Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch (Without Touch Bar) Review

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Editors' rating:
The Pros

Compact design; Very bright and colorful display; Improved butterfly keyboard; Excellent battery life; Impressive stereo speakers

The Cons

Not as fast as 7th-gen Intel-powered laptops; No SD card slot

Verdict

The new MacBook Pro is an excellent ultraportable with a brighter display, more compact design, and superb battery life, but it's not the fastest.

The entry-level, 13-inch MacBook Pro doesn't have the buzz-worthy Touch Bar everyone is talking about, but that doesn't mean this isn't a formidable laptop. For $1,499, you get a brighter and more colorful screen than the previous 13-inch MacBook Pro, a bigger touchpad, louder speakers, and speedier performance, all wrapped up in a design that's thinner, lighter and smaller than its predecessor. The battery life is pretty awesome, too.

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Editor's Note (6/21/17): Apple recently refreshed this MacBook Pro with a faster, Intel 7th Generation "Kaby Lake" processor. We will update this review when we get the updated model in for testing.

If you wanted an adaptive, multi-touch screen above the keyboard that provides all sorts of nifty shortcuts, you'd have to fork over $1,799 for the Touch Bar model. Is the more affordable new MacBook Pro we reviewed worth it? Yes, but it isn't as fast as cheaper Windows laptops with Intel's newer 7th-generation processors, and Apple ditched some useful ports to achieve this svelte design.

Design: Honey, I Shrunk the MacBook Pro

The new MacBook Pro looks both classic and modern, but I wouldn't call it thrilling. The aluminum body is certainly compact, as it has 23 percent less volume and is 17 percent thinner than the last 13-inch Pro. There is remarkable precision at work here, including the tiny speaker perforations that flank the keyboard, which give the deck a striking symmetry. Then there's the perfectly carved lip, which makes opening the lid effortless.

Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch

If I had to choose, I'd opt for the new Space Gray color over the Silver, as the former hue has a more sophisticated vibe. But I do wish Apple would be a little more daring with its use of materials; for example, I like the way Dell uses carbon fiber on the inside of the XPS 13 to achieve a soft-touch feel.

This is one of the brightest displays around, registering 495 nits in our testing.

Measuring 11.97 x 8.36 x 0.58 inches and weighing 3.02 pounds, the new 13-inch MacBook Pro is smaller in every dimension than the previous model, which weighed 3.42 pounds and measured 12.35 x 8.62 x 0.71 inches. Still, 13-inch Windows ultraportables weigh less and are just as thin or thinner, such as the 2.7-pound Dell XPS 13 (11.98 x 7.88 x 0.33-0.6 inches) and the 2.8-pound HP Spectre x360 (12.03 x 8.58 x 0.54 inches). The 13.9-inch Yoga 910 measures 12.72 x 8.84 x 0.56 inches and weighs 3.04 pounds.

Ports: Too Minimalist

I hope you like dongles. This 13-inch MacBook Pro sports two Thunderbolt 3 ports on the left and a headphone jack on the right. The good news is that the Thunderbolt 3 ports, which have a USB-C connector, enable power and data over a single connection. They offer blazing fast transfer speeds (up to 40 Gbps) and will let you connect two 4K monitors. You must charge the laptop using either one of the two ports, as Apple has retired its MagSafe connection.

MacBook Pro Thunderbolt 3 Ports

(If you wanted to spend $1,799 on the Touch Bar 13-inch MacBook Pro, you'd get 4 Thunderbolt 3 ports.)

Unfortunately, Apple got rid of the SD card slot, which means you'll need to use a USB-C card reader or connect your camera directly to the laptop using a dongle. The similarly-thin HP Spectre x360 and Yoga 910 also ditch the SD card but manage to include one full-size USB port. The thicker XPS 13 includes two USB 3 ports, an SD Card reader and one Thunderbolt 3/USB-C port.

MORE: Thunderbolt 3 Explained: Why You Need the World's Fastest Port

Apple sells a $69 USB-C Digital AV Multiport adapter that includes connections for HDMI and a full-size USB port for connecting devices like the iPhone, cameras and other peripherals. You can also pick up a USB-C to USB adapter for $19, but there's also plenty of third-party options that are cheaper.

