MacBook Pro 2009 Review

MacBook Pro 2009 Review

You know those Microsoft laptop hunter spots? Apple may already have responded with TV spots of their own, but these MacBook Pros strike back at Microsoft better than any ad can: by doing.

Apple did two things simultaneously that are usually contradictory; they lowered the price of their entire MacBook Pro line while at the same time bumping up the specs. The 15-inch version now starts at $US1699 and caps out at $US2299, down from $US1999 and $US2499. What’s even nicer is that the 13-inch MacBook—which previously didn’t have a backlit keyboard or a Firewire slot or a “nicer” screen—got absorbed into the MacBook Pro family and is now virtually indistinguishable from the rest of the Pro line.

Two other things changed on the build that make the Pros more appealing to regular consumers. The replaceable battery has been swapped for the same type of lithium-polymer internal battery previously found in the 17-inch MacBook Pro, which boosts battery life at the expense of not being able to be changed out in the field. This, for the large majority of people, is a good thing. The batteries last 1000 charge cycles, which at 200/cycles a year, would last you five years. Even if you go through one charge cycle every day, you’ll still make it about three years before you need to take Apple up on the $US129 replacement. (The $US129 includes shipping, labour and disposal of the old battery.)

In our test, the 13-inch MacBook Pro got 3:31 of battery compared to the 3:46 of the 15-inch MacBook Pro. We used the same metrics as the previous MacBook Pro test—medium brightness, Wi-Fi on, keyboard backlight on low, H.264 movie—and got about an hour more on each machine. That’s a pretty incredible jump just from a change (non-user replaceable battery) that most people won’t notice.

The other interesting swap is the removal of the ExpressCard slot in favour of an SD card slot. According to Apple, there was only a “single digit” amount of customers that used the ExpressCard, whereas tons of people have digital cameras or other devices that use SD. Again, for the vast majority of mainstream customers, this decision was a smart one. And if you really do need ExpressCard, you can still find it on the 17-inch MacBook Pro—which doesn’t have an SD card slot.

Then we have the improved LED-backlit display, which has a 60% greater colour gamut than previous version. What this means to you is that even the 13-inch MacBook Pro will have a quality display even though it’s a few hundred dollars cheaper than the 15-inch. The previous 13-inch MacBook, as you saw in our review, had a screen that was obviously inferior to the Pros, and distorted very noticeably as you stepped away or viewed the screen at an angle. Not anymore. From our tests, the 13 and 15 MacBook Pros looked just about identical, and both had superior colour performance compared to older machines we had around.

An even nicer picture is painted by the benchmarks. This is the first time the 15-inch has gone up over 3GHz (the CTO version), and the entire line has the ability to handle 8GB of RAM. We didn’t test this 8GB configuration, but we’re pretty eager to see how much faster it makes us in our daily work.

Both sets of scores are on par with the changes in specs on the new machines. Since the CPUs have been bumped up, the scores have risen to match. It also makes sense that the 2.53GHz 15-inch just about ties the 2.53GHz 13-inch from this year. The only weird drop is in the Integer section of Geekbench, where both machines this year have dropped. A change in Geekbench? A change in 10.5.7? We’re not sure. But these are some good numbers nonetheless.

Although the removable latch has been exchanged for a screwed in panel, you can still get to the hard drive and RAM by removing ten screws and gently lifting off the back. The entire process should take you less than 10 minutes.

The 13-inch MacBook also has one fewer audio port, instead opting for a single audio port that supports digital in and out. If you need simultaneous in and out and don’t want to go up to a 15-inch MacBook Pro, you can use a $US29 USB audio adaptor instead.

So is there anything bad to say about the new MacBook Pro line? No, not really. It’s cheaper, faster, has more consumer-friendly features and now even has a 13-inch option for people who need slightly more portability. Those people who were waiting for the second-iteration version of a new hardware design (a pretty smart rule to follow with Apple products in general) before upgrading can safely do so now—and get a better deal in the process. [MacBook Pros]

It’s cheaper, faster and has a nicer screen

SD card slot more useful than ExpressCard for vast majority of customers

MacBook Pro line now has a 13-inch option

Built-in battery means increased battery size, and that means about an hour longer battery life