Tech review: Apple MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2020) gets much-needed keyboard refresh

The 13-inch MacBook Pro does not have any major design changes from its predecessors.
The 13-inch MacBook Pro does not have any major design changes from its predecessors.PHOTO: APPLE

Apple has been trying to replace its much-maligned butterfly-mechanism keyboard - first introduced in 2018 - in all its laptops. With the latest 13-inch MacBook Pro, it is finally mission accomplished.

Though I have never encountered issues, Apple has acknowledged that in some instances with this keyboard, letters do not appear or would repeat unexpectedly when the keys are pressed.

The new 13-inch MacBook Pro comes with the scissor-mechanism keyboard. First introduced in the new 16-inch MacBook Pro that was launched late last year, this keyboard has a rubber dome sitting underneath each keycap to deliver a responsive and satisfying key press with a 1mm of key travel.

Compared to the butterfly-mechanism one, this keyboard certainly feels much better to type on. It has a "clicky" feel as well as a very satisfying clunk to each key press. I also like the inverted-T arrow keys arrangement, which makes navigation easier.

The Touch ID/Power button is set slightly apart from the Touch Bar, so you do not mistakenly touch the Touch Bar when pressing it. The Escape key is now a dedicated key, instead of being a virtual key in the Touch Bar. It is among several quality-of-life changes that have been introduced. Typing this review with this keyboard, I made very few typos and mistakes.

But unlike the 16-inch MacBook Pro and the latest MacBook Air, the 13-inch MacBook Pro does not have any major design changes (apart from the keyboard layout) from its predecessors.

In fact, it looks just like the ones from 2016 with big bezels around its display. There are no changes in terms of the 13.3-inch True Tone display (which changes colour temperature according to the ambient light), built-in speakers, microphones and webcam. There is still a headphone jack on its right side.

Thankfully, the MacBook Pro's aluminium unibody build and design has been top-notch since day one. So, you are still getting a great laptop.

There are two versions of the new 13-inch MacBook Pro. While they look identical, the entry-level version has two Thunderbolt 3 ports (on one side) and the higher-end version has four Thunderbolt 3 ports (two on each side).

The entry-level version (from $1,899) comes with eighth-generation Intel Core processors, while the higher-end version (from $2,699) comes with the latest 10th-generation Intel Core processors. The review unit is the base model of the higher-end version.

I don't see the point of getting an entry-level version, as you might be better off choosing the latest MacBook Air which also has two Thunderbolt 3 ports and is lighter and features the 10th-generation Intel Core processors.

In terms of speed, the review unit scored 1,175 (single-core) and 4,433 (multi-core) in the GeekBench 5 benchmarking test. The 16-inch MacBook Pro, which uses ninth-generation Intel Core processors, scored 1,122 (single-core) and 6,784 (multi-core).

In everyday usage, I found the 13-inch MacBook Pro to be more than up to the task. I did not experience any lag when editing photos using Affinity Photo - not even with 15 tabs opened on both the Google Chrome and Apple Safari browsers at the same time.

But with its lack of discrete graphics, you probably cannot play graphics-intensive games like Doom Eternal. But I had no issues playing Diablo III and Football Manager 2020 on this laptop.

The bigger downer is its lack of support for the latest Wi-Fi 6 technology. While many might not have a Wi-Fi 6 router at home now, it is always good to future-proof your device. Especially when a MacBook Pro can usually last around five years or more.

In terms of battery life, the laptop seems to have regressed slightly from the 2019 version. It lasted 7 hours 2 minutes in our video loopback test, compared to the 7 hours 24 minutes clocked by the 2019 model.


FOR

- New and better scissor-mechanism keyboard

- Fast performance

AGAINST

- No Wi-Fi 6 support

- Same design as its predecessors

TECH SPECS

Price: From $2,699

Display: 13.3-inch, 2,560 x 1,600 pixels

Processor: From 10th-generation Intel Core i5 2.0GHz quad-core (configurable up to Intel Core i7 2.3GHz quad-core)

Graphics: Intel Iris Plus Graphics

System memory: From 16GB (configurable up to 32GB)

Storage: From 512GB SSD (configurable up to 4TB SSD)

Connectivity: 4 x Thunderbolt 3

Weight: 1.4kg

RATING

Features: 3.5/5

Design: 3.5/5

Performance: 4/5

Battery life: 4.5/5

Value for money: 4/5

Overall: 4/5

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