The newly updated MacBook Pro is good. The battery life is exceptional, the speed is exceptional, the keyboard works, and thanks to Apple embracing the external graphics card concept those 4 USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 ports are finally good for something. This is an Apple laptop built for work, and it’s about damn time.
Until recently it seemed Apple has been entirely apathetic about its computer customers. While iPad and iPhone fans have seen nice updates churned out annually like clockwork, laptop and desktop fans have languished, often stuck with aging processors in outmoded and overpriced devices.
But between Mojave and this new MacBook Pro it feels like there’s change on the wind. Mojave is a gorgeous update to the operating system that could see macOS more productive than it’s been in ages, and this MacBook Pro is easily the fastest laptop available in its category.
To be clear this review is exclusively talking about the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar. That’s the one I tested and that’s the one that’s left me impressed by its speed and price tag. The 13-inch MacBook Pro without Touch Bar has not been updated and is thus still outdated and expensive for what it is. Also I have not had the opportunity to test out the 15-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar. While that device sounds good on paper there are currently widespread reports that the processor is too hot for the chassis, leading to unpleasant throttling. That makes it a hard pass.
Apple MacBook Air Laptop
The M1 chip delivers 3.5x faster performance than the previous generation all while using way less power. Get up to 18 hours of battery life.
This review is instead focused on the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar, 16GB of RAM, and a 8th-gen 2.7GHz i7-8559U processor. Such a laptop starts at $2,300 with 256GB of SSD storage (the i5 version starts at $1,800). It goes up to $2,500 if you actually want some damn room on the SSD and spring for 512GB. That makes the 13-inch MacBook Pro one of the priciest damn laptops available right now. It’s also one of a very few 13-inch laptops with a Coffee Lake CPU inside.
Intel did something a little confusing with the 8th generation of Intel CPUs. Usually each generation is limited to one kind of microarchitecture. 6th-gen was Skylake and 7th-gen was Kaby Lake. When Intel launched its 8th-gen last year it started with Kaby Lake R mobile processors. Then came Coffee Lake desktop CPUs, and finally Coffee Lake mobiles CPUs were announced in April 2018.
Since then few laptop makers have adopted the 4-core Coffee Lake CPUs found in the MacBook Pro. They’d quickly adopted the Kaby Lake R CPUs when announced, so why scramble to redesign for Coffee Lake. Apple, because it took so long to update, has accidentally become the laptop maker embracing the bleeding edge of Intel CPU technology. It really stands out! Apple’s traditional 13-inch laptop competitors (the Dell XPS 13, Lenovo ThinkPad X1 and Yoga 900 series, and HP Envy 13t) are all Kaby Lake R machines that cost an average $500-$1,000 less than the Apple MacBook Pro.
They’re also going to be slower than the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar. In Geekbench 4, a synthetic benchmark, the MBP had a multicore score of 18328 while the Dell XPS 13 had a score of 15516. Which means it should theoretically handle tasks that rely on multiple cores in the CPU faster. That means rendering files in Premiere or Final Cut Pro or processing files in Blender. Thanks to some wicked fast storage the MacBook Pro also screams through Gizmodo’s Photoshop benchmark, which resizes a series of RAW image files and converts them to JPEG. This benchmark tests the speed of the CPU, but the biggest speed differences are always dependent on speed of the storage itself, and the MacBook Pro is fast. The Dell XPS resized and saved all the images 48.49 seconds. The MacBook Pro did it in 26.37 seconds—almost half the time!
A combination of processor and a lower resolution display helps the MacBook Pro out perform the 4K Dell XPS 13 in other more visual tasks as well. The Dell XPS 13 tested has a 16:9 4K (or 3840 x 2160) resolution display. The Apple MacBook Pro has a less typical 16:10 2560 x 1600 resolution display. Think of it as a half step between the traditional 1080p and the higher resolution 4K.
Which is probably why it’s a half step between the battery time of the 4K Dell XPS 13 and the 1080p XPS 13. When it comes to battery life, the latter XPS 13 continues to be one of the best performing laptops we’ve ever seen. When you set the display’s brightness to 200 nits and stream a YouTube video it takes the 1080p Dell XPS 13 hours and 24 minutes to die. It takes the 4K version 9 hours and 28 minutes. The Apple MacBook Pro lasts 10 hours and 35 minutes. That would get you through both seasons of Glow on Netflix with time to spare (it also makes it one of the few laptops we’ve tested that lasts into the double digits).
Besides a very reasonable battery like the MBP also has a slightly faster integrated GPU than the GPU found in the Dell XPS 13. Which means in our Civilizations VI benchmarks, which measures average time it takes to render frames in the game at 1080p on high the Dell had an average time of 140.9ms and the Apple laptop had an average time of 128.5ms. That doesn’t make it an ideal system for gamers—Macs still have lackluster game support and you’ll still need an external GPU for anything more lag sensitive than Civilizations—but it makes it a less painful option that previous generations of the MacBook Pro.
And really that’s who this MacBook Pro is intended for—the weary Apple laptop devotee. Apple has made a big deal of the fact that it wants to be taken seriously again as a laptop designer after a few years of lackluster updates and overpriced and underpowered hardware. That’s why it’s put not just new processors into its updated notebooks, but the fastest Intel processors it can theoretically cram inside. It wants to make a statement!
But so far that has resulted in the wrong kind of statement for the 15-inch MacBook Pro. That system has a 6-core Coffee Lake CPU that’s usually found in laptops that are twice as thick. Currently, according to multiple outlets, it appears that the CPU is being throttled in the 15-inch MacBook Pro (and the Dell XPS 15) because otherwise it would severely damage the internals. It would be irresponsible to recommend it in its current state.
But this 13-inch MacBook Pro? This one has me excited for the idea that maybe Apple didn’t just cram in the biggest CPUs for an easy PR move. That maybe it’s actually thinking about its users and trying to provide a laptop that, if still overpriced, is not embarrassingly so. The keyboard feels softer to type on and is less prone to crumb damage. The machine is significantly faster than its predecessors and competition. The battery life doesn’t suck. There’s also a much improved operating system on the horizon. Which means if you’re willing to pay the Apple tax for the 13-inch MacBook Pro you no longer have to feel quite so ashamed. This machine is so good the price almost feels worth it.
- Average to good battery life.
- The 8th-gen Coffee Lake CPU is one of the fastest available in a 13-inch laptop.
- The speed of the storage is incredible.
- The graphics are tolerable.
- The price is excruciating.
- The 15-inch version should be avoided until Apple resolves the throttling issue.