The updated 13-inch MacBook Pro is similar to the M1 model in most regards. But peerless battery life remains a reason to get one.
Should you get Apple’s updated MacBook Pro? Is the M2 chip under the hood enough to spur an upgrade (from €1,629), when everything else about it is the same as the last model?
I’ve been testing it for a week.
Overall, it’s a beauty: one of the best laptops you can buy. But it feels and acts more like a slightly more powerful version of the M1 MacBook Pro it replaces, rather than a giant step forward.
That’s because the external hardware – the screen, the keyboard, the ports, even the Touch Bar – is the same as its predecessor.
So is the mere inclusion of the M2 chip worth the upgrade? Is it good value compared to the pricier, but more thoroughly redesigned, 14-inch MacBook Pro? And how might it compare to that new M2 MacBook Air, which will be €100 cheaper than the M2 MacBook Pro when it hits the shops this Autumn?
For anyone buying a first MacBook or who is trading up from a much older MacBook Pro, it’s an attractive proposition.
This is for two reasons: incredible battery life and an engine power advantage over every other chip system on the market (including Intel-powered MacBooks).
Battery life is still the most immediately apparent killer feature. At present, I use it every day for around eight hours of work (writing, web searches, some light photo-editing and video-streaming). It rarely falls below 50pc battery life by the end of the day.
This is incredible. By comparison, I would normally dip below 50pc of a regular laptop’s (or even an iPad Pro’s) battery in three to four hours. Or even more quickly if sitting in the summer sun with the screen on full brightness.
But with this M2 MacBook Pro, I haven’t even thought about bringing charging equipment out the door with me. It has even become a power source itself: I can bring cables for both my Apple Watch and iPhone to hive off the MacBook Pro’s seemingly endless battery reserve.
Officially, it lasts 17 hours using the web wirelessly, or 20 hours streaming video. My testing puts it close to that tally. It’s hard to overstate what an advantage this is when your workday can be in flux, moving from location to location. There is simply no other laptop, of any kind, that matches it for battery.
No other laptop, that is, except Apple’s other M-series MacBooks. Which raises an obvious question – all of the M1 MacBook models, whether Air or Pro, similarly have this battery advantage; so what does the M2 bring to the equation that may give it an edge?
For someone who already has an M1 MacBook Pro, it’s really only one or two iterative things, which I’ll get into below.
But for anyone else – a first time MacBook owner or someone upgrading from an older machine – the engine power boost is huge. In general, Apple is now so far ahead of Intel chips in terms of power and efficiency that it’s a mismatch.
The M2 is between three and eight times more powerful than a top-end Intel i7 processor for things like intensive editing, high-resolution streaming or coding.
It’s little things, as well. The M2 chip system supports better sound, including Spatial Audio with dynamic head tracking when using newer AirPods models.
The actual boost over the M1 chip is modest, but still meaningful – Apple puts it at 18pc (for CPU) and 35pc (for GPU) over the M1. My own benchmarking tests tally broadly with this.
Where it gets interesting is how some of the upgrades can actually save you money. This is because the M2 chip makes a lot more of the Ram memory within the laptop than the M1 equivalent, meaning you probably won’t need to choose the more expensive 16GB version over the standard 8GB model, a choice I would usually advise of any new laptop purchase these days.
Specifically, the M2 chip has 50pc more ‘memory bandwidth’, for things like multitasking, than the M1 chip.
For example, I tried out a few high-end video-editing processes on my test model, which is the most basic 8GB version. It had little problem tearing through them, even if it did use up more battery life when doing it. Similarly, speeding between tabs, programs and apps was never once an issue.
What this really means is that if you only need the MacBook Pro for non-graphic intensive purposes, such as work productivity stuff around video-conferencing apps, remote access to workstations and the usual office software, you really won’t need 16GB of Ram with this laptop. So you’ll save €230, which is the cost of bumping the MacBook Pro up from 8GB of Ram to 16GB.
Ironically, the M2 chip also has a Ram memory advantage at the other end of the scale, too: you can now configure this MacBook Pro model up to 24GB, rather than just 16GB with M1 versions. I’m not sure that this is quite as compelling a proposition as the Ram dividend at the other end of the spectrum, though: if you want that much muscle power, you’re more likely to opt for one of the larger MacBook Pro devices with genuinely ‘pro’-level chips.
