Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch notebook

Apple announced the update to their MacBook line-up in June, and here we have the 13-inch model, which takes on the "Pro" moniker previously applied to its bigger brothers. It is the second iteration of Apple's unibody MacBook and brings with it a few changes.

The 13-inch MacBook Pro range comes in two guises (excluding the white version), a 2.26GHz model, packing in 2GB RAM and 160GB hard drive at £899 and the 2.53GHz, 4GB, 250GB version on test here, which will set you back a not unsubstantial £1149.

Technically the two models are very similar, although the higher-spec model has a noticeably faster pace, skipping through tasks, hopping ahead of its slower brother as you'd expect.

The unibody MacBook Pro is an excellent design, it not only gains the durability boost of an aluminium construction, but it looks fantastic too and is without doubt one of the best looking notebooks money can buy. The seamless deck and neat cut-outs for the various ports and connectors give a premium finish that other manufacturers just don't achieve.

The separated keys give a nice soft typing action which is responsive and a pleasure to use, although we are starting to hear of keys that detach and need to be replaced: not something that we've experienced ourselves, but perhaps something that will be addressed in future updates.

The new MacBook Pro range comes with the backlit keyboard, the brightness of which can be adjusted to suit your taste. It also links into the auto-dimming of the screen, so in bright conditions, the backlighting turns off - no point in wasting battery life on illumination that you can't see.

The screen is a 13-inch 1280 x 800px LED backlit display that is beautifully vibrant and powered by the Nvidia GeForce 9400M graphics processor, so it handles 3D graphic work and HD video playback where some similarly specced rivals seem to struggle.

The screen has a glossy finish that does make it less favourable when used outdoors or sitting near windows, however it is bright enough to overcome the common glare problems. The screen is, however, one of the biggest draws on the battery, but is easily adjustable thanks to the keyboard shortcut keys which will override the auto-dimming - if you are photo editing for example.

Many notebooks fail to provide an adequate trackpad. They are either too small, or feel horrible, or the buttons are in the wrong place. The MacBook Pro's trackpad is altogether more intuitive. A single clickable glass pad gives you ample room to navigate the screen, supported by a healthy range of multitouch controls. The lack of buttons is soon forgotten and after a week of use, you'll find the trackpad is just as fast, if not faster than, using a mouse.

The MacBook Pro still features a slot loading DVD SuperDrive on the right hand side. The inclusion of the drive just makes things more practical and many PC manufacturers omit a drive on this size of model - presumably due to price pressures. There is an argument that those interested in portability which this model offers plenty of, don't need a DVD drive. We're not sold on that argument, as grabbing a DVD as you head out of the door can save you from a boring flight.

Down the left-hand side of the MacBook Pro you now see the biggest range of changes to this new generation of models. You have the MagSafe power connection, Ethernet, FireWire 800 port, Mini DisplayPort, 2x USB 2.0, an SD card slot and the 3.5mm audio in/out jack.

Mini DisplayPort will concern some Mac newcomers but it really shouldn't. Natively the port will connect to one of Apple's Cinema displays, but a range of adapters are available to suit whatever you need, so if you want HDMI or VGA, just buy the adapter and you are good to go (see the picture).

Gone from the previous version of the MacBook is the line-in, something that perhaps won't be missed as the headphone socket is happy to accommodate (as it did before) your headset with mic, say, for use with Skype. The return of the FireWire 800 port will please many, as will the addition of that SD card reader, with SD rapidly becoming the most common and dominant memory card format.

SD cards don't insert fully unfortunately so you can't travel around with a card in the slot, but it's a great step towards connecting up your gadgets, especially for digital camera users who don't want to lug around cables.

If we could change anything we'd separate the two USB connections because they are still too close together, especially if you are in the habit of using a 3G dongle, which will deny you access to the other port. An extension cable overcomes this, but it's another bit of wire to carry.

In terms of wireless connectivity you get Wi-Fi b/g/n as well as integrated Bluetooth, but those looking for integrated 3G will still be disappointed.

The battery has also changed. Apple now claim a 7-hour life using a wireless connection. They do at least admit that this is with a screen brightness of 50% and yes, this is a fairly realistic figure for basic use. Get more intensive in your operations and you'll find this figure cut heavily. We managed just over 2 and a half hours of watching streaming BBC iPlayer content and DVD watching before the battery decided it needed charging.

Unfortunately the battery in the MacBook Pro lineup is no longer user changeable (legitimately), which will irk some mobile users who like to carry a spare, an advantage that the previous generation gives you.

The MacBook Pro, like its predecessors does tend to run on the hot side of things, with the cooling vents sitting behind the hinge for the screen - hidden from view, but also not the most practical location. So the MacBook Pro can be a little warm on your knees if that is how you work.

Also hidden from view are the reasonable stereo speakers and subtly drilled out at the top of the deck below the screen is the mic, which partners the discrete webcam set in the screen bezel, ideal for video conferencing.

Of course this is all sitting on OS X, Apple's operating system that offers greater stability and simplicity over the likes of Windows Vista that ships with the current crop of rival machines. Performance all-round is good and it is difficult to criticise the MacBook Pro both in terms of hardware specs and software provision.

You'll get the iLife suite with your new MacBook Pro, which takes care of everyday media, letting you work with video, music and photos without having to step-up to more expensive packages, unless you want to of course.

Verdict

The 13-inch MacBook Pro takes an already excellent machine and moves it a step further along. It satisfies the cries of those who last time around lamented the loss of FireWire. In its place we now have a non-replaceable battery, which no doubt will be a concern for some.

But overall, Apple are continuing a great trend with their MacBook Pro line. The quality of build is excellent, little details like the external battery LEDs and the pulsing sleep indicator bring a touch of class. Sure, you pay more for a Mac than you would for the same hardware in a PC, but you get a lot for it and we think it is worth every penny.


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