Apple 13in 2.0GHz MacBook Pro (2020) full review

Having updated the MacBook Air in March 2020 it was only a matter of time before Apple would update the 13in MacBook Pro - that Mac laptop was looking decidedly unloved with half the storage, slower RAM, and two generations older processors than the 2020 MacBook Air. Sure enough, just over a month later, Apple updated the 13in MacBook Pro with double the storage and, crucially, a new keyboard, meaning that all of Apple’s laptops now feature the Magic Keyboard rather than the keyboard with the butterfly mechanism that has caused embarrassment to Apple and frustration to Mac users.

The surprise was that while the two mid-range MacBook Pros gained new 2.0GHz 10th generation quad-core processors and 16GB RAM as standard, the two entry-level MacBook Pros (the ones that most closely compete with the MacBook Air) didn’t see any change beyond the storage and keyboard as mentioned. This means the £1,299/$1,299/AU$1,999 and £1,499/$1,499/AU$2,299 haven’t really changed enough to justify their price compared to the MacBook Air, which actually saw its entry level price reduced.

We can only guess at Apple’s reasons for not updating the processor in the entry-level models. We discuss this in more detail in our comparison of the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air, but there is only one reason to choose the £1,299 MacBook Pro over the Air and that’s if you need to do more graphics intensive tasks as the Air seems to struggle with anything that puts too much pressure on the processor (more on that here). However, we’d suggest that if you do need a machine capable of hard work then the mid-range MacBook Pro models, which start at £1,799/$1,799/AU$2,999 would be more appropriate. It’s this £/$1,799 model we are looking at for this review.

Design

MacBook Pro 13in

You can tell whether a 13in MacBook Pro is one of these 10th-gen 2.0GHz quad-core models, rather than an 8th-gen 1.4GHz MacBook Pro, by looking at the sides. The entry-level MacBook Pro has only two Thunderbolt ports while the 2.0GHz model has four (two on one side, two on the other). There’s no other visual difference between the 13in line up.

All 13in MacBook Pro laptops now have a Touch Bar (and have since July 2019). There is a change this time round though - the escape key is now a physical key separate from the Touch Bar. We’ll discuss the Touch Bar in more depth below.

There is also a tiny, almost indiscernible difference between this generation and the previous generation that we assume is the result of the new keyboard design (more on that below). The 2020 13in MacBook Pro is thicker and heavier than it was:

2020 13in MacBook Pro

  • 30.41cm (11.97in) x 21.24cm (8.3in) x 1.56cm (0.61in), 1.4kg (3.1lb)

201913in MacBook Pro

  • 30.41cm (11.97in) x 21.24cm (8.3in) x 1.49cm (0.59in), 1.37 kg (3.02lb)

You may be disappointed that there wasn’t a more significant change to the design of the MacBook Pro. In the run up to the launch of the new 13in MacBook Pro there were rumours that Apple would reduce the bezels around the screen to incorporate a 14in screen. This hasn’t happened. Yet. (If you are keen to wait until it does read our article about the 14in MacBook Pro rumours here).

Other design elements include a choice of colour finishes: Space Grey and Silver. (If you want a Gold Apple laptop you are restricted to the MacBook Air).

Keyboard & Touch Bar

The biggest physical change is, of course, the keyboard. The butterfly keyboard saga has run since 2016 when in an attempt to slim down the MacBook Apple designed a thinner keyboard which used a “butterfly” mechanism rather than the traditional “scissor” mechanism. Unfortunately there wasn’t much good about this design, many people didn’t enjoy the typing experience because there wasn’t a lot of key travel, but the biggest problem was that dust could get trapped under the keys and the only way to remove it was to completely replace the keyboard. The problem was so widespread that Apple initiated a free keyboard replacement scheme (after a number of well publicised court cases). We discuss this in detail in this article.

The good news is that this keyboard is just as comfortable to type on as the Magic Keyboard we normally use with our Mac - and it should be as Apple has basically carried over the Magic Keyboard design to its Mac laptops. It’s now just the same as the keyboard on the MacBook Air and the 16in MacBook Pro. We found the keys are sufficiently tappy without being annoyingly loud, typing is comfortable, and you don’t have to hammer away at the keyboard so you fingers shouldn’t tire.

13in MacBook Pro keyboard

Above the keyboard is the Touch Bar, a touch sensitive strip that features various shortcuts and controls. It is a feature that is unique to the MacBook Pro (no PC manufacturers have an equivalent feature).

Unfortunately, at best the Touch Bar is a bit of a gimmick with some handy features like auto text, at worst it actually comes between you and what you want to do. For example, if you want to increase the volume you need to tap on the volume control icon and then move your finger to the left to tap on the increase volume button. We’re used to just hitting an F-key a couple of times. Adding to the frustration we don’t necessarily need to look at the keyboard to find the volume control keys but we always have to look at the keyboard to use the Touch Bar.

