The latest 13-inch Apple MacBook Pro ($1,499) is the least expensive model in Apple’s high-end laptop line. The redesigned ultraportable resembles the 12-inch MacBook, and features a 6th Generation Intel Core i5 processor with Intel Iris graphics and a Retina display with more lifelike colors. But what’s really notable is the new chassis with a wider trackpad, two USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports, and a keyboard with butterfly switches similar to the MacBook’s. The $1,799 version of the 13-inch MacBook Pro and the 15-inch model come with the line’s most innovative feature, an auxiliary touch screen called the Touch Bar, but this entry-level model has traditional function keys. In any case, the base model is a worthy replacement for a five-year-old MacBook Pro or Air, but be prepared to buy a docking station or dongles to connect your peripherals. This is the way professional-class MacBooks will look and feel for the next few years, and longtime Mac users will have to adapt, like it or not.
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Design and Features
The new MacBook Pro line is available in two finishes: traditional matte silver and Space Gray (like our review unit). The all-aluminum body feels sturdy, as if carved out of a single block of metal. The Apple logo on the top lid is now opaque and reflective silver, as it is on the MacBook. No longer will keynote speakers and professors have to stare into a sea of glowing Apple logos.
The 13-incher measures 0.59 by 11.97 by 8.36 inches (HWD), and weighs 2.99 pounds. If you have a laptop bag or a sleeve that fits the 13-inch MacBook Air, this one will fit inside too, as it’s even thinner. If you dig on Apple’s site previous iterations of the thicker Apple MacBook Pro along with the MacBook Air continue on in their less-expensive, 2015-refreshed configurations for the time being, but if you want the new improved screen and faster processors, you’ll need to embrace the new chassis design.
This MacBook Pro, as with the previous model, has a 13.3-inch, 2,560-by-1,600-resolution Retina display. There is no matte screen option, to quell reflections in bright rooms. The display is rated at 500 nits, which is brighter than the 250- to 350-nit displays on competing laptops (for example, the HP Spectre 13 is rated at 300 nits, but the top dog Dell XPS 13 Touch is rated at 400 nits), so it could theoretically overpower those reflections with internal light. The MacBook Pro does look brighter than rivals, especially when the screen backlighting is cranked all the way up.
The screen has a DCI-P3 color gamut, which displays truer-to-life colors than the last MacBook Pro’s display, which is closer to the sRGB color space. What this means is that you’ll be able to see more colors on the screen, which is of course important to animators, illustrators, photographers, and videographers. For example, reds and greens look brighter and more vibrant on the updated Retina display. You’ll have to jump up to pricier laptops like the Dell XPS 15 Touch if you want DCI-P3 color fidelity in a Windows-based competitor.
The display scales the user interface and icons to 1,440-by-900 resolution, and uses the extra pixels to smooth text so letters and numbers look sharp. Competitors have higher-resolution screens; the Dell XPS 13 Touch’s, for example, is 3,200 by 1,800, and the display on the New Razer Blade Stealth is 3,840 by 2,160 (4K). In any case, the MacBook Pro is ready to display and edit scaled 4K video captured with the Apple iPhone 7 or D-SLRs compatible with the DCI-P3 color gamut. If you need to edit 4K video in native resolution, the MacBook Pro will drive one 5K monitor or two 4K displays simultaneously. Unfortunately, you can’t use the 27-inch iMac as an external 5K display, because the iMac doesn’t support Target Display mode the way non-Retina-display iMacs do.
Perforated speaker grilles flank the keyboard. Last year’s MacBook Pro hid the speakers in the side cooling vents. There is excellent audio separation, with the left and right channels projecting distinct sound that make the stereo speakers seem like they are a few feet apart. There isn’t a whole lot of bass, but there is some low end, and the speakers can fill a medium-size room with distortion-free music or movie sound. The previous model was no slouch, but the directional speakers work better in environments where you don’t have a flat surface to bounce the sound back to your ears (such as when using the MacBook Pro on your lap).
As mentioned above, more expensive MacBook Pro models (starting at $1,799) come with Apple’s new Touch Bar, which replaces the function keys with a wide touch screen with an integrated Touch ID sensor. The Touch Bar adapts to different functions in each app you use, but on this lower-priced model you get a regular version of the keyboard with traditional function keys. We’ll test the Touch Bar feature extensively when we review the 15-inch MacBook Pro in the coming weeks.
Speaking of the keyboard, it uses second-generation butterfly switches. They are similar to those on the 12-inch MacBook, but they feel as if they have a little more travel. It’s still a very shallow keystroke compared with that of most laptops’ keyboards, so if you’re a heavy typist, you’ll want to give it a test drive before committing, if you can. The keys are admittedly better at detecting off-center key presses than those on a traditional keyboard. You can definitely feel the difference, but I got used to it fairly quickly. When I switched back to a five-year-old MacBook Pro after typing this review on the new laptop, the older keyboard felt like its keystrokes were too long. Backlighting helps you find your way around the keyboard in a darkened room, and an ambient light sensor adjusts the brightness to match the environment.
