Apple MacBook Professional 13-Inch Evaluation: For The Hobbyist

Macbook Pro 13-inch touch bar

"The new keyboard of the MacBook Pro makes it a worthy choice for aspiring creatives."

  • Industry leading display

  • Thin and light design

  • Excellent new keyboard

  • Hard-as-rock processing quality

  • Confusing processor selection

  • Average battery life

The MacBook Pro 13 plays a crucial role in the Apple product range. It's not a real "pro" laptop – that's the MacBook Pro 16. It's for the hobbyist. The amateur. The aspiring professional.

Let's be honest. The number of people who actually need professional services is relatively small, while hobby graphic designers, YouTubers, music producers and photographers are a dozen. It's a demographic group that includes some of Apple's biggest fans, and the MacBook Pro 13 shows why.

Price and configurations

The way Apple rates the MacBook Pro reflects the emerging hobby nature of this laptop. It is expensive. Even more expensive than before. The base model starts at $ 1,299, which sounds like a fair price.

Until you find that Apple sells old hardware in a new laptop. Except for the keyboard, this “new” MacBook Pro is identical to the one it sold a year ago.

This is not what other laptop manufacturers do. You can purchase the latest 10th generation processors in the Dell XPS 13, Surface Laptop 3, or HP Specter x360 in configurations starting at $ 1,200 or less. This is also not Apple's standard practice. The company tends to update its Macs more slowly than other companies. However, when a new model comes out, it often has the latest silicon.

And I can't imagine Apple launching a new flagship for iPhone or iPad that uses last year's processor. Instead, old designs are released with new processors like the iPhone SE.

This makes configuring a MacBook Pro a complete mess. Good luck choosing between the 8th generation Core i7 and the 10th generation Core i5. Oddly enough, it's the 8th generation that costs $ 100 more with a similar configuration. Apple charges you $ 200 for the modest leap from 8th generation Intel processors to 10th generation Intel processors. It also costs more for faster memory, perhaps when trying to sweeten the business with high-end models.

There is a glimmer of light in the new configurations. Warehouse. The base model now comes with a 256 GB SSD instead of 128 GB, and the $ 1,799 model has 512 GB. This is already the standard for many laptops, and I'm happy that Apple is following this example.

performance

One thing could change my bad impression of the MacBook Pro 13 hardware options. Performance. Maybe Apple has invented something special. This is possible because the 10th generation Intel Core chips in more expensive configurations are specific to the MacBook Pro.

My test device had the Intel Core i5-1038NG7, a 25-watt processor with four cores and eight threads. It is similar to the Intel Core i5-1035G7, a 15-watt processor that is used in many 13-inch laptops such as the Dell XPS 13, the HP Specter x360 and the Microsoft Surface Laptop 3.

Those 10 extra watts do bring some power, but as I've learned, it's a modest increase. The MacBook Pro 13 beats most other 13-inch laptops in Cinebench R20 and Geekbench 5 – especially laptops that don't put a heavy load on the CPU, like the Specter x360 or the Razer Blade Stealth. The Dell XPS 13 is a notable exception. It uses thermal tricks to push the processor more than others, and although it has a lower-performing chip, it outperforms the MacBook Pro 13 in most benchmarks.

The performance of the MacBook Pro 13-inch is a must for a hobbyist.

However, the MacBook Pro 13 strikes back in real applications. I encoded 4K video in Handbrake to H.265 in just over 3 minutes, which is 10 seconds faster than the Dell XPS 13. This is the best video encoding rating I've seen from a 13 inch laptop so far but not by much. This also applies to the $ 1,799 model with the 10th generation Core i5, 16 GB RAM and 512 GB storage.

This does not mean that the MacBook Pro is a content creation machine. Exporting a 4K 2-minute clip to ProRes 422 took a painfully long 16 minutes. The 16-inch MacBook Pro does this in about half the time thanks to more processor cores and a discrete graphics card. The problem is that starting at $ 2,499, the laptop is more than twice as expensive as the entry-level MacBook Pro. The $ 1,799 is priced in between, but not in terms of performance.

However, the MacBook Pro 13-inch will come over for a hobbyist. If you're producing music in logic, photography in Lightroom, or YouTube videos in Final Cut, the 13-inch MacBook Pro won't stand in your way too much unless you use the device with high resolutions or codecs. If you don't make a living from these applications, it's not possible to pay at least $ 2,499 for a laptop. In this case, you only have problems with hiccups or longer render times.

Of course, the MacBook Pro 13 can easily handle dozens of Chrome tabs, Slack, Spotify, and video streaming. If that's all you need to do, the cheaper MacBook Air is probably the better choice.

design

The four-year-old design of the MacBook Pro 13 is now being repeated for the fourth time. This is not unusual for Apple and is not necessarily a bad thing. There are areas where the MacBook Pro is still a leader. You can open it with one finger, but the screen isn't shaky. The speakers are unprecedented, blowing every other 13-inch laptop out of the water. They have more bass and a rich stereo spread that highlights details in songs like you've never heard in a laptop.

However, there are some wrinkles, including the screen bezels. With the MacBook Pro 16, Apple has reduced the frame in favor of a larger screen. This is less wasted space and more screen space. However, the MacBook Pro 13 is stuck with chubby bezels. Rumor has it that a 14-inch MacBook Pro is in the works that follows a similar approach, but is unlikely to be launched in 2020.

