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Apple MacBook Pro: Hands-on with the new and improved Magic Keyboard version

Sure, the new 13-inch MacBook Pro adds 10th-gen Intel CPUs and doubles the storage, but the really big thing is that Apple finally fixed the keyboard.

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Dan Ackerman/CNET

Even if you're stuck working from home, you can still get caught by the upgrade bug. That's why I eagerly tore into the new 13-inch MacBook Pro when it landed at the socially distant, wooded retreat I've been hiding out in for the past two months. In a lot of ways, the 13-inch Pro was always the most practical MacBook to buy -- fewer compromises than the MacBook Air, less expensive and more portable than the massive 16-inch (and previously 15-inch) MacBook Pro

But, that case had been harder to make of late. Both the 16-inch Pro and 13-inch Air recently upgraded from the much-maligned butterfly-style keyboard to the newer Magic Keyboard design -- a name now used in laptops, stand-alone Mac accessories and the new iPad Pro keyboard case. Newer Intel CPUs were available in those other systems. Neither of them would dare try and charge you more than $1,000 for a measly 128GB SSD. And when Apple dropped the price on the 13-inch Air back down to $999 (yes, really -- $1,099 with the Core i5 option), the $1,299-and-up 13-inch MacBook Pro was feeling like the odd man out. 

Perhaps knowing I'd been sitting out in the woods contemplating such things, Apple has now updated the 13-inch MacBook Pro, bringing it much more in line with its other laptop offerings. Major differences from the previous model include a Magic Keyboard upgrade, new 10th-generation Intel processor options for some models and double the base storage for all. 

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In the woods, with a MacBook Pro. 

Libe Ackerman

Next to the keyboard, storage is probably the most practical change and takes the two lowest-priced models from 128GB of storage to 256GB; the midtier model from 256GB to 512GB and the high-end base configuration from 512GB to 1TB. The new top-end cap for storage is now 4TB, up from the previous 2TB. Prices for the four default configurations remain at $1,299; $1,499; $1,799 and $1,999. They start at £1,299 in the UK and AU$1,999 in Australia.

But before you buy, there are a few caveats to keep in mind. The two lowest-priced models are sticking with eighth-gen Intel CPUs. Upgrading to the 10th-gen chip is not currently an option until you hit the $1,799 level. That's the model I'm testing right now, with a 2.0GHz quad-core 10th-generation Intel Core i5 processor, 16GB of fast DDR4 RAM, a 512GB SSD and Intel Iris Pro graphics. For an extra $200, you can double the storage to 1TB. For $400, you can bump the RAM from 16GB to 32GB, currently the 13-inch MacBook upper limit (the 16-inch Pro supports up to 64GB of RAM). 

Now playing: Watch this: Hands-on: The new MacBook Pro plays catch-up
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New MacBook Pro 13 configurations

Price $1,299 $1,499 $1,799 $1,999
CPU 1.4GHz quad-core 8th-generation Intel Core i5 processor 1.4GHz quad-core 8th-generation Intel Core i5 processor 2.0GHz quad-core 10th-generation Intel Core i5 processor 2.0GHz quad-core 10th-generation Intel Core i5 processor
RAM 8GB 2,133MHz LPDDR3 8GB 2,133MHz LPDDR3 16GB 3,733MHz LPDDR4X 16GB 3,733MHz LPDDR4X
Storage 256GB SSD storage 512GB SSD storage 512GB SSD storage 1TB SSD storage

In the hand, well, it looks and feels like a MacBook Pro. No noticeable physical differences, aside from the keyboard. And you'd have to have a butterfly keyboard MacBook nearby to compare and see any real difference, at least visually. Typing on it is another story. 

I have, at times over the years, not exactly defended the butterfly keyboard, but I may have occasionally pointed out that it wasn't as all-out terrible as leagues of professional internet complainers would have you believe.  Yes, I may have once written an article called "In defense of the Apple MacBook keyboard," but it was pretty tongue-in-cheek, or at least that's how I'm retconning it now. 

When I reviewed the new 13-inch MacBook Air a couple of month ago, which likewise added the new Magic Keyboard, I said:

More than anything else, the new Magic Keyboard is what makes the latest Air such a winner. Yes, it solves a problem largely of Apple's own making, but the end result is highly satisfying ... The new keyboard is positively delightful, which is not praise I offer lightly. 

My hope is now that everything Mac has access to the same great keyboard design, we can stop talking about it quite as much, except to say it is indeed quite good. The best Windows laptops have largely caught up as well (although the same can't be said for Windows touchpads) so finding a great typing experience is a lot easier than it has ever been. For something similar, I'm liking the keyboard on the 2020 Dell XPS 13 a lot as well. 

And one thing you won't find on any of those Windows laptops, or on the MacBook Air, is Apple's touch bar. This slim OLED secondary touch display still sits above the keyboard, offering contextual controls for many system tasks and specific apps. It's not a huge selling point, although I frequently use it for volume and brightness control. Many MacBook shoppers would rather have their traditional function keys back, and I can't really argue with that. The touch bar has at least evolved over time, giving up a little real estate to return the physical escape key on one side, and breaking off its very useful fingerprint reader on the other. 

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Touch bar. Still a thing. 

Dan Ackerman/CNET

This means every MacBook has been updated since last fall, although that may not be the end of the line, even near-term. Previous leaks and rumors had pointed to the 10th-gen Intel switch, but also a 14-inch display, much like the old 15-inch MacBook Pro replaced its screen with a 16-inch one, while keeping the same general footprint. That was not to be, at least not this time. Apple is also endlessly rumored to be on the verge of replacing Intel CPUs entirely with a processor of its own design. 

I'm currently testing this new 13-inch MacBook Pro and will report benchmark scores and battery life in an upcoming review. 

TL;DR

  • The 13-inch MacBook Pro adds 10th-gen Intel CPU options for the two highest-end configs.
  • All models double their base storage.
  • Every current MacBook now has the new Magic Keyboard design. Yes, that means the butterfly keyboard is officially dead.
  • Cost: $1,299 (£1,299, AU$1,999) and up, available to order now.