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Apple 13in MacBook Pro review 2020: going out on a high?

Guardian Technology 01 Jun 2020 06:00

The 2020 13in MacBook Pro is the last of Apple’s laptops to get its new and improved keyboard, banishing various issues to the rear view mirror and essentially perfecting this current design.

Despite both sharing the same name, the 2020 13in MacBook Pro is split into two lines: a cheaper version starting at £1,299 with two USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports and older eighth-generation Intel chips; and a more powerful version starting at £1,799 with four USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports and the latest 10th-generation Intel chips.

It is the latter machine reviewed here but both two and four-port machines share the same design, including screen, keyboard and trackpad, leaving processing power and connectivity the differentiators.

2020 apple 13in macbook pro review
Apple’s sleek, aluminium design hasn’t changed much over the years, but is still one of the best-looking laptops you can buy. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Apple has kept the laptop’s design more or less the same since 2016 when the Touch Bar was introduced. The 2020 13in MacBook Pro is the same height and width, but 0.7mm thicker and 30g heavier to accommodate the new keyboard, a compromise entirely worth it.

The keyboard

The new bit is the Magic Keyboard, which is Apple’s name for the more traditional scissor-switch mechanism that replaces the issue-prone butterfly keyboard. It’s the same keyboard as the MacBook Air and 16in MacBook Pro and is just as good here.

The Touch Bar remains largely untouched. I’ve found it useful, particularly in Affinity Photo, where being able to change the brush size and other adjustments on-the-fly using a slider on the Touch Bar is a godsend.

It’s also worth pointing out that Apple’s trackpads are unparalleled. Some other laptops have good, precise and large trackpads but nothing comes close to the precision, accuracy, size and utility of Apple’s force-sensing trackpads.

Specifications

Power and long battery life

The four-port 13in MacBook Pro, tested with the 10th-generation Core i5 processor and 16GB of RAM, performs as you would expect from a top-spec machine.

The only power-feature missing is a dedicated graphics card, which is reserved for Apple’s top 16in model but that machine comes with a significant portability penalty compared to the 13in model.

2020 apple 13in macbook pro review
Apple’s all-aluminium build quality is second to none in laptops. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

For perspective, that’s well over an hour longer than the similar spec 2017 model and about the same as the entry-level MacBook Air with a dual-core Core i3 processor. It’s also longer than Huawei’s MateBook X Pro and Microsoft’s Surface Laptop 3.

It’s worth noting the 13in MacBook Pro lacks the latest wifi 6, only supporting the older wifi ac standard instead, and that the laptop doesn’t have any of the older USB-A ports or an integrated memory card reader.

2020 apple 13in macbook pro review
The new battery health management system should help to prolong the lifetime of the battery, particularly if you leave the laptop plugged in all the time. Photograph: Samuel Gibbs/The Guardian

Unlike the MacBook Air, Apple does not provide charge-cycle rating for the battery for the MacBook Pro. The battery can replaced for £199 by Apple. MacOS Catalina 10.5.5 added a new battery health management system that prolongs the lifespan of the laptop’s battery by learning from your charge patterns and limiting the maximum charge capacity when it can.

The MacBook Pro uses 100% recycled tin in the solder of its logic board and at least 35% recycled plastic used in multiple components, but does not use recycled aluminium like the MacBook Air. Apple is also using renewable energy for final assembly of the machine, and breaks down the computer’s environmental impact in its report.

MacOS Catalina

The 13in MacBook Pro ships with Apple’s latest macOS 10.15 Catalina, which introduced Sidecar, which instantly turns an iPad into a second screen for your Mac; Mac Catalyst, which helps developers such as Twitter port their iPad apps to the Mac; and splits iTunes into separate Apple TV, Music and Podcasts apps.

Ignoring the competition for a moment, with the 13in MacBook Pro split into two lines, Apple’s laptop lineup has intentional overlap. The top and bottom ends are clear, but things get a little muddled in the middle.

But the MacBook Air also has a 10th-gen Intel Core i5 version costing £1,299 that matches the starting price of the two-port 13in MacBook Pro with older eighth-gen Intel Core i5 chips. Here, Apple says, the choice is between portability with occasional power with the MacBook Air, and more sustained plugged-in performance on a relative budget with the MacBook Pro.

The four-port 13in MacBook Pro at £1,799 is a step up in both price and performance, and designed for intensive workloads, such as app development, video editing and other traditionally “Pro” things but with portability.

Observations

  • The speakers are really good for a laptop.

  • You can run the machine with the lid closed, making it suitable for slotting into docking stations akin to a desktop computer.

  • Having only two ports is very restrictive when used at a desk, when one is for power and the other for an external monitor.

The 2020 13in MacBook Pro with two Thunderbolt 3 ports starts at £1,299 with an eighth-generation Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage.

For comparison, the MacBook Air starts at an RRP of £999, the 16in MacBook Pro starts at £2,399, Microsoft’s Surface Laptop 3 starts at £999, Dell’s XPS 13 starts at £1,399 and Huawei’s MateBook X Pro starts at £1,299.

The 2020 13in MacBook Pro is not one but two different products.

But for most people, the cheaper two-port machine is bettered by the MacBook Air of a similar price. If you need more power, the four-port 13in MacBook Pro is the one to buy.

It’s super quiet and will stay at peak performance for an extended period that’s longer than most competitors. But at £1,799 it’s also very expensive, partly because it ships with double the RAM and storage, with 16GB and 512GB respectively. These cost £400 as options on their own. Some £1,800 in the world of Windows 10 buys you an awful lot of laptop .

Pros: great keyboard, escape key, inverted-T arrow keys, fantastic trackpad, long battery life, gorgeous screen, USB-C/Thunderbolt 3, Touch ID, sustainable materials

Cons: expensive, no card slot or legacy ports, no user-serviceable RAM or storage, no Face ID, decidedly average webcam, no wifi 6

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