13-inch MacBook Pro review: Apple’s M2 is a worthy follow-up to the M1

Apple’s new 13-inch MacBook Pro is a little tough to recommend given the options in Apple’s lineup, but that doesn’t change the key takeaway: The new, second-generation M2 chip doesn’t disappoint.

While Apple calls the 13-inch MacBook Pro its “most portable Pro laptop,” there’s nothing that’s particularly “Pro” about it. It has too few ports for power users, and it can’t touch the 14-inch MacBook Pro in performance—yet it offers little to draw would-be buyers away from the similarly specced and soon-to-be-launched MacBook Air redesign.

That said, the real story is that this is the first laptop Apple released with its second-generation ARM-based processors for Macs. The M2 is an exciting follow-up to the already impressive M1 and a promising herald of what’s to come to future Macs that deserve the Pro moniker.

Specifications

Specs at a glance: 2022 13-inch MacBook Pro
Screen 2560×1600 at 13.3 inches
OS macOS Monterey 12.4
CPU Apple M2
RAM 16GB
GPU Apple M2
HDD 1TB SSD
Networking Wi-Fi 6; Bluetooth 5.0
Ports 2x Thunderbolt/USB 4, 3.5mm headphone
Size 0.61 inch×11.97 inch x 8.36-inch (1.56cm×30.41cm×21.24cm)
Weight 3 lbs (1.4kg)
Warranty 1 year, or 3 years with AppleCare+
Price as reviewed $1,899
Other perks 1080p FaceTime HD camera

There’s just one major difference between the 2022 13-inch MacBook Pro and the 2020 model it replaces: It sports Apple’s second-generation M2 system-on-a-chip instead of the M1. We’ll spend most of our time here on that, but let’s get a few other key details out of the way.

Starting at $1,299, the laptop offers two base storage configurations: 256GB, or 512GB for an additional $200. You can upgrade further to 1TB or 2TB for a substantial price bump.

Regardless of which configuration you buy, the port selection is the same, and it’s pretty limited: there are just two Thunderbolt/USB-4 ports and a 3.5mm headphone jack. Because it lacks the new MagSafe charging port found in its 14-inch and 16-inch big siblings (and in the upcoming MacBook Air redesign), one of those will often be taken up by a connection to the power brick.

That means that much of the time, this laptop has effectively one port. Thunderbolt has the throughput to work with an external dock or adapter to deal with multiple devices. Still, it seems a little strange that a laptop marketed to professionals offers less flexibility than the otherwise similarly priced and specced MacBook Air that’s a few weeks away.

Like its M1-based successor, the 2022 13-inch MacBook Pro can drive only one external display (up to 6K) in addition to its built-in display. This is a potentially crushing limitation for power users and several types of professional workflows, and it’s one that seems to be shared with the upcoming MacBook Air, too.

Other key specs include a 1080p front-facing camera, Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity, and a 13.6-inch, 2560×1664 resolution screen with 500 nits of maximum brightness. (We tested it and confirmed roughly that brightness range.) That screen compares well to the Air, but it’s greatly inferior in almost every respect to what you get with the 14-inch MacBook Pro.

One of the few notable advantages it has over other laptops in Apple’s lineup is its promised 17 hours of battery life for wireless web browsing. That’s compared to 15 hours for the upcoming MacBook Air, 14 hours for the 16-inch MacBook Pro, and 11 hours for the 14-inch MacBook Pro.

M2

Apple’s 5-nanometer, 20-billion transistor M2 has eight CPU cores like the M1, but Apple claims they’re faster. It also has a 10-core GPU, up from eight GPU cores in the M1 configuration found in the prior model. The NPU (which Apple dubs the Neural Engine) stays the same at 16 cores.

While the 13-inch MacBook Pro only comes with a 10-core GPU option, the MacBook Air will start at eight cores with an optional 10-core upgrade. Alongside the aforementioned battery life, that seems to be the main value proposition.

The M2 can also accommodate 50 percent more RAM than its predecessor. Whereas M1-based Macs offered 8GB and 16GB configurations, the M2-equipped 13-inch MacBook Pro also offers a 24GB option. But it’s a major boost in memory bandwidth that’s more relevant for most situations. Apple says the M2 provides a 50 percent jump over M1, bringing the figure to 100GB/s.

Likewise, the M2’s Neural Engine claims to be capable of 40 percent more operations per second than its predecessor in the M1.

Apple also made some improvements to the media engine. ProRes acceleration is supported for both encode and decode, and offers higher bandwidth. It supports 8K H.264 and HEVC playback.

That would be exciting news for folks who work professionally with video, but it’s a little hard to imagine them opting for this machine if the 14-inch or 16-inch MacBook Pro are options, despite the big price jump. The incentives are too strong, and while the M2 improves on M1 performance, the M1 Pro and M1 Max still run circles around it in many situations.

The M2 is not a revolution or a radical reinvention—it’s just the M1 with some refinements, most notably on the graphics and video front. For some applications, it won’t make all that much difference, but for others it will be pretty substantial. We’ll get into that more with our benchmarks further down the page.

Design

There’s not much to say on the design front—apart from the new M2 chip inside, this is the same 13-inch MacBook Pro Apple has been selling since 2016. It measures 0.61 inches (1.56 cm) by 11.97 inches (30.41 cm) by 8.436 inches (21.24 cm) and weighs 3 pounds (1.4kg).

Like its predecessor, it has a Touch Bar—a feature that Apple has stripped from the rest of its lineup after years of giving it a try. While there have been some neat concepts using the Touch Bar in apps from developers who have put in extra effort to make use of it, most of the time it’s just a slower, less-tactile function and media keys row.

