The Apple MacBook Pro has seen update after update in recent years, with the internals changing to reflect advancements in processors and storage. Yet while the MacBook Pro has continued to become more and more powerful, the design has barely changed since the unibody form was introduced in 2008.
With the competition continuing to look to up its game, issues with Apple's keyboard still dogging the laptop range, and the release of a much more powerful MacBook Air, is the MacBook Pro still the Apple laptop to opt for, or has the Pro model finally had its day?
A familiar design
- 13.3-inch Retina Display (2650 x 1600 resolution)
- Adds True Tone technology for adaptive colour
- Available in Space Grey and Silver finishes
- 2x USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports
- 3.5mm headphone jack
As we pointed out above, the design hasn't changed at all. In 2019 it's still the same Silver or Space Grey finish, still the same sleek metal shell, still the same approach on the ports as found in the 2018 models.
With the entry-level model you get two Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) ports and a 3.5mm headphones jack. Opt for the other pre-configured 13-inch model and that increases to four ports and a headphone jack.
So are there any actual differences compared to what Apple had available in 2018? Yes, sort of. You can no longer get the MacBook Pro without a Touch Bar or TouchID. That option has been removed, presumably to help differentiate it from the 2019 MacBook Air.
With zero design changes, the 2019 Macbook Pro doesn't feel as cutting edge as you might want. It's akin to a Mercedes; well-built, sleek, efficient, but entirely expected. That of course will appeal to many: this is the same familiar face we've been enjoying for over a decade, albeit refined.
The MacBook Pro comes across as dreadnought-like compared to the sailboat-like approach of the Dell XPS range, for example, the latter with its thin design and near bezel-less screen. Apple has trimmed its screen bezel over the years, but not to the extent of some competitors.
Touch Bar and TouchID
- Touch Bar now comes as standard
- TouchID fingerprint login
- No FaceID though
Not new to the range, but new to the entry-level Pro model, is the addition of the Touch Bar and Touch ID. The former is a screen-like strip along the top of the keyboard, which can display dynamic virtual keys or additional display information. The latter is the quick fingerprint-based sign-in technology.
The Touch Bar technology and its approach hasn't changed. It still offers the same experience and, depending on how you use it, will mean you find it incredibly useful... or useless.
It's almost like Apple's way of continuing to avoid a touchscreen on the main panel. We're not too fussed about the Touch Bar, but some will find it useful for Photoshop shortcuts, or thumbing through Safari tabs (like, literally).
Likewise the TouchID key, which also doubles-up as the power button, could be seen as amazing... or irrelevant. This works just as it does on the TouchID-enabled iPhones and iPads. However, if you're an iPhone X user or using the latest iPad Pro then you probably can't help but wonder why you can't have FaceID facial recognition instead - this is the Pro line after all.
TouchID is there to add an additional layer of security to your Mac experience. It can be used to unlock the laptop and stop saved passwords from auto loading into web forms. It's the kind of feature you may not think you'd want - but having used it for some time, it's the first thing we miss when reverting to different laptops for more conventional sign-in password procedures.
New keyboard and trackpad
- Improved third-generation butterfly keyboard (uses new material in mechanism)
- Large trackpad with Force Touch (dual level control)
The amount of words that have been written about how many people now dislike the Apple MacBook keyboard would probably wear out any keyboard.
Taking the feedback on board, Apple has changed - or perhaps tweaked is the better word - the keyboard on the 2019 Pro model to try and address and fix the problems of non-presses or multi-presses that many have experienced.
The result is an even stiffer typing experience that will still be jarring for many, although it does feel like there is an improvement compared to the 2018 models. Just as we said with the 2019 MacBook Air.
However, typing is still very much a thump, thump, thump noisy experience with very little key travel, but using it for hours on end during this review to write articles, features, and everything in-between, it feels much more durable than previous versions. It's not 100 per cent there yet, but it's certainly much better.
The trackpad isn't new, but it is big, and that gives plenty of movement to guide the mouse around the screen with ease. We love this scale, which also adds Force Touch - Apple's 'two layer' system - so you can get multiple use out of shallow and deep presses. It can be a little fiddly ay first, and we're not sure that many will utilise the second 'layer' action all that often, but if you learn some new tricks then it's a handy feature to have.
Screen, spec and battery life
- 8th Gen Intel Core i5 processor (1.4GHz dual core) at entry-level
- 8GB RAM (2122MHz LPDDR3), 16GB upgrade available
- 128GB SSD (256/512GB/1TB/2TB options)
The reason to get a MacBook Pro is for the screen and internal power. The former offers fantastic colour replication thanks to its P3 wide colour gamut support and now brighter 500 nits brightness.
As per last year's models there's also True Tone technology - as seen on the iPhone and iPad - which automatically adjusts colour balance to match your surrounding lighting environment, for more comfortable viewing. Creatives who need accurate colour matching can easily turn it off though.
But it's not just the screen that gets improvements. The spec gets a boost too. The entry-level model (as reviewed) gets the new 8th gen quad-core Intel Core i5 with a 1.4GHz processor (Turbo Boost up to 3.9GHz) and 128MB of eDRAM. If that's not enough you can configure it up to a 1.7GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 (Turbo Boost up to 4.5GHz). The other pre-configured model features a 2.4GHz Core i5 or 2.8GHz Core i7, with the ability to upgrade further still.
Graphics are provided by an Intel Iris Plus Graphics 645 processor with the ability to add external graphics support via the Thunderbolt 3 port if you need to do any serious heavy lifting.
All that power should give plenty of head-room for creatives from all walks of life, whether that's editing video, photos, music, or even just playing games when you've got some downtime.
Storage options depend on the configuration, but you can't install yourself so you'll need to decide whether 128GB or 2TB (or anything in-between) is the marker for your work - and look at the price jump between these, too, as the 2TB drive option adds another £1,000 to the price tag. Wow.
Obviously depending on what you do will depend on how it performs, but we've not been disappointed, or found moments when we've been sitting around waiting for things to happen. Whether that's large file editing in Affinity Designer and Photo, putting together some 4K video footage, or editing the Pocket-lint Podcast.
Battery life is good, too, but is affected by the screen brightness. So if you turn it up full you'll soon notice you don't have any battery left. We've easily been able to get around eight to 10 hours from a single charge, even with fairly heavy usage. The addition of the Touch Bar doesn't affect the battery's performance from what we've seen either.
MacOS Catalina software
- New features including using an iPad as a second screen
The MacBook Pro comes with MacOS 10.15 which brings new features, including support for apps that were originally created for the iPad, enhanced security features, better support for using your Apple Watch to unlock key files, the ability to connect your iPad as a second screen and a drawing tablet using Apple Sidecar, and much more.
The MacBook Pro delivers a brighter display, longer battery life, and better processor options than last year's MacBook Pro and the more recently revamped MacBook Air.
That's the rub of it: for all our quibbling that the keyboard is stiff or the design is looking a bit tired, it's still an amazing workhorse that will see you get jobs done with ease.
The MacBook Pro is an established and iconic laptop for a reason. The 2019 model barely changes a thing over last year's model, but it's just as reliable as ever.
Dell XPS 13
If you can live outside of Mac OS then few Windows machines can match the Dell XPS 13, which is not only long-lasting, it's all-powerful and well designed too.