That’s our biggest problem with the Touch Bar: to use it you need to look at it. Us touch typists tend to look at the screen more than our keyboards so the helpful autocorrect suggestions and controls are our of site to us. But your experience may well be different - if you would benefit from a set of shortcuts designed for a particular application this will be valuable. We certainly wouldn’t let the Touch Bar put you off the MacBook Pro.

Like the MacBook Air the MacBook Pro has Touch ID incorporated in the power button. It’s a handy feature that means you won’t have to keep typing passwords.

Below the keyboard site the Touch Pad. This hasn’t changed in this generation. It’s a decent sized touch pad that produces haptic feedback for various presses, and you can use swipes and iPhone-like gestures to move around your screen. It offers some great features, like being able to hard press on an icon on your Desktop to see a preview. We sometimes find we catch it with out wrist and cause the curser to move though, which is frustrating.

There’s one other way to control your curser and gain extra functionality that we want to mention here because until now we haven’t been able to use it (our usual Mac being too old to support it). Sidecar is a feature that arrived in macOS Catalina and it means that you can use a supported iPad as a second screen or as a graphics tablet. All you need to do is sign into the same iCloud account on both devices and you can mirror your screens or use the iPad as an extension of your display. This is the closest you are going to get to a touch screen on the Mac. (We have a tutorial about using Sidecar here).

Display

The MacBook Pro screen hasn’t changed - it’s still a decent 2560 x 1600-pixel display (which is somewhere between full HD and 4K). It’s not really a surprise that Apple hasn’t improved the display - we would expect to see display improvements roll out to the 16in model first and the new 16in isn’t 4K yet.

The display resolution is the same as the Air, but here are a couple of differences that set the Air and Pro apart. Only the Pro offers 500 nits brightness and wide colour (P3) - features that will be a benefit to designers, photographers and creative users. Colours were bright and vivid in our photos, text was sharp, when we watched video the contrast between the deep blacks and bright whites really bought out the detail.

True Tone is another feature that will benefit designers and creatives, but it’s also a benefit to any Mac user. True Tone measures the ambient light and adjusts colour temperature and brightness so that the colours remain vivid and natural looking and the screen is comfortable to look at. We tried this out sitting in the garden on a sunny day and we could happily use the laptop, viewing photographs and video, and typing this very review without squinting to see what was on the screen. It also works well in a darkened room, which will help prevent eyestrain.

Garden MacBook Pro

Webcam and audio

We are disappointed to report that the MacBook Pro webcam is still just 720p. We complained about this in our 2020 MacBook Air review as well. Perhaps it’s just because we are all so reliant on video conferencing right now, but the poor quality of the Mac webcam has become a source of embarrassment and we’d really like Apple to take note and improve the webcams in its Macs. iPhones and iPads have offered 1080p Full HD front cameras for some time, it’s about time the Mac caught up.

Audio deserves a mention, although there is no change to the model we reviewed. What is significant is that the audio in this mid-range MacBook Pro is superior to that in the entry-level models. This model offers stereo sound and excellent bass thanks to its dedicated tweeters and woofers (which the cheaper model lacks).

If you want the ultimate in MacBook music you’ll want to look at the 16in MacBook Pro which boasts a six-speaker high fidelity sound system as well as Apple-patented force-cancelling woofers - it’s in another league.

Spec and performance

Much of what we have discussed so far is available on all the 13in MacBook Pro laptops. But, while these four 13in Macs look identical but they aren’t the same - there are some big differences on the inside.

Processor

The most obvious difference is that the mid-range MacBooks have 10th-gen 2.0GHz quad-core i5 processors, while the entry-level models have 8th-gen 1.4GHz quad-core chips. Those 1.4GHz chips are unchanged from the previous generation, but the 2.0GHz processors replace 2.4GHz 8th-gen processors. You might be thinking that 2.0 sounds worse than 2.4, which would be fair enough, but we’d expect some performance improvements and other benefits from a newer generation chip - and Apple says that the new 2.0GHz processors are up to 2.8 times faster compared to the previous model.

We can confirm that the new MacBook Pro processor performance is better than the previous generation. We ran the Geekbench 5 cross-platform benchmark on the 2.0GHz MacBook Pro and the previous generation 2.4GHz MacBook Pro. The 2020 1.1GHz MacBook Air is left a distance behind. The multi-core result was as follows:

However, we can confirm that the processor in this Mac is slightly worse than the 8th-gen 2.7GHz quad-core i7 that was a build-to-order option for the 2018 13in MacBook Pro. In that case we have Geekbench 4 results as seen in the graphic above.

This suggests that if you can choose the i7 processor build-to-order option for the 2020 MacBook Pro (an extra £200/$200/AU$300) you are likely to see significant benefits. i7 processors offer Hyper-Threading which in simple terms means that the four processors can act like eight processors.

