Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch 2020 review

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The 2020 MacBook Air, the 2020 13-inch MacBook Pro and the 2019 16-inch MacBook Pro. All with great keyboards.

Todd Haselton | CNBC

Apple announced a new 13-inch MacBook Pro earlier this week. It’s a big upgrade for several reasons, but the most important change is the new Magic Keyboard. It means that Apple no longer sells any laptops with its older and unreliable butterfly keyboard, which made its debut in 2015. 

If you’re unfamiliar with the saga, here’s a quick refresher: Butterfly keys were prone to getting gunked up and either repeating each press or not registering a tap at all. It didn’t affect everyone’s MacBooks, but it happened enough that people noticed.

So, Apple started to replace that design beginning with a new “Magic Keyboard” that made its debut on the 16-inch MacBook Pro last year, the new MacBook Air this year and, lastly, the new 13-inch MacBook Pro that I’ve been testing for the past couple of days.

It’s a great laptop, and it’s finally safe to buy all of Apple’s laptops again without worrying about some having better keyboards than others. But, they’re all great for different reasons. The MacBook Air is thin and light, the 13-inch MacBook Pro adds more power, and the 16-inch MacBook Pro has a huge screen and the most muscle of the bunch. And they all have keyboards that work.

Here’s what you need to know about the new 13-inch MacBook Pro.

What’s good

13-inch MacBook Pro 2020

Todd Haselton | CNBC

First, Apple doubled the storage in its 13-inch MacBook Pros, just as it did with the MacBook Air. So now you get a 256 GB hard drive instead of a 128 GB drive in the entry-level $1,299 model and 512 GB instead of 256 GB in some higher-end options.

The look and feel of the 13-inch MacBook Pro is relatively unchanged, save for the new keyboard and (yes!) the dedicated Escape key on the top-left. It still has the huge, wonderful glass track pad that Apple’s other laptops have, and the still-beautiful aluminum design. 

The screen looks great with the same color accuracy that people who edit videos and photos appreciate. And there’s still a touch bar above the keyboard that looks cool and works well — changing to provide menu options depending on the app you’re in.

Touch bar on the 2020 13-inch MacBook Pro

Todd Haselton | CNBC

I like that it brings up Spotify music controls when I’m in that app, or photos I can quickly move through when I have Apple Photos open. It’s not as useful to me in the browser, where you can access bookmarks or a URL bar. Some people prefer hardware function keys (the F keys) and hate the touch bar, but I don’t mind it. Regardless, you can’t buy a MacBook Pro without it, so might as well get used to it.

The speakers sound solid, too, but they’re not nearly as full sounding as what you get from Apple’s super high-end 16-inch MacBook Pro. Still, they’re better than what I have on a similarly priced HP laptop sitting on my desk. And Apple’s microphones are great, too, with the ability to cut out background noise so you sound as clear as possible on a call. They’re so good that I usually switch to using the MacBook Pro’s mics instead of the ones on my AirPods during calls.

The Magic Keyboard on the 2020 13-inch MacBook Pro

Todd Haselton | CNBC

And, not to beat on it too much, but I love typing on the keyboard. The spacing is just right, the arrow keys are easy to reach and I have way fewer typos than I did on the older butterfly design. I love that I can really feel the keys push down while I’m typing and that it’s quiet. It also doesn’t feel as sticky as the keys on other laptops (like my HP.) I think it’s the best keyboard you can buy on a laptop right now.

Depending on the model you buy, there are either two or four Thunderbolt 3 ports. (The model I tested has two on each side.)

Todd Haselton | CNBC

There’s also plenty of power in the MacBook Pro. Apple sent me its higher-end $1,799 with the newer Intel 10th generation processor and four Thunderbolt 3 USB-C ports to test. The entry-level model has eighth-generation chips that Apple says are still more powerful than what you get in a MacBook Air, but I wasn’t able to test that version in time for the review.

13-inch MacBook Pro 2020

Todd Haselton | CNBC

So, I did most of my testing on the more expensive model, which was able to handle running the main display and two 23-inch monitors with plenty of tabs open, music playing and more. The same situation felt a bit sluggish on Apple’s more affordable MacBook Air.

The $1,799 model also has four Thunderbolt ports, instead of just two in the cheaper versions. That let me plug in and and charge an external keyboard or mouse, or my iPhone, without having to use a dock or unplug a monitor.

I’m still testing battery life, but Apple promises 10 hours of web surfing. That typically is mostly true if you have the screen dimmed down below the top brightness and use Safari instead of Google Chrome. But, you should be able to get through most of a workday as long as you’re not slamming it with power-heavy tasks like video editing. If you are, plug it in.

The 2020 MacBook Air on the left versus the 2020 13-inch MacBook Pro on the right.

Todd Haselton | CNBC

One more thing I want to point out: I’ve sort of always assumed the 13-inch MacBook Pro is much bigger than the MacBook Air.

2020 MacBook Air on top, 2020 13-inch MacBook Pro on bottom.

Todd Haselton | CNBC

It really isn’t. It measures just about the same, just thicker across the whole body instead of tapering to a thin design, and weighs 3.1 pounds compared with 2.8 pounds for the MacBook Air. I like the added power here.

What’s bad

One thing that stood out to me compared with the MacBook Air is that the fans can get pretty loud at times. I was editing photos for a story while on a Slack video call with colleagues (and running two external screens) and the fans were blowing loud enough that it was sometimes hard to hear people on the call. It’s not overwhelming, but you notice it. And this is by design, since the fans need to spin to keep the processor cool and the computer running.

2020 13-inch MacBook Pro

Todd Haselton | CNBC

Also, Apple still includes a 720p webcam while other companies, like Microsoft, have moved on to much better 5-megapixel sensors. That wasn’t always a huge deal to me, but it’s much more noticeable now that we’re all home doing video chats. I really wish Apple would boost the camera quality.

Should you buy it?

The 13-inch MacBook Pro is probably my new favorite MacBook. It’s perfect if you want a lightweight workhorse that can do some photo and video editing, run several external displays at the same time and run lots of apps without slowing down.

The 16-inch MacBook Pro that starts at $2,399 has better speakers and dedicated graphics for more powerful editing, but it’s a lot bigger and heavier. Then there’s the $999 MacBook Air, which I still think is the best MacBook for most people — it’s fine for running lots of apps and generally doing most things outside of video editing. 

2020 MacBook Air on the left, 2020 13-inch MacBook Pro on the right.

Todd Haselton | CNBC

The 13-inch MacBook Pro sits right between the two, in price and capability. I like that it has the power to hook up to a bunch of screens and can run everything I need when I’m at my desk, and that it’s not much heavier than a MacBook Air when I carry it in a backpack (not that I’m going anywhere anytime soon).

But here’s what I think you should do: If you’re thinking of buying the 13-inch MacBook Pro, you should probably get the $1,799 model if you can afford it. It has newer and faster 10th-generation Intel processors, 512 GB of storage, twice the memory (and it’s faster memory, too) and four Thunderbolt 3 ports instead of just two.

It’s a big bump in price, but I think this is the one if you’re coming from an older MacBook Pro.

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