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Is now a good time to buy a MacBook Pro? We’ll help you decide

Should you buy a new MacBook Pro in 2020, or wait for something better?

With Apple updating the MacBook Pro and phasing out the MacBook Pro 15 entirely, now is a confusing time to be shopping for an Apple laptop. Now feels very much like a transition period for Apple’s high-end laptop, making it hard to judge whether now is a good time to pull the trigger and buy one. Luckily, that’s where we come in.

Our advice is tailored to your use-case, with tips and insight on each MacBook Pro. Should you buy the MacBook Pro 16 if all you want is its excellent keyboard? Are there any good deals on the MacBook Pro 15 now that it’s been discontinued? And what lies in store for the MacBook Pro 13? We’ve got the answers right here.

Should you buy a 16-inch MacBook Pro?

After many long months of speculation, Apple finally launched the MacBook Pro 16 in December 2019. Although not earth-shattering, it came with many quality-of-life improvements that were sorely needed, making it one of the best MacBooks Apple has launched in years.

Among those improvements were a vastly improved keyboard, thinner bezels, superb speakers, and AMD Navi graphics cards. Those features don’t come cheap, with the MacBook Pro 16 starting at $2,399, but seeing as that’s the same starting price of the MacBook Pro 15 (which has now been discontinued), things could have been a lot worse.

However, that price is still something of a stumbling block. It’s a lot to pay if all you want are the comfortable keyboard and thinner bezels, so much so that we recommend most people actually shouldn’t buy it. If you have fairly modest needs, it’s better to wait for Apple to move these features to other Macs in the coming months.

Having said that, if you’re a power user then the MacBook Pro 16 is absolutely worth it. Our review uncovered some impressive performance results, with the MacBook Pro 16’s all-new cooling system allowing its components to really work to the best of their ability. If you’re upgrading from a MacBook Pro 15 — even one from earlier in 2019 — you’ll notice a significant performance improvement. For instance, the MacBook Pro 16 rendered a two-minute 4K Adobe Premiere Pro clip in half the time it took the MacBook Pro 15 to do the same task. That’s pretty phenomenal.

With that in mind, whether you should buy the MacBook Pro 16 or not, really depends on your workload. If you’re a casual user but are sick of the failure-prone butterfly keyboard, we recommend you wait it out just a little longer until Apple brings its new Magic Keyboard to other Macs — a minimum of $2,399 to pay for the quality-of-life improvements is just too much, no matter how good they are. On the other hand, if you’re a demanding user in need of a pro machine and were looking at the MacBook Pro 15 before Apple discontinued it, the MacBook Pro 16 will be a superb workhorse and a notable upgrade over anything you have right now.

Is the 15-inch MacBook Pro still worth considering?

MacOS Catalina Hands-on | Macbook Pro
Dan Baker/Digital Trends

What about the MacBook Pro 15? Apple has officially discontinued it, but you can still get it from third-party retailers as they try to sell off their remaining stock. So, is it worth considering?

As we mentioned above, the MacBook Pro 16 is a significant step up, so you’ll need to temper your expectations if you’re looking at the MacBook Pro 15. That said, there are some superb deals to be had now that it’s been discontinued, which may be enough to sway you. For example, you can nab a MacBook Pro 15 from 2017 for a mere $1,349 — that saves you over $1,000, and you still get a very capable machine with a spacious screen and powerful processor.

If you do decide to plump for the 15-inch MacBook Pro, what do you get? Back in May 2019, Apple updated this model to come with the latest 9th-generation Intel processors, including an eight-core version for the first time. Apple said this is twice as fast as a quad-core MacBook Pro and offers 40% more performance than a six-core MacBook Pro. While this model doesn’t come with Apple’s latest cooling system (meaning performance may be a little more constrained), you’re still getting modern, powerful components for a much more affordable price than would be expected.

That means now is actually quite a good time to buy a MacBook Pro 15. If you can snag a deal before retailers run out of stock, you’ll still be getting yourself a capable machine without breaking the bank.

Things like the butterfly keyboard may still be a dealbreaker for you. If that’s the case, we recommend waiting until Apple brings the new Magic Keyboard to more affordable Macs. We would expect the 2020 updates of the MacBook Pro 13 and perhaps the MacBook Air to get this, which would lower the price of entry for the superbly comfortable keyboard. But if you have your heart set on a larger MacBook Pro and really want the Magic Keyboard, you may just have to bite the bullet and get the MacBook Pro 16.

What about the 13-inch MacBook Pro?

If you’re considering the smaller variant of the MacBook Pro, the introduction of the MacBook Pro 16 has complicated matters somewhat. While we consider the MacBook Pro 13 to be a decent purchase right now, positive changes could be just around the corner.

Don’t get us wrong, the current MacBook Pro 13 is a good machine. That’s because its latest update, coming in early July 2019, finally made the entry-level version the laptop we always wanted it to be. Before this update, it really was the runt of the litter, languishing with a 7th-generation dual-core Intel processor while the rest of the lineup sat pretty on 8th- and 9th-generation quad-core (or better) chips. It was also the only MacBook Pro that didn’t come with the Touch Bar — whatever you think of Apple’s OLED control strip, its absence marked the entry-level model as the odd one out.

That all changed in July 2019. Apple upgraded the processor in the entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro to an 8th-generation quad-core chip, making it much more powerful than previously. As well as that, it now comes with the Touch Bar as standard, as well as a True Tone display and Apple’s T2 Security Chip which, among other things, enables “Hey Siri” voice activation.

What really made it such a good deal, though, was that Apple did all this without increasing the price. The entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro still costs $1,299 even with all these extras bundled in — and you can get an extra $100 off if you’re a student. Keeping the price the same while packing in a load of extras makes the 13-inch MacBook Pro great value for money — a far cry from its sorry state just a few months before. And don’t forget it also gets Apple’s first-rate build quality, the spacious Force Touch trackpad, plus Apple’s excellent software bundled in too.

That all sounds good, but here’s the catch: it may get even better in 2020. Given the extremely positive reaction to the Magic Keyboard in the MacBook Pro 16, we can’t believe Apple won’t bring it to more Macs this year. The MacBook Pro 13 is top of the list when it comes to this upgrade — even if Apple wants to position the Magic Keyboard as a “premium” feature, it would be odd to have it in the larger MacBook Pro and not the smaller one.

And given what happened with the transition from MacBook Pro 15 to MacBook Pro 16, we’d expect Apple to do this without increasing the price of the MacBook Pro 13. That means if you buy a MacBook Pro 13 right now you get the divisive butterfly keyboard, thicker bezels, and inferior cooling system, whereas in a few months you could get improvements on all of those components without paying a penny extra.

Of course, this is all speculation — an educated guess rather than wild ramblings, granted, but speculation nonetheless. It could be that for whatever reason Apple decides not to fan out the MacBook Pro 16’s features to other Macs, in which case now is a perfectly good time to buy a MacBook Pro 13. We’d just advise you to keep an eye out and do your research before pulling the trigger.

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