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MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020) review

The new MacBook Pro 13-inch is powered by Apple’s very own M1 chip, and it’s an excellent choice for designers and video editors.

MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020)
(Image: © Future)

Our Verdict

The MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020) is the first of Apple’s professional laptops to come with the new M1 chip, rather than Intel hardware, and it’s very impressive indeed.

For

  • Great performance
  • Excellent battery life
  • Screen remains very good
  • Almost silent

Against

  • Lack of ports
  • Not the highest resolution
  • No new design

The new MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020) is one of the most exciting laptops Apple has ever made for designers. This is because, unlike with previous models, which used Intel hardware for the processor and integrated graphics (or AMD graphics cards in the larger 15– and 16-inch models), this new MacBook Pro is powered by Apple’s very own M1 chip. While Apple has been making its own chips for its iPhones and iPads for a long time now, this is the first time the company has made its own chips for a MacBook. 

By having complete control over both the hardware and the software of the MacBook Pro 13-inch (it runs the new macOS Big Sur, which has been built to take full advantage of the M1 chip), Apple is promising big things with this new laptop, including increased performance, faster boot times, and longer battery life.

It also promises that the new MacBook Pro can run all of your favourite creative applications, either with new versions made specially for the M1 architecture (Apple’s Final Cut Pro, GarageBand and other creative apps all have M1 versions, while the likes of Affinity Photo and Adobe Photoshop have been updated with M1 versions), or via Apple’s Rosetta 2 tool, which effectively allows almost any existing Mac app to run on the M1 MacBook Pro.

Perhaps most excitingly of all, macOS Big Sur can also run iOS apps, giving you access on your Mac to thousands of apps and games, including many of the best iPhone apps for designers

This new model replaces the MacBook Pro 13-inch (2020), which was released earlier this year, and goes toe-to-toe with 13-inch rivals like the Dell XPS 13 and HP Spectre x360 – expect to see it feature in our round up of the best laptops for graphic design in the very near future. 

MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020)

(Image credit: Future)

MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020) review: Price

One of the things we’ve really liked seeing Apple do recently is launch new versions of its products for the same price as the previous model launched for, and it’s done it again with the MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020), which starts at £1,299: the same price that the earlier MacBook Pro 13-inch launched for.

This means for the same money, you’re getting new and improved hardware, which is pretty commendable. It should also mean that the earlier MacBook Pro 13-inch model should see some price cuts, which is welcome, as it’s still a very good laptop in its own right.

The base model of the MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020) comes with the M1 chip, which comprises of an 8-core CPU and 8-core GPU, along with a 256GB SSD and 8GB of unified memory.

You can also get this model with 512GB storage for £1,499, and you can also get a version with the same M1 chip, but with a 2TB SSD and 16GB of RAM for £2,299. This is the model we’d recommend to people doing some serious video editing, due to its larger hard drive and extra RAM.

So, this is a pricey laptop, but it’s not excessively expensive. It’s about the same price as the Dell XPS 13 for similar specs, and it remains much more affordable than the 16-inch MacBook Pro, which still uses Intel hardware and comes with an AMD Radeon Pro 5300M graphics card for £2,399.

MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020)

(Image credit: Future)

MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020) review: Power and performance

When Apple first announced it was moving away from Intel and developing its own chip, many people were concerned about how this might affect performance, especially with the MacBook Pro line, which are used by creatives for intensive workloads, such as high resolution video editing and rendering.

The good news is that those fears seem to be almost completely unfounded. The MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020) is a brilliant performer. In day-to-day use, macOS Big Sur feels fast and responsive, and we were able to quickly open up and run several intensive applications at once, swapping between them with ease.

However, when it came to putting it to some serious work in Final Cut Pro X, we were really impressed. We played around with an 8K video project that uses multiple ultra high definition sources, and again, the MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020) performed admirably. We could quickly and easily scroll through the footage, with the thumbnail preview showing us what we were editing, while chopping, changing and adding effects to the 8K project was all handled smoothly.

The fact that we were able to edit 8K footage using a laptop running integrated graphics (rather than using a more powerful, and expensive, dedicated graphics card) was incredibly impressive. 

Throughout our time with the new MacBook Pro, where we used both new M1 versions of apps, as well as older versions that had been made for Intel-based Macs, we were incredibly impressed by the performance, and our synthetic benchmark tests showed that the M1 chip can easily rival 11th generation Intel CPUs – and we were seeing performance that at times compared with the 16-inch MacBook Pro, a much more expensive device.

MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020)

(Image credit: Future)

During our tests, the MacBook Pro 13-inch did get a little warm towards the back, and we’d sometimes hear the fans kick in, but this was after only sustained high-intensity use. For most of the work we did on the new MacBook Pro 13-inch, the fans were not needed, so the laptop was virtually silent.

Not only was the day-to-day performance of the MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020) impressive, but the battery life blew us away. Apple promised that this model would come with the longest battery life “ever in a Mac”, and it wasn’t lying. We ran a looped 1080p video with the screen at 50% brightness until the battery died, and it lasted just under 13 and a half hours. This is seriously impressive, and a huge 5 hour increase over the previous model in the same test.

While using this laptop for more intensive tasks will deplete the battery faster, you’re still likely going to see almost two whole workdays of battery life. This means this is an excellent choice for people who work out and about a lot, and who don’t want to have to worry about needing to find a power socket to charge up their laptop.

MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020)

(Image credit: Future)

MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020) review: Display

While there’s a lot of innovative and revolutionary things about the MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020), some other things have been left unchanged, and the display is one of them.

So, you’re still getting a 13-inch Retina display with a resolution of 2560 x 1600, with True Tone technology (which changes the colour temperature of the display depending on the ambient light), and P3 wide color gamut support. This last bit is incredibly important for photographers and video editors who need to work on projects that require accurate colours.

It’s a bright, vibrant display that remains excellent, so for many people the news that Apple hasn’t changed the screen will be a relief. However, Apple’s rivals like Dell, HP and Razer are offering higher resolutions, and even OLED technology, to make some truly stunning laptop displays. Apple is in danger of being left behind.

MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020)

(Image credit: Future)

MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020) review: Features

Arguably the biggest feature of the new MacBook Pro 13-inch is the M1 chip, which we’ve touched on earlier. However, it’s worth repeating how much of a revelation this is. When it comes to performance, the M1 chip allows the MacBook Pro 13-inch to punch well above its weight, and the ability to run iOS apps is incredibly cool.

As with previous models, the MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020) also comes with the Touch Bar, which is a thin screen that runs along the top of the keyboard. This is used by various applications to show context sensitive buttons and tools, and several well regarded creative tools, such as Photoshop, make use of it. Once you get the hang of it, you may find it extremely useful, and will be glad to see it included in the latest model. However, if its charms haven’t persuaded you in previous models, you may again struggle to see its point here.

We have to admit that we’ve grown fonder of it the more we’ve used it, after initially dismissing it as a bit of a gimmick.

Speaking of the keyboard, Apple once again includes the new and improved Magic Keyboard, which replaces the keyboard from earlier pre-2020 models, which used the  controversial Butterfly key switches, which were prone to sticking and other problems. The new keyboard is more reliable and comfortable to use. A Touch ID button is also included next to the Touch Bar, and allows you to log in to macOS Big Sur, and pay for things using Apple Pay, with a quick scan of your fingerprint. It’s fast and reliable, and we love it.

The MacBook Pro 13-inch only features two Thunderbolt 3 ports, however, along with an audio output port, which means if you have devices that use the older USB ports, such as drawing tablets or memory sticks, or you want to plug in a monitor via HDMI, then you’re going to need an adaptor. For a laptop aimed at professionals who often need to plug in hardware, this is a bit of a shame.

MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020) review: Should you buy it?

There’s no doubt that the MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020) is a fantastic laptop for creatives. It offers incredible performance for such a thin and light laptop, and the battery life easily surpasses similar workstation laptops. The M1 chip has been particularly impressive, as even though it is Apple’s first attempt at a laptop chip, it offers brilliant performance – the fact that we were able to easily edit complex 8K projects on this machine still astounds us.

It’s also competitively priced, and with support for new and legacy Mac apps, as well as the huge iOS app store, this is an incredibly versatile laptop.

However, if you’re not a fan of Apple, especially its designs, then you may not feel the need to get this laptop. Apple has stuck to the same design that it’s used for a few years now, and that means there are competing laptops from Dell, HP, Razer and even Microsoft, with its Surface lineup, which look and feel a little bit more modern.

But looks aren’t everything, and underneath the overly familiar exterior, Apple has produced one of the best creative laptops ever made.

The Verdict
9

out of 10

Apple Macbook Pro 13" (M1 2020)

The MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020) is the first of Apple’s professional laptops to come with the new M1 chip, rather than Intel hardware, and it’s very impressive indeed.