Apple 13-inch MacBook Pro (2016) review: Touch Bar-free model offers impressive battery life and portability

macbook-pro-13-header2.jpg
  • Editors' rating
    7.5 Very good
  • $1,499.00

Pros

  • Slimmer and lighter than previous models
  • Bright, colourful 2,560-by-1,600 display
  • All-day battery life

Cons

  • Lacks a discrete GPU
  • Only two USB-C ports for connectivity
  • Very expensive (in the UK)

The big headline-grabber when Apple launched its long-awaited update for the MacBook Pro range in October was, of course, the new Touch Bar -- the touch-sensitive glass panel intended to replace the conventional function keys that have been used on computer keyboards since time immemorial (or thereabouts). The Touch Bar will be available on both 13-inch and 15-inch MacBook Pro models later this month, but right at the end of his presentation Apple VP Phil Schiller did a Steve Jobs and slipped in 'one more thing'.

There is one new 13-inch MacBook Pro model already shipping that omits the Touch Bar and has a lower specification than its Pro brethren, and Schiller made it quite clear that this model was intended to provide a more affordable upgrade path for people who currently own -- or might be about to buy -- the ageing MacBook Air.

macbook-pro-2016-range.jpg

Apple's 2016 MacBook Pro lineup includes 13-inch models with and without the new Touch Bar, and the Touch Bar-equipped 15-inch model.

Image: Apple

Up in the Air

Sadly, the term 'affordable' took on an exciting new meaning for the audience in the UK, thanks to the breathtaking price rises that were blamed on Brexit and the plummeting value of the pound. Even this stripped-down 'entry-level' version of the 13-inch MacBook Pro costs a hefty £1,449 (inc. VAT, or £1,207.50 ex. VAT) in the UK -- almost direct parity with the US price of $1,499 -- while the Touch Bar models will start at £1,749 (compared to $1,799 in the US).

macbook-pro-13-side.jpg

The 13-inch MacBook Pro has just two USB-C connectors, with support for charging, DisplayPort, Thunderbolt and USB 3.1. There's also a 3.5mm headphone jack.

Image: Apple

It's clear, though, that the Touch Bar-free 13-inch MacBook Pro is the spiritual successor to the MacBook Air. The first thing we noticed when unpacking the new 13-inch MacBook Pro is that, like the MacBook Air, it sports just two USB ports for external connectivity. Thankfully, the 13-inch MacBook Pro does at least hang onto its headphone socket, but the use of USB-C connectors means that you'll almost certainly end up spending some extra cash on one of Apple's adapter cables.

The basic design of the 13-inch MacBook Pro looks quite familiar, with Apple's now traditional aluminium unibody design available in either Space Grey or Silver. However, this 2016 edition has slimmed down and lost quite a bit of weight. It weighs just 20g more than the MacBook Air at 1.37kg, although it's actually smaller, at 304mm wide by 212.4mm deep by 14.9mm thick, compared to 325mm by 227mm by 17mm for the MacBook Air. In contrast, the previous generation of MacBook Pro measured 314mm by 219mm by 18mm, and weighed 1.58kg. Incidentally, that 2015 version of the MacBook Pro is still on sale, but while it originally cost £999 (inc. VAT) its UK price has now been increased to £1,249 (compared to $1,299), which gives you some idea of the price rises facing UK buyers.

macbook-pro-13-header2.jpg

The new 13-inch MacBook Pro has a larger trackpad than its predecessor, and its slimmer profile means that the keyboard uses the MacBook-style 'butterfly' key mechanism.

Image: Apple

We like the larger trackpad on the new MacBook Pro, which measures a spacious 135mm by 85mm, although the slimline keyboard panel means that it now uses a 'butterfly' switch mechanism similar to that of the ultraportable MacBook that was introduced in 2015. This isn't quite as flat and unresponsive as the keyboard on the MacBook, but I do still prefer the greater travel provided by the keyboard on my own MacBook Air.

Retina refreshed

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In most other respects, though, the Touch Bar-free 13-inch MacBook Pro is clearly a step up from the MacBook Air. Its 13.3-inch display retains the 2,560 by 1,600 resolution (227ppi) of its MacBook Pro predecessors, and leaves the paltry 1,440 by 900 resolution (127ppi) of the MacBook Air looking seriously out of date. Apple also claims that this display provides 67 percent greater brightness and contrast than previous MacBook Pro models, as well as supporting the DCI-P3 colour space for high-end photo- and video-editing. Its excellent all-round viewing angles will also work well for business users who need to give the occasional impromptu presentation in a coffee shop.

Even so, the Touch Bar-free 13-inch MacBook Pro needs to be more than just a pretty face in order to justify the £500 price premium over the MacBook Air. The £1,449 version of the 13-inch MacBook Pro is based on a 2.0GHz dual-core Intel Core i5-6360 processor (up to 3.1GHz with Turbo Boost), along with 8GB of RAM and a 256GB solid-state drive. That combination produces respectable single-processor and multi-processor scores of 3383 and 7184 when running the Geekbench 3 benchmark, which certainly puts it well ahead of the 2594 and 5574 scores delivered by the current MacBook Air (switching to the newer Geekbench 4 gave scores of 3497 and 7298, along with 28,497 for the new graphics tests.)

However, we've seen Windows rivals, such as the ASUS ZenBook UX330UA that manage similar scores -- 3323 and 6983 in GeekBench 3 -- for a price of around £1,000. In addition, the reliance on Intel's Iris 540 integrated graphics is disappointing in a laptop costing the best part of £1,500. To be fair, Iris puts on a good show, managing 35.5fps when running the Cinebench R15 test suite, but that score is matched by the 38.3fps of the more affordable ZenBook. That level of performance will be more than adequate for many users, but it's still not what we'd expect from a 'pro' laptop in this price range.

