The New MacBook Pro: A Perfectly Fine Laptop For No One In Particular

Apple's new top-of-the-line laptop is impressively lightweight, but it may not be the home run longtime MacBook Pro users were hoping for.

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The all-new MacBook Pro is the laptop that loyal MacBook Pro users have been waiting for since 2012. But it might not be the one they were expecting.

Apple’s new laptop, which starts shipping in mid-December, is lighter and thinner than its predecessor. There’s a model with a tiny touchscreen called the Touch Bar, and a 13-inch model without, aimed at replacing the MacBook Air.

When the fourth-generation Pro was announced in October, the first major redesign for the premium laptop line in four years, the Maclash was very strong.

Gone is the strip of physical function keys, MagSafe charger, SD card reader, HDMI, mini DisplayPort, and USB ports. It's all been replaced USB-C ports – and the only legacy connection that remains is the headphone jack (OMG!!).

Apple has removed the ports that some thought made the MacBook deserving of its Pro moniker.

“I’m out of apologia juice for defending Apple,” tweeted David Heinemeier Hansson, creator of the Ruby on Rails web development framework. “Those complaining about Apple’s current Mac lineup are not haters, they’re lovers. They’ve spent 10+ years and 5+ figures on Macs,” tweeted @lapcatsoftware, a self-described longtime Mac developer.

Meanwhile, some Mac users complained that the the new MacBook Pro appears to be underpowered for its price. The machine runs on last year’s Intel Skylake chip, and not the more recent, slightly more powerful Kaby Lake (which the chipmaker claims is about 12% faster in raw performance).

So, were the complaints warranted?

In my week and a half-ish with the new MacBook Pros, I found the laptops to be impressively fast and lightweight, but perhaps not quite the home run for which diehard MacBook Pro users had hoped. I tried both Touch Bar and non-Touch Bar models. The 13-inch non-Touch Bar laptop is clearly a win for those looking to upgrade aging Airs, as it’s lighter, thinner, and more powerful than the Air line.

But it’s not clear who exactly the MacBook Pro with Touch Bar is for — other than early adopters who won’t mind toting around a handful of dongles in order to push USB-C, the port of the future, forward.

The MacBook Pro’s marquee feature is the Touch Bar, a new Retina, multi-touch screen that displays a set of additional controls that change according to what apps you have open.

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The Touch Bar is so slick and smooth, it feels frictionless. It’s a virtualization of the keys you’d typically find at the top of the keyboard, with some more bells and whistles.

The whole gang’s still there: the ESC key, music controls, volume control, the Launchpad shortcut that I’ve literally NEVER seen anyone use, a dedicated Siri button, etc. Touch Bar can be customized in a number of ways with actions like Screenshot and Show Desktop (my favorite *hide everything* trick for when people creep up from behind).

As one might expect at this early stage, the only apps with Touch Bar support right now are Apple-designed ones like Photos and Mail, and some applications make better use of Touch Bar than others.

My favorite is viewing PDFs in Preview, which you can quickly highlight with a single tap. The bar also allows you to stay in full screen longer in the Photos app by placing a menu of touch-based editing tools right at your fingertips. In Final Cut Pro, you can precisely trim clips with your finger, which feels more ergonomic than using your trackpad. In QuickTime, being able to scrub videos backwards and forwards with precision is pretty sweet, too.

Finger input feels easier, faster, and more precise than clicking and dragging on a trackpad. Another neat feature is that adjusting volume and brightness only requires a single swipe: Instead of multiple key taps, you can press and hold the volume icon and then move your finger back in forth to adjust.

Other Touch Bar functions, like tab preview in Safari, seem more forced.

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As you can see here, Touch Bar's Safari tab previews are insanely small and difficult to read; It’s hard to imagine anyone would select a tab using the Touch Bar instead of the control + tab shortcut. That said, it is fun to swipe through all 123,801,293 of your open tabs.

Another is the emoji bar in Messages, which, at first, seemed great for quickly selecting frequently used emoji. However, to find something specific, you have to scroll and scroll and scroll, which seems silly when there’s already a great keyboard MacOS shortcut for it (control + command + spacebar = emoji heaven).

