Apple MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2016) review: The next best thing to the Retina MacBook Air you've always wanted

A keyboard with less click

One of the things people had a hard time getting used to in the 12-inch MacBook back in 2015 was its very flat keyboard. It used a butterfly mechanism, which allows for shallower keys and a thinner body. The same basic design has made its way to the new MacBook Pros, and it's going to be a learning curve for most.

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Josh Miller/CNET

The advantage is that you can have a slimmer body, but you lose out on some of the deep, clicky physical feedback of the current MacBooks or most other modern laptops. While the basics are the same, as is the key travel (an industry term for the distance the key moves downward to register an input) as on the 12-inch MacBook, the feel has been tweaked a bit for a better overall experience. The keys have a little more bite to them, and appear to rise up from the keyboard tray just a hair more.

The trade off is that you lose that satisfying feeling of your fingers on big, chunky keys that click down with a satisfying thunk. Instead, typing becomes a quieter, more subtle task. The keys in older MacBooks rise up from the system surface, like tiny platforms. Here, the keys just slightly break the plane of the keyboard tray.

Will MacBook buyers give the new keyboard design a shot? I found that the butterfly keyboard in the 12-inch MacBook wasn't my favorite keyboard, but after a short adjustment period, I got used to it, and I've easily typed over 100,000 words on the 2015 and 2016 MacBooks. A full accounting will require more long-form typing sessions. Check back after a few weeks of heavy use and I'll offer a more complete opinion.

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Josh Miller/CNET

One port, many uses

The rush to expunge a wide variety of ports and replace them with a single solution started with the 12-inch MacBook. It dropped nearly everything in favor of USB-C, which can carry Thunderbolt-speed data, connect to power. Through add-on adaptors they can support USB sticks, HDMI output and anything else you'd want to plug into a computer.

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These Thunderbolt 3 USB-C ports work for power, data, even video output, as long as you have the right connector.

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In the new MacBook Pro, Apple doubles down on the idea of USB-C, adding two of these flexible ports (and the more expensive models double that again, to four total USB-C ports). It's a bold move for a laptop that may spend a lot of time tethered to a desk, driving external displays or connected to storage drives.

And, it's a sad goodbye to the beloved MagSafe power connection, an invention that has saved many laptops from a grim death over the years. The idea was simple, but brilliant. The MagSafe connector attached via a not-too-strong magnet, so that when you inevitably tripped over the cord, it was safely pop out from the laptop's body, instead of pulling your laptop down to the floor. The Air is now the only laptop that still has that. Farewell, MagSafe, we'll miss you!

To be fair, it's not USB-C or nothing. There's one more port still hanging around the MacBook Pro. the humble headphone jack, recently excised from the iPhone 7, gets a reprieve here. For now.

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The new MacBook Pro on top of a last-gen MacBook Pro, with a MacBook Air on the bottom.

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The new MacBook Air, kind of

With the classic 13-inch MacBook Air frozen in time, one could see this as the new "basic" MacBook that people turn to as the default. Having gotten my hands on one, it definitely has more of a Pro than an Air feel. And of course, it has a more Pro-like price.

If you were waiting for a MacBook Air upgrade with a Retina display, this is as close as you're probably going to get. That Retina display is said to be a costly component, especially over the older 1,440x900 screens on the Air, which have been the same almost since that series launched eight years ago.

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A 13-inch MacBook Air next to the 13-inch MacBook Pro.

Josh Miller/CNET

A more Air-like experience may actually be the 12-inch MacBook, which starts at $1,299, halfway between the price of the old Air and the new MacBook Pro. It's meant for easy travel and is one of the slimmest, lightest laptops you can buy.

But, it's not an all day, every day laptop. Despite feeling some pangs over missing out on the Touch Bar (and the Touch ID feature it allows), this entry-level new Pro has the new, larger touchpad and slimmer body -- both definite pluses; and the new keyboard, on which the verdict is more mixed. At it's lower price, it represents the best balance in the current Mac lineup between price, features and power.

Multimedia Multitasking test 3.0

Apple MacBook Pro with Touch Bar (15-inch, 2016)
202
Dell XPS 13 (2016, non-touch)
441
Apple MacBook Pro with Touch Bar (13-inch, 2016)
443
Apple MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2016)
460
Razer Blade Stealth
482
Apple MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2015)
491
Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2015)
505
Microsoft Surface Book (2016)
610
Apple MacBook (12-inch, 2016)
702

Note:

Shorter bars indicate better performance (in seconds)


Geekbench 3 (Multi-Core)

Apple MacBook Pro with Touch Bar (15-inch, 2016)
14451
Razer Blade Stealth
7704
Apple MacBook Pro with Touch Bar (13-inch, 2016)
7650
Microsoft Surface Book (2016)
7337
Apple MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2016)
7178
Dell XPS 13 (2016, non-touch)
7118
Apple MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2015)
6729
Apple MacBook (12-inch, 2016)
5879
Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2015)
5672

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance



Streaming video playback battery drain test

Microsoft Surface Book (2016)
709
Apple MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2016)
696
Dell XPS 13 (2016, non-touch)
636
Apple MacBook (12-inch, 2016)
633
Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2015)
608
Apple MacBook Pro with Touch Bar (13-inch, 2016)
607
Apple MacBook Pro with Touch Bar (15-inch, 2016)
605
Razer Blade Stealth
416

Note:

Longer bars indicate better performance (in minutes)



System Configurations

Apple MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2016) Apple macOS Sierra 10.12.1; 2GHz Intel Core i5-6360U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,866MHz; 1,536MB Intel Iris Graphics 540; 256GB SSD
Apple MacBook Pro with Touch Bar (13-inch, 2016) Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 1.2GHz Intel Core i5-7Y54; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,866MHz; 128MB dedicated Intel HD Graphics 615; 256GB SSD
Apple MacBook Pro with Touch Bar (15-inch, 2016) Apple macOS Sierra 10.12.1; 2.7GHz Intel Core i7-6820HQ; 16GB DDR3 SDRAM 2,133MHz; 2GB Radeon Pro / 1,536MB Intel HD Graphics 530; 512GB SSD
Apple MacBook (12-inch, 2016) Apple El Capitan OSX 10.11.4; 1.2GHz Intel Core m5-6Y54; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,866MHz; 1,536MB Intel HD Graphics 515; 512GB SSD
Apple MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2015) Apple OSX 10.10.2 Yosemite; 2.7GHz Intel Core i5-5257U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,866MHz; 1,536MB Intel Iris Graphics 6100; 128GB SSD
Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2015) Apple Yosemite OSX 10.10.2; 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-5250U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 1,536MB Intel HD Graphis 6000; 128GB SSD
Microsoft Surface Book (2016) Microsoft Windows 10 Pro (64-bit); 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-6600U; 16GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,866MHz, 2GB Nvidia GeForce GTX 965 / 128MB Intel HD Graphics 520; 1TB SSD
Dell XPS 13 (2016, non-touch) Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.5GHz Intel Core i5-7200U; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,866MHz; 128MB dedicated Intel HD Graphics 620; 256GB SSD
Razer Blade Stealth Microsoft Windows 10 Home (64-bit); 2.7GHz Intel Core i7-7500U; 16GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,866MHz; 128MB (dedicated) Intel HD Graphics 620; 256GB SSD