It has a super slim profile that dozens of laptops have tried but failed to replicate.

But you can't blame Apple for its unibody aluminum case. Many have tried to duplicate Apple's machined aluminum case. The Space Gray color scheme still looks fresh and sophisticated, especially when it sits next to light gray surface devices or one of the countless nondescript black laptops. I wish the MacBook Air's gorgeous gold finish was an option.

I also can't complain about the size. The MacBook Pro isn't the thinnest or smallest 13-inch notebook in the world, but it still feels slim. Without the setting next to the 0.58-inch XPS 13, it wouldn't be crazy to assume that the 0.61-inch MacBook Pro is thinner. The unibody structure gives it a super slim profile that dozens of laptops couldn't replicate.

The MacBook Pro 13's Thunderbolt 3 ports were a trendsetter when first released, but they're pretty standard today. The $ 1,799 model has four Thunderbolt 3 ports, while the $ 1,299 model only has two. In the cheaper model, Apple places both ports on the left side, which is somewhat impractical for charging purposes.

Display quality

The MacBook Pro series is a leader in display quality, although this image has slowly changed in recent years. The MacBook Pro 13's 2,560 x 1,600 screen is particularly sharp for a 13.3-inch screen. If you are used to a 1080p screen, you will immediately notice the difference in sharpness.

Laptops like the XPS 13 or Specter x360 now offer 4K screen options that are even richer in pixels and yet are just as bright, vivid and color accurate. The 4K Specter x360 is $ 500 cheaper while the XPS 13 is $ 140 cheaper. HP even offers an OLED option that offers incredible black levels that traditional LEDs can't match. These days, these screens are even better equipped than MacBook Pro for precise photo editing.

Rumor has it that Apple is investing in the next development of its display technology, the mini LED, but it looks like we have to wait further.

The magic keyboard and touch bar

In addition to the internal updates, the Magic Keyboard is the most important feature of the MacBook Pro. Is it a sad state? Perhaps, but on the one hand you can count how often Apple has reversed the course so sharply. It's big business.

I am not convinced that this will be Apple's last attempt to reinvent the keyboard, but at the moment it has withdrawn to a traditional design. Each key has a scissor switch, a rubber dome and a full millimeter of travel.

However, it is not a return to the MacBook Pro 2015. The keycaps are more stable and less shaky, and the keystrokes have a sharper click. It's fantastic – a quiet, comfortable keyboard that made me feel right at home. The reverse T-shape of the arrow keys is available again, as is the Esc key. All of this came first for the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro 16-inch, but I'm still happy.

The Magic keyboard is a quiet, comfortable keyboard that made me feel right at home.

The trackpad hasn't changed and it shouldn't. A lot of technical magic happened on the first design in 2016, and it's still the best trackpad on a laptop.

The touch bar is instead of the function line and has not grown as I hoped in recent years. It still freezes occasionally and I can't decrease my music or screen brightness. It is rarely useful and I often forget that it is there. I was thrilled when Apple introduced it in 2016. What an exciting innovation! Since then, however, Apple has done very little to develop a function that is considered necessary.

The Touch ID is still located in the top right of the touch bar and offers quick registrations and purchases for applying payments. I miss facial authentication in terms of Face ID or Windows Hello. The Mac is still the only major operating system that doesn't implement facial recognition.

Battery life

The current MacBook Pro has never had excellent battery life. You can expect a single charge to last around 6 to 7 hours, depending on how hard you push it. In my typical workflow for web apps, the average was 6.5 hours.

Compared to 1080p laptops like the XPS 13 or the Specter x360, the MacBook Pro breaks down. The XPS 13 should give you an extra 4 hours of battery life, which makes the MacBook Pro look rather weak in comparison.

However, once you jump on the 4K screen, the score is a bit more even. I haven't tested the latest 4K model of the XPS 13 yet, but in previous generations it lasted 45 minutes less than the MacBook Pro when surfing the Internet in the same battery test.

Our opinion

The MacBook Pro 13-inch is a mixed update. It fixes the problematic keyboard, but Apple's decision to stick with legacy hardware for entry-level configurations is a big issue. The design ages in some ways, but remains slim and can be compared well with most alternatives. The MacBook Pro gives you the feeling that you can do anything, but you only have the right tools if you choose the most expensive configurations – which are indeed very expensive.

Are there alternatives?

The best 13-inch laptop is the Dell XPS 13. It beats the MacBook Pro in most areas and looks just as good. Even the 4K model undercuts the price of the MacBook Pro.

If you're set up on a Mac, your other two options are the MacBook Air and the 16-inch MacBook Pro. Both offer better value for money than the MacBook Pro 13. The MacBook Air configured with the quad-core Core i5 is ideal for students and anyone who runs simpler applications. The MacBook Pro 16 is the best choice for serious creatives.

How long it will take?

The MacBook Pro 13 should last for at least five years. Apple is known for making extremely reliable products. However, if you buy the entry-level model for $ 1,299, this processor lags a year behind other new laptops you buy in 2020.

Should you buy it

Yes. It offers just enough extra power to be a solid option for aspiring creative professionals.

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