As has been the case since Apple ditched the 17in MacBook Pro back in 2012, there have been two sizes of MacBook Pro. The 13in and the 15in model.
However, amid the range of MacBook Pro laptops there are some very different offerings. There may be two sizes of MacBook Pro, but there are actually three types of MacBook Pro to consider:
- The 2017 non-Touch Bar 13in MacBook Pro with 7th generation dual-core processors (haven't been updated since 2017). Buy it here.
- The 2019 TouchBar 13in MacBook Pro with 8th generation quad-core processors (a minor tweak on the 2018 model). Buy it here.
- The 2019 TouchBar 15in MacBook Pro with 9th generation 6-core or 8-core processors (a new processor generation). Buy it here.
For a long time we have felt that the 15in MacBook Pro is more deserving of the name 'Pro' than its smaller sibling, which is certainly not the same machine in more miniature form. However, the 2018 updates to the Touch Bar 13in MacBook Pro made the smaller model much more worthy of attention - equipping it with a quad-core processor. But hold your horses if you think that means the gap between the two 'Pro' machines has closed. As of the May 2019 update, there is a much more pronounced difference between the 13in and 15in MacBook Pro than there was in 2018. And the jump from the non-Touch Bar to the Touch-Bar 13in models is greater than ever.
This doesn’t mean that the entry-level non-Touch Bar 13in MacBook Pro wouldn’t be ideal for your needs - but with the price unchanged, despite that model now being two years old (well, it will be in June 2019), it's probably worth considering the MacBook or MacBook Air. These Mac laptops might look less powerful, but the chips inside them are more modern and that can make a big difference.
In this article we will weigh up the differences between all of the 13in and 15in MacBook Pro models, assessing which set of requirements each will serve best. If you are wondering how the 13in MacBook Pro compares to the 13in MacBook Air read this: MacBook Pro vs MacBook Air comparison review.
You can read about the 2018 models in our 2018 13in MacBook Pro review and MacBook Pro 15in (2018) review. We'll be reviewing the 2019 MacBook Pros soon. Plus, here's why you shouldn't buy the non-Touch Bar 13in MacBook Pro.
What are the differences between the 13in and 15in MacBook Pro models?
Before we look at the differences, there are a few features that are the same regardless of the MacBook Pro model you purchase.
- All MacBook Pro models are available in a silver or a space grey finish.
- The pixels on the display of the 13in model are ever so slightly more closely packed together, but the number of pixels per inch is practically the same (220 on the 15in and 227 on the 13in).
- Brightness is 500nits on both models, and both screens offer P3 which means they display a wider range of “more lifelike” colours.
- The Force Touch trackpad is available on all the MacBook Pro laptops. It features pressure-sensing capabilities so that you can “Force Click” and use Multi-Touch gestures.
- Despite the slightly different battery specs, all each MacBook Pro offers 10 hours battery life, according to Apple.
- One key difference between the 2017 non-Touch Bar MacBook Pro and the 2019 13in and 15in MacBook Pro (and also the previous generation 2018 models) is the addition of the True Tone technology. True Tone adjusts colour and brightness output to compensate for changing environmental lighting conditions.
- The 2017 13in models offers just an ambient light sensor, so the display brightness will still adjust according to your lighting conditions, but it's not as intelligent.
- The three different models each use a different generation of processor. There's a 7th generation Intel processor in the entry-level 13in, 8th generation processors in the Touch-Bar 13in models, and 9th generation processors in the 15in models.
- When it comes to cores there's a striking difference. The non-Touch Bar models have dual-cores, the Touch Bar 13in models have quad-cores, and in the 15in models there's a 6-core and 8-core option.
- The 15in models have discreet graphics cards while the 13in models have integrated graphics.
- The 15in models don't only have more RAM as standard (16GB) they have faster RAM than the 13in models (2133MHz DDR4 compared to 2133MHz LPDDR3).
- The newer 13in MacBook Pro features four Thunderbolt 3 ports (as did the 2018 model) while the 2017 MacBook Pro only has two.
