Friday

Apple MacBook Pro review (13-inch, Summer 2012)


13-inch MacBook Pro, we need to have a talk. I want to like you. I really do. And you're making it so hard.
The 13-inch MacBook Pro, back when it was simply called the MacBook, was a truly envy-inducing laptop. Debuting in the fall of 2008, it turned heads at coffee shops. It was the 15-inch Retina Display MacBook Pro of its time. No, it was better: it was the return, in a way, of the MacBook family to the more portable space once occupied by the 12-inch PowerBook G4.
I digress because the looks of the 13-inch MacBook Pro haven't changed at all, really, since that fall. They haven't changed since last year, either. The 2012 MacBook Pro has newer third-gen Intel Core i5 and i7 processors, USB 3.0 ports, and better integrated graphics. That's it. The weight, the size, the battery life, and even the price remain the same. This is more of a spec bump than a new product. While the new 13-inch MacBook Pro is a little bit better than last year's 2011 model, the landscape for laptops is changing faster than ever.
Windows laptops with similar components to the $1,199 13-inch Pro cost around $700. While the 13-inch Air has seen a price reduction, the Pro's continued status quo is all the more frustrating. Yes, the 13-inch Pro can be easily upgraded with more RAM or a larger hard drive or solid-state drive (SSD), and it has an optical drive and more ports, but it lacks the type of upgrades you'd expect on the higher, "Pro" end: no discrete graphics, no quad-core processor options, and no screen higher-res than 1,280x800 pixels.


The original unibody MacBook Pro was simply called a MacBook. I suggest a return to that name until the 13-inch Pro lives up to its more impressive 15-inch siblings.
If you really crave a 13-inch MacBook this year, I'd suggest you get the Air, or think 15-inch instead.
Price as reviewed/starting price$1,199
Processor2.5GHz Intel Core i5 (third-gen)
Memory4GB, 1,600MHz DDR3
Hard drive500GB 5,400rpm
ChipsetIntel HM77
GraphicsIntel HD 4000
Operating systemOS X Lion 10.7.4
Dimensions (WD)12.8x8.9 inches
Height0.95 inch
Screen size (diagonal)13.3 inches
System weight / Weight with AC adapter4.5 pounds / 5.3 pounds
Category13-inch
Apple's smart design of the unibody MacBook Pro has paid big dividends over the last four years: the 13-inch Pro still seems attractive and very cleanly designed, although it no longer feels lightweight or all that compact thanks to the Air. It's hard to imagine any other laptop from 2008 that would still look as good today.


The sturdy body feels dense at 4.5 pounds, although the Pro is still only 0.95 inch thick; and every year, it feels a little bit heavier. Ports only line the left side, while the right side houses the slot-loading DVD drive. Sandwiched between the MacBook Airs and the Retina Display MacBook Pro, the thick 13- and 15-inch Pros are the last MacBooks with optical drives. If that matters to you, buy one now while you can, as optical drives have become an endangered species on Macs as of late.
Ports remain the same, except for a swap to USB 3.0 from USB 2.0. Even the power adapter still uses MagSafe instead of MagSafe 2, introduced on new MacBook Airs and the Retina Display MacBook Pro.


The wide, comfortable, backlit, raised keyboard feels as good as always, and still stands out as a top laptop keyboard. So does the large, excellently responsive multitouch clickpad. Some Windows laptops have since adopted similarly sized touch pads, but none work as well.


The 13.3-inch display remains one of the only laptop screens that doesn't have a 16:9 aspect ratio. The resolution is still 1,280x800 pixels, which is roughly equivalent to 1,366x768 pixels in laptops with wider screens. That's normal, but you'd expect a higher-resolution option out of these highly priced Pros. Oddly, the 13-inch Air still has a better 1,440x900-pixel resolution. Colors and text look very bright and crisp, and viewing angles are stellar, but the edge-to-edge glass-covered display produces more glare than the 13-inch MacBook Air. There's no antiglare option, even though the 15-inch MacBook Pro offers that upgrade.


Stereo speakers sound good enough for music, video, and FaceTime calls, but they're not all that loud. In a crowded room, you'll need headphones. The 720p Webcam looks sharp, and shows off FaceTime calls well.
Apple MacBook Pro (13-inch, June 2012)Average for category [13-inch]
VideoThunderboltVGA plus HDMI or DisplayPort
AudioStereo speakers, headphone/microphone combo jackStereo speakers, headphone/microphone jacks
Data2 USB 3.0, SD card reader2 USB 2.0, 1 USB 3.0, SD card reader
NetworkingEthernet, Bluetooth, 802.11n Wi-FiEthernet, 802.11n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, optional mobile broadband
Optical driveDVD burnerDVD burner



After a few years in which the 13-inch MacBook Pro saw a reduction in ports, the port selection now feels very adequate: two USB 3.0 ports, a FireWire 800 port, an SD card slot, an Ethernet jack, and a high-speed Thunderbolt I/O port for video output and peripherals. The Thunderbolt port can work as a Mini DisplayPort, and adapters can convert video to VGA, HDMI, DVI, or DisplayPort. Still, even a year later, Thunderbolt peripherals are high-priced and not all that common. The addition of USB 3.0 is a boon as an alternative. Still, the 13-inch Pro lacks a dedicated HDMI port.
Upgrade options on the 13-inch MacBook Pro are, sadly, surprisingly limited. The base $1,199 version, which we reviewed, has a 2.5GHz dual-core third-gen Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM, and a regular 500GB, 5,400rpm hard drive. The step-up $1,499 13-inch Pro has a 2.9GHz dual-core third-gen Core i7 processor, 8GB of RAM, and a 750GB, 5,400rpm hard drive. The $300 bump-up does get you a larger hard drive, twice the RAM, and a faster processor, but after that there's not much left. Going from 4GB to 8GB of RAM costs $100; the 750GB hard drive on its own as an upgrade costs $100, or SSDs are available from 128GB ($200) to 512GB ($1,000). No discrete graphics, no quad-core processor options; basically, there's no way to turn your 13-inch MacBook Pro into anything close to the 15-inch Pro, which comes with a quad-core CPU and Nvidia graphics standard. Even if it had been expensive, I would have welcomed the option.
The shift to a third-gen Intel Ivy Bridge 2.5GHz Core i5 processor (Turbo Boost-able to 3.1GHz) means boosted performance over last year, but nowhere near the dramatic increase the 2011 13-inch Pro showed over the 2010 model. It outperformed the 13-inch MacBook Air, but by a margin so narrow that the two systems feel practically identical. In the base $1,199 configurations, the 13-inch Pro and Air provide equivalent experiences as far as everyday tasks go. At the higher-end $1,499 configurations, you're likely to see significant performance gains in the Pro.


For most people, the 13-inch Pro offers plenty of computing power; that's not the point. For its starting price, we'd expect at least a bumped-up graphics option; instead, this laptop uses Intel HD 4000 integrated graphics, which are admittedly improved over last year's Intel HD 3000. Call of Duty 4 ran at 41.8 frames per second at native 1,280x800-pixel resolution and no antialiasing, compared with 31.7fps on the February 2011 13-inch MacBook Pro. Many mainstream games, including Diablo III, will be very playable, but some may require lower graphics settings. The 13-inch Pro isn't stellar at playing games, but it does the job most people would expect perfectly well.