I'm convinced that there's no perfect mobile form factor. You can make arguments in favor of and against everything from the smartphone and tablet to 17" desktop replacement notebooks. There's simply a time and a place for everything.

Sometimes you don't need to do a lot but want to be able to couch around and browse the web on a tablet. Other times you need to do actual work but don't need a ton of CPU horsepower; that puts you into 13-inch notebook territory.

For even more productive beings there are larger 15 and 16-inch systems. And given how thin the system is, it's also not hard to make an argument for Apple's 17-inch MacBook Pro. You get a desktop-like screen resolution and mainstream desktop performance.

It's like having a set of screwdrivers. You may use some more often than others but having the entire set helps. Unfortunately having a set of notebooks and mobile devices isn't really an option for most. Inevitably you have to choose. And for portability, that choice often leads you to something a bit larger than a netbook for performance, but small enough to comfortably carry around.

For Apple users this portable sweetspot is the 13-inch MacBook Pro.


Apple's 2010 13-inch (left) vs. 15-inch MacBook Pro (right)

I've praised the 2010 15-inch MacBook Pro as being the one to get thanks to its combination of performance and battery life. When Apple made its 2010 upgrade public however, the 13-inch model was somewhat neglected. It got a faster GPU and bigger battery, but only a mild CPU bump. Priced at $1199 you get a 4.5 lbs aluminum unibody chassis, a 13.3" display and a 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo CPU. Keeping up with recent tradition, a NVIDIA GeForce 320M chipset is also under the hoo..err, keyboard. While the rest of the MacBook Pro lineup got shiny new Core i5 and i7 processors (dual core + Hyper Threading), the new 13-inch is stuck with an older Core 2 Duo.

On the bright side, Apple finally outfitted the 13-inch MacBook Pro with a sufficient amount of memory: 4GB. It's still spread out over two DIMMs (making upgrading more expensive than it should be), but it's enough to get you going. I'd say that given the usage model for most notebooks, 4GB should be plenty with OS X 10.6.


The 13-inch MBP comes with all the ports the 15-inch model has, minus dedicated line in/out. You get GigE, FireWire 800, mini DisplayPort, 2 x USB 2.0, a SD card readerand a shared line in/out port. Click to Enlarge

Apple's 2009 Lineup 13-inch MacBook Pro (Early 2010) 13-inch MacBook Pro (Late 2009)
CPU Intel Core 2 Duo 2.40GHz Intel Core 2 Duo 2.26GHz
Memory 4GB DDR3-1066 2GB DDR3-1066
HDD 250GB 5400RPM 160GB 5400RPM
Video NVIDIA GeForce 320M (integrated) NVIDIA GeForce 9400M (integrated)
Optical Drive 8X Slot Load DL DVD +/-R 8X Slot Load DL DVD +/-R
Screen Resolution 1280 x 800 1280 x 800
USB 2 2
SD Card Reader Yes Yes
FireWire 800 1 1
ExpressCard/34 No No
Battery 63.5Whr 60Whr
Dimensions (W x D x H) 12.78" x 8.94" x 0.95" 12.78" x 8.94" x 0.95"
Weight 4.5 lbs 4.5 lbs
Price $1199 $1199

Today we're going to find out if the sweetspot got any less sweet as a result of the unusual upgrade. If you're unfamiliar with Apple's unibody MacBook Pro and integrated battery design I'd recommend reading our older articles on the topic.

Not Arrandale, but Better Graphics
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  • oldbriones - Wednesday, June 09, 2010 - link

    Glaringly missing in display evaluation is any mention of the viewing angle. Anandtech probably knows that the supposedly "Pro" models have cheap TN LCD type thus resulting in crappy viewing angles. I expect Anandtech to educate its readers about availability of better screens so that manufacturers will respond to the market demand. Reply
  • Zok - Wednesday, June 09, 2010 - link

    Good point, but when was the last time you've seen a laptop not sporting a TN LCD? Reply
  • Penti - Wednesday, June 09, 2010 - link

    Only tablet-PCs don't and they are only on IPS-based tech since recently and in smaller sizes, as far as I'm aware of there is no 15" low power laptop panel in existence or being manufactured. They can't use something that aren't manufactured, and a display like that isn't in the catalogs of the Korean and Taiwanese panel manufacturers and are frankly out of most of theirs capability. Many of them simply don't make any IPS screens at all. Haven't seen PVA panels in those sizes and power envelope or anywhere near.

