Apple MacBook Pro 13in (2018) review: Perfection, redefined

Apple has a reputation for producing excellent devices and it's one that's well-deserved. Its MacBook Pro range, in particular, has been the high water mark of laptop design for the past few years, thanks to exceptional performance coupled with the company's signature visual appeal.

New iterations of Apple's professional notebooks have now landed, boasting speedy 8th-generation Intel processors and a handful of new features. The updates, while few in number, look to be very significant indeed. But with Dell's latest XPS 13 having surpassed the previous MacBook Pro, can Apple reclaim its place on the 13in throne?

Apple MacBook Pro 13in (2018) review: Design

As with all its devices, Apple's MacBook design styling is stellar. In fact, they're widely regarded as the top devices across the board, from the Air, right through to the Pro. The latest MacBook Pro doesn't move far away from its previous iteration, with a brushed aluminium finish, either in Space Grey or Silver. It's still extremely lightweight and slim, easily sliding into a bag and not really providing much bulk.

However, at 14.9mm thick and weighing 1.37kg, it's still a little heavier than its competitors, especially the Dell XPS 13 and HP Spectre 13. This does mean it feels more solid than the others mentioned, but we wouldn't recommend you're any less careful with it. Perhaps Apple should think about shaving off some of the bulk in future versions to keep it in line with rivals.

Apple MacBook Pro 13in (2018) review: Perfection, redefined

Apple MacBook Pro 13in (2018) review: Display

Apple's displays are also one of its MacBook headline features. The company has introduced its True Tone display into this latest version of its MacBook, after debuting it into its iPad and iPhone range last year True Tone essentially changes the white balance of the screen according to the light conditions in your location. The result is to reduce the strain on your eyes if you're using it for a while - a great addition for workers who are using the MacBook Pro as their main computer.

However, it can change the look and feel of the screen, making the colours look a little off at some points. So if you're using it for Photoshopping or video tasks, you might want to switch it off temporarily.

It's especially important given how stunning the display is on its own. The 13.3in panel maxes out at a brightness of 502cd/m2 - More than sufficient for even the brightest or most harshly-lit conditions - and the 'Retina-grade' resolution of 2,560 x 1,600 and contrast ratio of 1,451:1 ensures that everything looks as crisp and detailed as you could ask for on a screen this size.

The technical quality is bang on, too. Our tests showed that it covers 99% of the DCI P3 colour spectrum (which Apple's default calibration aims for) as well as 100% coverage of the sRGB gamut.

Apple MacBook Pro 13in (2018) review: Keyboard and Trackpad

As hard as it is to believe, Apple's low-profile butterfly-switch keyboard design is now three years old, having first debuted alongside 2015's 12in MacBook. It's been met with a mixed reception, but we're fans of the design. Indeed, once you adapt to it, it offers a fluid and satisfying typing experience and still retains the crisp, defined feedback that's essential to any good keyboard.

Apple MacBook Pro 13in (2018) review: Perfection, redefined

The design has gone through a number of minor revisions since its launch in 2015, but the latest one is arguably the most significant. Apple has added a rubber underlay beneath each keycap - the company claims it's to make the keyboard quieter, rather than a measure designed to prevent the hardware failures numerous 2017-era MacBook Pros were suffering due to dust ingress.

It works though. In so much as the noise from each keystroke is markedly less sharp and audible, but it also reduces some of that lovely tactile feedback that we're such fans of. But, it's a small price to pay for a keyboard that won't be at risk of breaking after a year, though.

There's not much to say about the trackpad, other than the fact that it's still the best laptop trackpad available, thanks to a great finish, huge surface area and excellent responsiveness, coupled with macOS' powerful gesture support. It hasn't changed, but, then, how can you improve on perfection?

Apple MacBook Pro 13in (2018) review: Hardware

Now we come to the meat of the issue: power. The MacBook Pro is (as the name suggests) an enterprise-grade machine, so without some muscle to back it up, all its design values and fancy keyboards are nothing but window-dressing.

Thankfully, Apple hasn't held back when it comes to performance - in fact, that's where most of the upgrades are focused. The new MacBook Pro's base configuration comes with a quad-core 2.3GHz Intel 8th-gen Core i5 processor, 8GB of LPDDR3 RAM, and a 256GB SSD. This config costs £1,749 including tax and although there's another default config available for an extra £200, the only difference is a higher-capacity 512GB drive.

