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Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch (2020) review

Writing this 13-inch MacBook Pro 2020 review brings mixed emotions. I’m excited to type on a keyboard that actually feels solid and comfortable — and I’m making a lot less errors than I usually do. But I also wish I had waited a year to upgrade, because the difference between last year’s MacBook Pro that I use for work and this new model is night and day.

Yes, the new Magic Keyboard is the biggest upgrade on the MacBook Pro 2020 ($1,299 starting, $1,799 as tested), which ditches the shallow and universally detested Butterfly keyboard. But Apple is also finally offering modern Intel 10th gen processors on the 13-inch MacBook Pro, as well as faster RAM and double the storage. But keep in mind that you’ll need to pay at least $1,799 to get future-proof performance.

Price: $1,299 ($1,799 as tested)
CPU: 1.4GHz quad core 8th gen to 2.3GHz 10th gen Core i7
RAM: 8GB 2133MHz LPDDR3 memory to 32GB 3733MHz
Storage: 256GB SSD to 4TB
Graphics: Intel Iris Plus 645, Intel Iris Plus
Display: 13 inch Retina Display (2560 x 1600)
Ports: Two Thunderbolt 3 to four Thunderbolt 3
Size: 11.97 x 8.36 x 0.61 inches
Weight: 3.1 pounds

The design of the MacBook Pro 13-inch is looking dated at this point, as I’d like to see thinner bezels or (gasp!) even a touchscreen. But if you’re looking for a laptop that’s more powerful than the MacBook Air but almost as portable, the new MacBook Pro 2020 will more than satisfy and is one of the best laptops you can buy.

Mac Book Pro 13-inch 2020: Release date and price

The MacBook Pro 2020 had a release date of May 7 and is available through Apple.com and a number of other online retailers. The new 13-inch MacBook Pro has the same starting price of $1,299. The entry-level configuration gives you an older quad-core 8th gen Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, up from 128GB on the previous model. The $1,499 version doubles the storage once more to 512GB.

The configuration I would recommend to MacBook Pro 2020 buyers is the $1,799 model. That version includes a more powerful 10th gen Core i5 processor along with faster 16GB 3733MHz RAM, plus 512GB of storage. Plus, the $1,799 MacBook Pro has four Thunderbolt 3 ports (two on each side), while the $1,299 and $1,499 models have just two ports.If you need a lot of storage, the $1,999 MacBook Pro comes with a 1TB SSD.

Those who want to configure their own MacBook Pro 2020 base model can choose an 8th gen Core i7 processor for $300, 16GB of RAM for $100 and 512GB, 1TB or 2TB of storage for $200, $400 and $800, respectively. If you opt for the $1,799 model, you can jump up to a 10th gen Core i7 chip for $200, 32GB of RAM for $400 and as much as 4TB of storage for $1,200.

MacBook Pro 13-inch 2020 review: Design

After seeing the 16-inch MacBook Pro and how Apple slimmed down the bezels, the “new” 13-inch MacBook Pro feels like a step backward. It’s the same old block of unibody aluminum, which looks and feels solid but uninspired. The top bezel, in particular, is pretty thick, especially compared to the likes of the Dell XPS 13.

The MacBook Pro 2020 is a beefy slab of a laptop given its 13-inch screen size. It measures 11.97 x 8.36 x 0.61 inches, making it slightly heavier and thicker than its predecessor (3.02 pounds and 0.59 inches thick). By contrast, the Dell XPS 13 weighs just 2.8 pounds and is a much sleeker 11.6 x 7.8 x 0.6 inches and the HP Spectre x360 is 2.7 pounds and 12.1 x 7.7 x 0.7 inches.

MacBook Pro 13-inch 2020 review: Ports

There’s not much to see here, especially if you opt for the $1,299 or $1,499 MacBook Pro 13-inch. There are just two Thunderbolt 2 ports on the left side of the system and a headphone jack on the right side. The $1,799 model steps you up to four Thunderbolt 3 ports, which allows you to plug in more peripherals at once.

At this point I don’t expect to see full-size USB-A ports anymore on MacBooks, but I do think photographers would at least like to see a SD Card slot or microSD card slot.

