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New MacBook Pro Review 13″ (part 1)

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Apple announced updated MacBook Pros yesterday and I’ve already got my hands on the top retail configuration, complete with a Core i7 processor and new graphics. This model definitely puts the ‘Pro’ back into the 13″ MacBook Pro, which was lagging the competition and the 15″ MacBook Pro in the firepower department.

I’ve been using a fully-loaded 13″ MacBook Air as my primary laptop, relegating my fully-loaded 2010 15″ MacBook Pro to occasional desk duty. The 13″ MacBook Pro may prove to be an in-betweener, or it may be returned to Best Buy where it was purchased if it doesn’t live up to the hype.

In this part of our multi-part MacBook Pro Review, we’ll go over the unboxing experience, general features and first impressions. At the conclusion of this part of the MacBook Pro review, you can read our buying recommendation.

Remember, no matter how many MacBook Pro reviews you read, buying a new laptop is a very personal decision and it’s best to try out each model you’re interested in yourself if possible. It’s also important to buy a Mac from somewhere with a reasonable return policy that does not charge a restocking fee.

13″ MacBook Pro Configuration

The $1,499 configuration is the best-configured 13″ MacBook  Pro you’ll find on store shelves. You can customize a 13″ MacBook Pro with premium options, such as an SSD, through Apple.com, but this is the model countless students, artists and professionals will buy at Apple Stores, Best Buy and other retailers.

For $1,499 you get:

  • 2.7GHz dual-core Intel Core i7 processor
  • 4GB of 1333MHz  DDR3 memory
  • 500GB, 5400 RPM hard drive
  • Intel HD Graphics
  • SDXC memory card slot
  • Firewire 800
  • Two USB Ports
  • Super Drive (DVD/CD burner)
  • Thunderbolt Port
  • 13.3″ 1280×800

13″ MacBook Pro Unboxed

The new 13″ MacBook Pro comes in a familiar white box, just like previous generations and other current MacBook models.

One thing that never gets old when writing MacBook Pro reviews is the out of box experience.Apple continues to maintain the best out of box experience of any laptop manufacturer. As soon as the box is opened, you get to see the MacBook Pro,without having to remove any additional packaging or shove aside any pamphlets.

Beneath the MacBook Pro is the MagSafe power adapter. It comes with the modular AC prongs, with the compact one already attached to the power adapter. A 6 ft. cord attaches if you sit further away from an outlet.

Also below the MacBook Pro are two packets. One has pamphlets with regulatory information. The other has a pair of DVDs to reinstall OSX and the bundled applications. When we reviewed the MacBook Air, we noted that Apple put these files on a thumb drive since that computer doesn’t come with a DVD drive.  Apple should ditch the discs and do the same with the MacBook Pro.

MacBook Pro 13″ Exterior Features

The 13″ MacBook Pro’s glass trackpad is identical to the one found on the 13″ MacBook Air. It’s smooth and silk and offers the best multi-touch trackpad of experience I’ve experienced. Gestures, such as swipes and pinches, make it easy to navigate and control the MacBook without using shortcuts.

As with previous MacBook Pros, the new model has a backlit keyboard that automatically illuminates when the lights dim. This is a really nice feature, even for those users who can type a mile a minute. It can be incredibly frustrating hunting for a function key or trying to hit multiple keys at the same time in the dark. This is a feature that’s sorely missed from the current MacBook Air models.

The left side of the 13″ MacBook Pro looks pretty similar to the previous model. Towards the rear is the MagSafe power connector, an Ethernet port and a FireWire 800 port. Towards the front is an audio jack that can be used for audio input and output. The MacBook Pro’s audio jack is compatible with mobile headsets, such as the one that comes with the iPhone, making it easy to chat via Skype or other programs.

Between the two USB ports and the FireWire 800 port is a Thunderbolt port. This is a new port that’s multi-functional and super fast. It can support HD video and lightening fast data transfers to external drives and other peripherals. If this technology catches on, it will make life a lot easier for those that often move large files around or hate clutter. This is the first computer to feature Thunderbolt, which means there’s not much to plug into it as of now. You’ll most likely continue to plug in your backup drive and peripherals into the USB ports for the foreseeable future. This feature alone is definitely not worth ditching your old MacBook in favor of a new one, no matter how tempting other MacBook Pro reviews make Thunderbolt sound. This will be a standard feature in all future MacBooks, so bide your time until your current Mac starts falling apart or you really need a new one.

