If the 16‑inch MacBook Pro was too much and the MacBook Air too little, is this latest 13‑inch MacBook Pro just right?
Following on from last year’s introduction of the 16‑inch MacBook Pro, and this year’s update to the MacBook Air, there was one MacBook in Apple’s line‑up that remained conspicuous in waiting to be refreshed with the company’s latest and greatest technologies: the 13‑inch MacBook Pro. Where the 16‑inch model — like the 15‑inch before it — offers Apple’s best in portable performance with a corresponding price tag, and the Air caters to users conscious of pecuniary matters (or those seeking the thinnest form factor), the 13‑inch MacBook Pro has always occupied the gap in between. And so, on May 4th, Apple announced this much‑anticipated update.
Unlike the 16‑inch MacBook Pro, the design and general feature set of the new fifth‑generation 13‑inch Pro has remained largely the same as last year’s model, which had its roots in 2016’s fourth‑generation refresh. Available in the usual Space Gray and Silver finishes, the new 13‑inch MacBook Pro shares the same 11.97 by 8.36‑inch dimensions as its predecessor, but is a shade thicker and heavier with a height of 0.62 inches over 0.59, weighing in at 3.1 versus 3.02. Sadly, this extra girth doesn’t translate into a larger battery, as it did in the 16‑inch, with the 2020 specifications still detailing a 58W‑hour lithium‑polymer battery.
In appearance, the 13‑inch MacBook Pro employs the same dazzling 13.3‑inch Retina display you’d expect from Apple, with 500 nits of brightness, a P3 wide colour gamut, and the marvellously visceral True Tone technology. With 2560 x 1600 pixels, the native resolution is identical to other, equivalently sized screens in the MacBook family, offering the same four scaled resolutions. Since our recent MacBook Air review included screenshots showing comparisons of these resolutions when running Logic Pro, Cubase Pro and Pro Tools, it seems unnecessary to include them here again. However, that review — and indeed, the full August issue of the magazine — can be read online by visiting the Sound On Sound website.
Whilst the display is obviously one of the most important components of a laptop, input devices like the keyboard are also significant. As such, one of the improvements users have been waiting for in a new 13‑inch MacBook Pro is the replacement of the unloved Butterfly keyboard mechanism with the newer, more conventional scissor‑based implementation seen first in the 16‑inch MacBook Pro and the latest MacBook Air. And although the new keyboard doesn’t have as much travel as the scissor mechanisms of yore, it is, however, a significant enhancement to daily use, offering greater comfort and reliability.
Like the 16‑inch MacBook Pro, the new 13‑inch model features a second‑generation Touch Bar, the touchable OLED strip that replaces the oh‑so‑passé function keys and incorporates an admittedly handy Touch ID sensor. The second‑generation Touch Bar is horizontally smaller than the first one used in the previous 13‑inch MacBook Pro, as it thankfully sees the return of a physical Escape key to its rightful place at the top‑left of the keyboard.
If you haven’t used a Touch Bar before, it essentially comprises two areas: the Control Strip, where you can adjust system settings like volume and brightness, and the App region, which provides dedicated controls for the application currently in focus. It’s possible to display virtual function keys by holding down the Function key, and this default behaviour can be configured in the System Preferences Keyboard pane.
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