Laptops

Apple 13-inch MacBook Pro (2019) review: Slimmer and evermore dependable

An upgrade that allows you to make time for things that are more important

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Editing on a 4-year-old laptop that wasn’t made for that purpose will take a toll not just on the machine itself, but on anyone using it. That’s the situation me and my 2015 13-inch MacBook Pro found ourselves in this year. As with any Mac device, it’s still usable if all you have to do is web browsing, word processing, and maybe some minor photo editing.

Pushing an underpowered notebook to do heavy multimedia tasks will suffice for a while but won’t benefit you nor the laptop in the long run. When you find yourself compromising not just speed but creativity, that’s when you know enough is enough. An upgrade is no longer a luxury but a necessity.

Number talk

For a little bit more context, the 2019 MacBook Pro that I upgraded to is the 13-inch one — stay with me here — with 256GB SSD storage, powered by the 1.4GHz quad-core 8th-generation Intel Core i5 processor. I know that just sounds like a bunch of words and numbers mixed up, but to help you visualize: it’s the second one in the current 13-inch MacBook Pro lineup:

You might be thinking — who would give up a severely underpowered MacBook Pro for yet another Core i5 laptop? I’m well aware there are more much better options, including the last two in the infrographic. If power-hungry tasks like video editing are my only consideration for upgrading, I would have easily gone for the most expensive MacBook Pro. Heck, I would have waited for the cheese grater-looking Mac Pro and set up a workstation at home instead. But aside from performance, portability and price are important to me, too.

Beautiful design in a slimmer body

Laptops are made to be portable. Their very reason for being is to allow the user to get things done despite being away from a power source for extended periods of time. For a girl of average height who carries not just a laptop, but a whole gamut of equipment on a normal work day, the 13-inch MacBook Pro is just the perfect size.

When weighed on its own, the weight difference between the new MacBook Pro and the 2015 model or the 16-inch variant is negligible. When combined with a camera, lenses, tripod, hard drives, at least two smartphones, a bunch of cables, makeup, keys, wallet, and a few documents here and there, it will all feel like a whole day of workout.

The weight Apple shed off by making the new MacBook Pros thinner, no matter how miniscule, matters. As someone who also spent more time at airports than at home for the first half of the year, carrying a slimmer, lighter laptop for the latter half made a lot of difference. Every half pound lost is a half pound off my carry on bag.

I’ve been traveling around Asia and Europe with this thing since September. I’ve carried it with me to cafes, restaurants, airbnbs, hostels, meetings, work events — even to trade shows — and it got the job done without doing damage to my back. I can see myself using the bigger model — eventually, when I’ve managed to exercise my way to a stronger back and upper body.

Not to mention the tall order of finding stylish bags that fit bigger laptops — there’s just not a lot of options for women that not only suits my personal style, but also my budget. I remember using a 15-inch MacBook Pro briefly last year. Having to carry a heavier machine in a utilitarian bag that doesn’t go well with anything bogged me down. It just didn’t let me walk with the same confidence as this more portable laptop in a cute briefcase does. Needless to say, the struggle was real.

Apple took the port out of portable

Whether it’s a smartphone or laptop, making a device less hefty usually means making compromises on things that are essential to the user. Upgrading from the 2015 MacBook Pro meant losing two ports that I use the most when editing videos: the SD card reader and the USB-A port.

There is an easy fix, of course — a dongle — but easy doesn’t come cheap. I’m not gonna lie, having to spend extra on a USB-C dongle to add two ports that used to come free with any laptop purchase does not feel like an upgrade. It’s backwards. I can’t even use any of the accessories that came with my iPhone XS with this laptop — something that iPhone and Mac users used to be able to do with older models.

While I love how thin this laptop is, connecting a dongle to a portable device defeats the purpose of it being, well, portable. It’s not entirely impossible for a laptop to have ports built in and be extra portable at the same time. I’ve seen Windows laptops that are of the same heft, if not thinner, that still managed to include a USB-A port.

Thinner body, better battery

While the lack of ports is a big issue for my workflow, battery life on the new 13-inch MacBook Pro is actually commendable — another thing that normally gets sacrificed when devices become thinner.

It would be unfair to say that the 2019 MacBook Pro lasts longer than the 2015 model. The latter understandably has poorer battery life as it’s been through whatever the equivalent of a world war is when it comes to laptops.

Still, I’m pleased to report that despite losing the extra weight, the 2019 MacBook Pro is so efficient that it lasts me more than a whole work day of writing, managing social media, web browsing, with an hour or two of the Spring Awakening soundtrack in the background.

Whenever I go to the office for our weekly meetings, I find myself never having to take my charger out of my bag. The rest of the team, meanwhile, would take their respective positions beside sockets to plug theirs after just 3-5 hours of use — even when they’re using the newer, high end Windows laptops that they review.

On days when I’m editing, I would normally have to charge the laptop twice as a YouTube video usually takes at least 12 hours to edit. That’s an entire work day of Final Cut Pro X, Adobe Photoshop and After Effects.