If you need a bit of extra oomph in any particular area (or indeed all of them) you can also upgrade the individual components at the point of purchase. We tested the most expensive hardware configuration, which includes a 2.7GHz quad-core Intel Core i7-8559U processor, 16GB of RAM and a meaty 2TB SSD.

Apple MacBook Pro 13in (2018) review: Perfection, redefined

All of this extra gubbins pushes the price up to the princely sum of £2,999 (ex VAT), but as with the 15in MacBook Pro, this number is deceptive. The 2TB SSD is a disproportionate percentage of this cost, and settling for the lowest available storage capacity - 256GB - cuts the cost down to a (comparatively) low £1,833 before tax, even with the top-end processor and RAM.

Apple MacBook Pro 13in (2018) review: Performance

Those impressive components aren't going to waste, either. This is the most powerful 13in laptop we've ever seen - and by quite a margin. In our benchmark tests, it sailed comfortably past the XPS 13, the Spectre 13, Microsoft's latest Surface Pro and even the Surface Book 2, surpassing all of them with an outstanding overall score of 150. For reference, that's a 50% faster score than was managed by the XPS 13 and almost a 150% improvement over last year's 13in MacBook Pro.

It's also surprisingly capable at professional rendering tasks, despite the fact that there's no discrete GPU to take advantage of. In the CPU-based portion of the CineBench rendering benchmark, it's not all that far behind the 15in MacBook Pro, and its performance in the LuxMark test was also creditable.

Storage is also outstanding. This was a highlight of last year's model, and the MacBook Pro impresses once again with blazing speeds of 2.6GB/sec for both sequential read and write tasks. That's ahead of all its Windows-based competition for reads, and orders of magnitude faster for writes.

All this means that the 2018 MacBook Pro is just about the fastest 13in laptop on the market. At no point during our testing did it show the faintest signs of slowing down or struggling regardless of what we threw at it, and it ran like greased lightning no matter how many heavy-duty programs we had running.

Apple MacBook Pro 13in (2018) review: Perfection, redefined

In fact, we managed to have the IT Pro benchmarks, the LuxMark, CineBench and BlackMagic benchmarks and Adobe's Photoshop and Premier Pro apps running simultaneously (as well as multiple Chrome windows), and it still barely broke a sweat. The days of force-quitting demanding apps to save on processing power are well and truly over.

Apple MacBook Pro 13in (2018) review: Battery Life

Unbelievably, Apple has managed to squeeze in all of this horsepower without shortening the battery life compared to last year's model. In fact, the battery life has actually increased by a full hour, and the new model achieved a score of 8hrs 41mins in our battery tests. That's ahead of all its major competition bar the XPS 13, which is notable considering how much of a beast this laptop is.

Apple MacBook Pro 13in (2018) review: Ports and features

As with the 15in MacBook Pro, there's very little in the way of ports and features that are actually new. Sadly, Apple hasn't seen fit to upgrade its cheaper, non-Touch Bar MacBook Pro models with the new specs, so if you want the new version, you've got no option but to go for the Touch Bar, which is a bit of a shame, as we're still not sold on its usefulness.

The bright side is that, because they're the more expensive versions, all of the new 13in MacBook Pros feature four Thunderbolt 3 ports instead of two, which is a blessing. That's all you get though, so get yourself an external dock if you want to use an external mouse, keyboard or non-USB C monitor.

The new model also features the ability to activate Siri with vocal commands, but this is a bit of a pointless feature, as desktop-based voice assistants really aren't all that useful.

Apple MacBook Pro 13in (2018) review: Verdict

We're used to Apple's notebooks being impressive, but the new MacBook Pro is nothing short of a work of art. It may not be quite as thin and light as some of its competition, but it makes up for it by being the most powerful 13in laptop around. It's not quite as awe-inspiring as its GPU-equipped 15in sibling, but it'll still chew through everything short of serious enterprise-grade rendering workloads.

Apple MacBook Pro 13in (2018) review: Perfection, redefined

On top of that, it's still an absolutely lovely-looking machine. There's a very good reason that the MacBook Pro has become the archetypal image of 'the laptop', and that's because it's absolutely gorgeous.

Honestly, there's very little to dislike about the 13in MacBook Pro. Sure, it's expensive, and some of the features are pointless (we're looking at you, Siri), but the simple fact is that it's supplanted the XPS 13 as the best do-it-all laptop on the market. Buy one and see for yourself.

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