This week Apple unveiled its latest update to the 13-inch MacBook Pro, a long-awaited refresh that finally closes the door on the era of the problematic butterfly keyboards marking the last MacBook to switch away from the old design following the 16-inch MacBook Pro last fall and new 2020 MacBook Air earlier this year.
However, while this update didn't deliver everything we'd been hoping for, it does offer some nice refinements that could make it the MacBook Pro you've been waiting for. Read on for what's new and what's not in Apple's latest MacBook Pro.
✅ Much Better Keyboard
We've already mentioned this, but it bears repeating: one of the biggest benefits of the new 13-inch MacBook Pro is that you won't have any more keyboard problems — at least that's the theory.
As part of its obsession with thinness, Apple switched to a new keyboard design back in 2015 known as the butterfly keyboard, and then stubbornly stuck with it for almost four years, despite a litany of petitions and class-action lawsuits from irate users. While Apple made several tweaks to the design in an attempt to fix the problems, these made almost difference at all, and about a year ago, Apple finally admitted it had a problem on its hands, and obviously began making plans to redesign its keyboards once and for all.
The new design actually reverts to the scissor-switch mechanism that Apple used before it launched the butterfly keyboard — a design that's continued to work reliably even until now on pre-2015 MacBooks — although Apple has tweaked the old design in a few ways as well. The end result, however, should be a keyboard that not only works better, but actually feels better by offering slightly more comfortable typing thanks to the deeper key travel.
✅ 6K Display Support
The premium MacBook Pro now has enough power to drive a 6K display, including Apple's Pro Display XDR, should you be willing to shell out another $5,000 for a screen. This actually means Apple's premium display is now compatible with almost the entire MacBook lineup, since the new MacBook Air also gained support for the 6K display. In fact, strangely the only outlier is now the entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro, which can still only support a 5K display.
However, Apple's Pro Display XDR presumably isn't the only 6K display that can be used with the new MacBook Pro, so this does open up a world of other possibilities for those who need an ultra-high-quality screen at their desk while still having a portable enough MacBook to hit the road with.
✅ Dolby Atmos Sound
Considering that even the new 2020 MacBook Air gained Dolby Atmos support, it shouldn't be a big surprise that the new 13-inch MacBook gets the same audio improvements. This brings it in line with the rest of the family, allowing immersive sound for things like movies and TV shows, although sadly you still can't play 4K movies purchased from iTunes on your MacBook.
To be clear, however, the 16-inch MacBook Pro still offers the better listening experience, since its larger size allows it to pack in a six-speaker array.
✅ 10th-Gen CPUs and Faster RAM
The more expensive MacBook Pro gets a bump to Intel's latest 10th-gen "Comet Lake" CPUs, technically placing them a generation of what's found in the 16-inch MacBook Pro, although of course, the larger machine can take the older 9th-gen Intel chips to heights that the 13-inch MacBook Pro can't begin to reach, maxing out at an octo-core Intel Core i9.
However, the 13-inch MacBook Pro now leads the pack on memory speeds, if not maximum capacity, with the premium model including 3,733MHz LPDDR4X memory that can be bumped up as high as 32GB.
✅ Improved Microphone Array
In addition to the new speaker system, Apple has also included the three-mic array in the new 13-inch MacBook Pro to offer beamforming, which should allow for better recordings.
When Apple first released these improvements for the 16-inch MacBook Pro last fall, it claimed that it should rival professional-grade microphones, although we'll have to wait for the reviews to see if this is also true on the 13-inch MacBook Pro. Either way, however, it should be an improvement over the prior models.
✅ More Storage
Much like it did with the new MacBook Air and Mac mini earlier this year, Apple has doubled the storage across the entire lineup, which means that even the entry-level MacBook Pro comes standard with a 256GB SSD, and the higher-end one starts with a 512GB SSD. The storage upgrades are also doubled at the same prices all the way, meaning that you can now reach a 4TB SSD on the premium model, as long as you're willing to shell out an extra $1,200 for the privilege.
❌ Lower-End Models Are Still Lower-End
Almost all of the new goodness on the 2020 13-inch MacBook Pro comes only with the more expensive model — the unit that starts at $1,799.
By contrast, the entry-level $1,299 MacBook Pro gains only the improved keyboard, the doubled storage capacity, and the speaker and mic improvements. Everything else remains exactly the same from its last refresh in July. To be clear, this was the model of the MacBook Pro that originally didn't include a Touch Bar either, and can still be identified by the presence of only two Thunderbolt 3 ports, rather than the four ports that can be found on the higher-end model.
This means that unless you're willing to jump up to the higher-end model, you'll be limited to an Intel 8th-gen Intel CPU and a maximum of 16GB of slower RAM and a 2TB SSD, as opposed to the shiny new 10th-gen 2+ GHz chips and fast 3,733MHz LPDDR4X memory that be upgraded to 32GB. You also won't be able to connect these lower-end models to a 6K display.
❌ Same Screens
The new MacBook Pro didn't get the rumoured bump to a 14-inch — we suspect that will come with the switch to MIni-LED later this year or early next year — but it also hasn't really gotten any notable display improvements at all. It's basically the same display that's been used in Apple's MacBooks for a couple of years now, offering a 227 PPI, 2560x1600 native resolution, 500 nits of brightness, a wide P3 colour gamut, and True Tone technology.
That said, it's still a great display, so there's no big reason for a switch, and we suspect Apple is holding off even incremental improvements right now in anticipation of the much bigger switch to Mini-LED.
❌ Intel Iris Graphics
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the 13-inch MacBook still lacks the discrete GPU found on its larger sibling. Although the update to a 10th-gen Intel CPU will offer some nice performance improvements to the integrated Intel Iris Plus Graphics, you shouldn't expect this one to be a graphics powerhouse. Work that requires a serious GPU will still require you to either add an external one, or spring for the more expensive 16-inch MacBook Pro.
❌ Wi-Fi 5
While Apple has begun rolling support for the new 802.11ax Wi-Fi 6 standard into its mobile devices — both the iPhone 11 lineup and the new 2002 iPad Pro now offer Wi-Fi 6 support — it appears to be in less of a hurry to add the technology into its MacBooks.
There could be several reasons for this, but it's probably not as big of an omission as it sounds right now. Firstly, you'd need to have a Wi-Fi 6 router to take any advantage of it at all, and while Wi-Fi 6 does offer faster performance, the bigger benefits are in its ability to more efficiently handle congested networks and use less power — both things that Apple's mobile devices definitely benefit from, but are less crucial for MacBooks.
❌ 720p FaceTime Camera
While Apple's iPhone and iPad cameras continue to break new ground, the company has left its MacBook cameras lagging far behind modern standards. Not only does the FaceTime camera on the new MacBook Pro still only offer 720p resolution, but the sensor is most likely the same one that's been used on Apple's MacBooks for years, meaning that even the lower-end iPads with the same 720p resolution generally offer a better experience, especially in lower lighting conditions.