    IPS screens in devices like iPad was unheard of before LG put one together for Apple and hard to imagine. As netbooks and low cost devices use TN panels and e-readers use reflective technology.

    Every photoguy knows the macbooks screens aren't worth a shit and that they need a calibrated external screen for referencing and work. So I hope it doesn't come as a surprise to anybody. The MBP screens aren't worse then any others. But it's still pretty useless for a lot of things. Any way that's what the review of monitors is for. They have done more detailed reviews of laptop screens too, but they only confirm that they are horrible. I'm pretty sure also that the screens for high-end tablet PCs isn't that good when it comes to color accuracy their usage is for viewing angles. And that isn't everything.
    Reply
  • Penti - Wednesday, June 09, 2010 - link

    And when I say based on IPS (IPS-based) I mean AFFS panels. They exist for up to 14". They are actually 262k color panels, while they have good viewing angles though. LG haven't invented a unique macbook screen yet. Reply
  • BlendMe - Wednesday, June 09, 2010 - link

    Now that Apple is shipping the iPad and iPhone 4 with IPS panels it might not take to long till they move the tech up to their MacBook line. The iMac already have it but they're not power limited like laptops. Reply
  • ksherman - Wednesday, June 09, 2010 - link

    "Every photoguy knows the macbooks screens aren't worth a shit..."

    That all depends. if you shoot in AdobeRGB, yeah you would be left wanting. I shoot almost exclusively in sRGB because that's what everyone seems to want anyway. As such, near 80% coverage of the AdobeRGB spectrum works just fine.

    The bigger problem is an uncalibrated display. Calibrate the display and it will get you close enough in almost ever situation.

    Of course though, it always depends on your medium/use for the pictures. I shoot for newspapers. They compress the details right out of the pictures online and the half-tone process kills and color correction or detail anyway.

    If I shot for a magazine, it might be a different story. I'd have a lot more money and probably wouldn't be editing and transmitting from my car more often than not.

    Anyway, I love my (first gen) unibody 15" MacBook Pro, but I'm lusting after the matte high-res display and awesome battery life.
    Reply
  • bji - Wednesday, June 09, 2010 - link

    What an interesting job you must have compared to those of us who sit in front of a computer in a cubicle all day ... Reply
  • rpottol - Monday, June 14, 2010 - link

    IPS were dropped from the Thinkpads because they could no longer be obtained in the quantities that they needed them, Apple would need them in far greater quantities (given that they were only on a few high end Thinkpads, as opposed to what apple ships).

    We may long after them, but for now, we are stuck with the cast offs from the TV market.
    Reply
  • oldbriones - Thursday, June 10, 2010 - link

    It was only a few years ago (granted that is a long time in tech-years) that there were beautiful high quality IPS LCD options on laptops such as IBM/Lenovo T43, T60, etc. Lately most consumers got seduced into cheap but seriously compromised (display-wise) machines, and then suffer afterward searching for that elusive head and body tilt to view the movie at. Then again, many people probably don't even know what they are missing. Reply
  • Stokestack - Thursday, June 10, 2010 - link

    The asinine glossy screen is a much bigger defect. What is with Apple's continued ignorance on this matter? I'm using a MacBook Pro with a glossy screen right now, and it is abysmal in ALL lighting conditions. From a pitch-dark room to a sunny office.

    To charge extra for a matte option on the other two MBPs is bad enough, but then they don't even offer it on the computer that's most likely to leave the house and be used in a variety of lighting. There's no excuse, because the size of the computer has nothing to do with this feature.

    Sad.
    Reply

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