The trackpad is 46 percent larger than the previous model’s. It’s almost large enough to be a drawing surface, but unfortunately it’s not designed to be used with the Apple Pencil for the iPad Pro. Like the MacBook and the previous generation MacBook Pro, this system uses Force Touch technology for haptic feedback so it feels like you’re clicking physical mouse keys under the trackpad. It responds quickly to multitouch gestures, and you can also add a little more pressure to your finger presses to Force click for additional contextual functions in many apps. In Google Chrome, for example, a Force click brings up standard dictionary and Wikipedia lookup, but the same gesture doesn’t do anything in, say, Microsoft Word.
If you opt to use an external wired keyboard or mouse, you may need to consider a docking solution, as the MacBook Pro now uses USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports exclusively. There are two USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports on the left side of the laptop, and there’s a 3.5mm headset jack on the right side as well. That level of connectivity is similar to what you’ll find on the HP Spectre 13, which has two USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports and one USB-C–only port. Both USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports work with the included AC adapter to charge the laptop. It’s not as klutz-friendly as the older MagSafe charging port, but it is an industry standard that’s being adopted by PC makers like Acer and HP.
Apple says that the USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports can pass signals though adapters to DisplayPort, Gigabit Ethernet, HDMI, Thunderbolt 1 or 2, PCIe, USB, and VGA, but that would mean a lot of dongles (or a fat travel dock) if you regularly connect to a lot of different peripherals. On the plus side, if you have a third-party USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 monitor or desktop dock, you can just use one cord to connect to the rest of your peripherals. Speaking of Thunderbolt, you can purchase a Thunderbolt 2–to–Thunderbolt 3 adapter from Apple for $49 if you have older peripherals like the Apple Thunderbolt Display or hard drives.
I’d rather have at least one USB 3.0 Type-A port. The New Razer Blade Stealth, which is thinner than the MacBook Pro (0.51 inch), includes one, as well as an HDMI port; and the Dell XPS 13 Touch is only barely thicker (0.6 inch), but has one USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 port and two USB 3.0 ports. Be ready to buy plenty of new adapters if you have a lot of legacy peripherals like drawing tablets, wired printers, displays, other input devices, and external storage.
The MacBook Pro comes with 8GB of RAM and a 256GB solid-state drive (SSD), though you can opt for up to 16GB of RAM and up to 1TB of SSD space at purchase. RAM can’t be upgraded in the future, so choose wisely. As on all Macs, several apps come preinstalled, including iTunes, iBooks, Keynote, Numbers, Pages, and Photos. The system comes with a one-year warranty with 90 days of phone technical support, though you can purchase AppleCare+ ($249) for three years of extended warranty coverage. You can also receive Genius Bar support at an Apple Store for free after the warranty ends, but you will likely have to pay for repairs.
Because of its Intel Core i5-6360U processor with integrated Intel Iris 540 graphics, the MacBook Pro showed strong performance on our multimedia tests like HandBrake (2 minutes, 10 seconds), Photoshop (4:23), and CineBench (306 points). It placed a close second to the New Razer Blade Stealth on the Handbrake test (2:03), and was in competitive company on CineBench and Photoshop.
Its Iris graphics helped the MacBook Pro achieve top frame rates on our gaming tests, both on Heaven (33 frames per second, or fps, at 1,366 by 768 with the graphics quality set to Medium, and 14fps on Ultra at native resolution) and Valley (35fps on Medium, 14fps on Ultra). Those translate into playable frame rates at the lower resolution, and at least 10fps faster than any other competitor on all four 3D tests. What this means is that the MacBook Pro has the power to play 3D games at moderate quality settings after you’ve spent all day working.
The MacBook Pro easily beat Apple’s claims of 10 hours of battery life, lasting almost 12 hours on our rundown test (11:53). That’s longer than the MacBook (11:37) or the 2015 version of the MacBook Pro (11:10), but the all-time leader is still the MacBook Air (17:36). Some Windows laptops are longer lasting, too, like the Asus ZenBook 3 (12:07) and the Microsoft Surface Book (15:41), but most have less stamina, like the the Dell XPS 13 Touch (7:07), the HP Spectre 13 (8:36), and the New Razer Blade Stealth (9:20).
Overall, the MacBook Pro is impressive, with improved screen quality and battery life over the previous model, and its use of 6th Generation Intel processors helps boost performance as well. Troubling though, is the move to USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 and the removal of on-board ports for Thunderbolt 2 and USB 2.0/3.0 (Type-A) devices. On the bright side, other PC makers are adopting USB-C and Thunderbolt 3, so many more compatible peripherals will be available soon. But should you buy one?
If you’re looking for a new laptop for multimedia work, it should be on your short list, yes. But if you have a lot of legacy peripherals, we can’t help but think that you’re probably better off with a system with more versatile connectivity, like the Dell XPS 13 Touch, our Editors’ Choice for high-end ultraportable laptops. If you don’t want to make the move to Windows, however, last year’s 13-inch MacBook Air and MacBook Pro are still available at their 2015 prices; you’ll just have to scroll a little further down on Apple’s website to find them.
The 12-inch MacBook will continue to be updated, and will eventually become the base Apple ultraportable, though at $1,299 it qualifies as a high-end ultraportable in our eyes. If you need a larger screen with discrete graphics and a faster processor, stay tuned for our review of the 15-inch MacBook Pro with the new Touch Bar in the coming weeks, once it’s available for sale.