(Pocket-lint) - The 13-inch MacBook Pro is back. But you might not see much of a difference: the 2020 model sticks to the already established design format. It's not the anticipated 14-inch rework - which had largely been expected, as an echo of the larger-scale 16-inch version (which saw the end of the 15-inch model).

What the 13-inch 2020 MacBook Pro does bring to the stable is the all-new Magic Keyboard. That's an important addition, the hope being to put to rest any issues with its older "sticky" Butterfly mechanism. Other enhancements are subtle, though, including the option for 10th Gen Intel Core i processors (8th Gen is still the choice for the entry models) and a new physical escape key (it's no longer a virtual key within the Touch Bar display).

With all that in mind, we've been using the 2020 MacBook Pro to see whether it's the one to buy - or if a little patience for the rumoured 14-inch model might be better advised.

Has Apple changed the MacBook Pro design?

  • 2x (or 4x) USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports, 1x 3.5mm jack
  • Available in Space Grey and Silver finishes
  • 15.6mm thickness, 1.4kg weight
  • Touch Bar display as standard
  • Touch ID sensor for login

The MacBook Pro design is iconic, so we're not surprised to see minimal changes in the 2020 model. That means there's no reduction of screen bezel, no additional methods to login - a Touch ID fingerprint sensor is present (which is great), but there's still no Face ID camera arrangement - and there's no change to the ports or the built-in camera (the 720p resolution here is very low by today's standards).

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Touch ID is present to add an additional layer of security. It can be used to unlock the laptop and prevent saved passwords from auto-loading into web forms. It's the kind of feature you may not think you'd need often - but having used it for some time, it's the first thing we've missed having gone back to our older MacBook Air. However, if you're an iPhone XS user or using the iPad Pro then you probably can't help but wonder why you can't have Face ID instead - this is the Pro line after all.

One thing that defines the MacBook Pro is the inclusion of the Touch Bar. This built-in customisable display and interactive bar - which sits where physical F keys otherwise would - is standard in all Pro models, helping to add a point of differentiation over the MacBook Air. Is it a must-have? Not really, it's more a nice-to-have feature in our mind. However, some professionals will be accustomed to using it by now, plus it's Apple's way of continuing to avoid touchscreen, thus keeping the display free of fingerprint smears. It all makes sense.

With the entry-level Pro there's two Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) ports and a 3.5mm headphones jack. Opt for the higher-end models and that adds an additional two Thunderbolt ports, taking the total to four. As one is used for charging, we think all models would benefit from the higher number - so keep this in mind when it comes to selecting spec.

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Although this design doesn't 100 per cent reflect Apple's current potential - the 16-inch model brought even greater bezel-squeezing kudos to the party - we still think it looks smart. Sure, the screen bezel might be larger than what you'll find on, say, a Dell XPS or Huawei MateBook X Pro in the Windows OS world, but it's really not massive by any means.

What's the new MacBook Pro's screen like?

  • 13.3-inch Retina Display (2650 x 1600 resolution)
  • True Tone technology for adaptive colour
  • 500-nits maximum brightness

Much like the design, the Pro's screen also remains the same for 2020. But that's rather good news, given the various positive points we can reel off about this panel.

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The colour rendition really is fantastic thanks to its P3 wide colour gamut support. It's bright, too, with a 500-nit maximum output. Not that it's eye-searing, but there's a really pronounced differentiation between highlights and shadows.

As per previous models there's also True Tone technology - as also seen on the iPhone and iPad - which automatically adjusts the colour balance to match your surrounding lighting environment, providing more comfortable viewing. Not that you'll know it's happening - things just happen to look great at all times. Creatives who need accurate colour standards can easily turn it off if needed.

The panel is described as "Retina" given its high resolution. No, it's not 4K, but the 2650 x 1600 pixels present here is more than enough to sit a Full HD video clip in a video editor with all the tools surrounding it at accurate pixel-to-pixel ratio. It's as much as you'll need - and we wouldn't want more, given the potential detriment to battery life.

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On balance, we think the MacBook Pro's screen is everything it ought to be.

Does the MacBook Pro have keyboard problems?

  • Backlit Magic Keyboard (new type, not Butterfly mechanism)
  • Large trackpad with Force Touch (dual-level control)

So what about the keyboard? You've probably heard people whittering on in the past about woeful experiences with Apple's "Butterfly" mechanism. Well, that's no longer in the MacBook Pro. For 2020 it's all about the "Magic" keyboard instead - as pulled directly from the 16-inch MacBook Pro.

