MacBook Pro review: No Touch Bar, but still a happy Mac

The new entry-level, 13 -inch MacBook Pro
Image: lance ulanoff/ mashable

Apples entry-level 13 -inch MacBook Pro would be considered an exciting, if not innovative, laptop, if it wasnt for the fact that Apple already taunted us with the Touch Bar-sporting version.

Instead, the $1,499 MacBook Pro comes across as a strong, sexy upgrade for budget-minded MacBook Pro owners. To get the bells and whistles of the fascinating Touch Bar, two additional Thunderbolt-3 ports and even a faster Core i5 processor, youll have to pay at least $200 more.

The new 13 -inch MacBook Pro looks like a cross between the venerable MacBook Pro circa 2012 and the edgier and much lighter 12 -inch MacBook introduced in 2015.

At a glance, the profiles of the two MacBook Pros are virtually identical, a reflection of Apples ongoing gratification with a portable design language it introduced in 2008. Since then, its been refining that theme.

This is the one that still has the function keys, instead of that secy, new Touch Bar.

Image: LANCE ULANOFF/ MASHABLE

This time, though, Apple wanted to boil down the MacBook Pro. The only way to achieve that various kinds of reduction, though, was to borrow heavily from the MacBook. Apple took all the system design lessons learned from the creation of the single-port ultraportable and poured them into the thinner, lighter and smaller MacBook Pro.

A familiar design

Externally, the new, 3-pound MacBook Pro is smaller and lighter( by a half a pound) than the last 13 -inch MacBook Pro. Its also a simpler device, with fewer ports, seams, materials and even screws than the Retina MacBook Pro. Unlike the Touch Bar model, this entry-level device offers simply three ports: a headphone jack( something Pro users may care about even more that iPhone owners) and two USB-C Thunderbolt 3 ports( there are still two microphones, but the holes are no longer visible on the chassis ).

In addition, the hinge has been completely redesigned. No more black composite material showing inside the lid or on the bottom, merely more aluminum. As you might suspect, the hinge design was also borrowed from the MacBook.

The new 13 -inch MacBook Pro in front of the last Retina model. Screen on the new one is bigger, but the chassis is smaller. Go figure.

Image: LANCE ULANOFF/ MASHABLE

Yup, the new device, on the right, is even thinner than the old model. Where did all the ports go?

Image: LANCE ULANOFF/ MASHABLE

The most visible change is the redesigned keyboard. Like the original MacBook, the keys retain their chiclet style, however, the overall looking and feel is virtually the same as what youd discovery on a MacBook.

Apple makes no secret of this. Its actually a second-generation butterfly keyboard, with slightly greater traveling technology underneath each key. Even though the keys are slightly closer together than on the last MacBook Pro, typing on it is meet and comfy. It did not feel markedly different than what I found on the MacBook and its first-gen butterfly technology keyboard.

Its also worth noting that this is the only new MacBook Pro to still feature a traditional Function Key row, which also houses key system controls like screen brightness, the brightness of the keyboard backlight, playback controls, volume and power. How well the Touch Bar replaces all these keys we wont know until we test the MacBook Pro with the Touch Bar.

This keyboard is a virtual replica of the one found on the 12 -inch MacBook.

Image: LANCE ULANOFF/ MASHABLE

The keys are flatter, but typing on it feels good.

Image: LANCE ULANOFF/ MASHABLE

Right below the new keyboard is the gigantic trackpad, which is 46 percent larger than the trackpad on the last Retina MacBook Pro( the trackpad on the MacBook is larger than the one on the Retina MacBook Pro as well ). Unlike a traditional trackpad, this glass-covered aircraft doesnt click when you press it. Haptic motors underneath construct the audio and recreate the feeling of a click, but its all a perfectly engineered illusion.

I discovered the click a bit tinny, but got used to it and was pretty happy with the fake click feeling. Unlike the new Touch ID “button” on the iPhone 7, the trackpad does have a little flex to it, which is more pronounced at the outer edges. Pressing the trackpad when the MacBook Pro is powered down is pretty strange. You get that flex, but no auditory or haptic response.

This has to be the biggest track pad Apple has ever produced for a laptop.