Despite my protests against the lack of essential ports on this machine, it needs to be pointed out that the two built in Thunderbolt 3 ports are made equally. This means no matter which port I end up plugging the charger to, it will work as expected. The same goes for external storage devices. This consistency is something you won’t get on other laptops that killed other ports in favor of USB-C.

Charging is also fast — with the bundled 61W adapter, plugging it for 30 minutes charges it from 10% to 42%. It takes just about an hour and 40 minutes to juice up from 10 to 100%, even while I’m writing a full feature article on Notes.

A laptop that can handle video editing, and more

Graphic design, illustration, and video editing are three things I need a laptop for. Other tasks like writing and photo editing I can manage to do on a smartphone, albeit at a slower pace.

Importing even short 1920×1080 clips to FCPX on my older MacBook Pro used to take such a long time, that I can finish reading a news article or browsing latest tweets before the pinwheel disappears. Editing on an underpowered machine didn’t just slow me down — it affected my focus, too.

I remember getting derailed from editing so many times while waiting for clips to render. Then came the time when I couldn’t animate or track even the shortest clips anymore and had to rely on someone else to do it for me. Not being able to execute what I had in mind because my laptop couldn’t handle it was not only frustrating — it was draining.

The 2019 13-inch MacBook Pro surprisingly handles anything I throw at it without hiccups — even when I have three projects on FCPX at the same time, and both Photoshop and After Effects running in the background. That’s something the 2015 model could not handle.

The videos I edit are usually just 1920×1080, but I’ve recently edited a one-minute 4K video and it worked out just fine. FCPX renders fast, exports fast, and doesn’t freeze at the most crucial moments. The bump in power has allowed me to be much more efficient and creative; I’ve been able to experiment without fear of apps crashing or having to wait for things to render.

The infamous keyboard

Another design change that allowed this laptop to be so thin is the controversial Butterfly keyboard. I’ve read and heard of complaints about it from so many people. Frankly, it was one of the things I was worried about having encountered that problem on a 2017 model in August.

A reliable keyboard is not just for writing; I use the keys for shortcuts on Photoshop and FCPX as well. Thankfully, I haven’t run into the same problems that plagued 2018 models and older. Any typos made with this thing has nothing but human error to blame. As far as the shorter travel that irks a lot of nitpickers, it’s something that I easily got used to once muscle memory kicked in.

The function keys on the newer MacBook Pro models are also gone. Replacing them is yet another controversial design decision: the Touch Bar. The only time I used any of the function keys was whenever I needed to adjust volume or brightness. I don’t feel like I’m missing out now that they’re gone as I can still do those on the narrow secondary screen that replaced the physical keys.

The Touch Bar still has a long way to go when it comes to functionality. Even when I’m editing videos, I default to keyboard shortcuts instead of the convenient keys that appear on it when I’m on FCPX. Strangely, I find it most useful when I’m on social media duty as suggested emoji are one tap away, eliminating the need to Google them one by one.

The physical power key is also gone — replacing it is a glass button that also doubles as a Touch ID sensor. It’s a tiny life-changing hardware change that I didn’t know I needed. Logging in with just a tap of a finger is not only so much faster, it’s also more secure.

What’s essential is visible to the naked eye

The 13-inch MacBook Pro gives 4K displays on other high-end laptops a run for their money. What Apple proves, time and again, with every piece of hardware they make is that it’s the quality of pixels that matter, and not the number.

Mac displays’ color accuracy has always been unmatched, and the same can be said about this device. The last thing I want is to oversaturate video footage or photos because my laptop display is too dull — a problem I haven’t had since switching to Mac.

While some people would prefer to turn off True Tone when editing photos and videos for better color accuracy, I keep it perpetually turned on. True Tone is designed to make whites easier on the eyes. It adjusts automatically depending on the ambient light.

The display is also bright enough that the only time I crank it up to full brightness is whenever I’m working outdoors — under direct sunlight — which rarely happens anyway. Indoors it stays at around 30-50%, and only 10% at night when I’m winding down before sleep.

Of course, a great display translates to a great Netflix and chill experience. I’m no display expert, but even the gloomiest episodes of The Crown registers as accurately as a colorful animated movie like Frozen. I’m also no audio expert, but the speakers are more than loud enough for my needs.

My only complaint about the display is how easily it picks up grime and fingerprint smudges. It’s not a deal breaker; it’s just the only thing that’s not aesthetically pleasing in an otherwise beautifully designed notebook.

Is this your GadgetMatch?

It’s such a relief when you can just do what you need to do without waiting or worrying. Even when things need to be rushed or they happen at the last minute, I know I can deliver because the 2019 13-inch MacBook Pro can. It’s that capable and reliable.

As a Mac user what I appreciate the most about this upgrade is the same thing nitpickers hate about it — its familiarity. The changes between this and the 2015 model are significant enough, but all done in a similar form factor. The slimmer body and its more efficient internals make it feel like what I’m using is new, without having to deal with a learning curve that usually comes with any hardware upgrade.