On the right edge of the 13″ MacBook Pro is a SuperDrive and Kensignton lock slot, two items that are absent from the MacBook Air. The SuperDrive can write and read a variety of DVD and CD formats, but Blu-ray is still missing in action. In the year 2011, Apple should either ditch optical drives all together, or bump the SuperDrive up to Blu-ray so users can enjoy their Blu-ray movies on the go or burn 50GB of data onto a single disk. Blu-ray is becoming very, very common in PC notebooks, even those that are far cheaper than the MacBook Pro.

As you can guess, the 13″ MacBook Pro comes with a 13.3″ display. There a couple of things that are big negatives in my book. The display has a glossy finish, making it unusable outdoors and frustrating to use with your back to a window. The 13″ MacBook Pro display has a resolution of just 1280 x 800, which simply isn’t enough for many applications and multi-tasking.

The 15″ and 17″ MacBook Pros can be had with a matte display, which is far superior in most lighting conditions. The 11″ and 13″ MacBook Airs come with displays that are a little glossy, but they don’t have  the thick protective layer  of glass that makes reflects so much light.

The 13″ MacBook Air has a high-resolution display, ringing in at 1440 x 900 pixels. That might not sound like a whole lot of a difference, but it does make the MacBook Pro’s display feel a little more crowded than the MacBook Air’s. Apple should offer higher resolution and matte displays, especially for professional creatives. It would certainly be worth an extra $100 or $200.

Some 13″ MacBook Pro reviews will note that the display is gorgeous, like previous models, and in the right conditions I agree. Unfortunately, my definition of ‘right conditions’ is having the MacBook Pro’s display set to maximum brightness or using it in a dimly lit room.

MacBook Pro Hard Drive

We’ll get more into hard drive options in a future part of this MacBook Pro review series, but so far the Achilles heel of this computer so far is its slow hard drive. It spins at 5400 RPM, which is exactly the speed of drives found in low-cost netbooks and notebooks. At $1,499, Apple could at least have the courtesy to drop a 7200RPM drive in this MacBook. It’s unfortunate that Apple isn’t offering a faster hard drive option with its retail MacBook Pro models. We’d really like to see an SSD retail model as well, but the masses are still hooked to GB over I/O speed. Many notebook buyers forget about I/O (input/output) performance when shopping for notebooks, instead focusing on processor speed, RAM and other specs that we’ve been conditioned to focus on over the years.

MacBook Pro Battery Life

The 13″ MacBook Pro is rated to last for up to seven hours on a single charge. Though Apple’s notebooks often beat their advertised battery ratings, we’ll have to reserve judgement until we put the new MacBook Pro through its paces. It’s a safe bet that users will be able to actually get seven hours of web-browsing battery life out of the new MacBook Pro  as long as the display isn’t cranked up to maximum brightness and they use Apple’s Safari web browser.

Initial MacBook Pro Recommendation

After using the 13″ MacBook Pro for a few hours I’m confident in recommending it to any notebook buyer looking for a premium computer. It’s ready to rock right of the box and has the same excellent user experience as the rest of the MacBook line. If you’re a power-hungry Mac user that doesn’t want to lug around a 15″ MacBook Pro, I say go for it.

The only reasons to get a 15″ MacBook Pro would be if you absolutely need the larger display (optional high-res and matte finish) or if you need every ounce of processing or graphics power for work or play. If you’re rarely mobile, the 15″ MacBook Pro can make a better desktop replacement.

If you don’t hoard a lot of video or play the latest video games you’ll probably be better off with the 13″ MacBook Air. The 13″ MacBook Air has a slower processor, but offers a much better overall experience. It can be maddening slow to perform resource-intensive tasks such as exporting videos from iMovies on the MacBook Air compared to the 13″ MacBook Pro, but it feels snappier in every day tasks thanks to its standard SSD and NVIDIA graphics.  The biggest tradeoff with the MacBook Air is that storage space is scarce, with only 128GB in the base model.

At 2.3 lb, the 13″ MacBook Air is a hair over half the weight of the 13″ MacBook Pro, which weighs in at 4.6 pounds. That’s still a pretty light computer and you might find yourself saying ‘it’s not ‘hat bad’ when you check it out at a store, but it can really weigh on you if you’re a highly mobile user.