The MacBook Pro isn't as speedy as Windows ultraportables with 7th-generation Intel processors.

Display: Super Bright and Colorful

Apple says that the 2560 x 1600-pixel Retina display on the 13-inch MacBook Pro is 67 percent brighter than before. We didn't see that much of a difference, but this is still one of the brightest panels around; it registered 495 nits in our testing, which is significantly higher than the 385 nits on the last model. By comparison, the Dell XPS 13 hit just 302 nits, the HP Spectre x360 317 nits and the Lenovo Yoga 910 292 nits.

MacBook Pro 13-inch

This display also offers rich colors, as evidenced when I downloaded a 4K photo of a sunrise shot through a wave. I saw vibrant blues, greens, yellows and oranges. When watching the Rogue One trailer, I could make out every scratch on a box a rebel was hiding behind, as well as the drops of sweat on his forehead. My only complaint when watching video is that I wish the black levels were higher.

These are the best speakers I've heard on this size laptop.

On our tests, this screen reproduced 113 percent of the sRGB color gamut (higher numbers are better) while turning in a Delta-E color accuracy score of 1.0 (closer to 0 is best). This makes the MacBook Pro's display more colorful but not quite as accurate as the XPS 13 (93.6 percent, 0.76 Delta-E), Spectre x360 (101, 0.74) and Yoga 910 (98, 0.76).

Audio: Best in Class

Whether you like to binge watch Netflix, rock out on Spotify or hear every detail in that movie you're scoring in Final Cut Pro, you'll love the improved stereo speakers on the 13-inch MacBook Pro. In fact, these are the best speakers I've heard on this size laptop.

Apple redesigned the speakers to deliver twice the dynamic range and three times the peak power while minimizing distortion. When I played "Don't Wanna Know" by Maroon 5 and Kendrick Lamar at max volume, Adam Levine's soaring falsetto sounded crystal clear. On Twenty One Pilots' "Heathens," the bass line had plenty of bunch which never got lost amidst Tyler Joseph's vocals.

Keyboard and Touchpad: A Better Butterfly

Unless you've used the 12-inch MacBook's keyboard, like I have for the last couple years, you'll find the butterfly keyboard on the 13-inch Pro to be disarmingly flat at first. But while this second-generation layout technically has the same low amount of travel (0.5 mm) as that notebook, the new one offers better tactile feedback, thanks to an improved dome switch design.

Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch Keyboard

I typed this entire review on the 13-inch MacBook Pro, and found it to be plenty speedy and fairly comfortable. On the 10FastFingers typing test, I averaged between 65 and 70 words per minute with 5 to 6 errors. I did miss some keys at times, forcing me to correct small mistakes.

The Force Touch trackpad continues to click without clicking like before, as there's a Taptic Engine that delivers precise haptic feedback. What's different is the size; this touchpad is positively huge at 5.3 x 3.3 inches, which is 46 percent larger than the last 13-inch Pro. And yet the trackpad never registered accidental swipes or clicks as I typed.

Force Touch trackpad

My only advice is to disable the Force Click function in settings; I found myself inadvertently long pressing on words to look up their meanings when I only wanted to select text.

Performance: Good, But 7th Gen Would Be Better

While other Windows laptops are opting for Intel's latest and greatest 7th-generation Kaby Lake processor, Apple chose to stick with a 6th-generation Core i5 CPU on the 13-inch MacBook Pro running at 2-GHz. You also get 8GB of RAM, 256GB of flash storage and Intel Iris Graphics 540. The result is a notebook that's faster than the previous Pro but not as speedy as the competition.

Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch

Even when I had more than a dozen tabs open in Chrome, along with Firefox, Safari and Pixelmator running in the background, the MacBook Pro never stuttered like the Core m-powered 12-inch MacBook that I typically use.

