We review the new 2017 edition of Apple’s 13-inch Macbook Pro, updated with a Kaby Lake chipset for super-smooth performance.
Apple only just upgraded its Macbook Pro laptop range at the end of 2016 with a powerful new 13-inch and 15-inch model, perfect for any creative professionals looking for performance and portability. However, that didn’t stop the Cupertino giant from updating these devices again at WWDC 2017.
This time around, the jump in specs is much smaller compared with the 2016 models. The latest Macbook Pro machines offer Intel’s Kaby Lake processors, which are geared towards 3D graphics and handling 4K video – good news for designers and video editors after a portable solution.
Check out our full Macbook Pro 2016 long-term review to see what we think of the previous generation and read on for our thoughts on the new 13-inch Kaby Lake model. We’ve also covered all of Apple’s other WWDC 2017 launches, including the stylish 10.5-inch iPad Pro and the all-new Apple HomePod smart speaker.
Macbook Pro 2017 13-inch Review: Design
The new 2017 model of Macbook Pro comes in two sizes as usual: 13-inches or 15-inches. We tested out the 13-inch device, which offers impressive portability compared with the larger model. I managed to slip this notebook into a pretty small backpack without any trouble at all, while the 1.37kg frame won’t weigh you down, even when you’re lugging it around all day.
Compared with the previous generation, you’ll struggle to notice any serious difference in terms of design. Apple’s minimalist metal finish is once again in place and looks as smart as ever.
Available in a choice of silver or space grey, the Macbook Pro’s surfacing sports nothing except for the shiny Apple logo on the lid. We’d have loved a greater choice of colours this time around, including rose gold and perhaps even that seductive black finish from the iPhone 7. As much as we enjoy the two slightly different shades of grey, they’re definitely lacking these days when it comes to excitement.
However, at least these laptops are rugged enough to resist scratches and scuffs. You can expect your new Macbook Pro to stay looking fresh for some time to come. Plus, if you really want to change up the look and feel of Apple’s laptops, check out this funky real stone cover from Bambooti.
Macbook Pro 2017 13-inch Review: Keyboard, touchpad and Touch Bar
Open up the Macbook Pro 2017 and you’ll be presented with Apple’s super-spacious touchpad, introduced on the previous 2016 model. Even on the 13-inch model this is an impressive size, filling the space between keyboard and laptop edge.
This pad offers superb comfort and control for when you can’t attach a mouse. You can swing the cursor from one side of the display to the opposite without lifting and replacing your finger, while sensitivity levels are spot on. Of course, the touchpad is completely customisable from within MacOS too.
Speaking of that customisation, you have the option of enabling or disabling Apple’s Force Touch support. I immediately turned this off, as the feature was constantly screwing up my attempts to drag and drop files and folders. Others may have more luck. I kept the multi-touch gestures activated however, as they work better than ever on this massive pad.
Apple’s Macbook Pro keyboard is just as usable as ever also. The 13-inch model sports a more-or-less identical sizing and layout to the larger 15-inch model, mostly because the bigger Macbook has quite wide surroundings (including much bigger speakers). That means the typing experience is essentially the same. Switching from the 15-inch 2016 Pro to this 13-inch updated model was utterly seamless in that respect.
Each key is well-spaced and sized, so mis-hits are quite rare and you can generate a really impressive words-per-minute count in full flow. Only the dinky up and down arrow keys ever proved problematic. The board is backlit as well, so can be comfortably used in the dark.
The keyboard action on this new 13-inch Macbook Pro model was thankfully a lot quieter than typing on the previous-gen laptop. The construction of Apple’s board doesn’t appear to have changed, but tapping in a silent room no longer results in anyone turning around and giving me the evils. A definite plus.
You can pick up the new Pro either with or without a Touch Bar, Apple’s new customisable and ever-changing strip positioned above the keyboard. We’ve already fully reviewed the Touch Bar, so go check out our write-up for all you need to know.
Of course, the great thing about the Touch Bar is that it’ll get better with every subsequent update. Apple itself is adding more shortcuts in via MacOS updates, while third-party devs are adding support for their own software. Soon you’ll be able to fully personalise the Touch Bar for a strong selection of apps, so bear that in mind when making your choice of models.