For anyone considering the purchase of a MacBook Pro, it’s important to clarify one technical point about the M2 chip a little further, as it’s easy to miss this nuance in Apple’s processor lineup. The M1 Pro and M1 Max chips, which come with the larger, pricier 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pros, are generally more powerful than the M2 processor. The M2 is a base model version of the updated architecture. It will, in time, constitute the platform for M2 Pro and M2 Max versions in the near future. But it’s not, in itself, a more powerful chip than the M1 Pro or M1 Max, which have more graphics power and can support more than one external display.
This is all reflected in the big pricing gap: you won’t get a 14-inch MacBook Pro (with the M1 Pro chip) for less than €2,249, a hefty €600 more than the base M2 MacBook Pro. Yes, that 14-inch model has 16GB of Ram and 512GB of storage, and a larger display. But the point still stands: the ‘Pro’ and ‘Max’ line of M-series chips are generally designed for more intensive workloads and are priced as such.
Away from power and battery, the MacBook Pro is generally excellent, with one quibble.
Its backlit keyboard is really comfortable to use over long periods and its trackpad remains one of the best on the market.
Its 13.3-inch ‘liquid retina’ display is good enough (2560x1600 or 227ppi) and bright enough (500 nits) for any workflow and it does fairly well in outdoor sunny conditions, too. I watched a number of films that challenged the colours, such as Blade Runner 2049, and was generally pleased by how it handled them.
As for audio, the stereo speakers are as good as any you can get on a laptop, and it has a 3.5mm headphone port for wired headphones (which I’d really recommend if you’re watching a movie on it – they give better audio detail than even good-quality wireless models).
It’s nice and light, too – just 1.4kg.
There are two USB-C (‘Thunderbolt’) ports, although it can only support one external display of up to 6K at 60hz (the larger MacBook Pros support two to three external displays). However, both of the ports can be used to charge the MacBook Pro M2 from just about any charging source. (It comes with a 67-watt USB-C power adapter.)
And there’s a Touch Bar. Remember: this is the same physical case as the last MacBook Pro, which still presented Apple’s Touch Bar as a premium feature. I did use it, but only for basic functions, such as controlling sound or brightness.
Complaints? I have one or two. The 720p webcam that this MacBook Pro is lumbered with is genuinely mediocre. This will probably be the last MacBook that Apple makes with a lens that looks and feels more like something from 2013 rather than 2022. It’s a pity, because the 1080p webcam that comes as standard on the new MacBook Air, the larger MacBook Pros and last year’s iMac, is really great.
To be fair, there are some minor video capture improvements over the M1 MacBook Pro, because of the image signal processor of the M2 chip system. And Apple’s new MacOS Ventura update, coming this Autumn, does now allow you to seamlessly add your iPhone’s high-end lenses as a webcam. But otherwise, it’s a bit disappointing.
Other quibbles are mostly wrapped up in the limitations of the legacy hardware that this powerful, user-friendly laptop inherits from its predecessor. That includes a display that isn’t quite as bright or as modern-looking as the displays on any of the other updated MacBooks. It still has bezels that make it look a little behind the design curve, compared to the neat edge-to-edge displays of the new MacBook Air and both of the larger MacBook Pros. Other than looks, bezels matter: the thinner they are, the more screen you can fit into the laptop’s overall size.
CONCLUSION: SHOULD YOU BUY ONE?
It’s back to the main questions posed at the top of this review.
1. Is the mere inclusion of the M2 chip worth upgrading your current MacBook Pro for? Yes, unless (a) it’s an M1 model, in which case there really isn’t any point in upgrading (and it may even be worth bagging an M1 MacBook Pro if you can get it for more than €200 cheaper) or (b) you think you’ll genuinely need a lot of power, in which case the 14-inch model could make more long-term sense.
2. Is it good value compared to the pricier 14-inch MacBook Pro? For most ordinary work users, yes – it’s €600 cheaper. And that base model is easily powerful enough for the vast majority of regular work users.
3. How might it compare to that new M2 MacBook Air, which will be €100 cheaper than the M2 MacBook Pro when it hits the shops this Autumn? We can’t answer that definitively yet, as we don’t have the Air models to test. We do know that the new MacBook Air has some advantages over this MacBook Pro, in the shape of a slightly bigger edge-to-edge screen, a much better webcam, a Magsafe charging option and one or two other things. On the other hand, MacBook Pros generally have a reputation of being the longest-lasting, best-supported machines.