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This keyboard really does work its magic too. It rids any presence of accidental double-presses, avoids any of the sticking of keys, while delivering a sense of greater feedback thanks to more key travel than in some past experiences (the now defunct MacBook being the prime example).

The inclusion of a physical escape key may not sound like that big a deal, but in the instance anything was to go wrong with the Touch Bar, or the ESC key just wasn't set to show, it ensures you've always got access.

However, typing is still a rather noisy experience. It's all clack, clack, clack. But if you can take the noise then the overall experience sets Apple on the right path. Finally.

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The trackpad isn't new either, but it is rather large. Fingers glide over this pad with ease, while the addition of Force Touch - Apple's 'two layer' system - means you can get multiple use out of shallow and deep presses. We find this two-level approach feels a bit peculiar at first, though, but if you learn some new tricks then it can be a handy feature.

How long does the MacBook Pro last?

  • 58.2Wh lithium‑polymer battery, 61W USB‑C power adapter
  • 8th Gen and 10th Gen Intel Core i processor options
    • 1.4GHz quad-core 8th Gen Core i5 at entry-level
      • Intel Iris Plus Graphics 645
    • 2.3GHz quad-core 10th Gen Core i7 at top-end
      • Intel Iris Plus Graphics
  • 8GB/16GB RAM as standard (32GB configurable)
  • 256GB SSD (512GB/1TB/2TB configurable)

As is typical for year-on-year product refreshes, the 2020 MacBook Pro offers more power under the hood than its predecessor. Well, it can - it depends which model you choose. The entry-level actually uses the same 8th Gen Intel Core i5 processor as the 2019 model, it's when you up the ante and go for the four USB-C/Thunderbolt ports that the door to 10th Gen Intel Core i processors is opened.

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We're reviewing the top-end model, so a quad-core 2.0GHz (3.8GHz with Turbo Boost) 10th Gen Intel Core i5. 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. If you want even more then a 2.3GHz (4.1GHz Turbo Boost) 10th Gen Intel Core i7 option can be configured - but it'll cost you a couple of hundred more, and the likely further impact to battery life is going to be questionable.

We think the Core i5 is the choice pick, on balance of longevity. However, in this 10th Gen guise we've not been able to get as much life out of it per charge as the 2019 model. Running a Full HD stream from YouTube, with no additional apps open, brightness set to half and volume muted, we've achieved just under four hours of life. That's quite a lot less than equivalent grade laptops.

We also notice the Touch Bar area gets warm, as does the overall keyboard. This is when sat on a wooden work surface, no material or any heat-generating problem. We've re-run the test with the laptop balanced to ensure airflow underneath and the result is the same - under four hours of video streaming, even when using different browser types. 

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Of course you won't always be streaming video, right? So when it's come to using the laptop for a normal day's work, getting over the seven hour mark isn't a problem. It's really going to depend on how much heavy lifting you're asking the machine to do overall. If you don't need as much power, but want greater longevity then the MacBook Air will provide longer innings.

However, the Pro is all about the balance of middling power. That's why, in its smaller guise, it doesn't include discrete graphics. We suspect the impact to battery here would be untenable as a portable machine. Instead draphics are provided by an Intel Iris Plus Graphics, with the ability to add external graphics support via a Thunderbolt 3 port if you need to do any serious heavy lifting. That's great news if the Pro is wired to a desk and you have an eGPU available to assist with those more intensive applications.

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Storage options depend on the configuration, but the baseline is double that of the outgoing model, with 256GB the standard. The 4TB option means adding an additional four figures to the asking price, though, so you might want to consider using portable drives for keeping excess files on instead.

Verdict

The 2020 MacBook Pro is a modest update over the 2019 model. It does add a much-needed new keyboard, which makes this iconic workhorse even more reliable.

But that's about your lot. This isn't the 14-inch reimagining that we had anticipated, with would-be smaller screen bezel and some other features to bring it into the modern age. The introduction of 10th Gen Intel Core i processors also costs a pretty penny to configure, with only so much of a boost to overall performance - and battery life is middling rather than great.

While our head might be in the clouds pining for future Mac goodness, the long and short of it is that Apple continues to make a well-built, well-balanced, reliable laptop for all your work and play needs.

The MacBook Pro in 2020 adds that extra touch of magic.

Also consider

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MacBook Pro (16-inch)

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If you're looking for a more fully-loaded experience, the larger-screen Mac has a more modern design, plus discrete graphics options that give it yet more power.

Writing by Mike Lowe.