MacBook Pro 13-inch (2017) preview

There are two sizes of MacBook Pro: the 13-inch and the 15-inch model. 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. Read our 2017 15-inch MacBook Pro review here.

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 its 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?

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

Processor

Of those three things, the introduction that matters the most - and will probably rile those who bought a 2016-generation MacBook Pro - is the introduction of the Kaby Lake processor.

When Apple launched the 2016 MacBook Pro in October 2016 it featured Skylake processors, despite the fact some PC laptops were already using newer Kaby Lake chips.

Eight months later and all the MacBook Pro as well as the MacBook laptops use Kaby Lake processors, which should result in a decent performance bump.

So far we have tested the top-of-the-range 15-inch 2.9GHz MacBook Pro, as we get the test results in from the other models we will add them here.

In the meantime, here’s how the 2017 15-inch compares to previous generations.

Geekbench 4.1 64-bit Multi-Core Score

2.9GHz 15-inch MacBook Pro (mid 2017)
15,719

2.6GHz 15-inch MacBook Pro (late 2016)
12,541

2.5GHz 15-inch MacBook Pro (mid 2015)
13,364

That's a notable difference (and especially when you notice that the 2016 model actually seemed to do worse than the one before it).

There is still 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.

Graphics

The 13-inch models also offer only integrated graphics cards: the Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640 or 650, depending on which model you choose. The 15in models offer discreet graphics in the form of the Radeon Pro 555 or 560.

Intel’s graphics (which are integrated on to the CPU) use the computer’s RAM, while dedicated (or discreet graphics cards have their own memory. As a result, the 15-inch model is much better suited to graphic intensive work than the 13-inch model.

In many ways the graphics card is the biggest indication that these two Macs, though they share a name, are very different beasts, aimed at very different markets.

While there is nothing wrong with Apple offering a lower specced 13-inch laptop, to sit between the MacBook and the 15-inch MacBook Pro, it just feels that there is a gap still to fill in terms of a 13-inch pro laptop.

However, there is another way of looking at it. Not every pro user is going to be doing graphics intensive work. Some professional users are looking for a machine to run business applications on. And those don’t tend to be graphics intensive apps.

Is the MacBook Pro a better choice for them than the MacBook? Probably.

But what about the creative pro users who don’t want to lug about a 15-inch laptop? Where Apple is offering a solution for business users who would prefer a 15-inch model in the form of the old 2015 15-inch MacBook Pro (which features an older Broadwell processor) the 13-inch MacBook Pro just doesn’t get pro enough.

13-inch MacBook Pro (which, topping out at almost £2,000 certainly has a pro price) really deserve to be called Pro. We’ll look in a bit more detail at the price later on.

RAM

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 theres a chance that you’ll need more than 16GB RAM (highly unlikely, but some do) then you will have to look else where as even the 15-inch model doesn’t yet offer 32GB RAM, despite calls for it to do so.

Touch Bar

One feature that could be useful, but seems a bit gimmicky to us if we’re honest, is the Touch Bar.

The Touch Bar, which seems to be Apple’s alternative to a touch screen, is actually more difficult to use than a touch screen as you need to have your eyes both on the keyboard and the screen in order to use it.

The Touch Bar isn’t completely pointless though. Along with Touch ID capabilities, there is integration with a number of Apple apps, such as Safari, which gains forward and backwards buttons, or Mail that gains auto complete suggestions.

What really matters to creative pro users, though is apps like Photoshop, and to business users, Office. And the good news is both Microsoft and Adobe have embraced the Touch Bar already and offer useful tools.

Although using the Touch Bar does take some getting used to there are some fun implementations. We’d like to see features like the Dock replicated there, and we expect that the launch of MacOS High Sierra will bring more in the way of Touch Bar integration with apps.

However, if Apple’s recent introduction of a second non-Touch Bar MacBook Pro at the 13-inch level may be in response to slower than expected sales of the new Touch Bar enabled MacBook Pro models.

There have been reports suggesting that Apple customers are picking the non-Touch Bar models over their more expensive siblings, and it may well be that Apple is responding to the interest in the non Touch-Bar equipped laptops.

It’s also been noted that Apple didn’t introduce a new Touch Bar enabled keyboard with its updated iMacs, something that had been anticipated. So perhaps the Touch Bar hasn’t been the success Apple was hoping it would be.

Ports

One other thing that could be beneficial to pro users is USB-C with Thunderbolt 3. Two ports in the case of the non-Touch Bar 13-inch models, four in the case of the Touch Bar 13-inch and 15-inch models.

For every one else this may be a bit of a hinderance because currently not many devices have USB-C with Thunderbolt 3, while existing devices that us older USB standards will require an adaptor.

Currently the only MacBooks to offer a USB A port are the older 2015 15-inch MacBook Pro and the MacBook Air, that Apple has probably kept on sale predominantly for the sake of laptop users who require that port.

Design & Build

The design of the MacBook Pro hasn't changed since 2016 when it gained the Touch Bar, an OLED strip along the top of the keyboard that can be used in place of function keys. Read more about the Touch Bar here: Touch Bar tips.

The 2016 model also introduced a new butterfly mechanism keyboard and a larger trackpad.

As for the Retina display, that's been a feature of the MacBook Pro since 2012.

Price

When Apple launched the 2016 MacBook Pro the entry-level price of the 13-inch Skylake model was £1,449/$1,499.

The company continued to sell the older 2015 Broadwell MacBook Pro though, with the older 13-inch model starting at £1,249/$1,299 (and the older 15-inch Broadwell model priced at £1,899/$1,999).

For 2017 Apple has dropped this old 13-inch Broadwell MacBook Pro offering customers a brand new 13-inch Kaby Lake MacBook Pro for the same low price. The 15-inch Broadwell model remains in the line up and hasn’t seen its price drop, however.

The pricing of the 13-inch MacBook Pro is as follows:

13-inch MacBook Pro

  • 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

Build-to-order options:

  • 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). This is a good deal and considering that the MacBook and MacBook Air have comparable prices give or take £300, well worth the extra cash we think.

As for the top of the range 13-inch model, we think that at £1,949 this might be a bit over priced given the fact that it's not got discrete graphics, like it's larger sibling. In which case you might as well buy the 15-inch model.

Verdict

If you bought a 13-inch MacBook Pro last October you might be a tiny bit miffed. After all your machine has just been surpassed within months. Does it really matter though? Probably not because chances are you aren’t a creative professional who needs the best processor and graphics card as well as a ton of RAM.

What if your needs are still professional, just not so graphics intensive? Is the 13-inch MacBook Pro a better option than the MacBook for people who spend their time looking at spreadsheets or drafting presentations in Keynote?

In terms of Apple’s own apps we don’t think anyone would be better off with a MacBook Pro than a MacBook. However, you do get a lot more in terms of specs from the 13-inch MacBook Pro and we think that makes the machine better value for money.

If you are a user who needs a decent amount of power but you are balking at the price of the 15-inch MacBook Pro the 13-inch model may well suffice, and if you need a bigger screen you can just plug it into a separate display.

But if you are a creative pro looking for a powerful machine to match your graphics needs you aren’t going to find what you want in the 13-inch MacBook Pro.

Perhaps it’s portability you need. The 13-inch MacBook Pro isn’t the lightest laptop Apple makes (that’ll be the MacBook) but it is a lot lighter than it was back in 2015.

OUR VERDICT

With all that in mind, and despite everything we’ve written above, if it’s a Mac you want we still think that the 13-inch MacBook Pro is a better option than both the MacBook and the MacBook Air currently.

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