The MacBook Air is clearly the future of Apple’s mobile computers. The latest MacBook Pro is an evolution of an old theme, albeit a very good one.

MacBook Pro Review Part 2 Coming Soon

The 13″ MacBook Pro is rated to last for seven hours on a single charge and tear through complex applications thanks to its Core i7 processor. I’ll be writing part two of this multi-part MacBook Pro review soon and will share my experience with what’s the fastest 13″ Apple notebook to date.

If there’s anything you’d like us to focus on in a future part of this MacBook Pro review series, leave a comment with your request below in the comments section.

MacBook Pro Review Photo Gallery

34 Comments

  1. George Curran

    February 25, 2011 at 1:53 pm

    Maybe a comparison between the high (i7) and low (i5) end MacBook Pro 13″ models?

    • olmp

      February 26, 2011 at 8:57 pm

      I bought both and they both have a quarter of a second difference in opening any app. Processing or performing a command within any app is the same. It is not worth the extra bucks. i’m telling you. I’m planning on returning mine (i7) tomorrow and getting some extra bucks back.

  2. Mikael

    February 25, 2011 at 3:00 pm

    Benchmark of HD 3000 vs 320m

  3. David Friedman

    February 25, 2011 at 3:25 pm

    I have an 11″ MacBook Air and love it. As some evidence of its surprising speed, it can play World of Warcraft with respectable frame rates without first turning all the video settings down.

    What I would like to know about the new 13″ MacBook Pro, and what your review so far doesn’t tell me, is how its speed compares with that of the previous generation of MacBook Pro’s, especially in graphics. Unlike the 15″ it doesn’t have a separate graphics processor. I don’t know just how good the built-in graphics processor with SandyBridge is, and want to. Is it substantially slower than the separate processors in the previous generation 15″ and 17″ models?

  4. C J

    February 25, 2011 at 4:33 pm

    Ditto—

    Comparison between the high (i7) and low (i5) end MacBook Pro 13″ models?

  5. torrente

    February 25, 2011 at 4:55 pm

    my interest focus is in the performance in video task principally, edit videos in full HD for example, rendering videos with multiple layers an FX, i’m concern with the overall performance of the this new intel’s integrated graphics.

    i have no dude that the 15″ model work better in this kind of stuff, but i want more portability in general.

  6. Kobe

    February 25, 2011 at 6:47 pm

    what is the best 13″ configuration that is out there in the MBP? Also is it worth the wait for Mac OS X Lion? And lastly, is it worth dishing out the cash, to get ssd, more memory, i7 i5 etc.?

  7. Kon

    February 26, 2011 at 12:01 am

    Ok so I bought a macbook in january 4 =_= and now its way passed the return date and I have the 13″ 2.4ghz core2duo… now apple had given me the chance to return it for a full refund….. but then I would loose the epp discount which was about $150. In any case, I want some advice on whether or not should I return the the 2.4ghz c2d macbook pro 13″ for the new core i5 one? Any thoughts on this? Right now I am having a hard time deciding whether or not to return and upgrade.. T_T

    • Xavier Lanier

      February 28, 2011 at 12:42 am

      Your situation sounds rather unique. For $150 I’d go for the upgrade, but it depends on what you’re using it for. The last generation MacBook Pro is a nice little machine too. If you plan on keeping your MacBook Pro for a long time, I suggest the upgrade so you can take advantage of Thunderbolt drives and other peripherals down the road.

  8. Alex

    February 26, 2011 at 4:13 am

    What does the Mac Book Pro weigh with the SSD option?

    • Xavier Lanier

      February 28, 2011 at 12:44 am

      The SSD vs. Hard drive weight difference is negligible. Apple uses 2.5″ SSDs in its MacBook Pros, not the blade style SSDs that you’ll find in the MacBook Air.

  9. Raj @macbookproreview

    February 26, 2011 at 8:39 am

    New macbook pro with Thunderbolt technology will surely rule.Also face time camera is another great feature.

  10. David

    February 26, 2011 at 11:04 am

    Macbook Air 13 inch has a 1440 x 900 display, not a 1366 x 768 display as mentioned in the review.

  11. Aaron

    February 26, 2011 at 4:42 pm

    Simply put, what is the better bang for the dollar? Which computer has longer lasting value.

    If I am replacing my PC desktop and switching to MAC, I am a casual gamer and do Photoshop (but not magazine level images often), and I do want to have mobility around my house, at the end of the day, should I go with the Air or the MacBook Pro?

