Apple MacBook Pro 13in review (late-2013)

Reviews 20 Nov, 2013

Refreshed MacBook Pro includes a Retina Display, 10 hour battery life and Intel Haswell power.

4
Price: 
Starting at £1099
£1499 for model on review
Pros: 
Phenomenal battery; Mavericks OS X; Retina Display; Reasonable starting price
Cons: 
No discrete graphics option; Hardware not user upgradeable
Verdict: 
A fantastic all-roundmachine with a brilliant battery life, the 13in MacBook Pro is definitely worth the investment if you're constantly on the move and need HDMI and Thunderbolt ports.

Apple’s refreshed 13in MacBook Pro targets mobile workers who need all-day battery life to be accompanied by power.

The late-2013 MacBook ships with the gorgeous Retina Display, Intel's latest Haswell processor and Iris Graphics.

Our review sample packed an Intel Core i5 2.6GHz processor, 8GB RAM and 512GB SSD. This is one of the high-end configurations and retails at £1,499.

Picture this

The 13in panel has a resolution of 2560 x 1600, putting the pixel count at over 4 million. Text is sharp, colours vibrant and with a maximum brightness of 374cd/m2, the display is ideal for viewing documents, photos and multimedia content.

With support for two external displays via the Thunderbolt 2.0 ports, the MacBook can be used as a desktop replacement in office environments too.

Programs such as Adobe Photoshop do suffer a little as they don’t yet scale up and take advantage of these extra pixels. Icons appear tiny - but the software is still usable. 

Trusty Aluminium

Little has changed when it comes to the design of the MacBook range and the 13in is no different. It's got the distinctive Aluminium unibody, which makes this one of the best looking laptops available.

Weighing in at 1.57kg, the 13in Pro is heavier than Ultrabooks, which tip the scales at over 1kg. However, we found it portable and the thicker chassis has more ports than thinner, lighter devices.

Apple has packed in 2 x USB 3 connections, 2 x Thunderbolt 2.0, a SDXC card slot and HDMI output.

The trackpad and keyboard are identical to its predecessor in terms of form and function. We love the trackpad, which has an excellent gesture system to make up for the lack of touchscreen. But the keyboard isn’t our favourite and if you look in the Apple forums, you’ll find it divides loyal Apple fans too. The black chiclet keys look great, but it feels like it’s been designed without ergonomics in mind. The sharp edges, which dig into your wrist don’t help matters and we encourage you to try it out at an Apple Store before you buy, especially if you’re new to Macs.

Performance boost

The performance improvement between the late-2013 Haswell processor and its Ivy Bridge predecessor is minimal, according to our benchmarks.

Previous gen - 2.5GHz Core i5-3210M, 8GB RAM & 256GB SSD
Review model - 2.6GHz Core i5-4288U, 8GB RAM & 512GB SSD
Reference platform - 3.4GHz i7-2600K, 4GB RAM, 7,200RPM HDD

The main benefits come from the enhanced integrated graphics and the faster PCIe SSD.

Intel’s Iris graphics technology is able to meet the demands of the Retina Display. Transitions between apps, desktops and Mission Control are flawless. There’s no hint of the stutter which was a problem with previous generation Retina Pros as they used Intel’s HD 4000 integrated graphics.

Whilst the Iris graphics are good for light editing, it doesn’t fill the void of a discrete graphics component - so power users should bear this in mind.

Apple is touting a 60 per cent performance improvement over the previous generation when it comes to storage. The 13in Pro achieved sequential write speeds of 723MB/sec, close to the claimed 775MB/sec and faster than desktop SSDs. In the real-world this means the MacBook will resume from sleep instantly and has a sub-20 second cold boot time.

Marathon Mac

Battery life is an area where OS X devices are superior to Windows. With Intel’s Haswell chip increasing power efficiency, the 13in MacBook has a claimed uptime of nine hours of web browsing or video playback. In our tests with brightness set to 75 per cent, the 13in MacBook delivered spectacular results.

In our Iron Man challenge, where we looped an HD copy of the Marvel film with Wi-Fi turned off, the MacBook Pro cracked double digits.

For the mixed usage test we used the device as our primary machine for the day and the laptop lasted 8 hours and 20 mins. When you turn on energy saving features, it's possible to crack the nine hour mark.

Software bonanza

Apple ships the laptop with the latest version of OS X - Mavericks. It has confirmed all future operating system updates will be free. Apple is also making its iWork and iLife software suites available at no charge.

Of course you can also load up Windows through the built-in Bootcamp tool or run the OS using virtualisation software from Parallels or VMware.

Price/Upgradeability

The price gap between 13in Macs and Windows devices isn’t as large as with other products. The entry-level MacBook Pro 13in with Retina Display starts at £1,099. This includes a 2.4GHz dual-core Intel Core i5, 4GB 1600MHz memory and 128GB PCIe-based flash storage.

An equivalent 13in Windows 8.1 machine such as the Lenovo Yoga Pro 2 starts at £999. This has a slower 1.6GHz Core i5 processor and the same 4GB RAM. However, you get double the storage - 256GB SSD and a sharper 3200 x 1800 pixel display.

A key differentiator is battery life - with the MacBook touting nine hours compared to six hours on the Lenovo machine.

As with many Apple products, user upgradeability is limited. The 13in MacBook received a score of 1/10 for repairability on teardown site iFixit - the same as its 15in brethren.

Components are soldered onto the board or held in place with lots of glue so replacing them is next to impossible. Choosing RAM at the time of purchase is pivotal as it's not upgradeable - something Apple makes clear during the configuration process.

Overall

The MacBook Pro 13in doesn’t have the longest battery life - this honour belongs to the 13in MacBook Air (12 hours). It’s not the most powerful Apple laptop either, this title goes to the 15in MacBook Pro.

So what does it offer? The 13in Pro has a sharper display, more ports (HDMI and extra Thunderbolt) and better performance than the Air range. It’s more portable than the 15in model and has a longer battery life.

In cricketing terms, the 13in MacBook Pro would be a genuine all-rounder - and we all know they are everyone's favourite.

Specifications: 

OS: OS X Mavericks (10.9)
Processor: 2.6GHz dual-core Core i5 (Turbo Boost up to 3.1GHz)
RAM: 8GB DDR3 (configurable up to16GB)
Storage: 512GB PCIe Flash storage
Screen: 13.3in, (2560 x 1600) 227ppi  
Connectivity: 802.11ac Wi‑Fi wireless networking IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n compatible, Bluetooth 4.0
Ports: 2 x USB 3, 2 x Thunderbolt 2.0, SD card reader, HDMI
Dimensions: 314 x 219x 18mm (WxDxH)
Weight: 1.57kg
Warranty: 2yr minimum via EU Consumer laws