At the very end of the Touch Bar you’ll find Apple’s TouchID sensor. This scans your fingerprint to allow you to bypass passwords and quickly unlock your Macbook Pro. This works very well indeed, rarely throwing up an error unless your hands are wet or greasy. Alternatively, you can unlock the Pro with a connected Bluetooth device or Apple Watch.
Macbook Pro 2017 13-inch Review: Features and OS
The Macbook Pro runs Apple’s own MacOS, still in its Sierra version – so there’s no difference in this newest model as far as OS and features are concerned. You can expect an update to High Sierra as soon as the latest version of Apple’s OS is available, of course.
Read next: All of the best new HIgh Sierra features
Apple bundles a fair few apps with the Pro, including basic creative software such as GarageBand (check out our how to get started guide) and iMovie. The App Store is of course very well stocked indeed, so you can download and install a wide range of software to cover pretty much any need. You’ll also find plenty of software support out there on the web.
Connectivity is a bit of an issue, even though you get four Thunderbolt 3 ports on the Touch Bar model. If you want a full-sized USB port or a means of connecting your older devices – or even reading a memory card – you’ll need to pay a bit extra for an adapter.
As for the storage, this Touch Bar model offers a choice of a 256GB or 512GB SSD. This is configurable up to 1TB, offering plenty of space for your apps, media files and the rest.
Read next: Macbook Pro tips and tricks guide
Macbook Pro 2017 13-inch Review: Screen and media
Another feature that hasn’t changed is the gorgeous display tech.
That 13.3-inch IPS LED screen packs a 2560×1600 pixel resolution, which translates to 227 pixels per inch. Images are perfectly crisp, ideal for photo editing and the rest. You’ll also have no trouble using the Macbook Pro in bright daylight as the 500 nits maximum brightness output easily counters glare.
For photo and video editors, the realistic colour reproduction will be just as important a factor. You won’t get any artificially boosted, vibrant hues here. Contrast levels are fantastic (as you’d expect at this price point).
The more compact size of this 13-inch model means you get much smaller speakers when compared with the full-sized 15-inch version. These blasters are relegated to narrow strips at the edges of the keyboard, so as expected don’t pump out quite the same level of audio.
On top volume you’ll hear distortion when playing music, especially anything involving guitars, while bass levels also suffer. However, knock down the volume and things become clear again. If you just want to enjoy some Spotify streaming while working at your desk, the Macbook Pro’s speakers will do the job.
Macbook Pro 2017 13-inch Review: Performance and battery life
Packed inside this 2017 Macbook Pro model is a fresh new Intel Core i5 or Core i7 Kaby Lake chipset, backed by 8GB of RAM. That’s a step up from the previous-gen Intel chipsets used in last year’s Pro models, with a greater emphasis on 3D rendering and 4K video editing.
If you require dedicated graphics, in order to do some intensive 3D design work or get some serious gaming on the go, you’ll want to look to the 15-inch Pro. That model comes with Radeon Pro dedicated graphics, while this 13-inch model makes do with an integrated GPU.
All the same, video and photo editing is pleasingly smooth on this machine. Final Cut Pro runs well, with nary a stutter as you slap a couple of 4K clips together. We also played plenty of Steam titles, old and new, and enjoyed the smooth frame rates – as long as you don’t try anything graphically demanding.
Battery life is dependable considering the size of this machine and the smarts crammed inside. We found that we managed at least five hours of heavy use on a full charge, which includes photo and video editing and non-stop Spotify streaming. That cell recharges reasonably quickly too, filling up in under two hours even during use.
Check out our guide on getting better Macbook Pro battery life for tips and tricks to extend that longevity.
Macbook Pro 2017 13-inch Review: Verdict
If you already own a recent Macbook Pro model and you’re considering upgrading to this 2017 model, you really don’t need to bother. That performance upgrade is an incremental improvement that simply brings the series more up-to-date, without adding any compulsive new features or abilities.
However, if you don’t own a Pro and you’re after a portable machine for editing on the go, the 2017 13-inch model has a lot to offer. From the compact build to the gorgeous screen, customisable Touch Bar and worthy battery life, the new Macbook Pro is a joy to use for work as well as play.