Apple 13in MacBook Pro (2020) full review
With a slew of MacBook updates in early 2020, it was only a matter of time before Apple gave the 13in MacBook Pro some TLC - and it did exactly that in May 2020, with the reveal of the new 13in range complete with 10th-gen Intel chipsets, upgraded integrated graphics and, crucially, the Magic Keyboard to replace the universally-disliked butterfly mechanism on older models.
That all sounds like great news, then, but it’s only the two higher-tier models of 13in MacBook Pro that have been updated internally - both the two cheaper options stick with the older 8th-gen Intel chipset and slower RAM, although they do still receive the design tweaks and improved keyboard. Why Apple chose to do this, we can only guess.
Still, the 10th-gen Intel-enabled MacBook Pro looks to be a big step forward for Apple’s Pro line - but how does it perform in real life? I’ve spent some time with the latest 13in MacBook Pro, and here’s what I think.
Design and build: Same MacBook Pro, new keyboard
As has been the case with the MacBook range for quite some time, the 2020 upgrade isn’t a design overhaul - but that’s not to say there’s nothing different about this year’s model.
Let’s start with the similarities: it comes in the same Silver and Space Grey colour options, and at 304 x 212 x 156mm, it’s roughly the same size as its predecessor. It does admittedly weigh a little more this time around, at 1.4kg compared to the 1.37kg of last year’s model, but that’s not enough of a weight gain to make a difference in everyday use - most people won’t even notice.
On the sides, you’ll again find four Thunderbolt 3 ports - or two if you opt for the entry-level model - alongside an audio jack. It certainly keeps with Apple’s clean aesthetic, but for a Pro-level laptop, I’d expect compatibility with a range of peripherals without the need to splash out on endless, often pricey, USB-C docks. There’s not even an SD card reader, vital for the creatives the MacBook Pro is aimed at.
This isn’t any different to previous models, admittedly, but it is a gripe I have with the MacBook Pro generally.
So, what is new with the 2020 MacBook Pro? The keyboard is the main highlight here. Amidst universal criticism of Apple’s unreliable butterfly mechanism used across its laptop range, the company has switched things up with the new MacBook Pro keyboard. It’s called the Magic Keyboard, and coming from a butterfly-enabled MacBook Air, it’s better in just about every way.
The keys are deeper, providing more of a satisfying click when typing that helps you type faster while avoiding miskeying. It’s an all-round more tactile experience, and it shouldn’t suffer from the same issue with stuck keys as the old butterfly switch either.
There’s also a return to the inverted T-shaped arrow key layout, mirroring that of most other keyboards on the market, making it much easier to locate and use by touch.
You’ll also find some improvements in the Touch Bar area, namely the re-introduction of a physical Escape key and the separation of the Touch ID scanner to help make it easier to locate. Though unchanged in terms of tech, the Touch ID scanner of the MacBook Pro remains one of the fastest and most reliable fingerprint scanners you’ll find on a laptop. It has yet to incorrectly read my fingerprint, something that can’t be said of many Windows 10 alternatives.
Display: 2018 called and it wants its bezels back
Like the general design, the 13in display is another area where the MacBook Pro remains unchanged, although, with such a high-quality display on offer, it’s not really a criticism. The 13in Retina (2560 x 1600) display admittedly isn’t as high-res as some 4K 13in alternatives, but really and truly, 4K on such a small screen is a bit overkill. Let’s use the power spent powering those extra pixels on something more important, eh?
Besides, the MacBook Pro display is detailed, bright and vibrant, offering support for the P3 wide colour gamut (great for creatives) with great colour reproduction. In our benchmark tests, the 13in MacBook Pro output 83 percent of the Adobe RGB colour space, which is great, but it does admittedly lag behind the larger 16in MacBook Pro’s 87 percent and falls short of the XPS 15’s 100 percent score. So, while it is a great 13in display, it’s not the best on any laptop right now.