    I am utterly confused, namely because of the price.

    If I upgrade the Air to 4GB, and I am happy with 256GB, can I do what I need to do efficiently on the Air, or am I better off on a MacBook Pro.

    Speed is important to me, i’m tired of my PC clunking down.

    Much appreciated, thanks!

  12. olmp

    February 26, 2011 at 9:36 pm

    Hi Xavier,

    very good review… Thanks.

    I have a concern about the new mbp 13″: i bought both 13″ models, the i5 and the i7.

    Both laptops when used with several tasks at the same time, make a really loud and annoying sound from the ventilation system. It also generates a lot of heat that you can actually feel in your hands when typing. It’s obvious that the ventilation goes on because of the heat that is being generated by the use of the processor. But this occurred unnoticeable on previous 13″ models. Right now…. I can assure that this processor makes this 13″ mbp generate more heat which makes the ventilation work harder (and louder) than it should. Probably by incorporating this processor alone isn’t enough… and they are going to have to work on the electrical system (condensers, resistors), but this isn’t my concern. My concern is that… THIS SUCKS!. I FEEL LIKE I’M USING A PC.

    I thought that i might have been an individual thing… maybe a 1mm displaced ventilator that is producing this. BUT, i tested both models, the i5 and the i7 and they both produce the same symptom. Today I went to the mac store and commented this… but it was so loud that they couldn’t actually notice what i was talking to them about. I changed the i7 for a new one… and i just got home, tested it and THE SAME PROBLEM!!… both 13″ have this defect.

    Want to see if yours has it too?: open iPhoto and open a picture that is at least 5mb size. Make a full zoom in and finger scroll around for a while. Then add some adjustment effects on and finger scroll around again. No sound?… open safari and youtube your favorite artist and come back to iPhoto and make more adjustments to the picture (100%), don’t mind how ugly it’s turning out to be… and focus on testing your processor. Still no sound?: open each and every app you see in your dock and open up some more from the app folder. Now go back to iPhoto… make sure it’s in max zoom in and move scroll around the image. By now, the processor should be trying to catch up to what your doing and will heat up your system, making the ventilation system go crazy loud.

    I understand if you tell me it’s stupid to do this, and that you would totally expect this from any computer… but… guess what? I also performed this same test on my 2010 13″ model (2.26 intel core duo, 2mb ram)…. and even though it did process much slower when asked to open the apps… it did not hesitate much and did it’s job. it opened up everything and did all the picture adjustments with out crashing, and most important WITHOUT making the system overheat and making the ventilation system go wild crazy.

    Results from this test:

    13″ MBP (older version: 2.26 Ghz intel core duo/2GB 1067 Mhz DDR3): slower but very comfortable and not heavy enough of a process to make the laptop heat up itself to a point that the ventilator starts up harder than usual.

    13″ MBP i5: crashed 2 times performing this test, and when it was able to get through it, it overheated and made the ventilation system really notorious.

    13″ MBP i7: did not crash at all but the system overheats itself fast and starts up the ventilator

    Please take this in consideration for your next review.

    Let me know what you experience is.

    So far… while writing this review from the 13″ MBP i7, the processor is cool enough to not heat up the system. But it’s like a time bomb… and if i multitask… the dream is over.

    Comments accepted…!!

  13. Charles Phy

    February 27, 2011 at 4:31 pm

    Not now I imagine, but before March expires could you do a full comparison between the 13″ MBP and the Samsung 9 Series 900x3a? Not just power specs, but which monitor is better? Is the new Samsung touchpad as good as Apple’s etc.

    The MacBook Air doesn’t have a backlit keyboard so I’m not interested.

    Thanks.

  14. Chris

    February 28, 2011 at 9:12 pm

    I’m interested to know how the 13″ and in particular the 1280×800 resolution stacks up when using photo editing software, Photoshop/Lightroom 3.

  15. claudia

    March 1, 2011 at 12:26 am

    What about fan speed and heat? Does the core i7 or core i5 get hot?

  16. Oscar

    March 1, 2011 at 6:29 am

    They Get HOT really HOT!!!…

    I’ve been testing and reading online … it turns out that… what is making my laptop go crazy hot and turning the fans on are the CPU usage specifically when using Flash.

    I’m going to mac store to find out if it happens with the other models as well.

    This is a well documented finding you can read about.

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