Hands on: Apple's 13-inch MacBook Pro packs a punch

Faster processors, more battery life and a better display make for a great -- and small -- package

When it comes to Apple laptops, what's in a name? More specifically, what does adding the "Pro" moniker to Apple's 13-in. MacBook mean?

It means that Apple again has three MacBook Pro models to choose from: this newly renamed 13-in. MacBook Pro, the popular 15-in. version and the larger 17-in. model. Best of all, the change comes with price reductions across the lineup -- the MacBook Pro line now starts at $1,199 for the basic 13-in. model, with a slightly more tricked out version going for $1,499. That's $100 less than the respective MacBooks that preceded them.

With the latest update, the smaller Pro models not only get processor speed bumps, they also get a major improvement in battery life, an SD card slot, a FireWire 800 port, a better LED-backlit screen and, debuting in the entry-level version, Apple's highly regarded backlit keyboard. (As someone who used the 2.0GHz MacBook -- the one without the lighted keyboard -- for a couple of months, I can attest to the usefulness of the backlighting, especially with the black keys.)

The basics

The 13-in. MacBook Pro is the spiritual successor to the 12-in. PowerBook G4, which was discontinued three years ago when the company moved to Intel processors. The 12-in. PowerBook had a devoted following, and Mac fans decried its loss long after it was dropped. Although the 13-in. model is obviously a bit bigger because of the larger screen, it's close enough that fans of the smaller PowerBook should be satisfied -- at least until Apple offers up something like a netbook (if it ever moves in that direction).

At first glance, the 13-in. MacBook Pro looks pretty much the same as the unibody MacBook it replaces. The ports, including the now-standard Mini DisplayPort for external monitors, are still located on the left-hand side of the chassis. Other than the Pro name and the addition of FireWire 800 and the SD card slot, not much has changed. This is a good thing, as the last model was one of the best-built laptops out there, thanks to the unibody manufacturing process Apple uses to carve these laptops out of solid chunks of aluminum.

The notebooks feel reassuringly solid and are relatively light, weighing in at 4.5 pounds. That's a pound less than the 15-in. MacBook Pro and two pounds less than the 17-in. Pro, making them perfect for toting around in a backpack on campus or at work. (The MacBook Air, which has the same size screen as the 13-in. MacBook Pro, still wins the light-weight honors, clocking in at 3 pounds.)

All MacBook Pros use Apple's unibody all-aluminum design. The 13-in. model has a smaller footprint than its big brother.
All MacBook Pros use Apple's unibody all-aluminum design. The 13-in. model has a smaller footprint than its 17-in. brother.
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