One aspect of the display that isn’t great? The bezels. While the noticeable bezels weren’t out of place a few years ago, times are changing, and bezels are getting impossibly thin - the new Dell XPS 13 and the Huawei MateBook X Pro are prime examples of the near bezel-less experience on offer from high-end Windows laptops in 2020.
Apple has proven that it can narrow bezels and increase screen size without a larger footprint - it did it with the 16in MacBook Pro, with similar dimensions to the old 15in model - but it’s yet to happen on the 13in line. But hey, at least it’s not as bad as the Microsoft Surface Pro 7, right?
Embedded within those chunky bezels is the same 720p webcam that Apple has used across its MacBook and Mac ranges for what feels like forever. Why Apple doesn’t upgrade to a decent 1080p webcam - like most iPhones and iPads - is beyond me. In a time fueled by video chat and virtual meetings, webcam quality has never mattered more - and I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that it’s time the MacBook Pro had an upgrade in that department.
Specs and performance: 10th-gen powerhouse
It should come as no surprise that Apple’s Pro-level laptop runs like a dream, with impressive day-to-day performance as a work machine. It runs macOS Catalina, and though not completely bug-free, it’s generally smooth and responsive with quick loading times. I’ve been running multiple apps at once, with up to 15 tabs open in Google Chrome at any one time - a classic memory hog - and yet, the MacBook Pro doesn’t even stutter.
It’s at this point I must point out that I’ve been using the £1,799/$1,799 10th-gen Core i5 model with 16GB of 3733MHz LPDDR4X RAM, and though you should expect better performance from the high-end 13in model, the entry-level models are stuck with an 8th-gen processor and slower RAM, making them a much less-tempting option for power-hungry consumers.
As well as offering improved compute power to power the day-to-day experience, the 10th-gen Intel chipset offers a huge boost in the integrated graphics department. That’s important because unlike the larger 16in model with a dedicated GPU, the 13in model relies on integrated Iris Plus graphics to power graphically-intense apps.
Of course, I’m not going to say that the performance matches that of a dedicated GPU, but it is a huge jump compared to the 9th-gen chipset. Apple claims that it offers 80 percent faster performance when it comes to 4K video editing, and that translates to improved render times too. In fact, Apple is so confident of its performance that it provides support for Apple’s high-end 6K Pro Display XDR.
The performance is generally backed up by our benchmarks, which you can see below, and we’ll add more GFXBench results as we run it on more competitor machines. If you’re interested in the process, we’ve outlined how we test laptops separately.
But it’s worth stressing again that the performance gains only apply to the mid- and high-end MacBook Pro: those that go for the entry-level models will be stuck with the less powerful 8th-gen Intel Core i5 and Iris Plus Graphics 645 - not ideal if you’re looking to do video editing on-the-fly.
And, if you really need the best graphical performance possible, it’s probably a smart move to go for the larger 16in MacBook Pro with its AMD Radeon Pro 5300M GPU.
It's also worth pointing out that Apple has announced a transition from Intel chips to its own Apple silicon, and this could result in significant gains in power and battery life - according to Apple, anyway. The transition from Intel to Apple will take around two years and is set to start later in 2020 with a yet-unconfirmed Mac release.
The good news is that Apple has confirmed that it’ll continue to support and release new versions of macOS for Intel-based Macs alongside its own Apple Silicon-based Macs, so right now, there’s no real downside to buying the Intel-powered MacBook Pro. If you’ll be replacing your MacBook in a few years then there’s not much to worry about, but if you’re looking to get 5+ years out of the machine, there is reasonable cause for concern about long-term updates.
Battery life is an area where the 2020 MacBook Pro, like the rest of the MacBook range, disappoints compared to the Windows competition. It features a 58 watt-hour battery that Apple claims should last 10 hours before needing a top-up, around the same as was expected from the previous model.
