Introduction, Design Features
The MacBook Pro has been a mobile icon for over a decade now. In all that time, it hasn’t strayed far from its roots, and that’s a good thing. Its rounded all-metal exterior, sleek lines, and the half-eaten fruit on the back of the lid are timeless design elements. On the PC side of the equation, the only brand that has maintained a design as consistently as Apple is Lenovo with its (and before that, IBM’s) ThinkPads. As a matter of fact, we just reviewed the ThinkPad 25 Anniversary Edition, a tribute to the original ThinkPad model that debuted in 1992.
Getting back to the Apple side of the equation, the problem with the MacBook Pro’s design is that it has largely looked the same from generation to generation. And with Apple’s latest product design, the MacBook Pro looks just like the regular MacBookMacBook Air. To further complicate things, did we mention that the MacBook Pro is now offered in two sizes?
So here’s an easy way to think about it. The base MacBook is a 12-inch ultraportable that’s good for everyday usage. The venerable MacBook Air is a larger 13-inch model that’s a bit more powerful than the regular MacBook, though it’s showing its age at this point. Finally, you have the MacBook Pro. It’s the most high-tech notebook that Apple offers, with the fastest processors and graphics silicon. It has “Pro” in its name for a reason.
We’ve already taken a look at the 13-inch MacBook Pro (2017, Touch Bar Version). Although it might seem like we’re reviewing the same model again, the non-Touch Bar version is a different computer in more ways than one. The $1,299 model we’re reviewing is the least expensive configuration you can buy. That amount of dosh buys you a speedy 2.3GHz Intel Core i5 processor, Intel Iris Plus 640 graphics, 8GB of RAM, and 128GB of storage. It has the same 13.3-inch 2,560×1,600-pixel screen that all 13-inch MacBook Pros of this generation have, as well as the latest macOS Sierra. You’ll have to shell out another $200 to double the storage to 256GB, and if you want the Touch Bar, you’ll need another $300 on top of that ($1,799). The Touch Bar version bumps you to a slightly faster processor and graphics, but there’s no denying it’s a lot of cash. That’s why we’re excited to review this base $1,299 model, which is priced much closer to its PC competition. Let’s take a look.
Sleek, classy, modern: Pick three, and you’ve perfectly described the appearance of the 13-inch Apple MacBook Pro…
This laptop is as much of a fashion statement as it is a work machine. There are lines only where there have to be, and no extraneous decorations or protrusions.
The Apple logo on the back of the lid isn’t backlit, but it has a mirror-like shine that’s impossible not to notice…
Apple offers the 13-inch Pro in two colors. Our review model is silver, but you can also get it in a slightly darker shade that Apple calls Space Gray.
The Pro’s build quality continues to impress us…
The chassis derives nearly all of its strength from its metal exterior. It feels about as solid as a piece of aluminum, because that’s largely what it is. There’s absolutely no flex in the base or the aluminum-backed lid. You can conveniently open the lid with one hand, something that not all PCs in this price range can do. The lid tilts back about 45 degrees beyond its upright position, as expected.
The underside of the chassis is almost featureless, save for the four round rubber feet…
They’re not overly sticky, so you can slide the Pro around on a tabletop with mild effort.
The base model of the 13-inch MacBook Pro has just two Thunderbolt 3 ports (with USB-C, DisplayPort, and charging functionality) along its left edge…
and a headphone/microphone combo jack at the back of the right edge…
That’s all, folks. Stepping up to the pricier Touch Bar-equipped model gets you another two Thunderbolt 3 ports along the right edge, but no variety. The simple truth is that if you want to connect something to this notebook with a wire, it needs to be in the form of a Type-C USB connector. Keep in mind one of the Thunderbolt ports will be taken up by the power adapter; Apple’s proprietary MagSafe connector is apparently gone for good. And the Type-C USB adapters aren’t cheap. A Type-C to Type-A (the standard rectangular port) USB adapter is $19 in the Apple store; a Type-C USB to Ethernet or VGA adapter is $35. We can’t imagine having this notebook without at least having the Type-A USB adapter. Although taking the Thunderbolt 3-only approach could be viewed as forward-thinking, it does kind of overlook the present, where Type-C USB is just starting to see mainstream adoption. We’ll take an extra tenth of an inch of thickness to get a Type-A USB port built into the notebook, please. There’s also no media card reader on this notebook.
The keyboard on the new MacBook Pro is a touchy subject…
It has a standard layout and backlighting, which is good; it’s the feel that gives us second thoughts. The key travel is so minimal that it barely feels like you’re pressing something down. As a matter of fact, it’s difficult to see the keys moving unless you put your eyes within a few inches of the keys and look while you’re typing. The pleasant tap-tap audible feedback from the keys is, we suspect, a big reason why the keyboard feels as communicative as it does. We had absolutely no trouble typing for extended periods, and with near-perfect accuracy, but we never fully adjusted to the limited key travel. Maybe we just needed to give it more time.