Image: LANCE ULANOFF/ MASHABLE

It even makes my hand appear small-ish.

Image: LANCE ULANOFF/ MASHABLE

I did a lot of typing on these systems and, to my astound, the giant track pad never got in the way. I genuinely do wish Apple would add Apple Pencil support so I could draw on it.

Speaking of audio, its true, the startup tone familiar to most Mac users since the early 1990 s is gone. Since most people rarely power down their Macs, they might not even miss it. What they should appreciate, though, is the ability to power up the system simply by opening the lid.

Retina upgrade

The new 13 -inch MacBook Pro has the exact same 2,560 x 1,600 solving as the last showing, but this panel is far brighter( 500 nits) and more color-rich( it has a wider colouring gamut) than virtually anything Apple has made before for a MacBook Pro. Apple says the screen has 67 precent higher contrast ratio that the previous MacBook Pro. Every single person I showed the new display expressed astonishment at its brightness, colouring and clarity.

The monitor is also slightly larger and perceptibly thinner than the showing eyelid on the last MacBook Pro. No doubt Apple fans will miss the glowing Apple logo on the back, but Apple told me that that logo leaks a lot of lighting, which would have had an adverse effect on the thin Retina display.

Ports

The smaller chassis and sleeker design came at an estimated cost. The new 13 -inch MacBook Pro has just two USB-C ports( you get two more on the more expensive model ). The Thunderbolt, USB, HDMI, and SD card slot are all gone. Yes, USB-C is versatile. You can plug in a jack in either direction and both ports can handle data and power effectively. However, youll require adapters for virtually all your legacy hardware and the entry-level 13 -inch MacBook Pro does not ship with adapters. Apple did render me with one as well as a lengthy Thunderbolt cable.

With the entry-level MacBook Pro, you merely get these two USB-C ports.

Image: LANCE ULANOFF/ MASHABLE

And a 3.5 mm port, which audio and video pros should appreciate.

Image: LANCE ULANOFF/ MASHABLE

In addition, the trademark MagSafe power connector is gone. If person strolled into your USB-C power cable while its plugged into the laptop, they might just drag your MacBook Pro to the floor.

At work

Inside the entry-level MacBook Pro is a sixth-generation Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of DDR3 RAM and a 256 GB solid-state drive. Single- and multi-core Geekbench numbers 3,754 and 7,268, respectively is consistent with what youd expect for a midrange system.

In my experience, performance was solid and stutter free whether I was playing a game, browsing the Web or watching a video.

Apple has squeezed a lot into this tiny frame and even though it re-engineered the thermal system, I did notice the system occasionally get fairly hot on the rear part of the base( nearest the hinge ). It wasnt uncomfortable, but I could feel it.

Even the hinge upon the new MacBook Pro has been redesigned. I like it.

Image: LANCE ULANOFF/ MASHABLE

No more unsightly black material depicting on the inside.

Image: LANCE ULANOFF/ MASHABLE

Even with all those components squeezed in there so tight and very little air space, the new stereo speakers producers loud and crystal clear audio. A Netflix showing of DCs Legends of Tomorrow voiced excellent. It was so loud I had to close my door so I didnt disturb everybody else in the office.

Battery life was as good as advertised. I easily got 10 hours of mixed use.

Overall, the entry-level 13 -inch MacBook is a satisfying and still sexy system with myriad improvements, but no signature invention. It should attract budget-conscious MacBook Pro users( those who aren’t willing to switch to Windows where they can get a similarly appointed system for under $900) who think $1,799 is too much for a Core i5 MacBook Pro, even if it does feature that unusual new Touch Bar.

Entry-level 13 -inch MacBook Pro

The Good

Excellent design Great keyboard and trackpad Lighter and thinner than ever Beautiful Retina screen Solid performance Excellent battery life

The Bad

No legacy ports No signature innovation You’re still paying an Apple premium

The Bottom Line

This is a smart and more affordable MacBook Pro upgrade in almost every style and would be considered a lot cooler if it wasn’t for the Touch Bar edition waiting in the wings.

Bonus: Everything you need to know about the new MacBook Pro

Read more: