Macbook Pro 13-inch touch bar
"The MacBook Pro 13 with touch bar is beautiful, but flawed."
The screen is among the best we've tested
Loud, pleasant speakers
Spacious, responsive touchpad
Excellent hard drive performance
Adapters needed to connect most devices
The keyboard is below average
Touch bar has no obvious purpose
The battery life takes a step back
Editor's note: Apple launched a new 13-inch MacBook Pro in 2020 to replace the previous model.
The MacBook Pro 2016 redesign was, to put it lightly, disagreed. With its chic new touch bar, reduced connectivity, and sticky keyboard, the reception of the new model was not as warm as Apple had hoped for.
Many of these issues have been resolved with the new 16-inch model, which is the best Mac product in years. The problem? The 13-inch MacBook hasn't solved the problem yet, and not everyone needs the performance and size of this larger MacBook.
Fortunately, Apple cut the price of the 13-inch MacBook Pro in mid-2019 and lowered the base model (which now includes the Touch Bar) to $ 1,299. These include an 8th generation Intel Core processor, 128 GB SSD storage and 8 GB RAM. Is the current 13-inch MacBook Pro worth your money with an update coming soon?
Still the most luxurious laptop
A look at the MacBook Pro 13 is enough to know that it is a Mac. Despite the many imitators, the MacBook Pro design still stands out. This was all the more impressive when Apple decided to avert attention from its branding and paint the bright white apple in favor of a sleek, subtle glossy logo that resembles that on the MacBook, iPhone, and iPad.
As always, the MacBook Pro 13 has an aluminum unibody design with no visible seams other than the bottom seams. It is sturdy like a stone without a hint of bending in one corner of the device. That remains true, although it's only 3.02 pounds and only 0.71 inches thick. It's not as extreme as in 2016, but the MacBook Pro remains a very portable laptop to travel with.
Someone who wears the original Macbook like this
When this design was originally launched in 2016, the bezels looked slim and modern, although they weren't as aggressive as Dell. We noticed that users with the older Pro model appreciated the improvement.
The MacBook Pro is available in space gray or silver. The new MacBook Air also has the gold option in the mix. The color selection may seem petty, but it does add a touch of personality, and we hope Apple brings some of it to the MacBook Pro. Even Dell has expanded the XPS 13's conservative color scheme, and the HP Specter x360 also offers some fancy color options.
Regardless, there is no argument about the elegance of the MacBook Pro. The beauty of Apple design has always been subtle, which is why the company is sometimes accused of being safe or boring. The professional doesn't even try to avoid this criticism. It's not the smallest 13-inch laptop, nor the lightest. There's something to be said for design that works, even if it's not innovative, and the MacBook Pro remains the most luxurious laptop there is.
Although the MacBook Pro 13-inch has a headphone jack, it makes another connectivity option that is equally controversial and functionally more important. Apple has decided that USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 are the future, and has thrown every other port overboard.
Yes, USB-C is all you get. The MacBook Pro 13 with Touch Bar has four of these ports, two on each side. Even the card reader is missing. The decision has advantages. The ease of port selection is difficult to dispute, and each port is a charging port, so you can connect the wall adapter to any port. The ports are also fast, so you can connect multiple displays or use fast external SSDs without worrying about connectivity bandwidth.
You need adapters, and you may need many of them.
Now for the bad news: you need adapters, and you may need many of them. Are you using an external display? That is an adapter. External hard drive? Adapter. Any kind of wired input? Adapter. Ethernet? Adapter. SD card? Adapter. At best, you need to buy one or two dongles. In the worst case, you need a dock solution that can add another $ 100 to $ 200 to the price.
The greatest irony? Even Apple's iPhone cannot be connected to a MacBook Pro 13 without buying an adapter.
Thanks to Apple's lead, however, this has become the norm, whether good or bad. Laptops like the HP Specter 13, the XPS 13, and the Huawei MateBook X Pro now have similar connectivity options – and this will continue to be just the direction things are going.
At least it can communicate wirelessly. Speaking of which, the new Pro 13 has the usual 802.11ac WLAN adapter, which is now paired with Bluetooth 5.0.
The keyboard of the future is not very good
The 12-inch MacBook released in 2015, which has since been discontinued, has introduced a brand new "butterfly" switch that is much thinner than any previously used in a laptop keyboard. Although Apple found it great, we complained that "(our fingers) were typed with a dull ache for over an hour" because the keyboard feels stiff and can only be moved to a limited extent.
This keyboard is now also on the MacBook Pro. Well, not exactly the same thing. At the start, the keyboard of the Pro was a "second generation butterfly mechanism" with slightly more travel than the first. And it's an improvement.