Missing from our base model MacBook Pro is the Touch Bar. We felt that feature was mildly useful at best in our last MacBook Pro review. As we noted in the intro, a Touch Bar-equipped Pro goes for $500 more than the base model. You get more than just the Touch Bar for that extra money, of course, such as extra storage, but the Touch Bar is largely the reason you’d consider spending that much more. Without the Touch Bar, the MacBook Pro has a standard F1 through F12 function key row (physical keys). The last button on the right is the power button, something that really ought to be its own button somewhere else on the chassis.
Touch interaction is something that Apple is a master at, and they aren’t shy about showing it off. The gloriously oversized trackpad dominates the palm rest, taking up almost every millimeter of vertical space below the keyboard. Gesture-based navigation in macOS Sierra is seamless. This trackpad also supports force clicking; in apps that support it, you can press down extra hard to get access to additional info and features. For example, in the Safari web browser, force-clicking a link pops up a small window with a preview of the page. It’s nifty, and it works well.
The 2017 13-inch MacBook Pro models all share the same display. There are no upgrade or touch options available, but it’s hard to imagine finding a better-looking display on a notebook this size. For one, the 2,560x,1,600-pixel resolution is extra fine. It’s not 4K, but it does have a very user-friendly 16:10 aspect ratio. This gives you more vertical working space than the 16:9 displays typically found on PCs.
We didn’t verify Apple’s claim of 500 nits of brightness, but we can say the top brightness on this display is borderline blinding in a dark room. In addition, the display supports wide color gamut. Apple says it supports 25 percent more colors than the sRGB spectrum, which we don’t have a problem believing. Pictures and anything with color look like they want to jump off the screen. In addition, the display also has wide viewing angles, a must-have feature if you’re going to do color-sensitive work. This way, the colors don’t shift when you look at the display from an angle.
The glossy surface is one thing we don’t like about this display. The reflections it shows can make it hard to work in well-lit environments, especially outdoors, but the display has plenty of brightness to drown them out if needed.
The FaceTime camera over the display is in the right place to capture your face. Its 720p resolution isn’t particularly high, but the picture quality looked fine to us.
The MacBook Pro’s speakers project upward from the grilles flanking the keyboard. It’s a great-sounding setup for a notebook of any size, let alone one this small. The volume level and perceived bass are what impressed us the most. We’re not sure how this setup sounds as good as it does, but we certainly aren’t complaining.
15-inch model in that it’s offered with dual-core Intel processors; the 15-inch model is in another performance tier thanks to its quad-core chips. That’s not to say the dual-core chips lack power. The 15-watt Core i5 and i7 CPUs offered in the 13-inch Pro are more than peppy for general tasks and mild multimedia work, like photo editing. For comparison, the 5-watt Core m3 and i5 processors in the standard MacBook aren’t nearly as powerful. (Look for our comparative benchmarks in the next section.)
Our 13-inch Pro had a 2.3GHz Core i5-7360U processor. The interesting part about this CPU is that it packs Intel Iris Plus 640 graphics with a 64MB eDRAM cache. The Touch Bar-equipped models include slightly faster processors that bump up the graphics to the Iris Plus 650. The Iris Plus graphics make the 13-inch MacBook Pro considerably more capable than the Intel HD 620 graphics typically found in notebooks like this. (For true dedicated graphics, the 15-inch MacBook Pro offers AMD Radeon GPUs.)
Apple offers various processor upgrades on the 13-inch MacBook Pro, although we think the base 2.3GHz chip that was in our review unit offers the best value. Even though you can get up to a Core i7, it’s still just a dual-core chip running at slightly higher clocks. (Only the 15-inch MacBook Pro has the Core i7 quad-core.) In essence, it’s still in the same performance class with the Core i7 dual-core. If a Core i5 dual-core struggles with something, a Core i7 dual-core probably will, as well.
The MacBook Pro comes with 8GB of RAM, but you can opt for 16GB when you order. Note the RAM is not upgradeable after the fact, so choose wisely. If you’re planning on doing a lot of photo editing and multitasking, the upgrade to 16GB is probably worth the cash.
The storage in the 13-inch MacBook Pro is limited to a single drive, and it’s not upgradeable after the fact, either. The model we’re reviewing has just 128GB of storage at its $1,299 price point. That’s a little thin by 2017 standards. That amount would work fine if you don’t have a lot of storage needs or rely on cloud or external storage. Apple offered up to a 1TB drive as we wrote this, but we think the $200 upgrade to the 256GB drive probably makes the most sense. The Dell XPS 13 (2016) also has just 128GB of storage in its entry-level configuration, but the upgrade to 256GB on that notebook is just $100. Either way, when equipped similarly, the Dell and the Apple machines were within $50 of each other, according to our mock-shopping spree.
For cooling, the MacBook Pro conceals two fans inside its chassis. The exhaust cutouts on the back of the chassis are almost totally concealed by the display hinge. We rarely observed the fans turning on during our usage. The chassis warmed up a bit while we were running our benchmarks, but didn’t get too hot to the touch.