If you are using a 2015 MacBook Pro or older, and have noticed that it’s slowed you down, consider upgrading to the 2019 MacBook Pro. If you prefer the 13-inch model like me and have an extra SG$ 700 to spend, go all the way and get the maxed out model. You’ll benefit from better speeds, graphics, and more storage. If what you do requires more power, Apple just announced the new 16-inch model that we will also be reviewing shortly.

When life requires you to be on the go, there’s no better machine to help you accomplish your tasks than the 2019 13-inch MacBook Pro. It’s thin, light, and narrow enough to be taken and used anywhere — even on an economy class flight’s tray table — yet powerful enough to execute your creative vision and help you get the job done.

What you’re buying when you get the 13-inch MacBook Pro is not just a new laptop; you’re investing in peace of mind, time, and other resources for matters that are more important. Little by little, it’s created space in my life for more ideas, hobbies, self-care, even in-person interactions, that used to be occupied by waiting for clips to render or images to resize. When you have a tool that’s this dependable, you get to do things you never thought you could do again.

CES 2021

ASUS unveils its new ZenBook Duo 14

Improved design, powerful internals, and a dynamic ScreenPad Plus

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ASUS continues to push the boundaries of its innovative products. Last year, they introduced the ASUS ZenBook Duo 14, a one-of-a-kind laptop which introduced the ScreenPad Plus. Essentially, you get a laptop with two screens that allow you to multitask and have more creative control. This year, the company is launching its latest iteration of the device, with some changes.

In terms of the overall design, the new ZenBook Duo 14 comes in a magnesium aluminum alloy chassis for a more sophisticated look. As soon as you open the laptop, it will still come with the patented ScreenPad Plus but with a hinge change. This time, the hinges that the ScreenPad Plus rest on are much stronger and incorporate ASUS’s ErgoLift in the process. As a result, this allows more airflow while you run strenous tasks like photo and video editing.

Also, the ScreenPad Plus’ UI gets an upgrade in terms of functionality with ScreenXpert 2.0. With this new Control Center, you can customize the flow of the applications on the second screen with ease. Apart from ASUS utilities and a dedicated Launcher, it also comes with a Control Panel that supports Adobe products like Photoshop, Premiere, and After Effects. Basically, you have more tools and settings to tinker with, to your liking.

All of these comes with powerful hardware to suit the creative mind or the young professional. Inside, the ASUS ZenBook Duo 14 sports up to an 11th generation Intel Core i7 CPU and 32GB of RAM. With up to 1TB of SSD storage, you can keep all your work files and projects up and running in no time. Also, you can opt to get the device with a dedicated NVIDIA MX450 GPU.

Pricing and availability have yet to be announced.

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Hands-On

ASUS ZenBook Duo (2021) Unboxing and Hands-on: Double The Fun!

Is it still the laptop of tomorrow?

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ASUS launched their first first dual-screen laptop, the ZenBook Pro Duo last 2019 at Computex Taiwan.

This 2021, the Full HD LCD display might be a drawback from the 4K OLED display. Still, it has a new and improved ErgoLift Hinge that ASUS is proud of. And with power-packed specs, pen support, and dual displays, this laptop might just be for a creative or content creator like you.

More of ASUS’ latest ZenBook Duo in our latest unboxing and hands-on video right here.

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CES 2021

Honor Band 6 and MagicBook Pro 2021 unveiled at CES

Launching soon in international markets

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Honor is now an independent company and does not have any ties with Huawei. Despite the recent transition, the brand is back at CES and has announced two new products in its global portfolio — Honor Band 6 and MagicBook Pro.

The Honor Band 6 has a massive 1.47-inch AMOLED display with 2.5D curved glass on the top. The band looks like a watch due to the large display, finding a sweet spot that isn’t too small or too big. The left edge of the device has Honor branding embossed into the shell.

The fitness tracker has five health monitoring features, which include SpO2, heart rate, sleep, stress, and menstrual cycle. There are ten workout modes, with six of those detected automatically.

The Honor Band 6 leverages Bluetooth 5.0 and packs a 180mAh battery capable of delivering up to 14 days of battery life on a single charge. It’s priced at CNY 249 (US$ 39), and sale is limited to China right now. However, we expect a gradual launch in other markets soon.

The MagicBook Pro has a 16.1-inch display, and Honor claims it has 100 percent sRGB coverage for color accuracy. Powering the laptop is Intel’s Core i5-10210U processor, coupled with the NVIDIA GeForce MX350 GPU. Everything else remains the same as last year’s offering, including 16GB RAM and 512GB SSD storage.

The battery is rated at 56Wh, and a 65W charger is provided along. It can go from zero to 50 percent within half an hour. And Honor says the laptop can deliver 11 hours of usage on a single charge. Honor has revealed its price yet, but we expect it to be around US$ 1,000. The company will announce availability details based on regions.

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