 2012 and the edgier and much lighter 12-inch MacBook introduced in 2015.
At a glance, the profiles of the two MacBook Pros are virtually identical, a reflection of Apples ongoing satisfaction with a portable design language it introduced in 2008. Since then, its been refining that theme.
This time, though, Apple wanted to boil down the MacBook Pro. The only way to achieve that kind of reduction, though, was to borrow heavily from the MacBook. Apple took all the system design lessons learned from the creation of the single-port ultraportable and poured them into the thinner, lighter and smaller MacBook Pro.
A familiar design
Externally, the new, 3-pound MacBook Pro is smaller and lighter (by a half a pound) than the last 13-inch MacBook Pro. Its also a simpler device, with fewer ports, seams, materials and even screws than the Retina MacBook Pro. Unlike the Touch Bar model, this entry-level device offers just three ports: a headphone jack (something Pro users may care about even more that iPhone owners) and two USB-C Thunderbolt 3 ports (there are still two microphones, but the holes are no longer visible on the chassis).
In addition, the hinge has been completely redesigned. No more black composite material showing inside the lid or on the bottom, just more aluminum. As you might suspect, the hinge design was also borrowed from the MacBook.
The most visible change is the redesigned keyboard. Like the original MacBook, the keys retain their chiclet style, however, the overall look and feel is virtually the same as what youd find on a MacBook.
Apple makes no secret of this. Its actually a second-generation butterfly keyboard, with slightly better travel technology underneath each key. Even though the keys are slightly closer together than on the last MacBook Pro, typing on it is satisfying and comfortable. It did not feel markedly different than what I found on the MacBook and its first-gen butterfly technology keyboard.
Its also worth noting that this is the only new MacBook Pro to still feature a traditional Function Key row, which also houses key system controls like screen brightness, the brightness of the keyboard backlight, playback controls, volume and power. How well the Touch Bar replaces all these keys we wont know until we test the MacBook Pro with the Touch Bar.
Right below the new keyboard is the gigantic trackpad, which is 46 percent larger than the trackpad on the last Retina MacBook Pro (the trackpad on the MacBook is larger than the one on the Retina MacBook Pro as well). Unlike a traditional trackpad, this glass-covered plane doesnt click when you press it. Haptic motors underneath make the sound and recreate the feeling of a click, but its all a perfectly engineered illusion.
I found the click a bit tinny, but got used to it and was pretty happy with the fake click feel. Unlike the new Touch ID “button” on the iPhone 7, the trackpad does have a little flex to it, which is more pronounced at the outer edges. Pressing the trackpad when the MacBook Pro is powered down is pretty strange. You get that flex, but no auditory or haptic response.
I did a lot of typing on the new system and, to my surprise, the giant track pad never got in the way. I really do wish Apple would add Apple Pencil support so I could draw on it.
Speaking of sound, its true, the startup tone familiar to most Mac users since the early 1990s is gone. Since most people rarely power down their Macs, they might not even miss it. What they should appreciate, though, is the ability to power up the system simply by opening the lid.
The new 13-inch MacBook Pro has the exact same 2,560 x 1,600 resolution as the last display, but this panel is far brighter (500 nits) and more color-rich (it has a wider color gamut) than virtually anything Apple has produced before for a MacBook Pro. Apple says the screen has 67 precent higher contrast ratio that the previous MacBook Pro. Every single person I showed the new display expressed astonishment at its brightness, color and clarity.
The monitor is also slightly larger and noticeably thinner than the display lid on the last MacBook Pro. No doubt Apple fans will miss the glowing Apple logo on the back, but Apple told me that that logo leaks a lot of light, which would have had an adverse effect on the thin Retina display.
The smaller chassis and sleeker design came at a cost. The new 13-inch MacBook Pro has just two USB-C ports (you get two more on the more expensive model). The Thunderbolt, USB, HDMI, and SD card slot are all gone. Yes, USB-C is versatile. You can plug in a jack in either direction and both ports can handle data and power effectively. However, youll need adapters for virtually all your legacy hardware and the entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro does not ship with adapters. Apple did supply me with one as well as a lengthy Thunderbolt cable.
In addition, the trademark MagSafe power connector is gone. If someone walked into your USB-C power cable while its plugged into the laptop, they might just drag your MacBook Pro to the floor.
Inside the entry-level MacBook Pro is a sixth-generation Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of DDR3 RAM and a 256GB solid-state drive. Single- and multi-core Geekbench numbers 3,754 and 7,268, respectively are in line with what youd expect for a midrange system.
In my experience, performance was solid and stutter free whether I was playing a game, browsing the Web or watching a video.
Apple has squeezed a lot into this tiny frame and even though it re-engineered the thermal system, I did notice the system occasionally getting pretty hot on the rear part of the base (nearest the hinge). It wasnt uncomfortable, but I could feel it.
Even with all those components squeezed in there so tight and very little air space, the new stereo speakers producers loud and crystal clear sound. A Netflix showing of DCs Legends of Tomorrow sounded excellent. It was so loud I had to close my door so I didnt disturb everyone else in the office.
Battery life was as good as advertised. I easily got 10 hours of mixed use.
Overall, the entry-level 13-inch MacBook is a satisfying and still sexy system with myriad improvements, but no signature innovation. It should attract budget-conscious MacBook Pro users (those who aren’t willing to switch to Windows where they can get a similarly appointed system for under $900) who think $1,799 is too much for a Core i5 MacBook Pro, even if it does feature that unusual new Touch Bar.
Entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro
Excellent design Great keyboard and trackpad Lighter and thinner than ever Beautiful Retina screen Solid performance Excellent battery life
No legacy ports No signature innovation You’re still paying an Apple premium
The Bottom Line
This is a smart and more affordable MacBook Pro upgrade in almost every way and would be considered a lot cooler if it wasn’t for the Touch Bar edition waiting in the wings.
Bonus: Everything you need to know about the new MacBook Pro
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