Review: Apple's 13-Inch MacBook Pro Will Go the Distance
Apple's 13-inch MacBook Pro for 2017 now has battery life that matches the power of the hardware and the beauty of the design, even if it is still very expensive.
When the new, redesigned MacBook Pro was launched last year it came with relatively old chips -- Intel's sixth generation Core i5 or i7 processor and integrated graphics. While performance was arguably up to par with similar machines with the newer, improved seventh generation Core i5 and i7, one thing the 13-inch MacBook Pro fell short on was battery life.
A year on, a revised version of the 13-inch MacBook Pro is available and while nothing obvious has changed on the outside, it now comes with the seventh generation Intel chips and the new version of MacOS High Sierra -- and will get you through almost an entire working day without charge.
The MacBook Pro is a svelte, beautiful machine, available in silver or "space grey" aluminum. At 1.37kg it's about 80g heavier than Dell's touch-screen XPS 13, but about 160g lighter than Microsoft's Surface Book 2. It's a similar thickness to Dell's machine at its 15mm thickest point, but thinner than the Surface Book 2 at its 23mm thickest point.
The screen is one of the best fitted to a laptop, with good viewing angles, brightness and color accuracy matching the P3 color space, which is important if you're trying to edit images or video. The keyboard is still pretty noisy at full tilt and has little give when you depress the keys, but is accurate, with a solid feel. I like it, but some will hate it.
The Touch Bar will still prove divisive, with some saying it slows them down, but app support for it has grown dramatically, with most high-profile apps benefiting from custom keys. The Touch ID fingerprint scanner also works as advertised, and is certainly a useful addition, although now that the iPhone X comes with with Face ID it perhaps feels a bit of a stopgap for facial recognition.
The big pressure sensitive touchpad is arguably the best in the business -- you'll swear it moves thanks to the haptic feedback, but try it with the power off and you realize it doesn't.
•Screen: 13.3in LCD 2560x1600 (227 ppi)
•Processor: Intel Core i5 or i7 (7th generation)
•RAM: 8 or 16GB
•Storage: 128, 256, 512GB or 1TB
•Operating system: macOS High Sierra
•Camera: 720p FaceTime HD camera
•Connectivity: Intel Iris 650, Wi-Fiac, Bluetooth 4.2, USB-C, Thunderbolt 3, headphone
•Dimensions: 212.4 x 304.1 x 14.9mm
Longer Battery Life
The 2017 13-inch MacBook Pro has enough power for pretty much anything most people will want it too, while the new macOS High Sierra significantly speeds up some functions such as moving files. It's at home editing video, photos and generally creating media. Even a light bit of editing video in 4K will be perfectly manageable, but anyone seriously attempting to use the 13-inch MacBook Pro to do heavy video or VR creation will probably find the integrated Intel Iris 650 graphics card a little anaemic.
Having said that, it was capable of a light bit of gaming, managing to run the graphically demanding XCOM 2 on low detail and resolution settings with acceptable frame rates.
Testing the new 13-inch TouchBar model with a Core i5 processor and 8GB or RAM, the biggest change for 2017 is longer battery life. The 2017 13-inch MacBook Pro gave me two hours more battery life than the 2016 MacBook Pro did while using both macOS Sierra and similar with the newer macOS High Sierra, lasting just under eight hours between charges when used for a full working day. That included using screen at around 70% brightness and having between five and 10 tabs open in two instances of Chrome, as well as Typora for text, Wire for chat, Mac Mail for email, Reeder for RSS feeds and Pixelmator open intermittently for image editing when required.
That's a solid improvement over the older model and nipping at the coat tails of the competition, such as the seventh-generation Core i7 Dell XPS 13, which routinely managed just over eight hours under the same usage conditions.
What hasn't changed is the lack of non-USB-C ports. A year on the situation isn't much different. Having four USB-C ports is great, particularly as they all support Thunderbolt 3 and can charge the machine. Connecting displays and other non-USB peripherals using USB-C is fine, but it's the odd USB-A flash drive, card reader or similar that becomes more difficult. It would be nice to just have just one USB-A port.
The 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar starts at [about $1,800]. A non-Touch Bar version is available for [about $1,300].
For comparison, Dell's XPS 13 with a comparable screen and 8th generation Core i5 starts at [about $1,750], Microsoft's Surface Laptop starts at [about $1,000], while the Surface Book 2 starts at [about $2,000].
The 13-inch MacBook Pro is one of the most refined powerful laptops available. There are certainly cheaper options that are also excellent, but none of them have quite the same combination of build quality, excellent keyboard, massive trackpad and extensive selection of USB-C ports.
The newer Intel chips mean one of the downfalls of the previous model has been significantly improved. Under eight hours of battery life is still quite far off the ideal of at least 10 hours, but is much closer to the competition and will just about do light work for a full day for most people.
It's still very expensive, still lacking a USB-A port, there's still a question of whether it's "pro" enough for professionals and now there are more powerful eighth generation Intel chips available in rivals. But the 13-inch MacBook Pro is still one of the nicest computers you can buy. Using it is a genuine pleasure, and thankfully it now lasts long enough I can finish my work without reaching for a plug.
Pros: beautiful, great screen, Touch Bar, Touch ID, massive trackpad, thin and relatively light, USB-C, OK battery life Cons: no USB-A ports, no ethernet, no native display ports, no upgrading after purchase, very expensive
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Image credit: Product shot by Apple.