Hands-on MacBook Pro 13-inch June 09
4 days ago (June 11th 2009) Apple moved their 13-inch unibody MacBook into the MacBook Pro family. To qualify this, they lowered the price (backwards?) and improved the specifications. Among the improvements, an enhanced battery (up to 7 hours), elevated clock speeds (up to 2.53GHz), additional RAM (up to 8GB), an SD card reader, FireWire 800, a wider colour gamut and a backlit keyboard as standard. This review is of the 2.53GHz version with standard configuration. Including shipping, it’s currently priced at £1,149 at the Apple Store (U.K.), which as ever, isn’t in our favour (us Brits). At the current exchange rate, if you were to buy the laptop in the US, you’d see a saving of almost £250. It consists of:
2.53GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
4GB (two 2GB SO-DIMMs) of 1066MHz DDR3 SDRAM; supports up to 8GB
250GB Serial ATA Drive @ 5400 rpm
SuperDrive 8x (DVD±R DL/DVD±RW/CD-RW)
NVIDIA GeForce 9400M graphics processor with 256MB of DDR3 SDRAM shared with main memory
Built-in iSight camera
Built-in 10/100/1000BASE-T (Gigabit) Ethernet
One FireWire 800 port (up to 800 Mbps), two USB 2.0 ports (up to 480 Mbps), SD card slot
Built-in AirPort Extreme Wi-Fi
Built-in Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR (Enhanced Data Rate) module
60W MagSafe Power Adapter, AC wall plug, power cord
What’s in the box?
Once you’ve taken out the MacBook Pro, there’s very little to be excited about unless power cords, cleaning cloths, documentation and installation disks tickle your fancy. The Apple Remote costs an additional £15, even when purchasing the high-end 17-inch MacBook Pro (£1,849 upwards). You could call it focus or stinginess, either way, any luxuries come at extra cost. For that reason I invested in the “tech air 3506” (for up to 15-inch MacBook Pros), unfortunately realising at a later stage that they do a 3512 version that’s geared towards the 13-inch MacBook Pro. Nevertheless the bag looks great, it has acceptable protection and tons of pockets. Those who work in particularly quiet areas should avoid this bag as the Velcro release is rather loud.
In terms of mass, the MacBook Pro isn’t light, you might call it reassuringly heavy at 2.04 kg. I’ve personally never used a notebook that feels so well built. The screen mechanism allows extension to roughly 130 degrees. If you require a screen that opens fully flat (180 degrees), this isn’t the laptop for you, although I’m struggling to think of a scenario where this would be essential.
Heat output is very impressive, after testing the laptop on a number of different surfaces, the build up of heat is mild at worst. It dealt with carpet extremely well and had no issues with jeans. Noise output, it has none. The laptop seems to make absolutely no noise, to hear anything at all, your ear needs to within an inch of the keyboard.
Battery life has been lengthened in exchange for full integration (non-removable). The battery is supposedly non-removable, which isn’t entirely true. Once you’ve opened the back of the laptop, battery exchange only requires the removal of two tri-wing screws and a sticker (according to iFixit). This isn’t ‘unlock and remove’ as you’d find on most laptops, but that said, 7 hours is double the life of a typical laptop.
Apple doesn’t make cheap laptops, that isn’t to say they aren’t good value. People can easily be misled by high starting prices, but when you actually parallel the 13-inch MacBook Pro against comparable laptops, it fairs well. The Dell Studio XPS 13 sits in the same price bracket. From what I’ve read, the Dell manages around 4 hours without AC power, it overheats and sports a mishmash design. The main advantage of the Dell is the ability to switch between discrete graphics and integrated. The discrete graphics provide greater performance, while the integrated provides greater battery life. This feature comes as standard with MacBook Pros 15-inch upwards, but isn’t included in the 13-inch MacBook Pro, either as standard or upgrade. This is one of the greatest downfalls of the 13-inch Pro, with only integrated graphics, some might argue that it shouldn’t therefore be part of the Pro line. Apple has seemingly always been one to skimp on graphics.
Resolution. Possibly a little low? 1280×800 has been standard on 13” widescreen laptops for as long as I can remember. The 8” widescreen Sony Vaio P-series laptop has a resolution of 1600×768. Now this resolution is blatantly ridiculous, but with that said, the MacBook Pro has an extra 5” to play with and still has a resolution well under the Vaio.
I’m aware that a number of people have concerns regarding the reflective screen, glass covers the display from edge to edge. If I had the choice I would opt for a matte display. The LED display is bright enough that it isn’t enough of an issue. The laptop when open is a work of art, personally I don’t find the back of the laptop all that attractive, however the lid does provide an enormously satisfying clunk when closed.
I ran a quick microphone test, the microphone is omni-directional which is a good thing? Probably. Similarly the speakers appear to be more than acceptable for a laptop.
So after I’d installed a few updates and played with PhotoBooth, I decided to see how it would deal with Microsoft’s forthcoming operating system, Windows 7. The installation ran smoothly entirely from battery. I haven’t had much of a chance to test the battery in detail, but I ran it down in around 4-5 hours by leaving it on full brightness, installing Apple updates, partitioning the disk, installing Windows 7 Build 7000 and generally giving it a fairly hard time. Once installation was complete, I installed the BootCamp drivers on Windows, the software didn’t seem to install the graphics driver, which was installed through Windows Update after one failed attempt. Afterwards I could run a performance test using Windows built in benchmarking system. The MacBook Pro scored a fairly disappointing score of 3. Windows’ benchmarking system doesn’t average the scores of your components, but instead takes the lowest score, taking the stance that a computer is only as fast as its slowest component. The score is due to the 250GB 5400 rpm Serial ATA hard disk. The upgrade cost to a 128GB solid state disk is more than £100 greater on the Apple website than by external means. With all the advantages of solid state, I’ll eventually be looking to upgrade to a 128GB solid state disk. It will be interesting to see how much the solid state disk will boost the score. The processor scored highest with 6, while memory scored 5.5, graphics a mighty impressive 5.2 and gaming graphics 4.4. Unfortunately the trackpad drivers created for Windows are plain awful. It is impossible to use “tap click” without tapping when taking your finger off the trackpad and it’s generally far to sensitive to the touch. A number of people on a number of different forums echo my feelings and these feelings are from months ago, so I doubt the issue will be addresses by Apple for some time.
Mac OS X Snow Leopard will be hitting shelves in September 2009, I talked to support who stated, “I am sorry but neither a set date nor price has been announced for the UK”, the upgrade for those who buy a MacBook Pro between now and release will be around £7. I’ve read some articles saying this is no more than a service pack. A service pack is a collection of updates, Snow Leopard is far from a collection of Leopard updates. It may include few new features, but under the hood it has been re-written in a number of key areas. I believe it will provide considerable performance gains.
The integrated graphics isn’t a problem for me, nor the semi-fixed battery or anything else I’ve mentioned. It’s the trackpad that I have an issue with. I’m fine with trackpads, but for starters, this is simply unnecessarily big, so much so that it’s more “in the way” than an advantage. This along with typical Mac acceleration (the faster you move the mouse, the greater the acceleration) is just something to get used to. Why can’t we just use the infamous ThinkPad pointing device? I’ve always considered trackpads a step backwards, am I crazy?
Finally I’d like to point out Apple’s impressive dispatch and shipping speed, after the order was sent, the laptop arrived in just two days along with the carry case. Well done Apple!