On Geekbench 4, which measures overall performance, the 13-inch MacBook Pro scored 7,053. That's above the ultraportable category average of 6,618, but below the mark posted by the $1,099 Dell XPS 13 with a 7th-generation Core i5 processor (7,287). Powered by 7th-generation Core i7 chips, the $1,300 HP Spectre x360 (8,147) and $1,200 Lenovo Yoga 910 (8,102) also outpaced the MacBook Pro.

The 13-inch MacBook Pro should have no problem crunching numbers, but again it fell behind 7th-gen Core-powered Windows notebooks. It took the Apple notebook 4 minutes and 39 seconds to match 20,000 names and addresses. That beats the 6:24 average but is more than 30 seconds slower than the XPS 13 and a good minute behind the Spectre x360 and Yoga 910.MacBook Pro 13-inch

The new MacBook Pro does smoke the competition when it comes to its flash storage. It transfered about 5GB worth of files in just 10 seconds, which translates to 508.9 megabytes per second.

Graphics: Iris is Pretty Solid

Apple opted for Iris 540 graphics on the 13-inch MacBook Pro, which is backed by 64MB of eDRAM, which is supposed to accelerate both graphics and processor workloads. It delivered mixed results on our tests.

Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch

You can certainly game on this notebook, as we saw during a playthrough of the Dirt 3 racing game. At full HD resolution at medium settings, the MacBook Pro notched an average of 35 frames per second, which is perfectly playable. That's higher than the Dell XPS 13's 28 fps at the same settings and the 25 fps category average. However, the Core i7-powered HP Spectre x360 (40 fps) and Yoga 910 (50 fps) both scored higher.

On the Cinebench OpenGL graphics rendering test, which simulates a car chase scene, the MacBook Pro achieved a decent 35.69 fps, but both the Dell XPS 13 (42.62 fps) and Spectre x360 (43.8 fps) scored higher.

Battery Life: Superb Endurance

Apple rates the 54.5 watt-hour battery in the 13-inch MacBook Pro for 10 hours of web surfing time, and that's roughly what it gets in real life. On the Laptop Mag web surfing test, in which we set the screen at 100 nits of brightness and surf the web over Wi-Fi, the MacBook Pro lasted a strong 9 hours and 50 minutes. That beats the ultraportable laptop average of 7:58, but it's less than the 2015 MacBook Pro we reviewed (12:04), as well as the HP Spectre x360 (10:06), Yoga 910 (10:36) and Dell XPS 13.

MacBook Pro 13-inch

Heat: A Quiet Partner

The 13-inch MacBook Pro runs cool in some spots and warm in others, but the fan kept things quiet during our testing. After streaming full-screen video for 15 minutes, the touchpad registered just 85 degrees, which is well below our 95-degree comfort threshold. However, both the keyboard and the bottom of the notebook reached 98 degrees. It was noticeable but not uncomfortable.

Software: Siri inside, No bloat

One of the benefits of opting for a Mac is that you don't have to worry about unwanted third-party software taking up storage space. It's really all about a pure macOS Sierra experience, which gives you Siri on the Mac for the first time. There's also an Optimized Storage feature that can help free up space when you need it, support for Apple Pay purchases online and an improved Photos app that automatically curates images into ready-made collections called Memories.

macOS Sierra with Apple Pay

Configuration Options

The entry-level, 13-inch MacBook I reviewed starts at $1,499 and includes a 2-GHz 6th generation Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of memory and a 256GB PCI-e based SSD, plus Intel Iris graphics. Upgrading can get pretty pricey, as jumping up to a Core i7 CPU costs $300. Opting for 16GB of RAM will cost you $200, as will 512GB of flash storage. A 1TB SSD will run you $600.

If you would prefer to check out Apple's innovative new Touch Bar, which puts a multitouch screen above the keyboard to give you a wide range of contextually relevant shortcut controls depending on the app you're using, you'll have to pay $1,799. You'll also get a Touch ID button for logging into your Mac and making Apple Pay purchases with a tap of your finger, as well two additional Thunderbolt 3 ports and a faster 2.9-GHz processor.

Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch

Bottom Line

The 13-inch MacBook Pro improves upon its predecessor in nearly every way. It's faster, lighter and more compact, and it offers a brighter display than most Windows machines. I also like the rich and powerful stereo speakers. However, while I'm glad Apple included 2 fast Thunderbolt 3 ports, I wish it kept a traditional USB 3.0 port around for charging the iPhone and connecting other peripherals, as well as an SD card slot.

At $1,499, the MacBook Pro also has a higher starting price than most premium Windows ultraportables, and it's $200 more than its predecessor. I'm also not a fan of the decision to opt for an older 6th-generation Intel processor, which means you simply don't get as much performance as systems with 7th-gen CPUs, such as the Dell XPS 13, HP Spectre x360 and Yoga 910. The HP and Lenovo have the added benefit of being 2-in-1s with touchscreens you can use as tablets.

So, yes, the new MacBook Pro is an excellent laptop, and I strongly recommend it. But I also wish Apple included the latest Intel processors for the price.

Author Bio
Mark Spoonauer
Mark Spoonauer, Editor-in-Chief
Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptopmag.com, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.
Mark Spoonauer, Editor-in-Chief on
CPU 2-GHz Intel 6th Gen Core i5
Operating System macOS Sierra
RAM 8GB
RAM Upgradable to 16GB
Hard Drive Size 256GB
Hard Drive Speed
Hard Drive Type PCIe-based Flash Storage
Secondary Hard Drive Size
Secondary Hard Drive Speed
Secondary Hard Drive Type
Display Size 13.3
Native Resolution 2560 x 1600
Optical Drive
Optical Drive Speed
Graphics Card Intel Iris Graphics 540
Video Memory 64MB
Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
Wi-Fi Model 802.11ac Wi-Fi
Bluetooth Bluetooth 4.2
Mobile Broadband
Touchpad Size 5.34 x 3.34
Ports (excluding USB) Thunderbolt 3
Ports (excluding USB) Headphone
USB Ports
Warranty/Support One year standard warranty
Size 11.97 x 8.36 x 0.58 inches
Weight 3.02 pounds
Company Website www.apple.com
Add a comment
21 comments
  • moses njiru Says:

    i really really love it but how do i get it in kenya.thank you

  • George Says:

    I personally don't need a touch screen. It's easier to use a mouse instead...

  • kamasongu chitukutuku Says:

    Hi there.....I like this laptop.... but how do I get it to Zambia in the course of this week....after I pay $1400

  • FreeRadical Says:

    Nice review. I would love to know how well games like battlefield run on this mbpro thru bootcamp.

  • henry@henry3dogg.com Says:

    Why is everyone so obsessed about dongles?

    To connect with my iPhone I use a USB-C to Lightening lead.
    To connect to a DVI monitor I use a USB-C to DVI lead.

  • Feri H Says:

    What?? 4:39 for spreadsheet performance?? Last year model with gen 5 procie manage to outnumbered that by a full minute (3:28, to be precise). What a rubbish

  • Gassy Shequita Says:

    I be so gassy ya'll. Up in herrre. :/

  • Barry Says:

    We ALL need ports and not having the right dongle when getting ready to make a presentation is a deal killer. Further, some have posted videos showing that a dongle can cause WiFi to stop working!
    This long awaited as in years, upgrade STILL has a max of 16GB memory.....how many years on this limit? a decade? I love thinner but a piece of paper is even thinner just does not do what I need.
    MBP Retina 13" still is going to be about 80% the performance and zero additional cost. No dongles required. (runs 3 displays! 4k Apple Thunderbolt and built in)

  • Manuel Says:

    Thanks for your feedback, zeyad morsy. Typically I usually use it for research (i.e. sustained writing and browsing) rather than media-intensive work, so I figured it would be sufficient. My wife does some photo and video editing, though, and I don't see why in 3ish years when the 2012 MBP gives up the ghost, she shouldn't be able to use mine. Maybe I'll just pay extra for RAM and let that be that.