Bill Roberson / Digital Trends
Bill Roberson / Digital Trends
That doesn't mean that it will serve you well. While travel has improved, the keyboard continues to suffer from a stiff, abrupt ground movement that can tire long typing operations. To what extent this will bother you is a matter of preference. Some Digital Trends authors thought this was perfectly acceptable and most thought they could learn to live with it. Nobody said they preferred the older MacBook Pros.
And it is not clear why this sacrifice was made. The new MacBook Pro 13 is thin, but just as thick or thicker than many competitors with better keyboards like the HP Specter x360, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon and the Dell XPS 13. Whatever the reason, Apple had to compromise on size , Performance and keyboard quality, with the latter getting the bad end of business.
The increasing complaints (and complaints) about sticking keys doesn't help either. Even with Apple's latest keyboard update, the third generation butterfly, it was clear that the problem with sticking the keyboard wasn't fixed. We expect Apple to use the new "Magic Keyboard" of the 16-inch MacBook Pro when the rumored 2020 update for the 13-inch model comes on the market.
The keyboard suffers from a stiff, abrupt ground movement, which can tire long typing processes.
A revised oversize touchpad is located under the keyboard. In contrast to the keyboard, this is an absolute plus. The spacious interface improves the usability of multi-touch gestures that work well throughout. While the new, larger surface means constant contact between it and your palms, we haven't noticed a single unintentional input during our tests. Windows touchpads have improved significantly in recent years, but are still not as luxurious as Apple's.
And don't forget Force Touch. The haptic feedback system, which uses vibrations to simulate a click, can emulate real movements so well that most users won't notice a difference. It is quieter than before without compromising the click's satisfactory clarity. The touchpad also offers sensitivity to force, which can enable special interface functions – just like the iPhone. The feature is not generally accepted even by Apple's own software, but is great when it is offered.
The touch bar searches for the purpose
If nothing else, the Touch Bar is great to look at. It has a retina-equivalent pixel density, which means that symbols are rendered with crisp, vivid graphics. And because it is OLED, black tones look so dark black that it is often difficult to find the limits of the touch bar.
So it stops as a conversation starter. As a functional tool? Fewer. Apple tries to integrate the Touch Bar in such a way that it is also relevant in everyday web browsers, when taking notes and when viewing photos. The display changes constantly when new apps are opened and old ones are closed. It works well and keeps pace, no matter how quickly apps are switched or how many are open.
Bill Roberson / Digital Trends
Bill Roberson / Digital Trends
However, it is rarely used a lot. At best, it offers a quick way to scroll through lists like your photo stream. This can also be useful if you want to scroll through a video. It's great for capturing such content and activating a scroll bar, even when you're surfing YouTube.
In other cases, however, it is clearly a solution that looks for a problem. Immediately stop typing. As you type text in Safari, Word, and other apps, the touch bar keeps flashing suggested words. This feature works well on iPhone, where typing is often slow and cumbersome.
It's not that easy on a laptop. For example, type "office" and the touch bar will suggest alternatives. Did you mean "officers"? Or maybe "off season"? This happens regardless of whether a word is spelled correctly or not. Even if you make a typo, it is hard to imagine why a user would look for help on the touch bar when MacOS is already showing a correction on the screen and in most cases will automatically correct the spelling.
Since its release, more and more apps have been offering touch bar support – including Evernote, Microsoft Outlook and LastPass. But even with more developer support than at startup, the touch bar isn't quite as important to the MacBook user experience as Apple would like it to be.
If nothing else, the Touch Bar is great to look at.
Even though it might be useful, the size of the touch bar is limited. Automatically opened Safari tabs with thumbnail content previews appear, a feature that may prove helpful. However, the preview images are so small that it is often difficult to distinguish the tabs from each other, even if only three or four are open. If you open six, eight, or ten tabs, the previews get even smaller until they are so small that it is difficult to guess which one is right. Similar problems affect the photo preview and video preview functions.
In theory, you can scroll through photo collections. In practice, this is more difficult than with the touchpad. Asus has developed a competing idea with the ZenBook Pro 15's ScreenPad. While this is not perfect, it does offer an enticing insight into something better than the Touch Bar. In the future there will even be fully equipped dual-screen laptops like the Surface Neo or the ThinkPad X1 Fold.
In short, the touch bar is not great. However, transferring the function line to an OLED display offers an important advantage called Touch ID. Yes, you can now sign in with your fingerprint and it works just as seamlessly as on iPhone. Fast and secure login authentication methods are a great way to improve security for the average user. Windows users have been enjoying this for several years thanks to Microsoft's Hello functionality. Touch ID is built into Apple Pay, so you can securely shop online – in stores that accept Apple Pay.
The most powerful function of the MacBook Pro: the display
A quick glance at the technical data could give the impression that the new MacBook Pro 13 from Apple had an old display. It's still retina, which means that the resolution is still 2,560 × 1,600. That was breathtaking in 2012, but today it seems mediocre alongside QHD + (3,200 × 1,800) and 4K (3,840 x 2,160) screens.
But don't worry, loyal to Mac. You can remove all concerns about the display from your head. It's awesome.
We measured a maximum brightness of 548 lux. This is ridiculously brilliant and a complete overkill for indoor use, but it can help the screen, which is still very shiny, can be used in extreme situations. In comparison, the Dell XPS 13 with QHD + display only achieves 278 lux and the HP Specter x360 355 lux. Both systems can have a problem with glare in bright lighting conditions. However, Dell gives you the option to combat this with a matte display option.
Bill Roberson / Digital Trends
Bill Roberson / Digital Trends
Brightness is only important in a bright room. What will amaze you no matter where you use the MacBook Pro 13 is its color. The display can achieve 100 percent of the sRGB color space and 91 percent of the AdobeRGB. It also delivered an average color error of 0.72 (lower is better). Everything under one is generally imperceptible to the human eye, and this reading is among the lowest we have ever recorded on a laptop. Only the XPS 15 from Dell with its excellent 4K IGZO ID display had a better average error value of 0.6.
The contrast ratio of 1,200: 1 is also excellent. The Pro can easily deliver dark blacks alongside brilliant colors.
The only error we found is gamma, which occurred at a value of 2.3. The ideal curve is 2.2, and the MacBook Pro 13's result indicates that the content is displayed a little darker than it should. However, this is a very slight fluctuation that many competitors also miss.
The Retina display may not be the headline of this professional, but it remains the most attractive feature.
When the numbers are counted, the new Retina display wins. It defeats the Dell XPS 13, the HP Specter x360 and the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon and surpasses them in terms of color gamut, color accuracy and contrast ratio.
But that doesn't mean that there is a lack of competition. Microsoft's Surface Book 2 can be used from head to toe in some categories. Our tests showed that the surface book had an even better contrast ratio of 1,460: 1 and that the gamma curve values were the correct 2.2. Nevertheless, they don't quite match in terms of color accuracy and brightness.
There are also a small handful of Windows systems like the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga that are available with OLED displays. These affect the high contrast ratio of the MacBook Pro 13 and offer an even wider color gamut with precise gamma. However, they don't match the Mac's ready-to-use color accuracy.
Aside from the numbers, the MacBook Pro 13's display is excellent and looks like this in everyday use. Games and movies are crisp and vivid, and high-quality photos are rendered with such detail that you may think your screen has been replaced by a canvas print. The Retina display may not be the headline of this professional, but it remains the most attractive feature.
Sound quality is another important multimedia feature, and Apple has always shown an affinity for audio quality that is rarely found elsewhere. Simply put, the MacBook Pro is no exception. In fact, the speakers are the best we can remember in a 13-inch system. That says a lot, because some newer laptops in this category, like the Asus ZenBook 3, surprised us with their quality.
The MacBook Pro 13 offers a wide range of volumes and is at most much louder than most people need for normal use. It can fill a large room with music. The bass is there and is taken into account in minimal but noticeable amounts – the beat can be felt at higher volumes via the keyboard. The sound in the high and middle range remains clear and distortion-free.
External speakers are an improvement as always, but the audio quality here is surprising and can convince you that you don't have to connect anything to the headphone jack.
A fast processor that faces tough competition
Specifications have never been Apple's focus, but this was more of a marketing problem than an indication of the company's preference for hardware. However, this has changed in recent years. The MacBook Pro fell behind and took over new Intel processor lines late.
When it was updated in mid-2019, we were glad that the MacBook Pro 13-inch was updated to the 8th generation Intel processors. Intel now has 10th generation processors in most new laptops, which means the 13-inch MacBook Pro already looks out of date.
Drive performance is often overlooked by consumers, but is important to the overall performance of a system. Apple knows this and has been a leader in storage performance for years. The new MacBook Pro range is no exception. Read speeds of 3.1 gigabytes per second and write speeds of 2.2 gigabytes per second are specified.
We can't do an apple-to-apple comparison with Windows competitors here because the tools we normally use to test performance aren't compatible with MacOS. However, we tested two benchmarks that only run on Apple's operating system.
In the first place was Blackmagic, a test to inform experts whether a drive is suitable for processing content with certain frame rates and resolutions. A write speed result of 1,348 megabytes per second and a read result of two gigabytes per second were achieved (annoyingly, this seems to be the maximum result that the benchmark can show). This is a big improvement over the MacBook Pro 13 with Retina (2015). It achieved a write speed of 647 MB / s and a read speed of 1,056 MB / s.
It is clear that the MacBook Pro 13 with Touch Bar offers excellent drive performance and can handle all of the workloads you want.
We also launched DiskMark. The sequential read performance was 1,826 MB / s and the sequential write performance 1,289 MB / s. We had never tested with this benchmark before. So take the numbers with a grain of salt. Still, they're good numbers and they pretty much match Blackmagic.
These benchmarks also do not run on Windows, so we cannot compare the hard drive performance from apple to apple. However, the numbers from CrystalDiskMark, our Windows test, indicate that Apple is at the top.
The Dell XPS 13 with 512 GB solid-state drive achieved a read speed of 1,893 MB / s and a write speed of 475 MB / s. The Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon, on the other hand, could keep up better with 2,121 MB / s and 1,832 MB / s.
If all of this sounds confusing, don't worry. While the numbers are outstanding, you don't have to be obsessed with them. It is clear that the MacBook Pro 13-inch offers excellent drive performance and can handle any workload that you ask of it. This is possibly the most future-proof component in the entire system.
Mac gaming is still a bad idea
As in most previous incarnations, the Apple MacBook Pro 13 is based on integrated Intel graphics. If you want a more powerful discrete graphics solution, you have to accept the MacBook Pro 16's larger footprint.
We launched Civilization VI and tested it on the MacBook Pro 13 with a resolution of 1,440 x 900 and on the HP Specter x360 with the same resolution, with a minimum of detail and memory consumption selected.
Bill Roberson / Digital Trends
Bill Roberson / Digital Trends
The game was identical on both sides – and bad – and delivered 21 frames per second above the in-game benchmark. However, the HP was the better experience because the Mac had graphics errors that were not present on the HP Specter x360.
If you're curious as to why the game is performing poorly with greater technical skill, blame Apple's OpenGL support, which hasn't been updated significantly in years. Instead, the company prefers Metal, its own API that can be used on both iOS and MacOS devices. The problem? Porting a game from the popular Windows DirectX API to Metal is unknown. Windows PC game developers don't have a good option for porting to Mac. The result is often an accomplishment that is less impressive than expected.
With games ported from iOS, like CSR Racing Pro 3, Super Octagon and Limbo, you're lucky. There is a fair selection of such games in the Mac App Store. You can also play some games that are available in Apple Arcade, but the Mac doesn't get the full library.
A smaller battery leads to sufficient endurance
While the MacBook Pro 13 has significantly improved processor performance, it has also significantly improved battery capacity. The previous model had a 74.9-watt-hour battery, but the 2016 MacBook Pro 13-inch was launched with a 49.2-watt-hour battery (the model without a touch bar has a slightly larger 54.5-watt-hour -Battery pack). That was a capacity reduction of almost 35 percent. In the 2018 update, the battery was increased to 58 watt hours, although Apple's lifespan estimates have remained unchanged.
If you want excellent portability, you should choose the Dell XPS 13 with 1080p display and Core i5 processor, the Asus ZenBook 13 UX333 or the HP Specter Folio. The best of all battery life options is the Surface Book 2 13, which had an amazing 17 hour battery life in our video playback test. The MacBook Pro 13 used to be the last word in battery life, but the new model – or at least the Touch Bar version – has lost the crown.
Apple's new 13-inch MacBook Pro is a gorgeous device, but it has some flaws that make it difficult to recommend. It doesn't have the performance of the MacBook Pro 16-inch or the new keyboard. Despite the recent price cut, it's a little too expensive for what's on offer, especially if you consider the other alternatives.
Is there a better alternative?
Both of the other MacBook options offer better values for what they are. The MacBook Air isn't that powerful, but it's great for students and affordable for just $ 999. The 16-inch MacBook Pro offers content creators fantastic multi-core performance.
If you are open to choosing between Windows 10 and MacOS, there are numerous competitors. The best part is the Dell XPS 13, which is faster, cheaper, and includes an option for a 4K display. It also includes much better battery life as long as you stay at 1080p. The 13-inch Surface Laptop 3, the HP Specter x360 13 and the ThinkPad X1 Carbon are all worthy competitors.
How long it will take?
Apple has control over the life of every Mac by determining which systems receive MacOS updates. A new MacBook Pro 13-inch should last as long as any Mac currently available.
With this MacBook in particular, the real danger is the keyboard, which has encountered considerable reliability problems. There's no way around it.
Should you buy it
No. The MacBook Pro 13-inch isn't a bad laptop, but you'll be disappointed with the outdated design, faulty keyboard, and high price tag.