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Apple MacBook Pro 13in - 2009 Edition (MB990B/A) review

Andy Vandervell

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Reviewed:

Awards

  • Recommended by TR

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Apple MacBook Pro 13in - 2009 Edition (MB990B/A)
  • Apple MacBook Pro 13in - 2009 Edition (MB990B/A)
  • Apple MacBook Pro 13in - 2009 Edition (MB990B/A)
  • Apple MacBook Pro 13in - 2009 Edition (MB990B/A)
  • Apple MacBook Pro 13in - 2009 Edition (MB990B/A)
  • Apple MacBook Pro 13in - 2009 Edition (MB990B/A)
  • Apple MacBook Pro 13in - 2009 Edition (MB990B/A)
  • Apple MacBook Pro 13in - 2009 Edition (MB990B/A)
  • Apple MacBook Pro 13in - 2009 Edition (MB990B/A)
  • Apple MacBook Pro 13in - 2009 Edition (MB990B/A)
  • Apple MacBook Pro 13in - 2009 Edition (MB990B/A)
  • Apple MacBook Pro 13in - 2009 Edition (MB990B/A)
  • Apple MacBook Pro 13in - 2009 Edition (MB990B/A)
  • Apple MacBook Pro 13in - 2009 Edition (MB990B/A)
  • Apple MacBook Pro 13in - 2009 Edition (MB990B/A)
  • Apple MacBook Pro 13in - 2009 Edition (MB990B/A)
  • Apple MacBook Pro 13in - 2009 Edition (MB990B/A)

Summary

Our Score:

9

Last year's arrival of the aluminium 'unibody' MacBooks (see Apple MacBook 13in) was something of a revelation where laptop design was concerned. No surprises there really, if nothing else Apple is known for its great design. However, as impressive as the new MacBooks were, there were one or two niggling issues that prevented the full TrustedReviews stamp of approval: a Recommended Award. Now that Apple has refreshed its line-up, it's time to see if any of the changes warrant an upgrade in status.

First, though, a little housekeeping, since one subtle change for the new 13in MacBook is the name: it's now a MacBook Pro. This actually makes a lot of sense; given the older white MacBook is still on sale it saves a lot of unnecessary confusion. Moreover, as the 13in aluminium MacBook (as was) shared the same design language as the MacBook Pros above it, its separation from them could be deemed a little odd.

With all this said there were some good reasons why the first edition wasn't deemed 'Pro' enough to be a MacBook Pro. Primary among those was the lack of a FireWire 800 port, which is one of the most desirable additions to this new model. Other new features include a long overdue SD card reader (quite how Apple held out for so long is beyond us) and the backlit keyboard, which is now standard even on the entry-level model.

All of which go someway to appeasing our complaints from the 2008 version. However, just when you think Apple has steered a course toward friendship and reconciliation with the real world, it finds another reason to court controversy. This time it's with the battery, which unlike last year's model isn't user replaceable. This, so says Apple, is so it can fit in a higher capacity battery without increasing the weight of machine. Consequently this new model features a 58 Watt-hour capacity unit compared to the 48 Watt-hour one from last year, but still weighs just a smidgen over 2.0kg

This move obviously throws up a few issues, but Apple has moved to alleviate fears of quickly depleting batteries by developing a system of intelligent charging to prevent eroding the capacity of the battery prematurely. This means that by Apple's reckoning the new MacBook Pro batteries will last up to five years and 1,000 charges, whereas typical lithium-ion batteries can need replacing after one and a half years and 300 charges. Of course these are Apple's own figures, so you can take them with a pinch of salt, but if Apple's figures are to be believed then batteries should last between upgrades.

Another issue, of course, is battery life itself, but Apple reckons it has you covered here, too. It's claiming up to seven hours of use from its new battery, which if true would be very impressive. We'll get into whether this claim is realistic a little later on in the review.

ffrankmccaffery

July 6, 2009, 6:52 am

SD card reader? what? the notoriously myopic steve jobs has relented and allowed such an imperfection to be added?

lifethroughalens

July 6, 2009, 6:52 am

Good review.





It Would be expensive at 2/3rds the price for those stingy specs. But for those willing to pay the price and forgo the inevitable style over power when comparing any other laptop in that price bracket, well...it sure is a stunner.

GoldenGuy

July 6, 2009, 6:55 am

I'm not saying it's not a great little machine because, well, it is. The new features rectifying the problems of the 2008 MacBook at a tad lower price point is of course welcome. (No denying that room for 8 gig in a 13 incher is very nice indeed.)