  • zeyad morsy Says:

    No Manuel, I'm pretty sure that you won't be seeing any performance degradation. In fact, you'll be seeing a huge jump in performance. The new ssd is almost 4 times faster than the 2012 model and the GPU is extremely better. only thing that you'll notice will be the reduction in ram. I suggest upgrading the ram if you think that you'll need it, but if you will be using this laptop for browsing and writings. 8 gigs will be just fine, even more than you'll need for those basic tasks.

  • Mark Spoonauer Says:

    Thanks for the comments. I do mention Cinebench graphics performance in the review and the MacBook Pro fell flat there as well. I'm open to using other cross-platform graphics benchmarks. But so far I'm not seeing evidence last-generation Iris is better.

  • Seylan Says:

    This should have been priced at $1200, while the touch-bar model should have been $1500. I was really looking forward to these new macbooks, but there's not a lot of value for money here.

  • Henry 3 Dogg Says:

    "I wish it kept a traditional USB 3.0 port around for charging the iPhone"

    Use a Lightening to USB C cable.

  • David Hellmann Says:

    I think about the new non touch version with 16GB or and used Air 13 2.2 / 8GB / 256GB.

    The new one without TB looks great but I'm not sure if its the best decision to buy this macbook now when in Q1 maybe an update is coming. I don't know but that feels not 100% right. Maybe if alle the prices are 200 $ cheaper it was more easy to decide. Hmmmmm.

  • p_giguere1 Says:

    I think this review isn't entirely fair. The author mentions several times that the fact it uses a last-generation Intel chip is a con.

    Yet Intel has not launched any Kaby Lake chip with Iris graphics yet. That's the reason Apple is sticking with Skylake.

    Basically, Apple had to choose between a significantly better GPU (Skylake with Iris 540) or slightly better CPU (Kaby Lake with HD 620), and they went with there former, which was more expensive and which IMO was the right choice.

    Yet the author doesn't mention this MBP has much better graphics than the other laptops he compared it to. In fact he claims the opposite.
    This comes from the fact he isn't measuring actual GPU performance, but rather the gaming performance in a specific game (Dirt 3). That game runs worse not because the GPU in the MBP is worse, but because Mac games are mostly quick ports (cider wraps) with much worse performance under OpenGL than the original Windows game under DirectX.

    The graphics portion of this review is therefore not really representative of graphics performance outside of gaming. It's also not considering that anybody with a Mac that wants good gaming performance will simply use Boot Camp.

    So yeah, I would personally not have put the fact it uses Skylake as a con, given that's the reason it has Iris graphics. If anything, it's a pro compared to those other laptops that use Kaby Lake chips with HD 620 graphics.

  • Nathan Says:

    I understand that your review unit is the 2.0 GHz one, right? I was considering about buying either the last year's 2.7 GHz i5 or this model. This makes me quite sure that the 2.0 GHz model will do the trick for me.

  • Manuel Says:

    Thanks for this in-depth review. I'm considering purchasing this entry-level MBP 2016, but I'm a bit spooked by the the lower 2-GHz i5 processor. Do I understand you correctly to be saying that the performance is nevertheless better than the 2015 MBP, which comes with a 2.7-GHz i5 (5th gen)?

    I'm attracted this latest update because of portability / screen / battery life, but it just feels weird to pay so much money to leave my mid-2012 (non-retina) 16GB ram / 512GB SSD for a laptop with 8GB ram and 256 SSD. Would I see a reduction in performance?

  • John R Says:

    They've gone with Skylake because Kaby Lake isn't due to get Iris graphics until Q1 2017.

    That's why it's beaten the XPS in the graphics benchmarks.

  • Trevor J Says:

    Do you think the battery life is greater than advertised because of the slightly bigger battery in the base model, the lower powered CPU, and the lack of the touchbar?

  • James Pope Says:

    I could care less about the processor being last gen. The newer PC's may have the latest processor but the build quality is crap. Ever single PC I have had dies after just a few years and the Mac's just keep on going. I would opt for a higher quality machine any day, and leave the latest processor (which most people don't need) behind every time.

  • Andrew Sands Says:

    No touch screen it is old crap. Touch screen is the best

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