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MacBook Pro 13-inch (2017) review
There are two sizes of MacBook Pro: the 13-inch and the 15-inch model. Both bring with them Intel's 7th generation Kaby Lake chips, Retina displays, solid-state Flash storage, and Apple's design expertise. However there are some crucial differences.
In many ways the 15-inch MacBook Pro is more deserving of the name 'Pro' than it's smaller sibling, which is certainly not the same machine in more miniature form.
In fact we’d argue that the 13-inch MacBook Pro shouldn’t really be sold as a pro laptop, although that depends on your definition of pro, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that it's not a good choice for non-pro users.
But who is the 13-inch MacBook Pro for and is this mid-range Mac a good deal? And if you purchased one of the MacBook Pro models introduced in October 2016, should you be a bit miffed that Apple has upgraded its offering so soon?
Price and availability
Prices start at £1,249/$1,299 for the entry-level 2.3GHz model. While it might look like the entry-level price of the 13-inch MacBook Pro is just the same as the previous generation there is one crucial difference.
When Apple launched the 2016 MacBook Pro the starting price for the 13-inch model was £1,249/$1,299 but this was for an older 13-inch model with a 5th generation Intel processor (Broadwell). At the time the price of the entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro with the 6th generation Intel chip (Skylake) was £1,449/$1,499.
For 2017 Apple has dropped this old 13-inch Broadwell MacBook Pro offering customers a brand new 13-inch 7th generation Kaby Lake MacBook Pro for the same low price.
The pricing of the 13-inch MacBook Pro is as follows:
- 2.3GHz Kaby Lake i5 dual-core processor, 8GB RAM, 128GB storage, Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640, £1,249/$1,299
- 2.3GHz Kaby Lake i5 dual-core processor, 8GB RAM, 256GB storage, Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640, £1,449/$1,499
- 3.1GHz Kaby Lake i5 dual-core processor, Touch Bar, 8GB RAM, 256GB storage, Intel Iris Plus Graphics 650, £1,749/$1,799
- 3.1GHz Kaby Lake i5 dual-core processor, Touch Bar, 8GB RAM, 512GB storage, Intel Iris Plus Graphics 650, £1,949/$1,999
- 3.3GHz Kaby Lake i5 dual-core processor + £90/$100
- 3.5GHz Kaby Lake i7 dual-core processor + £270/$300
- 16GB RAM + £180/$200
- 1TB SSD + £400/$400
In terms of the 13-inch model, the new entry-level price drop is refreshing (or rather, the removal of the older 2015 model and the introduction of the new 2017 model at the same price). Considering that the MacBook has a comparable price for a lower-spaced machine, the 13-inch MacBook Pro looks like a good deal.
As for the top of the range 13-inch model, we think that at £1,949 this might be a bit overpriced given the fact that it's not got discrete graphics or a quad-core processor like it's larger siblings. However those extra features come at a price: the entry-level 2.8GHz 15-inch Kaby Lake MacBook Pro costs £2,349, which is another £400 on top of the price of the top-of-the-range 13-inch model. That might sound like a big leap, but when you consider that you get a bigger screen as well as the quad-core processor and discrete graphics then it makes the 15-inch look a bargain in comparison (and perhaps that is the point of that 13-inch model).
So, let's look in more detail at what you get for your money.
Read our 2017 15-inch MacBook Pro review here, we also have a comparison of the two MacBook Pro models here. And if you are wondering how the 13-inch MacBook Pro compares to the 13-inch MacBook Air read this: MacBook Pro vs MacBook Air comparison review.
Design and build
It’s what on the inside that counts, but we’ll start with a quick look at the outside of the 13-inch MacBook Pro.
As you’d expect from an Apple laptop, the 13-inch MacBook Pro has a premium design. It comes in a darker, iPhone-inspired Space Grey, or a classic silver finish. The eye-catching Retina display - which is standard across all Apple laptops, bar the MacBook Air - is stunning.
The keyboard is full-sized and typing on it is pleasant, although it felt a little spongy compared to the Apple keyboard we were used to using, and we felt we had to press harder than we were used to in order for the keys to register. The trackpad is large and full of functionality, offering various gestures that you might be familiar with if you use an iPhone, such as pinch to zoom. Our one criticism would be that we find that we catch the touch bar with our palms when typing, which sometimes causes the cursor to move to a different position.The design hasn’t changed since the previous generation, which introduced the Touch Bar strip that you will find along the top of the keyboard on two of the 13-inch models and all of the 15-inch models. Read about what you can do with the Touch Bar here.
If you get a MacBook Pro with a Touch Bar you will also get a Touch ID fingerprint reader, which means you can unlock your laptop with your fingerprint, rather than a password, and also use your fingerprint to pay for things using Apple Pay. Don’t expect to be waving your laptop at a payment terminal in stores, this is for shopping online only. We’ll discuss the Touch Bar in more detail below.
While it’s not as thin as the MacBook, the MacBook Pro certainly isn’t chubby. It measures 30.41cm by 21.24cm and is just 1.49cm when closed. In comparison, the MacBook is 1.31cm when closed, although that model gives the appearance of being even thinner because it tapers towards the edges to 0.35cm.
In order to be this thin the MacBook Pro does sacrifice some ports compared to older models. Prior to 2016’s upgrade you’d have found a Magsafe port for plugging into the mains, two Thunderbolt 2 ports, two USB 3 ports, and an SDXC port. Now you will find four USB 3/Thunderbolt 3 ports (the same port serves both standards). You’ll charge your laptop via this port and you’ll need an adaptor to plug in a second display or any other peripherals you might like to use that aren’t USB Type-C or Thunderbolt 3. This is one way in which the MacBook Pro beats the MacBook, the smaller model has only one USB 3.1 port which is used for charging and everything else.
Features and specs
There are three notable things about the MacBook Pro models that Apple introduced at WWDC in June 2017:
- Kaby Lake processors
- Improved graphics
- A new, lower price for the entry-level 13-inch model
We’ll start by taking a look at the new Kaby Lake processor.
Eight months later and all the MacBook Pro, as well as the MacBook laptops, gained Kaby Lake processors, which should result in a decent performance bump.
We have tested 2017’s 3.1GHz 13-inch MacBook Pro (as well as the top-of-the-range 15-inch 2.9GHz MacBook Pro, reviewed here).
Looking specifically at the processor we ran the Geekbench 4.1 test and saw the following results, we have included the results of the same test performed on some older models, and also on this generation’s MacBook and 15-inch MacBook Pro as a point of comparison.
|3.1GHz, dual-core, i5, 13in MacBook Pro, 2017||9354||4433|
|1.2GHz MacBook 2017||6835||3667|
|2.9GHz, dual-core i5, 13in MacBook Pro, 2016||7537||3797|
|2.0GHz, dual-core i5, 13in MacBook Pro, 2016||7095||3632|
|1.6GHz 13in MacBook Air 2015||5530||3040|
|2.9GHz, quad-core, i7, 15in MacBook Pro, 2017||15731||4739|
The difficulty here is that the models we are comparing aren’t the same in terms of specifications. You would expect a 3.1GHz processor to do better than a 2.9GHz processor even if there wasn’t a processor generation leap to consider. That said, an increase from 7537 to 9354 is still good, especially when you consider that this is 2017’s entry-level Touch Bar model compared to the 2016 entry-level Touch Bar model.
Note that you can’t compare the dual-core 2.9GHz processor in the 2016 model with that in the 15-inch MacBook Pro for 2017 either because the 15-inch Pro has a quad-core processor - and four processors beats two.
Speaking of which, this is one area of disappointment with regards to processors though. For a range of laptops with pro status, it is disappointing that while the 15-inch models have quad-core processors, the 13-inch models still have only dual-core processors.
To get a better understanding of this difference, read: How to choose the Mac with the best processor for your needs.
Another area where the 13-inch MacBook Pro can seem underpowered in comparison to the 15-inch models is RAM. All the 13-inch models offer 8GB RAM (although there is a build-to-order option for 16GB RAM). The 15-inch models ship with 16GB RAM as standard.
Chances are you don't need 16GB RAM in your laptop, and if that's the case, then there is no reason not to get yourself a 13-inch MacBook Pro. If you think you might need more RAM in the future - you’ll be wise to upgrade it at the point of purchase though, because you won't be able to upgrade it later should you want to.
If you think there's a chance that you’ll need more than 16GB RAM (highly unlikely, but some do) then you will have to look elsewhere as even the 15-inch model doesn’t yet offer 32GB RAM, despite calls for it to do so.