Review: MacBook Pro with Touch Bar Ups The Ante, But...
If you’re buying the new MacBook Pro, prepare to carry around A LOT of dongles.
For one of Apple’s most loved product lines, one that is so intimately linked to creative productivity and efficiency that media offices, newsrooms and developer studios are literally plastered with Macs bearing a Pro in their name, there was a lot riding on this upgrade.
The new Pro would have to cater to an almost cult-like user base itching to upgrade their older Pros – the last upgrade that wasn't just a spec bump was way back in 2012 with the high-res Retina display.
More importantly, it would have to offer something new to seduce first-time buyers, who today have the option of picking powerful laptops with high-res displays and all-day batteries, options like the HP Spectre and Dell XPS 13. Does the 2016 MacBook Pro, with its newfangled Touch Bar, deliver?
- Top-notch build quality
- Vibrant, bright screen
- Great laptop speakers
- Innovative Touch Bar
- Touch ID fingerprint sensor
- New Keyboard and trackpad
- Dongles, lots of them
- Battery life is average
- Sticker shock
- RIP, MagSafe
Let’s get this out of the way – the new MacBook Pro is absolutely stunning and gorgeously engineered, as one has come to expect from the range. It’s gotten smaller in every sense, with the 13-inch 18 percent thinner and with a 23 percent smaller footprint than the last Pro.
It’s a nip-and-tuck job that would make the best plastic surgeon in Bollywood proud, and there isn’t an iota of wasted space on this design. Sure, the glowing Apple logo is gone, but it’s got that on-point space grey colour from the MacBook range.
Lift the lid and you’re greeted by a familiar 2,560 x 1,600-pixel Retina display, but the screen itself is vastly improved. It’s brighter, at 500 nits of max brightness, contrast is exceptional, and the new Pros now support the wider DCI P3 colour gamut, which is vital if you’re a photographer, video guy or anyone in the creative space, but even if you’re not, you get richer and fuller colours from what is a truly exceptional screen.
The other trick Apple employed to thin the MacBook Pro down was to refine the shallow keyboard from the MacBook. Now, I’m the sort who loved the comfy keyboard on the older MacBook Pro, so I was wary of the move to the new Pro, but even though the keys have the same (0.5mm) amount of travel as that on the MacBook, Apple’s worked on the keys themselves to give you the impression of more travel.
Whatever they did, it seems to work – a couple of days in, and I’m hammering away at a faster clip than my previous MacBook Pro, and I’ve gone from tolerating the new keyboard to actually liking it. Color me surprised.
Then there’s the gargantuan trackpad with the increased surface area for macOS’ multi-touch gesture controls, and while I was initially worried about moving the cursor while typing, the palm rejection on the new Pros is just ace, and using the new MacBook Pro was quite the breeze once you acclimatise to the new dimensions.
Also worth mentioning are the speakers – they’re louder and clearer than just about any laptop speaker I’ve heard all year round, with no discernible distortion even at louder volumes.
Fortunately, the weight-loss regime hasn't impacted the performance, and the 13-inch Touch Bar variant comes standard with 2.9GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 and 8GB of RAM, while the 15-inch comes with substantially more powerful Core i7 CPUs and 16GB memory as standard.
If it’s raw power you’re after, the pricier 15-inch is the way to go. In my time with the 13-inch Pro, pretty much everything I threw at it – edits on 4K phone footage, crunching through massive Lightroom image libraries – were dispatched with ease, though I suspect it has more to do with the faster SSDs than the move to the Intel Skylake chips.
But you’re here to find out whether the arrival of the Touch Bar is worth the hype, aren’t you? Put simply, the Touch Bar is a thin OLED touchscreen that sits above the keyboard where the function keys once used to exist, and gives you programmable and more importantly, context-sensitive keys, depending on which app is open.
Open Safari, and you get a set of keys representing open tabs or your favourites, while over in YouTube or any video editing app, you get video scrubbing controls which you can tap at to jump to any part of the timeline.
Elsewhere, you get quick text formatting controls, autocomplete suggestions for messages, a preview of your next presentation slide and even a scroll-able list of emojis! How useful it is depends heavily on how quickly third-party apps come on board.
To be honest, it isn’t the touch-screen Mac you’d have hoped for – macOS isn't ready for it yet – but it’s a great deal sweetener right now. And finally, the new MacBook Pros get the new Touch ID fingerprint sensor, which makes for a far more convenient login and password authentication experience.
In one word, #donglelife. If you’re used to connecting your HDMI monitor, SD cards, USB drives and the trusty MagSafe power cord to your existing Pro, all those ports are gone, replaced by four USB Type-C, Thunderbolt 3-enabled ports on the Touch Bar variants, and you’re going to have to carry dongles and adaptors for all your older peripherals. Heck, you need an adapter even to connect the latest iPhone 7 to the latest MacBook Pro.
To what end, you ask? Well, one single Type-C cable can carry power and gigs of data including video signals, all at the same time. It may be the port of the future and maybe some day soon USB-C will be ubiquitous, which is when all of this will make sense…but for today, it’s a lot of dongles, extra cost and the risk of being stranded if you leave the dongle behind.
There have been reports of wildly inconsistent battery life figures for the new Pro, and while I didn't hit the 10-hour battery life mark Apple claims (which is a surprise in itself by usual Apple standards), I’ve managed a good six-seven hours of use averaged over several days of use, which just about passes muster. It’s no MacBook Air, that’s for sure.
And they’re pricey, even more so than the previous generation Pros. The landed costs for the Touch Bar variants in India, starting at Rs. 1,55,900, are simply stratospheric.
Why Buy It?
Let me ask the original question again – does the new MacBook Pro deliver? Yes, if you can stomach the increased prices and figure out a plan for your connectivity options.
Die-hard Windows fans have great options available, and the MacBook Pro might be the big push the industry needs to get to the all USB-Type-C future we deserve.
(Tushar Kanwar is a technology columnist and commentator and has been contributing for the past 15 years to India’s leading newspapers and magazines. He can be reached at @2shar.)
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