13in MacBook Pro
It used to be that the key differentiator between the four configurations of 13in MacBook Pro was whether you get a Touch Bar or not. However, when Apple updated the Touch Bar MacBook Pro in July 2018 the gap between the the Touch Bar and non-Touch Bar models became bigger. And now that the Touch Bar MacBook Pro has been updated again (as of May 2019), the difference is even greater.
There are two different generations of processor, and it's not just a simple step up from one generation to the next, we now have quad-core processors where once there were dual-core.
13in Non-Touch Bar (2017)
- MacBook Pro 2017 13in, 7th-generation (Kaby Lake), 2.3GHz dual-core i5, Turbo Boost 3.6GHz, 128GB, Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640: £1,249/£1,299
- MacBook Pro 2017 13in, 7th-generation (Kaby Lake), 2.3GHz dual-core i5, Turbo Boost 3.6GHz, 256GB, Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640: £1,449/$1,499
The only difference between these two models is how much storage you get. To get 256GB of storage you essentially pay £200/$200 more.
13in Touch Bar (2019)
- MacBook Pro 2019 13in, 8th-generation (Coffee Lake), 2.4GHz quad-core i5, Turbo Boost 4.1GB, 256GB, Intel Iris Plus 655: £1,749/$1,799
- MacBook Pro 2019 13in, 8th-generation (Coffee Lake), 2.4GHz quad-core i5, Turbo Boost 4.1GB, 512GB, Intel Iris Plus 655: £1,949/$1,999
Again, the only difference between these two models is the storage - the 512GB option costs an additional £200/$200.
Back in 2018 the 15in Touch Bar model saw a bigger boost in comparison with its 2017 predecessor than the 2018 to 2019 upgrade. Back in 2017, the equivalent Touch Bar models offered a 3.1GHz dual-core 7th generation (Kaby Lake). So 2018 was the first time we'd seen quad-cores on the 13in MacBook Pro.
The Touch Bar MacBook Pro in 2019 gains a slight processor tweek, from 2.3GHz to 2.4GHz, but other than that the processor generation is exactly the same. Nothing else has changed.
Here are the other specs for the 13in models:
- Screen size: 13.3-inches diagonally.
- Dimensions: 30.41cm x 21.24cm
- Thickness: 1.49cm
- Weight: 1.37kg
- Display resolution: 2560x1600 at 227 pixels per inch
- RAM: 8GB standard, configurable to 16GB RAM
- Ports: non-Touch Bar models: two Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) ports; Touch Bar models: four Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) ports
- Audio: two microphones (non-Touch Bar), three microphones (Touch Bar)
- Battery: non-Touch Bar model has a 10 hour, 54.5-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery, the Touch Bar model has a 58.0-watt-hour battery, also 10 hours.
- Price: From £1,249/$1,299 (non-Touch Bar); £1,749/$1,799 (Touch Bar)
15in MacBook Pro
The 15in MacBook Pro is available in two configurations. Apple long ago discontinued the 2015-generation non-Touch Bar model which had been on offer for £1,899.
- MacBook Pro 2019 15in, 9th-generation (Coffee Lake R2), 2.6GHz 6-core i7, Turbo Boost 4.5GB, 256GB, Radeon Pro 555X with 4GB of GDDR5 memory, 16GB 2400MHz DDR4 memory: £2,349/$2,399
- MacBook Pro 2019 15in, 9th-generation (Coffee Lake R2), 2.3GHz 8-core i9, Turbo Boost 4.8GB, 512GB, Radeon Pro 560X with 4GB of GDDR5 memory, 16GB 2400MHz DDR4 memory: £2,749/$2,799
Rather than just being a difference in terms of storage, as with the two pairs of 13in models, here we see much bigger differences between the two 15in models. The processor on the flag-ship model is faster, and the graphics card better (although unchanged from the graphics in the 2018 model). With more storage to boot, this Mac costs £400 more than its sibling.
Here are the other specs for the 15in models:
- Screen size: 15.4-inches diagonally.
- Dimensions: 34.93cm x 24.07cm
- Thickness: 1.55cm
- Weight: 1.83kg
- Display resolution: 2880x1800 at 220 pixels per inch
- Ports: four Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) ports
- Audio: three microphones
- Battery: 10 hours, 83.6-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery
- Price: From £2,349/$2,399
Regarding those differences, we will examine each in a little more detail below.
