Excellent battery life. Thin and light. Crisp Retina display. Price drop from last year's model.
Connectivity limited to two USB-C ports. Small 128GB hard drive.
- Bottom Line
The base model MacBook Pro gets an updated processor and a price drop, making it the best choice for Mac shoppers who want a blend of power and relative affordability.
The 2017 update of the 13-inch MacBook Pro ($1,299) isn't a groundbreaking refresh, but it does come with two very important new features: a reduced price and new processor options from Intel's latest seventh-generation Core i5 and Core i7 series. The exterior design remains identical to the previous version, but more performance for less cash easily makes up for the laptop's relative dearth of USB ports and the lack of a Touch Bar compared with the more expensive 13-inch MacBook Pro. Add in vastly improved battery life and better performance benchmark results than many of its Windows competitors, and the result is that this already-excellent ultraportable notebook now earns our Editors' Choice award as the best Mac laptop.
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Thin and Light, With a Shallow Keyboard
The 13-inch MacBook Pro is extremely thin for a full-featured laptop, measuring 0.59 by 11.97 by 8.36 inches (HWD) and weighing 3.02 pounds. That's actually thinner than Apple's original and now somewhat dated ultraportable, the 13-inch MacBook Air. But it's not quite as thin as the MacBook (0.52 inches), the New Razer Blade Stealth (0.51 inches) or the 0.41-inch-thin HP Spectre 13, which HP bills as the world's thinnest laptop. The MacBook Pro is almost imperceptibly heavier than last year's model, which weighs 2.99 pounds.
Its aesthetics, however, remain identical to the previous version. Available in either Silver or the Space Gray of our test unit, this is a gorgeous machine amidst an ever-growing crop of well-designed ultrabooks. Long-time Mac users may lament that the Apple logo is no longer backlit, but the logo's new shiny silver finish will assure everyone in front of you that you're using an Apple product. Whichever color you choose, it will pervade the entire chassis and lid, which are both made of aluminum. The only departures are the keyboard and screen bezel (both black), and the glass trackpad, which takes on a slightly lighter hue compared with the body.
The backlit keyboard has butterfly switches and extremely shallow key travel, which requires a bit of acclimation if you're upgrading from an older Mac. Apple claims that its butterfly mechanism is more stable than conventional laptop keyboard switches, which resemble a pair of scissors. The sound of the keys vaguely resembles the electronic clicks you'll hear from an iOS keyboard. The typing sensation is similar, too: it requires just a little more pressure than what you'd use to type on a touchscreen. We eventually found the typing experience tolerable—not necessarily enjoyable—but the keyboard will likely meet with your instant approval if you learned to type on a smartphone instead of a PC.
Short on Connectivity
This MacBook Pro offers very few ports. It has just two USB Type-C/Thunderbolt 3 connectors on the left edge, and a single audio jack on the right edge. (The 13-inch Touch Bar model, which starts at $1,799, includes two USB-C ports on each side.) Having only two ports is an inconvenience, but remember that you're going to need to buy an adapter or USB hub for most of your older peripherals that don't support USB-C anyway (think mice, keyboards, hard drives, and even your iPhone). You can buy Apple-branded adapters like the USB-C Digital AV Multiport Adapter ($69), or opt for all-in-one adapters and desktop docks. Some, like the Satechi Aluminum Type-C Pro Hub Adapter ($99), are offered in colors that match the MacBook Pro.
The lack of a Touch Bar, however, isn't necessarily a bad thing. This model is $500 cheaper than the MacBook Pro with the bar, which makes it more likely to appeal to budget-conscious college students. While the Touch Bar is innovative and convenient for certain creative workflows (here are 15 things you can do with it), most other buyers will find it to be a luxury instead of a need-to-have productivity feature.
Thanks to their upward-facing design, the MacBook Pro's speakers sound robust for such a thin laptop, and are more versatile than those designed to bounce sound off of a desk or other flat surface. As with the previous model, the MacBook Pro can fill a medium-sized room with distortion-free music. The 2,560-by-1,600-resolution Retina display is equally impressive. The 500-nit screen is brighter than the Dell XPS 13 Touch and HP Spectre 13, and people who work with images will appreciate that this MacBook offers support for the P3 color gamut. The screen's downsides are its slightly inferior resolution compared with the 4K display available on the New Razer Blade Stealth, and the fact that it's only available in a glossy version—there's no matte option to reduce glare, which was a problem for our review unit in the brightly lit PC Labs. Above the screen is a forward-facing 720p FaceTime HD camera, better than the 480p camera you'll get on the MacBook. Wireless connectivity options include Bluetooth 4.2 and 802.11ac Wi-Fi.
Our test unit is loaded with macOS Sierra, but macOS High Sierra, an iterative update, will be available for free once Apple rolls it out this fall. The MacBook Pro comes with 90 days of free technical support and a one-year limited warranty.
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You won't find a lot of storage with the base configuration, which comes with a 128GB SSD. That's half the capacity of the base model MacBook, which also starts at $1,299. Drive options are plentiful, however: they include 256GB for $200, 512GB for $400, or 1TB for $800. All are SSDs, which explains why the price doubles along with capacity.
Better Processor, Excellent Battery Life
Other than this MacBook Pro's $200 price drop, a seventh-generation 2.4GHz Kaby Lake Intel Core i5 processor with an upgraded integrated Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640 GPU are the only major improvements. Our MacBook is also stacked with 8GB of RAM. Various upgrades in processor and memory are available at the time of purchase, as well as the aforementioned storage options. While we can't run our full suite of Windows-based tests on this system, the new components resulted in markedly better performance in our multimedia tests than the previous MacBook Pro. It took less time to convert a video file in Handbrake (one minute and 51 seconds vs. 2:10), manipulate an image in Photoshop (3:46 vs. 4:23), and achieved a higher score on the Cinebench 3D benchmark (376 vs. 306). The MacBook Pro's scores on the Handbrake and Cinebench tests were also better than many of the competing ultraportables we've tested recently, including the Core i7-powered New Razer Blade Stealth, the Dell XPS 13 Touch, and the Microsoft Surface Laptop.
Gaming performance, however, was somewhat worse than the previous-generation MacBook Pro, despite the upgraded GPU. Our review unit failed to break the 30 frames per second required for smooth gaming in our Heaven test at medium graphics quality. Scores on the similar Valley test were a bit better, but as with any ultraportable without a discrete graphics card, you shouldn't expect smooth gaming at maximum screen resolution and graphics quality settings. On the other hand, if you intend to play casual games at moderate quality as a study break, for example, the MacBook Pro is a better choice than much of its Windows competition, which posts even lower frame rates on the Heaven and Valley tests. It even does better than the New Razer Blade Stealth, although that laptop is compatible with Razer's Core external graphics card enclosure for more serious gaming.
Battery life is excellent, even by the power-sipping standards that we've come to expect from Mac laptops. The MacBook Pro lasted for 16 hours and 26 minutes on our battery rundown test, nearly an hour longer than the current-generation MacBook and the 15-inch MacBook Pro, and a staggering four-and-a-half hours longer than the previous 13-inch MacBook Pro. The only laptop we've tested recently to post a better battery rundown score is the Microsoft Surface Laptop, which came in at 16 hours and 44 minutes.
This Is the MacBook You're Looking For
If you're willing to spend a bit more than the $1,299 base price, you can outfit the MacBook Pro with a 256GB SSD for an additional $200. That add-on will make its spec sheet nearly identical to the $1,799 Touch Bar version, with the only significant differences being a faster processor clock speed and a second set of USB-C ports on the Touch Bar model. For videographers who can improve their workflow with the Touch Bar or need extra ports to plug in external hard drives, spending the extra cash for that model may be prudent. Touch screen aficionados who are OS-agnostic will also want to consider several Windows alternatives that offer full touch screens, and in the case of the New Razer Blade Stealth, a 4K display. But macOS devotees who want a relatively affordable and very stylish ultraportable with a long-lasting battery with a processor that won't be outdated for several years, this MacBook Pro is the best laptop you can buy.
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Tom is a hardware analyst. He previously covered the consumer tech beat as a PCMag news reporter in San Francisco and Silicon Valley. Before that, he got his start in tech journalism at Computer Shopper, reviewing the latest hard drives, keyboards, and more. In his spare time, he's written on topics as diverse as Borneo's rain forests, Middle Eastern airlines, and big data's role in presidential elections. A graduate of Middlebury College, Tom also has a master's degree in journalism and French Studies from New… More »
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