While some people hate the Touch Bar, I never really did. I mainly just wished there was more extensive support from it. The concept wasn’t flawed, in my view. Rather, Apple didn’t get third-party app developers fully on board enough.

In any case, it’s not a knock against the device unless you’re a function key purist. Like other later Touch Bar MacBook Pro models, it at least has a physical escape key, which is nice to have for some types of power users like software developers.

The post-butterfly, chiclet keyboard is as strong as ever, the large trackpad is still the best in the business, and this computer is portable for its performance level.

We don’t have any complaints about the product’s look and few others will, either. It’s a classic at this point. The worst we can say of it is that the bezel above the screen is large compared to the new Air or the other Pros, but in contrast to those, it doesn’t have a camera notch.

Performance

When Apple unveiled the M2 at WWDC earlier this month, it claimed the chip offers 18 percent faster multithreaded CPU performance compared to the M1, but the GPU supposedly gets the most impressive boost: up to 35 percent faster.

Before we get into the test results, let’s quickly survey which machines we’re comparing. With Macs living in a different ecosystem, operating system, and architecture than Windows laptops, you probably already know before this comparison whether you’re going with Windows (or Chrome OS or Linux) or a Mac for your next machine. (If not, that’s a bigger question than the scope of this review.)

So our focus here will be on comparing all the chips in Apple’s current laptop lineup: the M1, M2, M1 Pro, and M1 Max. To that end, we tested the 2022 13-inch MacBook Pro (with the M2), 2020 13-inch MacBook Pro (M1), 2021 14-inch MacBook Pro (M1 Pro), and another 2021 14-inch MacBook Pro (M1 Max).

Here are the results:

The M2’s CPU offers 10 percent faster single-core performance than any M1 chip and 15 percent faster multi-core performance than the M1. The M1 Pro and M1 Ultra still leave it in the dust in terms of multi-core CPU performance with a 40 percent gain, though—and the GPU difference is starker.

We ran three benchmarks that measure GPU performance across all four devices. Each of them almost told the same story: The M2’s GPU beats the M1’s by an impressive 40 percent, but even then, it only offers at best about 75 percent of the M1 Pro’s GPU performance (less than that in some cases) and around 40 percent of what the M1 Max can do.

Synthetic benchmarks aside, we ran two practical, real-world tests to reflect two of the main intended uses for this MacBook Pro: building Xcode projects and exporting 4K video in Final Cut Pro.

For the Xcode test, we did a quick build of the relatively lightweight VLC app for the iPad. The M2 built the app in 49 seconds—that’s only barely slower than the M1 Pro and the M1 Ultra, and it smokes the M1’s 61 seconds.

The Final Cut Pro test was predictably a bigger spread. We exported a 34-second video at 4K resolution and 60 frames per second with several expensive effects applied. The 13-inch MacBook Pro with the M2 chip took 66 seconds, crushing the M1’s 103 seconds. The M1 Pro and M1 Ultra were still the ultimate winners at 43 and 30 seconds, respectively.

Note that Final Cut Pro is particularly well-optimized among its peers for Apple’s silicon and multithreaded performance, so the differences might not be as dramatic with other video editing applications.

All these tests tell a consistent story: The M2 is a generational step up over the M1, especially regarding graphics. But unsurprisingly, it’s no replacement for the M1 Pro and M1 Max found in the 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro models. Expect an M2 Pro and M2 Max to come to those machines later and offer similar second-generation gains.

Apple MacBook Pro (13-inch, 2022)

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Great chip, okay laptop

The 13-inch MacBook Pro has a questionable value proposition for most would-be MacBook buyers, in our view, but the M2 chip is an exciting step up over the already ultra-speedy M1.

Apple said during WWDC that it’s the second-best-selling Mac laptop to this day. That could be partly because some risk-averse corporate buyers want to stick with a familiar design to avoid rocking the boat. Or maybe Apple expects component shortages that are key to the 14-inch MacBook Pro and redesigned MacBook Air, and it figures people will settle for a more readily available 13-inch Pro. (That’s just wild speculation, of course.)

Some consumers could just want the Pro name for appearances and bragging rights. Admittedly, it will offer modestly better graphics performance at a slightly lower price than the new Air because it starts at 10 GPU cores instead of eight. But you give up a lot of other perks for those cores.

It’s a good machine, sure, and if you’re into it, by all means buy it—it’ll likely serve you well. But unless there are some ugly surprises in store next month, most users will be even better served by the slightly cheaper, recently redesigned MacBook Air, which we expect to offer the same performance in most situations—or by the much more expensive but more feature-equipped (and notably faster) 14-inch MacBook Pro.

Whatever the case, one thing is for sure: The M2 chip in this machine doesn’t disappoint. As a result, the 13-inch MacBook Pro mostly makes us excited for that new Air when it launches next month—and for the M2 Pro and M2 Ultra in this machine’s bigger cousins when they ship in the not-too-distant future.

The good

  • Extraordinarily strong CPU and GPU performance for a laptop this size or price
  • Excellent power efficiency with the best battery life in Apple’s laptop lineup
  • Highly portable

The bad

  • Can’t drive two external displays, which will cripple some power user workflows
  • Bigger bezels and a more cramped screen than any other current Mac laptop
  • Awkward middle-child spot in Apple’s lineup makes it hard to recommend

The ugly

  • Just two Thunderbolt ports and no MagSafe mean you’ll effectively have one usable port much of the time—there’s nothing professional about that

Listing image by Apple | Getty Images | Aurich Lawson

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