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MacBook Pro Buying Guide: 13in vs 15in MacBook Pro

As has been the case since Apple ditched the 17-inch MacBook Pro back in 2012, there are two sizes of MacBook Pro. The 13in and the 15in model. However, since Apple updated some of the MacBook Pro range in July 2018, we actually have three types of MacBook Pro to consider:

  • The non-touch bar, dual-core, 13in models, which haven’t been updated since 2017.
  • The 2018 13in quad-core MacBook Pro.
  • The 2018 15in 6-core MacBook Pro.

In many ways the 15-inch MacBook Pro is more deserving of the name ‘Pro’ than its smaller sibling, which is certainly not the same machine in more miniature form.

However, the 2018 updates to the Touch Bar 13in MacBook Pro have made the smaller model much more worthy of attention now that it is equipped with a quad-core processor. This doesn’t mean that the entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro wouldn’t be ideal for your needs – but with the price unchanged, despite that model now being over a year old, it’s probably worth holding out for an update to the MacBook or MacBook Air. It’s said that Apple will soon launch a new 13in MacBook in the works, that will replace the MacBook Air as the cheapest Mac laptop.

In this article we will weigh up the differences between all of the 13- and 15-inch MacBook Pro models, assessing which set of requirements each will serve best.

If you are wondering how the 13-inch MacBook Pro compares to the 13-inch MacBook Air read this: MacBook Pro vs MacBook Air comparison review.

If you’d like to read our review of the 13-inch MacBook Pro you will find it here, and our review of the 2017 15-inch MacBook Pro is here – we’ll soon be getting our hands on the 2018 13in and 15in MacBook Pro models so stay tuned. You can currently get up to GBP200 off the MacBook Pro thanks to our exclusive code at Apple Reseller KRCS. Use the code MBP73 at checkout here. (Available until 9 August 2018, offering 7.3% off any model).

What are the differences between the 13- and 15-inch MacBook Pro models?

Before we look at the differences, there are a few features that are the same regardless of the MacBook Pro model you purchase.

All MacBook Pro models are available in a silver or a space grey finish.

The pixels on the display of the 13-inch model are ever so slightly more closely packed together, but the number of pixels per inch is practically the same (220 on the 15-inch and 227 on the 13-inch). Brightness is 500nits on both models, and both screens offer P3 which means they display a wider range of “more lifelike” colours. The big change for the 2018 13-inch and 15-inch MacBook Pro is the addition of the True Tone technology first seen in the iPad Pro.

It adjusts colour and brightness output to compensate for changing environmental lighting conditions. The 2017 13in models offers just an ambient light sensor, so the display brightness will still adjust according to your lighting conditions, but it’s not as intelligent.

The Force Touch trackpad is available on all the MacBook Pro laptops. It features pressure-sensing capabilities so that you can “Force Click” and use Multi-Touch gestures.

Despite the slightly different battery specs, all each MacBook Pro offers 10 hours battery life, according to Apple.

13-inch MacBook Pro

It used to be that the key differentiator between the four configurations of 13in MacBook Pro was whether you get a Touch Bar or not. However, since Apple updated the MacBook Pro in July 2018 there is a bigger step up in the Touch Bar model. There are now two different generations of processor, and it’s not just a simple step up from one generation to the next, we now have quad-core processors where once there were dual-core.

13in Non-Touch Bar (2017)

  • MacBook Pro 2017 13in, 7th-generation (Kaby Lake), 2.3GHz dual-core i5, Turbo Boost 3.6GHz, 128GB, Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640: GBP1,249/GBP1,299
  • MacBook Pro 2017 13in, 7th-generation (Kaby Lake), 2.3GHz dual-core i5, Turbo Boost 3.6GHz, 256GB, Intel Iris Plus Graphics 640: GBP1,449/£1,499

The only difference between these two models is how much storage you get.

To get 256GB of storage you essentially pay GBP200/£200. more.

