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The 13-inch MacBook Pro was released without much fanfare on July 9, 2019, yet it represented a major shakeup of the range. The new version directly replaced a previous generation 13-inch MacBook Pro, but at the same time, Apple also upgraded its MacBook Air –– and dropped the 12-inch MacBook entirely. In theory, this simplified the lineup because general consumers could buy the improved MacBook Air while people using the machine in their professional work could buy the new 13-inch MacBook Pro.

However, while the new 13-inch model looks almost identical to its predecessors all the way back to 2016, the improvements made the buying decision harder. For $200 more than a MacBook Air, the new $1,299 13-inch MacBook Pro has a better screen, better audio, and significantly increased performance.

There are more expensive versions of the 13-inch MacBook Pro which give yet better performance, more storage and four Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) ports instead of the two of the MacBook Air. The entry-level version of the 13-inch MacBook Pro, though, was sufficiently powerful for its price that the machine was arguably the sweet spot in the entire range. That was certainly true when it was first launched. Up to then, the 13-inch MacBook Pro was like the middle child and didn't have much to recommend it over either the cheaper MacBook Air or the more expensive 15-inch MacBook Pro.

Once Apple shook up this part of the range, though, the 13-inch MacBook Pro became the machine you could recommend to most people and be sure it would work for them. It wouldn't be ideal for truly processor-intensive tasks such as 3D modelling or video editing, but it could do both, and at significantly less cost than its more expensive siblings. This is all still true, however the launch of the new 16-inch MacBook Pro has changed things.

Butterfly keyboard

For the most part, the differentiation between the two MacBook Pro models is wider and clearer than ever. However, the 16-inch MacBook Pro comes with a new Magic Keyboard. Regardless of how factual or anecdotal reports of the Butterfly keyboard failing, this new Magic Keyboard feels better to type on. That feeling is subjective, and we won't know for many months what the longer-term reliability of the new keyboard is, but it is a significant improvement over the one in the 13-inch MacBook Pro. While it would be hard to justify spending $1,100 more just to get the new keyboard, there has to be a strong chance that Apple will revise the 13-inch model and add it in.

Officially Apple says that it is continuing to work with both the old Butterfly and the new Magic Keyboards, so there is no guarantee that the 13-inch model will get a keyboard upgrade. Plus the version of the Butterfly keyboard in the 13-inch MacBook Pro is the most reliable one of this technology so far. And it introduced a wider key with a more stable feel to it as you type. The 2019 model is also the first 13-inch MacBook Pro to feature a Touch Bar.

Performance and options

The 13-inch MacBook Pro starts with a 1.4GHz quad-core 8th-generation Intel Core i5 processor. On the face of it, that's actually slower than the 1.6GHz i5 in the MacBook Air, but the quad cores make all the difference –– and so does the ability to Turbo Boost up to 3.9GHz. Traditionally, turbo-boosted speeds are intended for short bursts of activity, but in our testing the 13-inch MacBook Pro was able to easily sustain this figure over time.

For more performance, the base model of the 13-inch MacBook Pro, identifiable by having just two Thunderbolt 3 ports, can also be configured with a 1.7GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 which can turbo boost to 4.5GHz.

he model with four Thunderbolt 3 ports comes with either a 2.4GH quad-core Intel Core i5 or a 2.8GHz quad-core Intel Core i7, which can turbo boost up to 4.7GHz. It's when you work on the machine for extended periods that you feel the difference in the processor. However, put the 13-inch MacBook Pro next to the MacBook Air and you will see a difference immediately.

The screen on the 13-inch MacBook Pro has the same 13.3-inch LED-backlit screen with IPS and running at a maximum resolution of 2560x1600 pixels. However, the MacBook Air screen's brightness is just 400 nits compared to the 13-inch MacBook Pro's 500. Both are Retina displays with True Tone, but the 13-inch MacBook Pro uses wide color (P3) instead of the sRGB or full standard color of the MacBook Air.

It's not all great

As well as costing more than the MacBook Air, the new 13-inch MacBook Pro is actually lacking in certain areas. The most notable is in the battery life, with the 13-inch MacBook Pro advertised as being up to 10 hours, and the MacBook Air up to 11 hours. Only the very lightest of users will come close to those figures in the real world, but it's still a significant difference. The 13-inch MacBook Pro is also heavier than the MacBook Air at 3.02 pounds (1.37kg) instead of 2.75 pounds (1.25kg.) For comparison, though, the new 16-inch MacBook Pro is 4.3 pounds (2.0kg). On paper, these differences seem minuscule, but you will notice it when you carry the machines around.

Still, for the mix of performance, features and price, the weight and battery life differences would not be what deters us from continuing to call this the best MacBook Pro Apple makes. The sole thing that would stop us saying that is the issue over whether this model will be revised to have the new Magic Keyboard from the 16-inch MacBook Pro. The chance of that –– and it is only a chance, no matter how much we might want it –– is sufficient we would say that if you can wait to buy, do.

There's no way to even guess when a revamped 13-inch MacBook Pro could be released, let alone whether one will have the new keyboard. So if you need a notebook that's much more powerful than a MacBook Air, yet doesn't have either the heft or the price tag of the 16-inch MacBook Pro, the 13-inch MacBook Pro is a superb buy.

Pricing

The 13-inch MacBook Pro starts at $1,299 for a version with a 128GB SSD and two Thunderbolt 3 ports. A version with four Thunderbolt 3 ports and a 256GB SSD starts at $1,799, although deals are available on every model in the AppleInsider 13-inch MacBook Pro Price Guide.

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