MacBook v MacBook Pro: A decision that refuses to be made

Posted on by Mike Evans

Yesterday I spent an indulgent hour in the Covent Garden Apple Store (where better to spend a sunny Sunday afternoon?) trying to make up my mind—finally—on the perfect portable computer for travel. I've written before about this thorny problem and my inability to choose between the svelte and featherlight MacBook and the sturdy, sensible 13in MacBook Pro retina. I have been sitting on the fence so long that I decided I'd better make a decision. The old 11in MacBook Air is now showing its age, particularly in terms of the poor screen, and I really do need to choose. Last week in Switzerland I was disappointed with my photographs from the Leica Q. But I realised that the problem lay not with the camera but with the wishy-washy MacBook Air screen. Viewed back at base on the 27in 5K iMac, those shots came to life.

The new MacBook is infinitely alluring with its gorgeous retina screen, svelte lines and 920g heft

There is absolutely no doubt that the 13in retina MacBook Pro is the more sensible choice. It is much faster, has oodles of ports (including the all-important SD slot) and a gorgeous screen. But I still love the simplicity and focus of the new MacBook. I don't even mind the single port, reasoning that I can cope quite well with an adapter or two. Even the screen, although smaller than that of the 13in MBP, is gorgeous and would certainly do justice to my modest photographic skills. The big problem is whether or not the MacBook, even in the faster 1.2GHz version, is speedy enough to handle Lightroom.


I am also concerned about the keyboard of the MacBook. It has larger keys than the standard Mac layout and the travel is very short, almost button-like in comparison with the normal feel of the MBP's board. Yesterday I spent half an hour typing on both computers, back and forth. At first, I found the keyboard of the MacBook awkward and I clocked up an unusual number of errors. In contrast, typing on the MacBook Pro was normal, something I am well used to. After quarter of an hour, though, I realised I was getting used to the unusual layout and feel of the MacBook. The main problem seems to be the oversized keys and my tendency to clip the edge of adjacent keys by mistake. I suspect is is just a matter of practice and I have decided that I could soon get used to the new setup. 

 The keyboard is unusual and isn't to everyone's taste. The keys are larger than normal and have a very restricted, button-like travel that takes some getting used to

The keyboard is unusual and isn't to everyone's taste. The keys are larger than normal and have a very restricted, button-like travel that takes some getting used to

My friend Austin White of was an early adopter of the MacBook. He has a MacBook Pro as his main business machine, so the little MacBook was chosen for writing, travelling and general browsing. He is delighted with it, although he freely admits that the 13in MacBook Pro retina is a more rounded and capable package. He reports that after the first day or two he was perfectly at home with the unusual keyboard. Since I also have a faster machine on the office desk—an iMac 5K with 32GB memory—I can understand his reasoning.


On speed, I am having second thoughts. I am persuaded that I can live with the slower processor, reckoning that it cannot possibly be slower than that in my old mid-2012 Air. The benefits of small size, extreme thinness and almost incredible 920g weight serve to outweigh most reservations. The 13in MacBook Pro retina, by contrast, is over twice as heavy and has a few extra inches all round. For travel, the MacBook has got to be the right choice. For almost all my usage, including writing, browsing and information-management tasks, the MacBook should be perfectly adequate.

Then I thought about all the accessories I would need. At the very minimum, I will have to shell out £65 for the multi-adapter to provide USB-C (for power), USB3 and HDMI ports. And then I realised that my 1TB Seagate disk which I use as a portable photographic library, wouldn't work because it is Thunderbolt only. So that's a new disk, probably a 2TB USB3, that would need to be added to the total. 

In the end I did what several friends have done: Bought the MacBook and carried it home for setup and testing. By the end of the week I will have reached my decision: Will it be a keeper? If I change my mind, Apple's generous return policy means I can get my money back in full or, if I wish, change the MacBook for a MacBook Pro. 

Incidentally, this was my first big purchase using Apple Pay and the Apple Watch. It was all too easy, double press the side button and Bob's your uncle. Apple has no limit on transactions whereas Apple Pay is restricted to £20 on most UK terminals.