But this is not a "Pro". It can't be. Last I looked 'pro' means 'professional', and professionals need dedicated graphics. Aesthetic bells and whistles aside, the graphics chips were always the substantiative feature that separated the regular consumer need from the professional one. Photographers, graphic designers, video editors especially when rendering and writing huge files need the extra grunt from their graphics and processor - and this is what truly merits the "Pro" label, not that now nearly everything looks the same. And if "Pro" is meant to mean top of the line, isn't it a bit odd that this is now the majority of Apple's laptops - 3/5?





The rebranding decision seems to be a mostly political one. No matter how beautiful last year's MacBook reimagining was, asking for over 900 quid for a laptop that didn't even have a FireWire port was pretty outrageous, and I seem to recall not being the only one who thought so. Now that Apple has seen the wrath of the community for one of the worst spec decisions in a long time, they've managed to sneak it back in and justify the backtrack with the new name.





So now we have the rather strange situation where everyone's a Pro - even when they're not. (Cough - it's not a Pro or a price drop if you remove the MBP 15's dedicated graphics - cough.) This begs the question then, where does that put the furture of the actual MacBook? We're not blind. We know there's still one, rather dated, rather lonely looking MacBook left. And while the upgrades there have also been a pleasant bonus, we also know it's number's almost up. So what next? Any ideas? The supreme less-is-more con of the Air is certainly not worthy of the MacBook throne, lest its ridiculous price point remains. So if a 13 incher is now "Pro or 900 quid, does the next MacBook have nowhere to go but even further down with even less screen real estate, lower internal specs, and yes much much cheaper? As per the constant salivations over the grape vine, it sounds like a netbook to me too.

xenos

July 6, 2009, 6:59 am

How easy is it to change the hard disk and memory in this model yourself? Can either be done without voiding the warranty? Thanks

xenos

July 6, 2009, 7:01 am

I think Apple are just about there, I'm damn tempted with the latest model!

gagagaga

July 6, 2009, 1:03 pm

10 for design? You serious?


-1 for non-replaceable battery


-1 for SD card that sticks out


-1 for screen that cannot be used outside (this is a 'pro' PC that can only be used indoors)


...

prag fest

July 6, 2009, 1:14 pm

I just got one of these last week, my first Mac. Really dithered on buying because it seemed overpriced compared to a similar spec PC, however I have discovered you get what you pay for, it's freakin awesome.

ilovethemonkeyhead

July 6, 2009, 1:49 pm

there should have been a flap for the sd card, like the express card flap, to keep that clean look.





and placing the headphone jacks on the other side to allow room for one more usb port couldn't have hurt that much. (or have them vertically mounted).





there are many "pro" laptops around that don't have dedicated graphics, and unless you want overheating issues i'd keep it with an integrated chip while in a 13 inch chassis. (have you felt how hot pc world's dell studio xps 13 laptops can get while on display? last month.)





hell, lenovo's 13 inch laptops for the "elite" have integrated gma graphics, and hp's 13 inch pro boook doesn't have anything dedicated either.

Steve

July 6, 2009, 1:57 pm

I bought a 13" MacBook last November/December and the only thing it was missing from a personal point of view was the SD card reader and intergrated HSDPA.





Apple are nearly there, although I couldn't quite justify splashing out on another MacBook quite so soon!





I am glad they haven't changed the design, it's faultless. One thing I'd like to see is the option of a non-glossy screen for 13 & 15 inch Mac's. According to the Apple Store, only the 17" MacBook Pro gives you the option.

Ed

July 6, 2009, 2:31 pm

It's worth noting that we removed the bottom panel of the MacBook Pro (by means of about 10 small screws) and found that the battery was very easily accessible and should be easy enough to replace, assuming you can find a spare being sold. Obviously this doesn't solve any issues whereby you prefer to carry a spare for extended journeys but it should mean battery failure won't be a problem long term.

Ben

July 6, 2009, 2:51 pm

Great review, sounds like a truly awesome machine. Surely there'd be little reason to go down to the plastic Macbook with the 13" MBP available at this price point. Which makes me wonder - what on Earth will Apple do with the Macbook 'line'? They've pretty much killed it!

Steve

July 6, 2009, 3:57 pm

@Ben





Loads of students will still go for the cheaper MacBook because it's, err, cheaper. So I don't think that line of quite dead yet!

Andy Vandervell

July 6, 2009, 4:03 pm

We'll be publishing a review of the MacBook later in the week, too. In fact I've just finished writing it!

Steve

July 6, 2009, 4:05 pm

Typo!





*So I don't think that line is quite dead yet!

BOFH UK

July 6, 2009, 4:24 pm

Yeah, odd that, there's an entire range of MBP's but only one MB. It's almost as if Apple have an idea for something new in the consumer line that they want the MB brand for but need to ensure their 'traditional' laptop market is covered first....





