IN DEPTH REVIEW: Apple 13 inch Mac Book Pro

IN DEPTH REVIEW: Apple 13 inch Mac Book Pro


Until
now Apple’s MacBook Pro range has only come in 15 and 17 inch models –
meaning if you wanted the convenience of a 13 inch Apple notebook then
you had to forgo some of the advanced features of the MacBook Pro and
opt for a MacBook. The new 13 inch MacBook Pro now offers the best of
both worlds.

The 13 inch MBP utilises the silver solid unibody
design first introduced with the MacBook Air. Apple has scrapped the 13
inch silver unibody MacBooks leaving only one entry-level white
polycarbonate 13 inch MacBook ($1599) which sports the NVIDIA GeForce
9400M graphics chip but lacks the multi-touch button-less trackpad. The
13 inch silver unibody MacBooks would appear to have only been a
six-month stop-gap measure basically MacBook Pro “Lites” with a feature
set sitting somewhere between the white MacBooks and the silver MacBook
Pros.


The new fully fledged 13 inch MacBook Pro (from $1899)
weighs in at 2.04 kg and is only 2.41 cm thick. When it comes to
connectivity it features the usual suspects including 802.11n Gigabit
Ethernet Bluetooth 2.1 +EDR Firewire 800 and two USB 2.0 ports. It
has plenty of advantages over the sole remaining 13 inch white MacBook;

- LED Backlit 13.3 inch 1280×800 display (was also in the unibody MacBook)
- Multi-touch trackpad (was also in the unibody MacBook)
- Backlit keyboard (was also in the high-end unibody MacBook)
- Mini Display Port (was also in the unibody MacBook)
- 2.26GHZ or 2.53GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor
- Firewire 800
- SD card slot
- option of 128GB (+$640) or 256GB (+$1350) solid state drive
- 1066MHz DDR3 SDRAM up to 8GB (was also in the unibody MacBook up to 4GB)
- much longer battery life

It’s
interesting to note that Apple has backtracked on its decision to ditch
Firewire from the unibody MacBook while also relenting and finally adding a
memory card slot to its notebooks. Perhaps it’s a sign the design
boffins at Cupertino are starting to listen to what people want rather
than dictating it to them.

Of course there are sacrifices apart
from screen size and resolution if you opt for the 13in MBP rather
than the 15 or 17in model. The key advantages of the larger models are;

- 2.8GHZ or 3.06GHz processor
- 6MB shared L2 cache (on some models)
- NVIDIA GeForce 9600M GT graphics chip
- ExpressCard/34 slot (17in MBP)
- Three USB 2.0 ports (17in MBP)
- Optional matte screen (17in MBP)
- Separate audio line in with digital input

That
last point isn’t a mistake – there’s no separate audio line in on the
13in MBP. Apple has combined the audio in and audio out in a single
jack – which is obviously a serious pain if you want to record from
external sources and use headphones at the same time. It also means you
lose the digital audio input capabilities of the bigger MBPs. The
easiest workaround is to use USB headphones but it’s still annoying
considering the cheaper MacBook still features a dedicated audio line
in and so did the old silver unibody MacBooks.

Like the
short-lived unibody MacBook the 13in MBP offers the improved
multi-touch trackpad which adds new four-finger gestures – sweeping
four fingers up scatters the open windows to reveal the desktop
sweeping four fingers down shows all the open windows on the current
desktop and sweeping right calls up the Application Switcher. The
trackpad button has vanished. Instead the entire trackpad is a button
and the bottom third of the trackpad is treated as a virtual button.
You can even split this in half to create a virtual right-click button
although Apple can’t bring itself to use such a forbidden term and
instead refers to this as the “secondary click” option.

Also
like the defunct unibody MacBook the new 13in MBP is blessed with an
NVIDIA graphics card rather than relying on the integrated Intel
graphics. Our Xbench benchmarks tell the story with the OpenGL test
jumping from 28 frames per second on an old white MacBook to 183 frames
per second on the 13in MBP (which is on par with the silver unibody
MacBooks).

The switch to NVIDIA graphics offers MPEG-4 hardware
acceleration – although it only seems to work with H.264 content
downloaded from Apple and played with native applications. Apple is
reluctant to talk about hardware acceleration but the numbers speak
for themselves. If you play Apple’s <a
href=”http://www.apple.com/quicktime/guide/hd/bbc_earth.html”
target=”blank”>1080p H.264 samples</a> on the 13in MBP in
QuickTime the CPU usage sits at a low 15 per cent. This leaps to
around 55 per cent if you play the same files in a third-party app such
as VLC Plex or XMBC. An old MacBook which doesn’t have the NVIDIA
graphics chokes on this test file even in QuickTime.

As with
the short-lived unibody MacBook the LCD backlit display on the 13in
MBP is exquisite – much brighter than than old MacBooks and with
greater colour vibrance. Apple has even bumped up the colour gamut by
60 per cent. The trade-off is terrible glare and unfortunately you
can’t opt for a matte finish (this option is only available on the 17in
MBP). The extra brightness and anti-glare coating do help compensate
for this but if you’ve an aversion to glare and tend to use your
notebook in varied lighting conditions you’d want to road-test the
13in MBP instore before handing over your money.

The biggest
difference between the new 13in MBP and the now defunct unibody MacBook
is battery life. The 13 inch MBP features an integrated 58-watt-hour
lithium-polymer battery which promises “up to” seven hours battery
life and delivers around six hours under normal conditions. That’s
about double what you’d get from a MacBook of old and enough to make
you consider leaving the charge cable at home if you’re flying
interstate for the day. The trade off is that the battery is now
non-removeable which is a bugbear for some people.

So what’s
the verdict? If you’ve got an ageing old-school white (or black)
polycarbonate MacBook and resisted the lure of the short-lived silver
unibody MacBook now is the time to cave into temptation and upgrade.
The 13in MBP is lighter faster runs for longer and offers more
graphics grunt plus it offers a swag of new features compared to the
MacBooks you could buy this time last year.

With these
features and at this price the 13in MBP is arguably the best value Mac
we’ve seen in a while. Our only hesitation would be the terrible screen
glare. If this is your only concern it would be worth investigating
third party anti-glare options (such as a privacy filters) rather than
forgoing the upgrade completely and sticking with your old MacBook.

If
you did splash out on the silver unibody MacBook Pro Lite only a few
months ago you’re entitled to be annoyed now there’s a real 13 inch
Pro. Still I wouldn’t dump it on the nature strip and rush out to buy
the Pro. Apart from battery life all you’re really missing out on is
Firewire something you obviously decided you could live without when
weighing up your purchase. You can also bet that this first-gen 13 inch
MacBook Pro will go through a refresh or two before your current
MacBook reaches the end of its life.