It lasted nine hours and forty-two minutes in our benchmark test, which loops a 1080p video at 120cd/m2 brightness until the laptop dies, and while that does point towards an all-day battery life - unless you’re performing processor-hungry tasks like video-editing or planning on an hours-long video chat - it falls short of the Windows competition, with Huawei’s MateBook X Pro lasting an incredible 14 hours and 58 minutes on a charge.
Software: All the thrills of macOS
The MacBook Pro comes running Apple’s latest operating system, macOS Catalina. Though it had a rough start, Catalina has come a long way in the past few months, offering a largely smooth and bug-free experience - although I have noticed an issue with the True Tone display, which in my case randomly shifts between extreme tones of blue and orange throughout the day.
Small issues like that are likely to be fixed in future software updates, so it shouldn’t have an effect on your decision - it’s not like they’re system-breaking bugs.
Elsewhere, macOS Catalina offers tight integration with other Apple devices, allowing you to take calls, reply to messages and make FaceTime calls directly from your Mac, and the synchronisation between devices via iCloud is a highlight for many in the Apple ecosystem. You can even use your iPad as a second screen with the MacBook Pro without the need for wires - what Windows laptop can do that?
There’s a variety of apps available to download from the Mac App Store and, interestingly, a range of exclusive games available as part of Apple Arcade’s monthly subscription. The Mac has never been seen as a gaming machine, but Apple Arcade helps to change this, and compatibility with both the DualShock 4 and the Xbox One controller are a bonus.
So, is the £1,799/$1,799 MacBook Pro I’ve been looking at worth the money? I think it depends on what you’ll be using the laptop for. It is a lot of money to get access to a 10th-gen Intel chipset, but it’s still a powerful, portable machine for video editors and creatives and macOS Catalina comes with a range of benefits.
It certainly offers better value than the two entry-level MacBook Pro models, complete with 8th-gen Intel chipsets and slower RAM, but it has to be said that there are plenty of cheaper Windows 10 alternatives. Dell’s XPS 13 with an upgraded i7 CPU and 1TB of storage is £250 cheaper at £1,549, and Huawei’s MateBook X Pro with identical internals to the MacBook along with a dedicated GPU costs only £1,399. Take a look at our best laptop chart for more Windows competition.
Here’s how the pricing looks for the entire range:
- MacBook Pro 13in (8th-gen 1.4GHz Intel i5, 256GB storage) - £1,299/$1,299
- MacBook Pro 13in (8th-gen 1.4GHz Intel i5, 512GB storage) - £1,499/$1,499
- MacBook Pro 13in (10th-gen 2.0GHz Intel i5, 512GB storage) - £1,799/$1,799
- MacBook Pro 13in (10th-gen 2.0GHz Intel i5, 1TB storage) - £1,999/$1,999
The MacBook Pro might not have changed much visually, but the upgraded 10th-gen Intel chipset and accompanying Iris Plus graphics make all the difference when it comes to performance. It’s also great to see a boosted 16GB of RAM, and the welcome changes to the keyboard setup.
The 2020 MacBook Pro is perfect for budding YouTubers and other creatives, but if you really rely on graphical performance for your work, it’s probably better to go with the 16in MacBook Pro with its dedicated GPU. And, whatever you do, don’t go for the two entry-level MacBook Pro models - despite the name, the older internals are anything but pro-level in 2020, and there’s much better value 10th-gen Windows alternatives available at that price.
Essentially, it might be a high price to pay, but the 10th-gen Intel-enabled MacBook Pro is a solid all-round performer.
Apple 13in MacBook Pro (2020): Specs
- Quad-core Intel processor: 1.4GHz i5, 1.7GHz i7 (both 8th gen), 2GHz i5 or 2.3GHz i7 (both 10th gen) 8/16/32GB RAM 256/512GB/1/2/4TB storage Intel Iris Plus Graphics 645 or Intel Iris Plus Graphics 13in display (2560x1600 at 227ppi), True Tone Magic Keyboard Touch Bar, Touch ID 2/4 Thunderbolt 3 ports