As for the removable battery 'issue' I really think that's being blow out of proportion. How many people REALLY buy 2 batteries and do swap outs? A small handfull of buyers most of whom tend to be the most vocal complainers on the 'net. For the vast majority it's a good trade off and replacing the battery as and when it does die isn't much more expensive than just getting a spare anyway. Let's just hope Apple have solved the battery swelling issues that plague the old MBP.

Barry Ward

July 6, 2009, 4:28 pm

The problem with the white Macbook's is in time you get stains on the area below the keyboard where you constantly rest your wrists. And mine and my wife's old Macbooks have also cracked at the edges of those areas too. This is one reason why I went "Pro". I always advise anyone to steer clear of the white ones now, especially with this cheaper "Pro" now on the market.

rav

July 6, 2009, 5:20 pm

i think it looks great and even the price is quite reasonable. if i hadn't bought a laptop a few months ago i'd be very interested.





i'd have to run win7 though.

Tobeman

July 6, 2009, 6:09 pm

I am so close to buying one of these... I've just spent £90 or so on some bits to increase the longevity of my Asus Z71 (400 FSB Pentium M that overclocks to something mad like 2.4ghz with a flick of a jumper, 2gb RAM and a speedy WD Scorpio Black HD) but I still fear that Team Fortress 2 will run like poop.





Anyway, while I was doing my research I came across this -





http://mantia.me/blog/macbook-...





While I couldn't give a monkeys, I'm sure those that make a purchase with the intention of doing graphic design and the like on the machine could be phased.

Andy Vandervell

July 6, 2009, 7:10 pm

@Tobeman: I read that post with interest and I feel it reflects a misconception among consumers that has been fostered by Apple itself. That being that 'Pro' necessarily means 'for professionals'. And, when we're talking about professionals, we're talking graphic designers and other trades that deal with colour sensitive material.





The reality is laptop displays that natively produce "millions of colours" without dithering are very rare and where they are available they come at a significant cost. Unless you're willing to spend a lot of money I would never recommend anyone doing colour sensitive work to use a laptop.





Of laptops that are worth looking at, the Sony VAIO Z-Series would be the one I'd recommend. The high-resolution 1600 x 900 panels on those are outstanding. I'm willing to bet future MacBook Pros will feature the same displays if they ever become cheap enough to be viable.

KoolMoss

July 6, 2009, 7:16 pm

I bought one of these two weeks back. I had never used a Mac before and has a beautiful and brilliant Vaio SZ which I have been using since 2006 with no problems at all (even to the biometrics suite), and I was waiting to buy the latest Z series with Win7 when its launches in October 09, but two weeks ago when I popped into the apple store to get a feel I was won over by the ease of use of OSX. This MBP is brilliant in all aspects save for two, (1) it heats up so fast in your lap, even when you use it for simple word processing. I was told that this is because the fan is constantly on in this MBP (strange, cos fan is supposed to cool this thing not heat it up) and was told by support people that I need to download a software to control the rpm settings for the fan as there are no manual utility interface bundled with the MBP. (2) there is no fingerprint reader! This is the only problem that I have. The battery lasts for an average 5 hours (give or take 20 mins) at 60% brightness and keyboard illumination and wifi turned off! My Vaio SZ which boasts a battery time of 6 hours takes 4 hours to fully charge but only gives battery life of about 1 hour 40 mins! Although heavier at nearly 2kg than Vaio SZ, this MBP is much better in other ways including the awesome touchpad. So as a new convert to Mac after using a pc for most of my adult life, I think I have never experienced the perfect marriage of hardware and software in a Pc before! I would not give a 10 for design though, thats being very charitable!

Steve

July 6, 2009, 8:06 pm

@KoolMoss





My 13" MacBook usually runs very, very cool and silent, but during this hot period of weather we've had, I noticed that it was heating up. Today is much cooler and my MacBook is running as I have come to expect. I guess the weather played a part here....





My Vaio Z series runs hot all the time which is the only annoying thing about it as the laptop is pretty much perfect. The fan can also make a bit of a racket. This is where the MacBook's come into their own because even when they start to 'sweat' they don't make any noise.

mjaffk

July 6, 2009, 8:40 pm

Um... where are the touchpad buttons?.. :3

Ironduke

July 6, 2009, 8:46 pm

I have the unibody macbook from late last year,also known as the Macbook Collectors Edition:)





The new 13 Pro is even better





lol @ the guy getting all worked up over the name pro

prag fest

July 6, 2009, 9:16 pm

@mjaffk





The whole pad is a button: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v...

GoldenGuy

July 7, 2009, 3:11 am

@Ironduke





I'm more All Worked Up about Apple's marketing manipulation covering up the fact that they left a whole bunch of FIreWire users out in the cold and have now basically dreamt up the smarmiest way of reintroducing it without the hassle of admitting they were wrong in the first place.





At the risk of sounding like the annoying, "It's Not a Netbook" guy, it's not a Pro.

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