MacBook Pro 13-inch Overall Review: Not So Good

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MacBook Pro 13-inch Overall Review

Apple’s Macintosh product line goes back what’s almost an eternity: the first computer appeared in 1984, and they became Macs in 1998. That’s 32 and 18 years ago, respectively.

That’s some serious lineage to take into account for Apple, and many customers that have grown up with the brand over the years. Apple’s is now a top-five personal computer maker worldwide, and the MacBook Pro range comprises premium products that people have very high expectations of. Do they meet the expectations? I’d say so, but there are few misses.

The entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro I received to review is pitted against Apple’s MacBook Air which is a bit confusing; it’s thinner and lighter than the Air, which looks a little porky compared to the newer laptop. Slimness and lightweight didn’t use to be key MacBook Pro attributes though but they are now, and best expressed in the 12-inch MacBook.

Missing from the entry-level MacBook Pro is the Touch Bar.

MacBook Pro 13-inch  Specifications Review

This is a small screen that has its own ARM (not Intel) processor, and which runs a stripped-down version of the watchOS operating system apparently. Nor does lowest priced 13-inch MacBook Pro have the Touch ID fingerprint sensor that you get on the mid-range model that isn’t yet available.

Instead, it has the usual row of function keys that double up as the buttons to change things like volume and backlight, you miss out on two USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports and the memory is a bit slower at 1866MHz rather than 2133MHz on the pricier device (as an aside, the dual-core Intel Core i5 processors used for the MacBook Pros officially support only 1866MHz memory, but Apple got to cherry pick specially validated parts so on the costlier laptops, the memory runs at 2133MHz).

Other than that, Apple’s MacBook Air replacement is quite an upgrade. To start with, you get a new high resolution 2560 by 1600 pixel Retina display that’s very bright and contrasty, and which supports the wide-colour DCI-P3 gamut.

It’s not a 10 bits per hue display, only 8-bit Apple confirmed, but the colour dithering is done very well, and images and video on the new screen look fantastic and the Intel Iris Graphics 540 chip inside the main processor seems up to the task.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to stress the graphics subsystem with external 4K monitors but Apple tells me two such screens can be connected to the MacBook Pro at the same time, with the laptop display being active at the same time. Impressive if it works.

The low-profile keyboard uses the new butterfly keys and is great to type on. It’s an improvement on the same type of keyboard that was first introduced with the slimline and lightweight MacBook.

It’s impossible to be all things to everyone but Apple’s mistake, it seems, was that they didn’t release a new desktop system like an iMac or an uprated Mac Pro with the MacBook Pros.

You also get a biiiig Force Touch trackpad and 256 gigabytes worth of very fast solid state storage – up to 1TB is possible, but you need deep pockets as it costs a grand more; you can also upgrade the RAM to 16GB. Again that’s a steep-ish $340 more.

Some people have latched onto the MacBook Pros maxing out at 16GB of memory, incidentally but the malcontents miss that even The Mighty Apple has to live with the limitations set by Intel who makes the main chips for the computers.

Although the Intel processors in the MacBook Pros theoretically support up to 64GB of RAM, the practical limit is 16GB with today’s technology. Microsoft’s new Surface Book and Surfaced Pro 4 can’t go above 16GB either.

In the past, having lots of RAM helped boost performance as it meant the processor could avoid accessing slow hard drives for data; the SSD in the MacBook Pro is rated at 3.2 gigabytes per second, which is very fast indeed and means that for the majority of scenarios, you’ll be happy with 8 or 16GB of RAM.

Although it’s not an Apple to Apple comparison (sorry), it’s interesting to note that the new processor in the A10 Fusion chip set used in the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus is almost as quick per computing core as the Intel Core i5 6267U in the MacBook Pro.

In multi-core benchmarks the Intel processor is about 20 per cent faster, and the graphics are quicker too. Apple’s hardware design is getting better though, and Intel needs to watch out or the next MacBook Pro will have an ARM processor.

Not having an SD card reader wouldn’t matter so much if camera vendors and Apple could work out a way to transfer large image and video files easily using a wireless connection.

Some of the criticism levelled against the new MacBook Pros is valid though. The USB-C / Thunderbolt 3 ports are fast (10 and 40 gigabits per second, respectively) provide more power and allows up to six devices to be daisy-chained together – and you can charge MacBook Pro through them.

But, since devices with USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 are still rare, you need to pay for separate dongles or adapters. Apple could’ve provided a USB-C to Lightning adapter for connecting and charging iPhones at the very minimum with the MacBook Pro.

Not having an SD card reader wouldn’t matter so much if camera vendors and Apple could work out a way to transfer large image and video files easily using a wireless connection.

Long story short, device to device Wi-Fi transfers work. But, they’re clunky to use, often slow over 2.4GHz Wi-Fi, and no vendor does them the same way. Popping out the SD card from the camera and slotting it into a computer is much easier and faster in comparison.

Yes, you’ll want to add an SD card reader to your MacBook Pro dongle collection.

I’m also still mourning the death of Apple’s excellent MagSafe charging connector found on the MacBook Air. This stops clumsy people like me from pulling a charging laptop off tables when we trip over cables – the new USB-C connector in comparison holds the cable firmly in place. Oh well. Must be more careful.

The 720p FaceTime HD camera throughout the MacBook Pro range is adequate but when the opposition like Microsoft has not just one, but two 1080p high-definition imaging units on their laptops, it’s nothing to write home about. Given that Apple added some really good speakers to the MacBook Pro with excellent sound for their size, it’s mystifying why the camera wasn’t upgraded as well. Oh, and the 3.5mm headphone jack was retained on the new MacBook Pros.

MacBook Pro 13-inch Price Review

Then there’s the price of the MacBook Pros. The model I tried out with a 2 GHz processor, 8GB memory and 256GB storage costs $2,499 including GST.

Another $500 buys a 2.9 GHz processor, 8GB of faster memory, uprated graphics, two more Thunderbolt 3 ports (two of which are full speed), and more importantly, the Touch Bar and Touch ID.

You’d have to have some sort of physical function key fetish not to want the Touch Bar and Touch ID for your new MacBook Pro or aversion to the latter, but I’d try to stump up the $500 for the higher-spec model.

A New iMac or Mac Pro was Needed

It’s impossible to be all things to everyone but Apple’s mistake, it seems, was that they didn’t release a new desktop system like an iMac or an uprated Mac Pro with the MacBook Pros.

I’ve seen techies say they would’ve been happier with a MacBook Pro that weighs twice as much and has half the ten hour battery life of the new laptops, if only they could get lots of ports, heaps of memory, and even more powerful graphics and main processors.

Sure, there are definitely user cases for such systems, but they’re better executed in desktops in which better thermal management ensures that you actually get the power you pay for without it being throttled back when the computer heats up.

Expecting Apple to launch a heavy and large portable desktop computer as part of the MacBook Pro range seems a bit silly. Also, we don’t use computers the same way in 2016 as we did in the past. You can get infinitely scalable computing and graphics power, and storage, over fast network connections. It’s called The Cloud, and it’s faster than any standalone device will ever be, and cheaper too.

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