Saturday, 28 January 2012

Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch (Late 2011) Review

While the MacBook Pro 15-inch makes a great workhorse, it’s not exactly the most portable notebook around. If you do move around a lot, then you should look at the MacBook Pro 13-inch, which offers the same level of performance (almost) and is the perfect size to slip into your backpack without it becoming a burden. Today, we’ll take the Late 2011 version of the 13 incher for a quick spin to see what’s what.

Design and Build 
We had mentioned this before and we’ll say it again, from outside the new MacBook Pro 13-inch is virtually identical to the Early 2011 models and this goes for all the other MacBook Pros as well. There’s absolutely no way of telling them apart, other than cross referencing the last four digits of the serial number. The only way to tell if it’s the new version is to check the box or through the OS, once it’s booted up.
Stunning design
Stunning design

Milled from a single block of aluminium, the cold metal against your skin somehow feels very satisfying from the moment you first unpack it from the plastic wrapping. The notebook oozes style and elegance and it definitely feels expensive (which it is!). Connectivity is no different from before, as we have an assortment of ports from LAN, FireWire, Thunderbolt, two USB 2.0, SD card reader and audio-in/out combo jack and the battery status indicator. The other side houses the DVD burner and that’s pretty much it.
Same connectors as big brother
Same connectors as big brother

Although it’s a smaller-sized notebook, the 13-inch Pro receives the same sized keyboard and trackpad as its bigger brothers. The only thing that’s shaved off is the speaker vents from the sides, which are now underneath the keyboard. The backlit keys are incredibly comfortable and so is the giant glass trackpad that begs to be stroked. Just like the others, the battery is internal, so it’s not user replaceable. Overall, the finish and build is just what we’ve come to expect from Apple, nothing more, nothing less.

Like tradition, all new refreshed Apple products come with slight improvements, but for the exact same price as the earlier one. They sent us their high-end 13-inch Pro, which gets a processor bump from a 2.7GHZ Core i7 to a 2.8GHz Core i7. It’s actually the Core i7-2640M, a dual-core processor with four threads built on the same 32nm fabrication process. Due to the slightly higher clock speed, the Turbo frequency has gone up to 3.5GHz. The Late 2011 model also comes with a larger capacity hard drive, as default; 750GB as opposed to 500GB from before. Sadly, this is where the differences end as everything else is identical to the Early 2011 models. We wished Apple would have given you the option to add a discrete graphics card as well.
Excellent backlit keyboard
Excellent backlit keyboard

The 13-inch screen, however gets a decently sharp resolution of 1280 x 800 and the LED backlighting ensures even brightness throughout. The brightness levels are more than adequate and the viewing angles are very good, so your friends will enjoy watching moves with you. OS X Lion runs buttery smoothly and the new gesture motions are quite simply fun. Overall, it feels well rounded, although we do miss a dedicated graphics card. For refresh though, you can barely call it that, since hardly anything has changed, since the ‘Early 2011’ model.

In terms of performance, it manages to put on a good show, but is nowhere as good as its bigger brothers. Compared to the Early 2011 model of the bigger MacBook Pro 15-inch, the small guy still lags behind, mostly because of the slower processor and lack of a dedicated graphics card. While the higher clock speed may seem like it’s faster than the 15-inch, remember that the 15 incher had a quad-core CPU, which the 13 incher only has a dual-core. This difference can clearly be seen in Cinebench R11.5, where the MacBook Pro scored 4.4pts. The OpenGL test is nothing to shout about, as there’s really no comparison between the Intel HD graphics and dedicated AMD GPU. We see the same performance difference in XBench, as well, where the 15-inch scored 8631 points.

Good performance but could be better
Good performance, but could be better

Under stress, the notebook does tend to get warm and since this has been made of aluminium entirely, it’s more noticeable. Under normal usage though, the Pro runs quite as a mouse and is just the perfect size for your lap. The screen can get a bit reflective under ambient light but the brightness levels make up for that shortcoming. Despite it lacking a dedicated GPU, it could easily handle high bit-rate HD video files without breaking a sweat. This just so happens to have a profound effect on the battery life.

Battery Life
The 13-inch MacBook Pro delivered an amazing 7 hours of battery life in our video drain test. This consisted of a 720p MP4 movie, which we played in a loop, till it finally died. Brightness was set to 75 percent, Wi-Fi was off and we had a pair of headphones plugged into the notebook at 70 percent volume. While the battery life will deplete over time, one way to ensure a longer lifespan is to complete entire charge and discharge cycles.

The Late 2011 model replaces the earlier MacBook Pro 13-inch for the same price of Rs.84,900, while the ‘cheaper’ one with a 2.4GHz Core i5 CPU retails for Rs.69,900. Considering a little more money can fetch your the 15-inch model that’s also a lot more powerful, the 13-inch feels quite expensive. The few things it has going for it over its elder siblings is the better battery life and the fact that it’s more portable. Mind you, it’s still quite a heavy little fellow. If you want a fully-featured, portable MacBook, then the 13 incher is the way to go, else you can't really go wrong with the 15 incher.

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