The choice between a MacBook Pro and MacBook Air just got tougher. Apple has added an Intel 4th-generation processor with Iris Graphics to the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display ($1,499 as configured), adding significant punch while increasing the battery life. Just as important, the starting price has dropped by $200, to $1,299. Shoppers also get faster flash memory and dual Thunderbolt 2 ports in a slightly lighter and thinner design. Before you get a Windows-powered Ultrabook, you owe it to yourself to check out this laptop.
No surprises here: The 2013 MacBook Pro 13 has the same design as the 2012 version, which isn't a bad thing. Not only is the all-aluminum unibody design stylish and sleek, but it also feels sturdy.
At 12.35 x 8.62 x 0.71 inches and 3.46 pounds, the MacBook Pro is marginally lighter and thinner than last year's version (3.57 pounds, 0.75 inches), but on the heavy side when compared to some Ultrabooks.
The Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus (3.2 pounds, 12.6 x 8.8 x 0.54 inches), Acer Aspire S7 (3 pounds, 12.7 x 8.8 x 0.51 inches) and the Sony VAIO Pro 13 (2.4 pounds) are all lighter and thinner. Still, it was easy to carry the Pro around with us in our messenger bag as we went to and from work. Granted, all of these systems are more direct competitors to the MacBook Air, but they all also offer sharper screens than the Air.
Keyboard and Touchpad
Click to EnlargeAs usual, the keyboard on the 13-inch MacBook Pro is top-notch. Featuring the same layout as its predecessor, its black keys provide plenty of travel and snappy response. Each key is individually backlit, making it easy to type in dim lighting. We also noticed zero flex as we typed this review. The top row houses several handy direct actions keys, including brightness controls, shortcuts for Mission Control and Launchpad, and media controls.
Click to EnlargeThe 4.1 x 3-inch glass touchpad on the 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro is as smooth and reliable as ever. We especially like the ability to show the desktop (spread with three fingers) and launch Mission Control (four fingers up). Swiping in with two fingers from the right shows your alerts in the Notification Center. Unlike on many Windows machines, pinch-to-zoom and two-finger scrolling are effortless.
Click to EnlargeLike last year's 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro, the 2560 x 1600-pixel display on this year's version is absolutely stunning. Whether we were watching trailers, such as "Thor: The Dark World'; viewing websites; or looking at high-res pictures, images just popped off the screen.
More important, there are about 250 apps that can take advantage of the Pro's Retina Display. For example, when we browsed Web pages in Safari, text and pictures looked incredibly crisp. While the ATIV Book 9 Plus has an even higher resolution of 3200 x 1800, there are no Windows 8 apps optimized for such high resolutions.
With a brightness of 340 lux, the MacBook Pro outshone the ATIV Book 9 Plus (251 lux), Acer Aspire S7 (329 lux) and Sony VAIO Pro 13 (237 lux).
The stereo speakers beneath the MacBook Pro's keyboard pumped out loud, powerful and accurate sound. At max volume, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis' "White Walls" more than filled our office. While the bass was a little underwhelming, the audio was well balanced, and higher tones -- such as the hi-hat -- were clearly defined, with little distortion.
After we streamed a Hulu video on full screen for 15 minutes, the touchpad on the MacBook Pro measured 79 degrees Fahrenheit, the space between the G and H keys was 90 degrees and the middle of the underside was 89 degrees. All are below what we consider uncomfortable (95 degrees); however, the back-right corner of the bottom hit 97 degrees.
Click to EnlargeThe new MacBook Pro features two Thunderbolt 2 ports, which promise up to 20 Gbps transfer speeds -- four times faster than USB 3.0. While you wait for Thunderbolt accessories to hit the market, you can use the MacBook Pro's two USB 3.0 ports. Also included is HDMI, a headphone jack and an SD Card reader; we really wish the cards would insert fully, instead of protruding from the side.
Click to EnlargeBoasting a fourth-generation 2.4-GHz Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, and 256GB of flash storage, the 2013 MacBook Pro cruised through our benchmarks with ease.
The 13-inch MacBook Pro's score of 8,249 on Geekbench was more than 2,000 points higher than the category average (5,910) as well as the Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus (5,077), which has a 1.6-GHz Intel Core i5-4200U processor, 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD. The Acer Aspire S7-392, which has the same CPU as the Samsung but 8GB of RAM, scored 5,184. The VAIO Pro 13, which has a 1.8-GHz Intel Core i7-4500U and 8GB of RAM, notched 5,507 on this test.
The MacBook Pro took just 12 seconds to boot into OS X Mavericks, which is almost half the average (20 seconds), but slower than the Samsung (11 seconds), Acer (9 seconds) and Sony (7 seconds). Still, the new PCIe flash memory in the Mac was blazing fast, duplicating 4.97GB of multimedia files in just 17 seconds, for a rate of 299.4 MBps. That's more than twice as fast as the ATIV Book 9 Plus (127 MBps), Aspire S7 (113 MBps) and the category average (109 MBps). Only the Sony VAIO Pro (392 MBps) proved faster.