13in Touch Bar (2018)

  • MacBook Pro 2018 13in, 8th-generation (Coffee Lake), 2.3GHz quad-core i5, Turbo Boost 3.8GB, 256GB, Intel Iris Plus 655: GBP1,749/£1,799
  • MacBook Pro 2018 13in, 8th-generation (Coffee Lake), 2.3GHz quad-core i5, Turbo Boost 3.8GB, 512GB, Intel Iris Plus 655: GBP1,949/£1,999

Again, the only difference between these two models is the storage – the 512GB option costs an additional GBP200/£200. The significant difference between the 2017 and 2018 Touch Bar models demonstrates the jump in power. In 2017, the Touch Bar models offered a 3.1GHz dual-core 7th generation (Kaby Lake) with Turbo Boost 3.5GHz and the Intel Iris Plus 650.

Just to reiterate: We are comparing two 3.1GHz cores from 2017 with four 2.3GHz cores in 2018. Equally, the 2.3GHz dual-core processors in the non-touch bar models aren’t identical to the 2.3GHz quad-core processors in the Touch Bar version because not only is there a jump in processor generation, this is also a case of two processors compared to four.

Here are the other specs for the 13in models:

  • Screen size: 13.3-inches diagonally.
  • Dimensions: 30.41cm x 21.24cm
  • Thickness: 1.49cm
  • Weight: 1.37kg
  • Display resolution: 2560×1600 at 227 pixels per inch
  • RAM: 8GB standard, configurable to 16GB RAM
  • Ports: non-Touch Bar models: two Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) ports; Touch Bar models: four Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) ports
  • Audio: two microphones (non-Touch Bar), three microphones (Touch Bar)
  • Battery: in 2017 this was 10 hours, 54.5-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery (non-Touch Bar), 49.2-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery (Touch Bar)
  • Price: From GBP1,249/£1,299 (non-Touch Bar); GBP1,749/£1,799 (Touch Bar)

15-inch MacBook Pro

The 15in MacBook Pro is now available in two configurations. Apple has now discontinued the 2015-generation non-Touch Bar model which had been on offer for GBP1,899.

  • MacBook Pro 2018 15in, 8th-generation (Coffee Lake), 2.2GHz 6-core i7, Turbo Boost 4.1GB, 256GB, Radeon Pro 555X with 4GB of GDDR5 memory, 16GB 2400MHz DDR4 memory: GBP2,349/£2,399
  • MacBook Pro 2018 15in, 8th-generation (Coffee Lake), 2.6GHz 6-core i7, Turbo Boost 4.3GB, 512GB, Radeon Pro 560X with 4GB of GDDR5 memory, 16GB 2400MHz DDR4 memory: GBP2,749/£2,799

Rather than just being a difference in terms of storage, as with the two pairs of 13in models, here we see much bigger differences between the two 15in models.

The processor on the flag-ship model is faster, and the graphics card better. With mode storage to boot, this Mac costs GBP400 more than its sibling. Here are the other specs for the 15in models:

  • Screen size: 15.4-inches diagonally.
  • Dimensions: 34.93cm x 24.07cm
  • Thickness: 1.55cm
  • Weight: 1.83kg
  • Display resolution: 2880×1800 at 220 pixels per inch
  • Ports: four Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) ports
  • Audio: three microphones
  • Battery: The 2017 model offered 10 hours, 76.0-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery
  • Price: From GBP2,349/£2,399 (Touch Bar)

Regarding those differences, we will examine each in a little more detail below.

Processor

We have three types of processors here: Dual-core, quad-core and 6-core.

In addition we have 7th generation Kaby Lake versus the newer Coffee Lake processors. All this adds up to big leaps between the three MacBook Pro pairs. And that’s not all.

The 13-inch models get an i5 processor, while the 15-inch MacBook Pro gets the i7.

This is a key differentiator between the models and one of a number of reasons why the 15-inch is better suited to creative pros. Find out what is the best Pro Mac here. The more cores your computer has, the more problems it can solve at a time.

