Apple MacBook Pro 13in (2013) review

Pros

  • Brilliant Retina Display
  • Over 11 hours of battery life
  • Comes with iLife and iWork suites
  • Two Thunderbolt 2 ports
  • Impressively quick

Cons

  • Glossy screen

The Apple MacBook Pro 13in (2013) uses Intel's Haswell-based Core i5 processor to give power users a system that can last almost 12 hours under continuous use, which weighs just over 1.5kg, and still processes graphics and scientific tasks quickly.

The MacBook Pro 13in is a prime competitor to the high-end Ultrabooks that come with Windows 8 and have higher than 1080p HD resolution screens. If you're okay with using a Mac, it's one of the better choices in this price range, and it’s much less expensive than last year's model – which means it wins our Best Buy award.

Design

At first glance, the MacBook Pro 13in (2013) looks identical to the previous incarnation. However, if you actually pull out a set of callipers, you'll see that the system has become 1mm slimmer, and now measures 314 x 219 x 18mm (WxDxH). The aluminium and glass chassis has become a smidge lighter as well, and the system has lost 90 grams in weight, coming down to 1.57kg. None of this is Earth-shattering by any means, but anything that makes an ultraportable notebook more portable is welcome in our eyes.

The chassis is still mostly milled aluminium, with the familiar Apple matte silver finish. Priced at £1,099, the base model of the MacBook Pro 13in sits between the ultra-thin consumer grade (but battery life monster) Apple MacBook Air 13in (Mid 2013) at £949, and the monster performance Apple MacBook Pro 15in (2013) professional desktop replacement at £1,699. The backlit chiclet style keyboard is comfortable to use, as is the wide multi-touch trackpad.

Much has been written about touchscreens and why Windows 8 and 8.1 really need one to be useful. This is not the case with the MacBook Pro 13in and its Mac brethren. The reason a touchscreen isn't necessary is because OS X 10.9 Mavericks, and apps written for OS X, aren't optimised for touchscreens. Sure, there's an iOS-like Launchpad app preloaded, but many users won’t ever open it.

While they won't necessarily support as many functions as Microsoft Office, it's nice to see that all new Macs come with iWork (Pages, Numbers, and Keynote) and iLife (iMovie, iPhoto, GarageBand). Contrast this with high-end Ultrabooks and ultraportables like the Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus (£1,300) and Acer Aspire S7-392 (£1,250), both of which lack Office aside from the free downloadable starter (limited use) version. At least the Samsung Book 9 Plus comes with Adobe Photoshop Elements to go along with its higher than 1080p screen.

Speaking of higher than 1080p, the screen on the MacBook Pro 13in (2013) has the same brilliant 13.3in 2,560 x 1,600 resolution IPS panel, as previously seen on the Apple MacBook Pro 13in. The one slight downside here is the display's glossy nature.

Higher than 1080p screens allow creative pro users the ability to work on raw 1080p HD video and pictures at full resolution, while still giving them space around the image for toolbars, status indicators, and other program windows. Even though the MacBook Pro's resolution is impressive, the ATIV Book 9 Plus has a 13.3in 3,200 x 1,800 resolution display with an even higher pixel density – but it runs Windows. And the latest Apple MacBook Pro 15in (2013) has a 15.4in 2,880 x 1,800 resolution screen.

Any of these systems is likely to make a graphics pro or well-heeled video buff happy – depending on which operating system they enjoy using. Of course, it has to be said that some graphics professionals will be fine with Windows or switching between the two operating systems, but others won't ever touch a Windows system willingly.

The MacBook Pro 13in (2013) comes with an identical port set as its 15in counterpart: Two USB 3.0 ports, two Thunderbolt 2 ports, HDMI-out, SDXC card reader, and a headset jack. This confirms the machine as a professional-grade system, as it outpaces thinner, more consumer-oriented laptops like the MacBook Air 13in which only has one Thunderbolt port and no HDMI-out. It also outpaces similar systems like the Sony Vaio Pro 13 (£859), in terms of features, ports, screen resolution, battery life, and performance. The MacBook Pro 13in (2013) comes with a standard one year warranty, with 90 days of phone support.

Performance

The MacBook Pro 13in's base configuration boasts a 2.4GHz Intel Core i5-4258U processor, Intel Iris 5100 graphics, 4GB of memory, and a 128GB Flash Storage module. Make sure you configure or choose the hardware you need for your purposes when you order the laptop, as the system is sealed and can't be upgraded down the road. To this end, the system memory is soldered to the motherboard with no free slots.

This notebook was certainly no slouch when it came to our performance benchmarks, and it managed to complete the Handbrake test in a swift 1 minute and 9 seconds. The Photoshop CS6 test was finished in 4:27, outpacing the Sony Vaio Pro 13 (1:34 Handbrake, 5:07 CS6) and Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus (1:23 Handbrake, 5:51 CS6), though systems like the Acer S7-392 (1:01 Handbrake, 6:01 CS6) and Toshiba KIRAbook (1:14 Handbrake, 4:47 CS6) put in a good showing by comparison.

However, on 3D tests, the MacBook Pro 13in (2013) takes the crown with its Intel Iris 5100 graphics. The other systems can barely reach double-digit frame rates on medium detail levels, while the MacBook Pro 13in (2013) reaches double-digits on medium and high quality settings with the Heaven benchmark test.

Like the other MacBooks, the MacBook Pro 13in turned in stellar battery life results, with 11 hours and 26 minutes of longevity compared with six to eight hours for its rivals. The 11:26 result even trumps Apple's claim of nine hours battery life for this machine.

To put this into perspective, nine hours is enough to view the Dark Knight trilogy (which is just over seven hours), but eleven and a half hours is enough to get through to at least the first of multiple endings for the Lord of the Rings Extended trilogy. If you skip the credits, you can watch all three movies completely.

That said, the cheaper MacBook Air 13in delivers yet more longevity still, offering a rather incredible 15 plus hours of battery life.

Verdict

So, to sum up, this MacBook Pro offers a better than 1080p Retina Display, very good portability, and phenomenal battery life. And that’s the recipe for a Best Buy award winning laptop, with the price pitched at just over a grand.

If the MacBook Pro 13in met Ultrabook specs, it would be a contender to knock the Samsung ATIV Book 9 Plus off its perch as the premium Ultrabook champ. As it is, the MacBook Pro 13in (2013) is a great step on from last year’s model with its improved performance and slightly sleeker build.

If they're not going down the touch-based Windows 8 route, then portable power users should get themselves this year’s MacBook Pro 13in.

Specifications

Manufacturer and Model

Apple MacBook Pro 13in (2013)

Weight

1.57kg

Graphics Card

Intel Iris Graphics

Screen Type

Widescreen

Type

Ultraportable, Business

RAM

4GB

Wireless

802.11b/g/n/ac (2.4+5GHz dual-band)

Processor Speed

2.4GHz

Primary Optical Drive

External

Screen Size

13.3in

Storage Capacity

128GB SSD

Operating System

Mac OS X 10.9 Mavericks