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Lifewire / Andrew Hayward
Sleek, polished design
Gorgeous Retina display
Strong power within
Touch ID is useful
The base model of the MacBook Pro no longer feels like the odd one out, packing in considerable power and features to justify Apple's lofty pricing.
Apple recently streamlined and updated its laptop lineup, ditching the standard MacBook entirely, improving the screen on the MacBook Air, and giving the entry-level MacBook Pro a pretty large upgrade over the previous models. It packs a lot more power inside, and one of the other big changes is clearly visible at a glance: the Touch Bar, a slim and dynamic strip of OLED screen that sits where the physical function keys once did.
The Touch Bar had previously been exclusive to pricier MacBook Pro models, but with its introduction to the $1,299 base edition, Apple's performance-minded MacBook has a different kind of edge than past models. Here's why the new MacBook Pro is the Apple laptop to buy if you need a machine with muscle inside.
The 2019 MacBook Pro doesn't take any great liberties with Apple's enduring design, which has been gradually refined and slimmed-down over the years. It's noticeably thinner and lighter than the models from a few years back, with other tweaks and enhancements in the mix—but this design with the Touch Bar and Touch ID sensor has been used in pricier MacBook Pro models since 2016.
As ever, the MacBook Pro is a very minimal-looking notebook, with a solid aluminum finish (Silver or Space Gray) on the outside and the reflective Apple logo in the center. The unibody design measures about a foot across (11.97 inches) and 8.36 inches deep, with a thickness of just 0.59 inches. At 3.02 pounds, it feels densely packed with tech and strong enough to withstand daily use for years ahead. Aside from losing the wedge-shaped design and adding a quarter-pound of weight, it's not all that different in feel from the current MacBook Air.
The MacBook Pro is one of the best laptops you can buy today, if you're willing to spend extra for a top-quality experience.
Just like the MacBook Air, the base model 13.3-inch MacBook Pro is very stingy on ports. It has just two Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) ports on the left side, and only a 3.5mm headphone jack on the right. The pricier Pro models (starting at $1,799) add another two Thunderbolt 3 ports on the right side, but that's a hefty price to pay for a modest enhancement. You'll charge the MacBook Pro with one of the USB-C ports, so if you want to use multiple accessories while plugged in, then you'll need to invest in a hub to add more USB-C or full-sized USB-A ports.
Apple's recent keyboards have been controversial, as they've adopted a butterfly-style key design that the company claims is more responsive. However, there's very little travel to the keys—which not everyone will appreciate—and the earlier versions of the butterfly keys have been prone to failure. This third-gen version is reportedly improved, and Apple now offers free repairs for all defective butterfly-style keyboards. If it breaks down, you're covered.
As for the actual typing experience, we enjoyed it. We've used quieter and smoother-feeling keyboards on other recent laptops (like the Microsoft Surface Laptop 2), but the keys here feel responsive and we haven't had any problems in our time using the computer. Meanwhile, the MacBook Pro's trackpad is even larger than the Air's, which is fantastic. It's smooth and very precise, with the extra space providing plenty of room for multitouch gestures, while the haptic feedback simulates the physical sensation of each press without actually moving. For our money, this is the best trackpad available today on a laptop.
The Touch Bar replaces the classic function keys on the keyboard, and it's a super-thin OLED touchscreen strip that dynamically changes based on the current app you're using or the contextual needs you might have. When typing in Microsoft Word, for example, it has easy-access formatting buttons. In Safari, it shows favorite bookmarks and suggests words as you type. It's most useful in creative apps like Adobe Photoshop and GarageBand, where you can quickly access settings you might otherwise need to dig around for.
After more than a week of using the MacBook Pro, we're not convinced that the Touch Bar is a necessary addition for most users. If anything, it has added more steps to the common processes of changing the volume or adjusting the screen brightness, which used to be one-tap actions with the physical function keys. There's a potentially bright future ahead for the Touch Bar if Apple and other developers find truly beneficial use cases, but for now it seems mostly superfluous.
After more than a week of using the MacBook Pro, we're not convinced that the Touch Bar is a necessary addition for most users.
Hopefully now that it's on every MacBook Pro, we'll see more attention paid to it. There is one very useful feature to the right of the Touch Bar, however: a Touch ID sensor for reading your fingerprint and bypassing the lock screen. It's the same one seen on the MacBook Air these days, and it's super speedy and useful—much faster than typing in a password.
Apple's MacBook setup process is extremely straightforward, keeping with the company's focus on user-friendly design. Once you're plugged in (or charged up), just press in the Touch ID button to power on the laptop. Connect to a Wi-Fi network as prompted, and follow the rest of the setup assistant as you log into your Apple account and select a few options en route to the macOS desktop.
Apple's 13.3-inch Retina display is a stunner, with the LED-backlit IPS screen packing in 227 pixels per inch via the 2,560 x 1,600 resolution. The contrast is consistently excellent, the display is vibrant and hyper-detailed, and it also gets very bright at 500 nits. That's a step up from the 400 nits brightness of the MacBook Air, and the difference is noticeable. You won't struggle to see this screen in just about any scenario. It also offers the optional True Tone setting, which adapts the color palette based on your ambient lighting to ensure a consistent viewing experience.
The base 2019 MacBook Pro model comes with a 128GB solid-state drive (SSD), although you can pay extra to upgrade that to 256GB, 512GB, 1TB, or 2TB. The base size should be enough if you mostly stream media and don't plan to download a lot of large files, although it could be pretty constricting if you intend to download big games or work with a lot of local media.