The processor can either deal with lots of different tasks, with each processor devoted to each task, or it can split a task across multiple processors, either way that task can be done quicker. This matters if you are doing something like 3D rendering. In addition, a Core i7 processor will be better able to cope with multimedia applications, gaming, and multitasking.

You’ll find more on processor cache on i7 models too, which should make scientific calculations faster. The extra cache comes into play with multitasking too.

The bump to quad-cores for the 2018 13in MacBook Pro means we are more comfortable with that machine’s pro status, it is still disappointing that the non-touch bar 13in models still only have dual-core processors though. This is the reason why we advise that the non-Touch Bar 13-inch MacBook Pro models shouldn’t really be considered pro machines.

Graphics

The differences continue when you look at the graphics offerings.

Both generations of 13-inch MacBook Pro offer graphics cards that are integrated on the processor, while the 15-inch MacBook Pro features discrete graphics. One of the key differences between integrated and discrete (or dedicated) graphics is that integrated graphics don’t have their own RAM and that will matter if you are doing something graphically intense, like rendering something in 3D, or playing a graphically intensive game.

That doesn’t mean that integrated graphics don’t have their advantages. They require less power, so battery life might be better, for example, and they are cheaper than a discrete card, so, in theory, should allow Apple to sell those models for less, and indeed it does: there is a difference of GBP400 between the top of the line 13-inch model and the entry-level 15-inch MacBook Pro.

We’ll look in a bit more detail at the price later on.

However, the lack of discrete graphics means that the 13-inch MacBook Pro really doesn’t deserve to be called a Pro machine – assuming of course that the pros you are thinking of are creative pros. If you are just a professional, looking for a machine to create spreadsheets, presentations and emails on. As for the graphics in the 15-inch MacBook models, here you’ll find the Radeon Pro 555X and 560X (replacing the 555 and 560 on the 2017 models).

Display

However, there is still one factor letting the MacBook Pro down in terms of graphics.

In the past Apple has made a lot of noise about the Retina display, with its 2,560 x 1,600 and 2,880 x 1,800 pixel counts depending on whether you have the 13-inch or 15-inch model. Embarrassingly, there are PC laptops that have 4K displays now, so Apple has a bit of catching up to do.

We were hoping to see Apple launch a 4K 15-inch MacBook Pro in 2018, with 3,840 x 2,160 pixels, like some of its rivals, however we were disappointed. At least the new 13in and 15in models do get True Tone – which means that they will be better at adjusting to the ambient light than the older non-Touch Bar 13in.

For now, though, the Retina display quality isn’t really a reason to choose one MacBook Pro model over the other. The difference in display size may well be though.

Obviously the 15-inch MacBook Pro has a much larger display than the 13-inch model. In real terms, that’s an extra 320 pixels across, and 200 more pixels down.

It’s likely to make a difference to you if you often have a lot of applications open, or if your work with images (although you actually get 7 more pixels per inch on the 13-inch model: it’s 220 ppi on the 15-inch and 227 ppi on the 13-inch model). There are benefits associated with the smaller screen on the 13-inch model – it means the laptop is smaller and lighter. If that’s more important to you than a few extra pixels it’s a good reason to choose the 13-inch over the 15-inch.

And if you really need a bigger screen, plug your MacBook into a second display whenever you are at your desk.

RAM

If you are looking for the maximum amount of RAM there is no real difference between the 13- and 15-inch MacBook Pro models. The 13-inch MacBook Pro ships as standard with 8GB RAM, but it’s upgradable to 16GB RAM. The 15-inch model, on-the-other-hand, ships with 16GB RAM but now has a 32GB RAM build-to-order option, which will make a lot of creatives very happy (although £400 worse off).

Chances are you don’t need 32GB RAM in your laptop, but if you do, then the 15in MacBook Pro can finally serve your needs.