MacBook Pro 13-inch 2020 review: Magic Keyboard

RIP Butterfly keyboard. You will not be missed. Like the 16-inch MacBook Pro and MacBook Air, the 13-inch MacBook Pro now features a Magic Keyboard, which uses scissor switches to achieve 1mm of key travel. Combined with an Apple-designed rubber dome and new keycap structure, the overall typing experience is a lot more comfortable than before.

The Magic Keyboard’s keys feel pillowy soft, while the Butterfly keys on my older MacBook Pro feel like I’m typing on a rock. I typed only a little faster on the new MacBook Pro 2020 at 78 wpm vs 77 for the 2019 MacBook Pro, and I was slightly more accurate on the newer Magic Keyboard at 97% vs. 95% on the previous model. But it’s really more about how your hands and wrists feel while you’re typing, and there’s a huge difference here.

The Magic Keyboard also includes a dedicated physical Esc key, so it’s no longer hidden in the Touch Bar. Apple has also changed the arrow keys to an inverted-T arrangement, which makes them easier to find by feel.

MacBook Pro 13-inch 2020 review: Display

The MacBook Pro’s 2560 x 1600-pixel display remains unchanged, but it’s still among the best that you can get on a 13-inch laptop. No, there’s not a 4K option, but you’re getting a bright and sharp panel that’s great for editing photos, watching videos and getting work done.

I checked out the trailer for The Boys season 2, and I could make out individual crimson streaks of blood dripping down Homelander’s face. I also appreciate that I could work outdoors in direct sunlight and still view incoming Slack messages and Google Docs.

In our lab tests, the MacBook Pro 2020’s screen averaged 485 nits of brightness, beating the 4K version of the Dell XPS 13 (301 nits) and the 1080p version (417 nits). The Spectre x360 managed 369 nits.

In terms of color reproduction, the MacBook Pro 2020’s screen registered 114% of the sRGB color gamut, while the 4K XPS 13 and 1080p version hit 107.5% and 114.8% respectively. The Spectre x360 was a bit behind at 109%.

The MacBook Pro’s panel has a slight advantage on color accuracy, as it turned in a Delta-E score of 0.24 (where 0 is perfect). The 4K XPS 13 scored 0.3 and the 1080p version notched 0.25.

MacBook Pro 13-inch 2020 review: Audio

The MacBook Pro’s audio continues to be underrated. The two speakers that flank the keyboard pump out loud and clear sound, with a surprising amount of bass. When listening to a “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” by The Darkness on Spotify, the driving guitars balanced well with Justin Hawkins soaring vocals. And even though it’s just a 13-inch laptop, I was surprised by the impressive stereo separation on the opening strings to Florence and the Machine’s “Dog Days are Over.”

MacBook Pro 13-inch 2020 review: Performance

The MacBook Pro 2020 we tested comes with a quad-core 10th gen Intel Core Core i5 processor running at 2-GHz, 16GB of 3733MHz RAM and 512GB of storage. And all of those components add up to one of the fastest 13-inch laptops around. But on some tests Apple’s laptop trailed some Windows laptops that are in the same price range.

My everyday workload included using the MacBook Pro on its own and when attached to a CalDigit USB hub with a 34-inch LG monitor plugged in. Even with dozens of tabs open in Chrome, streaming Spotify and editing images in Pixelmator, the MacBook Pro remained responsive and also quieter than last year’s model. The fans didn’t whir nearly as much as I opened more and more tabs.

On Geekbench 5, which measures overall performance, the MacBook Pro 2020 scored 4,399 on the multi-core portion of the test. This beat the Spectre x360 and its Core i7-1065G7 CPU, which scored 4,074, but it was behind the Dell XPS 13 with the same processor as the HP (4,648.)

MacBook Pro 13-inch 2020 review: Battery life

The MacBook Pro 2020’s battery life is really strong given all the power you’re getting under the hood. The laptop lasted for an impressive 10 hours and 21 minutes on our web surfing battery test at 150 nits of screen brightness. This runtime is higher than the 4K version fo the Dell XPS 13 (8:14) but behind the 1080p version of Dell’s laptop (12:39). The HP Spectre x360 hit 13:20 with its 1080p screen.

MacBook Pro 13-inch 2020 review: Webcam

At this point I think Apple needs to upgrade its webcam on the MacBook Pro. A 720p resolution seems low for an asking price of $1,299 and up. I’d prefer to see 1080p for full HD video.

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