I’ve spent just a couple of days with Apple’s new 13-inch MacBook Pro with the Magic Keyboard, and I’m already impressed. It’s the last laptop in Apple’s lineup to be blessed with the redesigned, more reliable keyboard. If what you came here for was to find out if it’s better than the butterfly keyboard, the answer is yes — in every way.
The model I’m currently testing is the $1,799 version, which comes with the upgraded Intel 10th Gen Core i5 processor, 16GB of faster LPDDR4X RAM, and a 512GB SSD. Compared to my 2017 13-inch MacBook Pro, it feels faster in every way. That’s to be expected, of course, but I believe these spec bumps add up to slightly more than the sum of their parts when it comes to performance.
It is entirely fair to just call this a spec bump, however, even with the new keyboard. When Apple released the 16-inch MacBook Pro, it changed the hardware in meaningful ways. That MacBook got better speakers, “studio”-quality microphones, and a slightly larger display in nearly the same body, thanks to smaller bezels.
This 13-inch MacBook Pro got the new Magic Keyboard but none of those other improvements. Fortunately, the speakers, mic, and screen were already quite good, so the only complaint here is that more optimistic rumors didn’t come to pass. (Well, you could certainly complain that the webcam isn’t improved at all.)
It’s just slightly thicker and heavier than the previous iterations of the MacBook Pro, but the difference is minimal enough that you won’t notice it. And the trade-off is, of course, that keyboard. It’s a good trade.
As with the 16-inch MacBook Pro and the recently refreshed MacBook Air, it’s good. There is a millimeter of key travel, a more solid and deeper thunk when you slam your finger on the keys, and, most of all, a greater sense that a stray grain of sand won’t break the whole damn thing.
There’s also a proper Esc key and the “inverted T” arrow keys, which make it somewhat easier to move the cursor around by feel.
Apple says that on all of these Magic Keyboards, it didn’t just bring over its older scissor switches, but updated them to get at least some of the benefits of the butterfly mechanism. Specifically, they are a little more stable; there’s less wobble when you press down on the corner of a key.
There are really two new 13-inch MacBook Pros. The base model keeps the Touch Bar, but it has two Thunderbolt ports instead of four. It also only has Intel’s 8th Gen Core processors. Choosing between that model and the higher-end spec with Intel’s newer 10th Gen processors isn’t as simple as some might think.
Dave Lee has a good breakdown of the differences here — with a special eye toward calming down anybody who might be outraged by the slightly older-generation processors on the base model. I haven’t tested the base spec, but other than the keyboard, it’s effectively the same as the model we reviewed last year. I think Lee has it right: the main difference to think about is the Intel Iris Plus graphics on the more expensive model.
One of the oldest stories in Macs is wondering whether the software you need will take full advantage of the GPU. For us at The Verge, that story is all about Adobe. So I can’t tell you whether the improved graphics performance will make a huge difference for you or not. It depends on what sort of things you need the computer to do.
What I do know is that, based on just a little bit of light testing, the 2020 13-inch MacBook Pro exceeded my expectations. We have a standard export in Adobe Premiere Pro we’ve been using on a bunch of laptops. It’s a 5.5-minute 4K project, our Surface Duo first look. Typically, we export it with an external SSD, but I had to do it with the internal one here because that drive is locked in the office.
Anyway, the bottom line is that this isn’t a scientific apples-to-apples test; it’s simply the thing that made me realize that this MacBook handles a tough job way better than I expected it to.
Apple says that the GPU is up to 80 percent faster than the last 13-inch MacBook Pro in certain applications, but the application it cites is a game called Total War: Three Kingdoms. A 3D title render in Final Cut is 60 percent faster, and Affinity Photo is 25 percent faster in “imaging processing,” according to Apple. I wasn’t quite able to replicate those results in Affinity Photo, but it did open up 10 25MB RAW files twice as fast as my pokey 2017 MacBook Pro.
I’m told there aren’t significant internal changes for the thermals, but it seems like they weren’t really necessary. We’ll do a little more testing for the full review. But at minimum, it seems like Apple has wrangled the thermals on this processor and GPU enough to provide the expected benefits.
And that’s the bottom line: by all indications, Apple has delivered an update to the 13-inch MacBook Pro that does the things most people would expect a good laptop to do. First and foremost, the keyboard is expected to be trustworthy. It’s always possible that there’s a critical flaw nobody has caught yet, but I think it’s safe to trust this Magic Keyboard — and this MacBook.
Photography by Dieter Bohn / The Verge