Touch Bar, ports and trackpad

The Touch Bar is available on two of the 13-inch models, both of the 15-inch models. Obviously the 15-inch machine offers more space for the Touch Bar, but beyond that there’s not really much or a difference. Similarly the Touch-Bar equipped MacBook Pros all offer four Thunderbolt 3 ports (while the non-Touch Bar 13-inch model has only two).

None of the MacBook Pros offer USB-A – only the MacBook Air still has this and we don’t expect that to stick around for very long. The trackpad offers identical features on each size of MacBook Pro, but the one on the 15in is obviously larger and that may benefit you, although we’re not exactly sure how.

Price

With a starting price of GBP1,249/£1,299 the 13-inch MacBook Pro is comparable to the entry-level MacBook, which offers a slower processor and smaller screen. The MacBook, like the MacBook Pro still offers Kaby Lake generation chips.

The entry level 13in MacBook Pro with a Touch Bar costs GBP1,749 and offers a 2.3GHz quad-core processor, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD, and Iris Plus Graphics, which compares to the 3.4GHz quad-core, 27-inch iMac that comes with 8GB RAM, 1TB Fusion Drive, and Radeon Pro discrete graphics for the same price. The iMac is still using Kaby Lake chips though, and now that the 13in MacBook Pro has quad-core processors too, there is less of a difference between these models than there was.

Perhaps the GBP400 saving between the entry-level 15-inch MacBook Pro and the top-of-the-range 13-inch model makes up for the differences in graphic capabilities, processor, screen size, and everything else. The entry-level 15-inch MacBook Pro price starts at GBP2,349 for a 15-inch model with Touch Bar, 2.2GHz 6-core i7 processor, 16GB RAM, and 256GB SSD, which is more than the top-of-the-range iMac – but that offers a 3.8GHz quad-core i5 processor, 8GB RAM, 2TB Fusion Drive and Radeon Pro discrete graphics (GBP100 less at GBP2,249).

The point of these comparisons is that where you used to pay a premium to buy a laptop, currently, if you need a powerful machine the MacBook Pro is looking a lot better than the iMac thanks to it’s 6-core Coffee Lake processors.

If you need a portable and price is no object then the 15-inch MacBook Pro looks like an excellent machine and we can’t wait to get our hands on one to review it. If you want a laptop for gaming and graphics then the 15-inch MacBook Pro will be the one to consider. As for the 13-inch MacBook Pro, in 2017 we were disappointed with the 13in models.

In 2018 we are only disappointed that the entry-level models haven’t been updated. The touch-bar models are much more worthy of their Pro name now.

Even on the entry-level, you still get more for your money than you would get from a similarly priced MacBook. And while the MacBook Air might be cheaper, that’s an old machine that hasn’t really been updated since 2015, bar a couple of processor tweaks.

If it’s a low-cost Mac you are looking for, read our comparison of the best cheap Mac.

Verdict

Whether you require a 15-inch or a 13-inch MacBook Pro depends primarily on what you will be using it for and how much you have to spend. If all you do with your Mac is surf the web and open emails then probably a MacBook or MacBook Air might meet your needs. You might even be able to pick up a good deal on Apple’s Refurbished Store, if you don’t need the most recent model.

If you do need a powerful Mac laptop, but you aren’t going to be designing 3D worlds or editing professional photography, then the entry-level non-Touch Bar 13-inch MacBook Pro models will likely meet your demands.

You probably don’t need the Touch Bar any way, and with the entry-level model still having the same price as the MacBook, it goes without saying that that is the model to get. The new 2018 13in MacBook Pro models with Coffee Lake chips are very exciting. We are finally getting quad-core processors in the 13in model and with a price that shouldn’t break the bank.

We will be reviewing these very soon and will update this article when we know just how powerful these machines are.

If you need the extra power offered by the 15-inch model, and you need a portable computer, then the 15-inch MacBook Pro is a good choice.

But if you are picking a 15-inch MacBook Pro because you want a bigger screen then consider a separate display to use when you are at your desk, as we don’t think screen size alone is a good reason to pay GBP400 more for the more powerful MacBook.

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