All-day battery life

The Touch Bar-free 13-inch MacBook Pro did have one surprise up its sleeve, though. It has a more modest CPU than the Touch Bar models that are arriving soon, and this allows it to deliver impressive all-day battery life. With the screen brightness turned down to a still perfectly viewable 50 percent, the 13-inch MacBook Pro gave us a full 500 minutes -- 8 hours and 20 minutes -- of streaming video on the BBC iPlayer. That's not quite in the same league as the MacBook Air, whose low-res display allows it to run for 11 hours, but it's a full two hours longer than the battery life of the previous generation of MacBook Pro, while the ASUS ZenBook only lasted for 6.5 hours.

Conclusions

It may not have the high-tech bells and whistles of the other 2016 MacBook Pro models, but the Touch Bar-free 13-inch MacBook Pro is certainly an attractively designed laptop, and it does fit its niche as a kind of 'MacBook Air Pro' upgrade. It delivers better performance and display quality than the MacBook Air, while still maintaining all-day battery life. The sting in the tail, though, is that much higher price tag. Given the pent-up demand for MacBook Pro updates, the Touch Bar-free 13-inch MacBook Pro may well prove an attractive option for users who want to replace an older Apple laptop. However, the Brexit-induced price rises for the new MacBook Pro models may prove hard for Apple's UK fans to swallow.

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Specifications

General
Packaged Quantity 1
Operating System Apple OS X 10.12 Sierra
Processor / Chipset
CPU Intel Core i5 (6th Gen) 2 GHz
Max Turbo Speed 3.1 GHz
Number of Cores Dual-Core
Cache L3 - 4 MB
64-bit Computing Yes
Features Intel Turbo Boost Technology 2.0
Cache Memory
Type L3 cache
Installed Size 4 MB
RAM
Memory Speed 1866 MHz
Configuration Features provided memory is soldered
Technology LPDDR3 SDRAM
Installed Size 8 GB
Memory
Technology LPDDR3 SDRAM
Speed 1866 MHz
Environmental Parameters
Humidity Range Operating 0 - 90% (non-condensing)
Display
LCD Backlight Technology LED backlight
Resolution 2560 x 1600 (WQXGA)
Widescreen Display Yes
Monitor Features Wide Color Gamut
Type LED
TFT Technology IPS
Diagonal Size (metric) 33.8 cm
Display Resolution Abbreviation WQXGA
Hard Drive
Type SSD
Specific Type flash storage
Capacity 256 GB
Audio & Video
Graphics Processor Intel Iris Graphics 540
Integrated Webcam Yes
Sound Stereo speakers, two microphones
Input
Type Force Touch trackpad, keyboard
Localization & Layout English
Features 12 function keys, Multi-Touch Gesture Recognition, ambient light sensor, force click, multi-touch touchpad, pressure sensitivity
Communications
Wireless Protocol 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.2
Optical Storage
Drive Type no optical drive
Type none
Processor
Type Core i5
Generation 6
Manufacturer Intel
Clock Speed 2 GHz
Battery
Capacity 54.5 Wh
Technology lithium polymer
Run Time (Up To) 10 sec
AC Adapter
Input AC 120/230 V (50/60 Hz)
Output 61 Watt
Connections & Expansion
Interfaces 2 x USB-C/Thunderbolt 3
Headphone output
Header
Brand Apple
Product Line Apple MacBook Pro
Model with Retina display
Localization English
Country Kits United States
Packaged Quantity 1
Monitor
Diagonal Size 13.3 in
Miscellaneous
Color space gray
Case Material aluminum
Included Accessories power adapter
Networking
Data Link Protocol Bluetooth 4.2, IEEE 802.11a, IEEE 802.11ac, IEEE 802.11b, IEEE 802.11g, IEEE 802.11n
System
Notebook Type notebook
Platform Apple Mac OS
Hard Drive Capacity 256 GB
Introduced Late 2016
Dimensions & Weight
Width 12 in
Depth 8.4 in
Height 0.6 in
Manufacturer Warranty
Type 1 year warranty
Environmental Standards
ENERGY STAR Certified Yes
Physical Characteristics
Weight 3.02 lbs
Power
Min Operating Temperature 50 °F
Max Operating Temperature 95 °F
Operating System / Software
OS Provided: Type Apple OS X 10.12 Sierra
Type Apple AirDrop, Apple AirPlay, Apple Image Capture, Apple Keynote, Apple Launchpad, Apple Mac App Store, Apple Mac OS X Chess, Apple Mission Control, Apple Numbers, Apple Pages, Apple Preview, Apple Automator, Apple QuickTime, Apple Safari, Apple Stickies, Apple System Preferences, Apple TextEdit, Apple Time Machine, Apple iBooks, Apple iMovie, Apple iTunes, Calendar, Apple Calculator, Contacts, Dictation, Drivers & Utilities, Game Center, Maps, Messages, Notes, Notification Center, Photo Booth, Reminders, Apple DVD Player, Siri, iCloud, Apple Dashboard, Apple Dictionary, Apple FaceTime, Apple Font Book, Apple GarageBand
Video Output
Graphics Processor Intel Iris Graphics 540
Graphics Processor Series Intel Iris Graphics
Notebook Camera
Integrated Webcam Yes
Input Device
Backlight Yes
Interfaces
USB-C Ports Qty 2

Topics: Laptops, Apple, Hardware, Reviews

Where To Buy

Price
$1,499.00

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Where To Buy

Apple MacBook Pro (13-inch, space gray, 2016)

Part Number: MLL42LL/A
Price
$1,499.00

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