We have four types of processors here: Dual-core, quad-core, 6-core and 8-core.
In addition we have 7th generation Kaby Lake versus 8th generation Coffee Lake processors, and 9th generation refreshed Coffee Lake processors. All this adds up to big leaps between the three MacBook Pro pairs.
And that's not all. The 13in models get an i5 processor, while the 15-inch MacBook Pro get i7 and i9 processors.
The processor is a key differentiator between the models and one of a number of reasons why the 15in is better suited to creative pros. Find out what is the best Pro Mac here.
The more cores your computer has, the more problems it can solve at a time. The processor can either deal with lots of different tasks, with each processor devoted to each task, or it can split a task across multiple processors, either way that task can be done quicker. This matters if you are doing something like 3D rendering.
In addition, a Core i7 and i9 processor will be better able to cope with multimedia applications, gaming, and multitasking. You’ll find more on processor cache on i7 and i9 models too, which should make scientific calculations faster. The extra cache comes into play with multitasking too.
But it's not all about the 15in. The quad-cores in the 2019 13in MacBook Pro (as they did in the 2018 model) make us more comfortable with that machine's pro status.
It is the non-Touch Bar 13in model's dual-core processors that make us think that it shouldn’t really be considered a pro machine.
The differences continue when you look at the graphics offerings - which haven't changed at all between the 2018 and 2019 models.
Both generations of 13in MacBook Pro offer graphics cards that are integrated on the processor, while the 15in MacBook Pro features discrete graphics.
One of the key differences between integrated and discrete (or dedicated) graphics is that integrated graphics don’t have their own RAM and that will matter if you are doing something graphically intense, like rendering something in 3D, or playing a graphically intensive game.
That doesn’t mean that integrated graphics don’t have their advantages. They require less power, so battery life might be better, for example, and they are cheaper than a discrete card, so, in theory, should allow Apple to sell those models for less, and indeed it does: there is a difference of £400 between the top of the line 13in model and the entry-level 15in MacBook Pro. We’ll look in a bit more detail at the price later on.
However, the lack of discrete graphics means that the 13in MacBook Pro really doesn’t deserve to be called a Pro machine - assuming of course that the pros you are thinking of are creative pros. If you are just a professional, looking for a machine to create spreadsheets, presentations and emails on.
As for the graphics in the 15in MacBook models, here you’ll find the Radeon Pro 555X and 560X - as we said these are the same as the 2018 models, but there are also the following, impressive, build-to-order options here:
- Radeon Pro Vega 16 with 4GB of HBM2 memory (+£225)
- Radeon Pro Vega 20 with 4GB of HBM2 memory (+£315)
However, there is still one factor letting the MacBook Pro down in terms of graphics. In the past Apple has made a lot of noise about the Retina display, with its 2,560 x 1,600 and 2,880 x 1,800 pixel counts depending on whether you have the 13in or 15in model.
Embarrassingly, there are PC laptops that have 4K displays now, so Apple has a bit of catching up to do.
We were hoping to see Apple launch a 4K 16in MacBook Pro in 2019 - one has been rumoured. Some of Apple's rivals offer 3,840 x 2,160 pixels. However we were disappointed. Read more here: 16in MacBook Pro.
Back in 2018 the 13in and 15in models got True Tone - which made them better at adjusting to the ambient light than the older non-Touch Bar 13in. This feature is unchanged in the 2019 models.
For now, though, the Retina display quality isn’t really a reason to choose one MacBook Pro model over the other. The difference in display size may well be though.
Obviously the 15in MacBook Pro has a much larger display than the 13in model. In real terms, that’s an extra 320 pixels across, and 200 more pixels down. It’s likely to make a difference to you if you often have a lot of applications open, or if your work with images (although you actually get 7 more pixels per inch on the 13in model: it’s 220 ppi on the 15in and 227 ppi on the 13in model).