RAM

Another key difference between the two types of 13in MacBook Pro is the amount of RAM. The entry-level models still have 8GB but the 2.0GHz models have 16GB RAM as standard and you can add 32GB as a build-to-order option. We feel that 16GB RAM is the bare minimum you need for a pro machine.

It’s not just the amount of RAM that’s different - the RAM in the 2.0GHz model is faster. The entry-level RAM is 2133MHz LPDDR3 while the alternative is 3733MHz LPDDR4X RAM. Even the MacBook Air has the faster 3733MHz LPDDR4X RAM so the entry-level MacBook Pro does look somewhat neglected in that respect.

Storage

Apple has doubled the storage in all the MacBook Pro, so now the entry-level models offer 256GB and 512GB and the mid-range models offer 512GB and 1TB. The machine we are testing has 512GB. We tested the read and write speed of the SSD using AJA System Test using the 5K RED setting and a 4GB test file size.

Here we compare the 512GB SSD with the 256GB SSD in the 2020 MacBook Air’s, as you can see the results are quite significantly different. We’ve also included that 2018 built-to-order option, which trumps the new model.

Graphics

All 13in MacBook Pro have the integrated graphics rather than discrete. Integrated graphics share memory with the CPU, while discrete graphics cards have their own memory. If you are an average user of applications like Mail, Safari, Photos, and Apple Arcade games, integrated graphics will be adequate. But if you are likely to be using graphics intensive applications or games then you would benefit from discrete graphics and might want to look at the 16in MacBook Pro or the iMac as an alternative.

That said, the Intel Iris Plus Graphics in the 2.0GHz models do offer improvements on the previous generation. Apple says that these new Intel Iris Plus Graphics deliver up to 80% faster performance compared to Intel Iris Plus Graphics 655 that they replaced (the entry-level MacBook Pro still has Intel Iris Plus Graphics 645).

We ran Cinebench R20 to test the graphics:

What’s really interesting here is that although the graphics in the Air are the same as the Pro the score wasn’t. This is not really a surprise - the performance will depend on the CPU that it’s integrated on - the clock speed and the L3 cache will both have an impact. The RAM will also have an effect.

We also ran another graphics related test - the Unigine Heaven game simulation (click on the chart above to see the results). Here we can demonstrate that the new graphics is better than the old graphics with a higher score and a higher max FPS.

Battery

The battery hasn’t changed from the previous generation, and according to Apple’s tests you should expect about 10 hrs of video playback.

Our test of battery life involved running a video on look and we saw 9 hours and 42 minutes of battery life. The same test lasted 9 hours 19 minutes on the 2020 MacBook Air and more than 12 hours on the 16in MacBook Pro.

The best result we’ve ever seen is 13 hours and 7 minutes on the 2019 MacBook Air.

Software

All Macs come with the latest version of macOS (currently Catalina). With macOS comes various apps including FaceTime, Messages, Find My, Mail, Music, Notes, Books, iMovie, Pages, Numbers, Keynote and GarageBand, Photos, Safari, and the TV app.

There’s also iCloud, which as well as keeping all your data in sync across all your Apple devices, offers you up to 2TB of space in the cloud (for a fee) so you don’t need to worry that you don’t have enough space on your SDD and you can always access whatever you need wherever you are.

It’s also worth noting Apple Arcade which you can subscribe to for £4.99/$4.99/AU$7.99 a month and play 100+ games for free. And just by buying a new Apple product you will also get a free years subscription to Apple TV+. All good reasons to buy a Mac.

Price

So, is the £1,799/$1,799/AU$2,999 MacBook Pro reviewed here worth the money? It’s certainly a high price to pay to get a 10th-gen Intel processor, but the gap between the two types of 13in MacBook Pro is bigger than ever, which perhaps goes some way to justify the £300/$300 leap between the 512GB models.

Here’s pricing for the entire line up:

Verdict

They might all be called MacBook Pro but Apple’s six ‘pro’ laptops couldn’t be more different. The one we have reviewed here sits neatly in the middle of quite a wide range or Macs, that alongside the MacBook Air will meet the needs of a large group of people, from home users, office workers, creatives and those who need the power of a workstation.

But what of the 2020 2.0GHz MacBook Pro reviewed here? It’s wonderful to see 16GB RAM, and our tests suggest that the graphics have improved from the previous generation, as has the standard processor. If you need a new MacBook Pro we would certainly recommend this model over the entry-level 13in MacBook Pro that is still lumbered with 8th-generation processors.

It’s a high price to pay but the 2020 MacBook Pro would be a great investment. If £1,799 is too much for you then we’d suggest waiting for Apple to get around to properly updating the entry-level models, or look instead at the MacBook Air.

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