My Review of the 13-inch MacBook Pro

My work notebook was recently was upgraded to a 13-inch MacBook Pro. Here are my thoughts on the machine, in no particular order.


This notebook is the sturdiest I’ve ever used. The whole thing feels like one, solid chunk of awesome. Apple’s unibody construction makes the black MacBook I was using feel like a toy. Since there aren’t any seams on the top case, the edges and corners are very slick. The PowerBooks and MacBook Pros used to have rubber gasket around the edges which could chip and bend. Nothing like that here — the whole thing is one slab of metal.

Speaking of metal, the aluminum used feels like it is of a higher grade than used on the old PowerBooks and MacBook Pros, but I can’t prove it. It’s smooth to the touch, and doesn’t keep fingerprints at all.

I have noticed that I get a squeak out of the left hinge as I open the lid sometimes. I’ll have to keep my eye on that.

The Screen

When Apple went to glossy a few years ago, I was very unhappy, but got used to it after using a MacBook for almost a year. This display keeps the good things about glossy — rich colors, nice blacks and crisp whites.

The major change between older notebooks and these new unibody machines is that the display has a sheet of glass over it — just like the iMacs — making the plastic MacBooks screen look dull. The glass does add to the reflection issue, though.

My iMac at home sits right next to a window, but I have it angled where there is no light hitting the screen directly, cutting down on glare and reflection. The reflections are far more annoying on this machine mainly because I use it so many places. However, the LCD is so bright, it overpowers most reflections. I’m typing right now on it at my desk at work, with a light right behind me, and I can’t see any reflections on the screen, but I can see my hands (rather clearly) in the black border beneath the LCD (where it says “MacBook Pro”). It’s annoying, but I’m sure with time I’ll get used to it or at least learn to ignore it.

The Trackpad

I’m a keyboard guy at heart and love shortcuts. My goal is to touch the trackpad as little as possible. That said, the new gigantic trackpad takes some getting used to, but I’m falling for it. When using the two-finger scrolling in Safari to read through a long webpage, I find myself thinking I’m going to run my fingers right off of the trackpad, but then I find myself with inches left to go. It makes any other trackpad I use now feel cramped and old.

The multi-touch also takes some getting used to. I’ve got the zooming features off, as I found myself accidentally invoking it while reading online, which got annoying. The three- and four-finger gestures are very helpful.

The Keyboard

Like I said, I’m a keyboard guy. I’ve got an Apple Extended II keyboard plugged up to my 24-inch iMac at home, and I love it more than is natural.

I found the keyboards on the iBooks, PowerBooks, MacBooks and pre-unibody MacBook Pros to be squishy. This keyboard is rock solid. Having taken several of these apart at my day job, I know why. Those older keyboard either simply sat into grooves on the top case, or were held in with a handful of screws. Not so with Apple’s unibody notebooks. They’ve used literally dozens of screws — somewhere between 40 and 50 — to keep the keyboard close to the case. The result? This keyboard doesn’t buckle or move at all when I type — no matter how fast or rough I get with it.

The thing I missed the most when I went from a circa 2007 MacBook Pro to a MacBook was the backlit keyboard. It’s now on every unibody notebook, and Apple’s done a great job with this one. Some light spills out (as always), but it’s bright and crisp against the black keys. I really don’t know why every notebook maker includes this — it makes life so much better.

The Battery

When Apple announced that they were going to enclosed batteries, I was fine with it, as long as they could get crazy good charges out of their batteries.

Well, I’m happy to report the battery life on this thing is crazy good. Of course, things like leaving Bluetooth and Wifi off when not needed, turning screen brightness down and leaving the backlit keyboard off always help with battery life, but make using the notebook a lot less useful. With my screen brightness about 3 clicks below full blast, Bluetooth off (as I don’t ever us it), the backlit keyboard off and wireless on, I’ve been getting between 5 and 6 hours of battery life. Again, I could stretch that out by making some adjustments. I really think I could squeeze between 7 and 8 hours out of this thing. It really is that good.

Right now the menu bar item is sitting at 14% remaining in this charge, with 54 minutes left to go. It simply beats the pants off of any other notebook I’ve ever used.

Ports and Other Such Goodies

Down the left side of the machine are lots of goodies, but I’d like to point out the new additions.

Firewire 800 is back on the 13-inch notebooks, and I’m relieved. I have to use Firewire for work almost every day, and a machine without it is a machine I simply can’t use.

The SD card slot works just the way it should — my SD cards show up on the desktop as USB devices. And while I haven’t messed with this yet, SD cards should be bootable, since Intel-based Macs can boot from USB devices. My one gripe is that about half the card sticks out from the machine. I wish it would go all the way in and sit flush. Maybe revision B?

The MiniDisplay port is nice in that it’s so small, but I spent another $50 on some more video adaptors this week. I have a drawer full of them — Mini-VGA, Mini-DVI, Micro-DVI (found only on the first-generation MacBook Air), DVI. It’s an army of video adaptors. I’m sure the benefits of the new standard make a difference to some users, but I just plug this in (with my new adaptor) to an LCD and move on with my day. No big deal.

The Innards

This thing is fast. While the processor speed isn’t great — I have the 2.26GHz model — the faster frontside bus, faster RAM and better integrated graphics make this machine fly. In fact, it runs the latest build of 10.6 faster on 2GB of RAM than my 2.4Ghz MacBook ran it with 4GB of RAM. I’m sure on 10.5 it’s about the same, but 10.6 takes advantage of the graphics better.

Of course, I popped in my 320GB, 7200 RPM drive. The 5400 RPM drive Apple ships with this model is slower. The additional drive speed helps with startup, long file read and writes and helps the whole thing run snappier. I’d recommend a 7200 RPM drive as worthy upgrade for almost any Mac.

I haven’t used the SuperDrive yet, but I’m assuming it works just as well as any other MacBook or MacBook Pro.

In Summary

Over the years, I’ve used a Clamshell iBook G3, a PowerBook ‘Pismo’ G3, a Titanium PowerBook, both a 12- and 15-inch aluminum PowerBook, two pre-unibody MacBook Pros and a black MacBook.

I’m confident in saying this machine smokes them all — and is finally a decent replacement for the 12-inch PowerBook. Simply put, Apple is shipping the best notebooks they’ve ever built, and you’re not going to find a better machine out there for $1,199.