The 2019 MacBook Pro processor also offers a big step up from both the last-gen base MacBook Pro and the current MacBook Air, going from a dual-core Intel Core i5 setup in both cases to a 1.4Ghz quad-core Intel Core i5 with Turbo Boost up to 3.9Ghz.
This provides more horsepower to play with, making the MacBook Pro a much more capable machine for creative tasks like video and photo editing, while the Intel Iris Plus Graphics 645 GPU enables solid 3D gaming. We tested the MacBook Pro using Cinebench and recorded a score of 1,675—whereas the 2018 MacBook Air from last fall hit a total of just 617 (higher is better). Creative professionals may want to consider paying extra for an eight-core Intel Core i7 processor and doubling the RAM from the 8GB starting tally to 16GB, but the average user should find the base model to be plenty speedy and capable.
Macs aren't really known for gaming, but the MacBook Pro did a pretty good job with the games we tried. Frantic car-soccer game Rocket League looked dramatically better and ran much smoother than it did on the MacBook Air, giving us a quality frame rate without having to kill all of the graphical effects. Meanwhile, Fortnite defaulted to higher settings than the notebook could smoothly handle, but we got it to a steady place with some tweaking. It wasn't very crisp, but both the resolution and level of detail were a step up from the MacBook Air (2018). You'll never run anything big and flashy at high graphics settings, but at least the base MacBook Pro has enough grunt to handle some modern 3D games.
Like the Air, the MacBook Pro impressed us when it comes to music and audio playback. The hundreds of tiny pinholes to the left and right of the keyboard really deliver, with full, robust music playback that is clear and compelling. It's a big step up from a lot of laptops, especially those that tuck their speakers within the crease of the display and hinge (like the Microsoft Surface Laptop 2).
The MacBook Pro can connect to both 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz Wi-Fi networks, and handles both without issue. On a home Wi-Fi network, we tested both the MacBook Pro and an iPhone XS Max back to back and saw essentially identical results (about 34Mbps down, 18Mbps up). We didn't encounter any connectivity issues while using the laptop at home, at cafes, and when tethered to a smartphone's mobile network.
As you might expect, the extra processing power of the MacBook Pro comes at a cost. The beefier model's battery isn't nearly as resilient as the MacBook Air's. Apple estimates up to 10 hours of wireless web or iTunes video playback, but that must be with the brightness slashed.
The extra processing power of the MacBook Pro comes at a cost, and the beefier model's battery isn't nearly as resilient as the MacBook Air's.
In our everyday usage, with a typical workflow of web browsing, typing up documents, streaming music, and occasionally watching streaming videos, we typically landed around 5 hours of usage from a full charge. Granted, that's at 100 percent brightness, so you can likely grow that tally by being a little conservative with the backlight. In our intensive streaming video test, in which we continuously streamed a Netflix movie at 100 percent brightness, the MacBook Pro lasted for 5 hours, 51 minutes before shutting down.
In terms of average everyday usage, that's underwhelming. The MacBook Air typically provided us around 6-6.5 hours on a full charge, which is a solid improvement, and we have to wonder how much the Pro's Touch Bar is eating into that battery uptime.
Apple’s macOS is as reliably smooth and easy-to-use as ever on the 2019 MacBook Pro, delivering an accessible computing experience that is streamlined and straightforward. The Mac might not have as many games as Windows PCs, but many creative professionals prefer the platform, plus the MacBook Pro ships with several free and useful apps such as iMovie, GarageBand, and Pages. If you use other Apple devices like an iPhone, Apple Watch, or AirPods, the easy compatibility also makes a Mac more appealing to anyone already in that ecosystem.
As mentioned, we would like to see further software development on the Touch Bar, as it currently doesn't feel like a very consequential part of the MacBook experience in most apps. There's a wide-open possibility to create truly useful features, but for now we're just not seeing much of a point.
Even with the Touch Bar added, Apple has thankfully kept the MacBook Pro's base price point at $1,299—although there's plenty of room to grow that amount if you choose a higher-specced model, opt for a 15-inch display, or make any other configuration changes. At that base price, which is $200 more than the MacBook Air, it feels like you're getting a robust and truly polished computing experience that's ideal for power users and creative professionals.
The "Apple tax" is real, but it's one that many people are happy to pay.
There are much cheaper laptops on the Windows side of things, and you'll typically get more bang for your buck. If you spend the same amount on a Windows PC, for example, you'll potentially get a more powerful CPU or graphics card within. But a MacBook is the only laptop you can buy with the macOS software, plus Apple's level of hardware polish is second-to-none. The "Apple tax" is real, but it's one that many people are happy to pay.
As mentioned, the current MacBook Air isn't dramatically different from the MacBook Pro, but there are some key differences between them. The MacBook Air has the slightly slimmer build thanks to the wedge design, and is just a little bit lighter as well. It also lacks the Touch Bar, for better or worse, and the screen doesn't get quite as bright.
Ultimately, the most consequential advantage with the MacBook Pro comes with the processor and GPU, which enable much-improved gaming performance and the ability to handle resource-intensive apps with ease. If you just want a MacBook that can surf the web and play media, then the Air should do the trick. For professional users and gamers, the MacBook Pro offers quite a bit more for a mere $200 extra.
It's an impressive premium laptop, though battery life could be better.
The 2019 MacBook Pro is an easy recommendation if you're looking for a polished, premium-feeling laptop that packs a punch. The Touch Bar still needs to prove its value and the battery life isn't as robust as we'd hoped, but Apple's usual level of quality and finesse is apparent in nearly every other aspect—from the screen to the trackpad and overall design. The MacBook Pro is one of the best laptops you can buy today, if you're willing to spend extra for a top-quality experience.