There are benefits associated with the smaller screen on the 13in model - it means the laptop is smaller and lighter. If that’s more important to you than a few extra pixels it’s a good reason to choose the 13in over the 15in.
And if you really need a bigger screen, plug your MacBook into a second display whenever you are at your desk.
If RAM is important to you there are a few differences between the 13in and 15in MacBook Pro models, although the situation here is also unchanged from 2018.
- The 13in MacBook Pro ships as standard with 8GB 2133MHZ LPDDR3 memory, but it’s upgradable to 16GB RAM.
- The 15in model ships with 16GB 2400MHz DDR4 memory - that's faster memory than the 2133MHz above.
- There is also a 32GB RAM build-to-order option for the 15in MacBook Pro, which makes a lot of creatives very happy (although £360/$400 worse off).
Chances are you don't need 32GB RAM in your laptop, but if you do, then the 15in MacBook Pro can serve your needs.
Touch Bar, ports and trackpad
The Touch Bar is available on two of the 13in models and both of the 15in models. Obviously the 15in machine offers more space for the Touch Bar, but beyond that there’s not really much of a difference.
Similarly the Touch-Bar equipped MacBook Pros all offer four Thunderbolt 3 ports (while the non-Touch Bar 13-inch model has only two). None of the MacBook Pros offer USB-A.
With a starting price of £1,249/$1,299 the 13-inch MacBook Pro is comparable to the entry-level MacBook, which offers a slower (although newer) processor and smaller screen.
The entry level 13in MacBook Pro with a Touch Bar costs £1,749 and offers a 2.4GHz quad-core processor, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD, and Iris Plus Graphics. It's price makes it comparable to the 3.0GHz 6-core, 27-inch iMac that comes with 8GB 2666MHz RAM, 1TB Fusion Drive, and Radeon Pro discrete graphics for the same price. That's quite a boost in power for the same price.
Perhaps the £400 saving between the entry-level 15in MacBook Pro and the top-of-the-range 13in model makes up for the differences in graphic capabilities, processor, screen size, and everything else.
The entry-level 15in MacBook Pro price starts at £2,349 for a 2.6GHz 6-core 8th generation i7 processor, 16GB RAM, and 256GB SSD, which is more than the top-of-the-range iMac - but that offers a 3.7GHz 6-core 9th generation i5 processor, 8GB RAM, 2TB Fusion Drive and Radeon Pro discrete graphics, and costs £100 less at £2,249.
The point of these comparisons is that while we understand that it's normal to pay a premium to buy a pro-laptop, currently, if you need a powerful machine the MacBook Pro doesn't look as good a deal as the iMac.
But, if you need a portable and price is no object then the 2019 15in MacBook Pro looks like an excellent machine and we can't wait to get our hands on one to review it.
If you want a laptop for gaming and graphics then the 2019 15in MacBook Pro will be the one to consider - perhaps treat yourself to a Vega graphics card upgrade though.
As for the 13in MacBook Pro, in 2017 we were disappointed with the 13in models. In 2018 we were only disappointed that the entry-level models haven't been updated, but in 2019 we can't help but wish the 13in model had a little more of a processor upgrade. We guess it's a result of Intel's missed deadlines for processor upgrades that had been promised.
Now that the 13in MacBook Air is back on the scene there really isn't a good reason to buy a non-Touch Bar 13in MacBook Pro. If it's a low-cost Mac you are looking for, read our comparison of the best cheap Mac.
We also round up the best MacBook deals every week, and there are some great discounts to be had on MacBook Pro and other Mac laptops. Read more here: Best MacBook Deals.
Whether you require a 15in or a 13in MacBook Pro depends primarily on what you will be using it for and how much you have to spend.
If all you do with your Mac is surf the web and open emails then probably a MacBook or MacBook Air might meet your needs.
Back in 2018 when the 13in MacBook Pro models gained quad-core processors we were very excited, and recommended them. Sure the 13in model lacks the discrete graphics, but it is still a powerful beast. In 2019 they are still impressive, but not as impressive as the 15in models, which have shot ahead thanks to the most to 9th generation processors.
We will be reviewing all these Mac laptops very soon and will update this article when we know just how powerful these machines are.