The MacBook Pro took 5 minutes and 2 seconds to pair 20,000 names and addresses in the OpenOffice Spreadsheet test. That's a few seconds faster than the Acer (5:12), Samsung (5:13) and Sony (5:10). All are about a minute faster than average.
It took 2 minutes and 28 seconds to transcode a 205MB video trailer to 720p in iMovie after applying the Dream effect and using the Enhance tool. By comparison, the 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display (and Nvidia graphics) took just 1:06.
The 2013 MacBook Pro is outfitted with Intel's new Iris Graphics, an integrated GPU that's supposed to deliver twice the performance of the previous generation of GPUs. While it didn't live up to those claims, this component is certainly better than other Intel GPUs.
On the OpenGL portion of the Cinebench test, the MacBook Pro scored 20.98, compared to 16 for the ATIV Book 9 Plus, 15.7 for the Acer S7 and 12 for the VAIO Pro 13, all of which have Intel HD Graphics 4400 GPUs. Last year's MacBook Pro scored 17 on the same test.
On "World of Warcraft," the MacBook Pro averaged 32 frames per second with the resolution set to 1280 x 800, and effects on full. That's just above what we consider playable (30 fps), but much better than the ultraportable average (20 fps), the Book 9 Plus (19 fps) and the Acer S7 (21 fps) at 1366 x 768. The VAIO Pro 13 averaged 14 fps when we ran the test at 1280 x 1024.
Does that mean that Iris Graphics are ready to compete with discrete GPUs? Well, not quite. When we increased the resolution to its native 2560 x 1600, the MacBook Pro averaged just 20 fps with effects on autodetect, and 13 fps with everything maxed out. People interested in better graphics performance and gameplay will want to step up to the discrete GPU in the 15-inch MacBook Pro.
On the LAPTOP Battery Test, the MacBook Pro lasted 9 hours and 31 minutes. That's a 2-hour improvement over last year's version, and more than 3 hours longer than the category average (6:17). This runtime also bested the ATIV Book 9 Plus (8:06), the Acer Aspire S7-392 (8:53) and the Sony VAIO Pro 13 (7:20). However, with its slice battery attached, the Sony lasted 14:38.
OS X Mavericks and Software
Click to EnlargeThe 13-inch MacBook Pro comes with Apple's new OS X 10.9 Mavericks operating system, which has plenty of useful enhancements and new features. For example, the Finder now supports Tabs, making it easier to multitask, as well as Tags for keeping related items in one place. We also appreciate the ability to respond to emails and iMessages directly from notifications, though we'd like to see it extend to third-party apps such as Hipchat.
Click to EnlargeOther welcome new goodies include improved support for external displays (you can now go full-screen with apps on the second monitor) and iCloud keychain for keeping your passwords and payment info synced across your notebook, iPad and iPhone. Apple also throws in its Maps -- complete with 3D flyovers and the ability to send directions to your iPhone -- and iBooks apps.
Click to EnlargeIt gets better. Apple is also including not only its revamped iLife suite (iPhoto, iMovie, GarageBand) for free, but also iWork (Pages, Numbers and Keynote). Although it's still not quite intuitive enough for newbies, we had a blast playing with the new iMovie. You can enhance footage in real time (just as you would photos) and apply all sorts of fun effects.
If you're looking for a sleek Office alternative, check out the new iWork suite. A new contextual panel on the right side makes it easy to work in full-screen mode without having to keep hunting for the menu bar up top. The new Keynote is the star of the show, thanks to awesome new transitions and the ability to animate your data.
Apple is still selling a non-Retina version of the 13-inch MacBook Pro for $1,199. That model has a resolution of 1280 x 800; a 2.5-GHz Intel Core i5 processor; 4GB of RAM; a 500GB, 5,400-rpm hard drive; and Intel HD Graphics 4000 GPU.
All other models have a Retina (2560 x 1600) display. Our configuration cost $1,499, and comes with a 2.4-GHz Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD and Intel Iris graphics with 1GB of memory. A $1,299 version has a 128GB SSD and 4GB of RAM, and a $1,799 model has 8GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD.
At the time of purchase, consumers can also opt for up to 16GB of RAM, and up to 1TB of storage.
Click to EnlargeApple's dominance is almost getting boring. The refresh of the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display once again keeps it one step ahead of other ultraportable notebooks. Not only does this machine offer one of the best displays and better performance, but its battery life is also the best in its price range.
While the Intel Iris Graphics GPU offers a mild boost over other Intel-integrated GPUs, consumers looking to perform heavier video edits would do better with the 15-inch MacBook Pro's discrete Nvidia graphics. And if portability is your top priority, the 13-inch MacBook Air is half a pound lighter, and lasts 3 hours longer on a charge. But if you're looking for the best combination of power, display quality and endurance for a reasonable price, the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display represents a pretty sweet middle ground.