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When your system bugs out, Touch Bar can be frustrating. I was playing a Facebook video full-screen in Chrome when the display and Bar froze at the same time. Audio was blasting at full volume and I couldn’t mute or press ESC to minimize and escape the horrors. The future is v loud! When I brought this up to Apple, a representative said that it may be because Chrome isn't fully compatible with the newest MacOS yet.

Ultimately, it’s difficult to assess how meaningful the Touch Bar may or may not be, as the palette of app use cases to evaluate is currently very small. But, as it stands now, the Touch Bar seems more of a nice addition than a must-have feature — even for pros.

The more exciting new feature, in my opinion, is Touch ID.

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The power button that previously occupied the upper right corner has been replaced with Touch ID, Apple’s biometric fingerprint identity sensor. At first glance, it appears to be a continuation of the Touch Bar – but it’s actually a well-camouflaged physical button, which, like previous power buttons, can be long-pressed to restart your computer.

With Touch ID on the Mac, you can scan your fingerprint, as you would on an iPhone, to buy stuff online with Apple Pay and !! more importantly !! unlock your computer or authenticate a Systems Preferences change. If it's a shared Mac, a user can simply rest their finger on the Touch ID button to switch accounts. It’s incredibly quick and efficient.

Touch ID is a luxury reserved only for those willing to dish out $1,800 and up, which is unfortunate. (The new Pro model without the Touch Bar, at $1,499, doesn’t have it.) But I think that the prospect of a ~post-password world~ is VERY exciting.

Fact: This laptop is damn pretty.

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The MacBook Pro comes in two colors for the first time ever: silver, per usual, and a new space gray. The laptop borrows many design elements from the MacBook, the ultra-portable laptop introduced in 2015. The white glowing Apple logo is now a reflective metallic one, and the “MacBook Pro” text, which was once on the bottom of the computer and is now placed at the bottom of the display, is stamped in the company’s in-house typeface, San Francisco.

The laptop has an all-metal body, like other MacBooks, but the new model’s chassis feels more rigid and finished all-around. The hinge is smoother (and more structurally sound, as it’s now made of metal), the speaker grill blends seamlessly into its surroundings, and, when it's closed, you can hardly tell where the display ends and the computer begins.

Other than the way it feels, the *look* of the new MacBook Pro isn’t terribly striking. The screen doesn’t swing around and become a drawing tablet. The display doesn’t disappear into its edges. It’s lighter and thinner, but it’s still as MacBook Pro-shaped as ever, and that’s due, in part, to the laptop as a form factor.

In an interview with The Independent, Apple’s head of marketing, Phil Schiller, said, “As you get to something where it’s so defined by its display and its keyboard, as an iPhone is so defined by that display, the design of how it works becomes much more into incredible, nano-sized details.”

Apple’s design strategy is, increasingly, innovation by a thousand tweaks.

The new MacBook Pro has larger, flatter keys that aren't as bouncy as traditional keyboards and help keep the machines as slim as possible.

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Another feature the laptop borrows from the MacBook is its unique keyboard style. The new MacBook Pro has keys designed with the second generation “butterfly switch mechanism” (Apple-ese for “keys that are still flat AF but will hurt your fingeys less”) first introduced in the MacBook.

It feels slightly less shallow than the MacBook’s keyboard, but will take some getting used to for those who aren’t familiar with it.

I’ve used a MacBook almost every day and hardly notice the difference anymore, but many people, including my boyfriend, don’t like the keyboard’s lack of depth. He’s a software engineer, and I imagine that people with typing-centric work like developers and writers might find that stickier typing isn’t exactly their speed, at least at first.

The trackpad is massive.

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The new unfortunately named Force Touch trackpad is yuugggee now. It’s twice as large on the 15-inch model and about 45% larger on the 13-inch, compared to last year’s MacBook Pro.

Because the Force Touch trackpad isn’t mechanical (there’s an engine just underneath its surface pushing back at you when it detects a click, like 3D Touch on the iPhone), you can click wherever you want (although, if you’re a tap-to-click kinda gal, that’s always been the case). And because the trackpad is massive, a click is even more accessible than before.

The larger trackpad also gives you more room to click and drag or draw with your finger and other multi-touch gestures like spreading your thumb and three fingers to show desktop or using four fingers to swipe between spaces.

I didn’t find that my palms, which rest on the now giant trackpad while I type, interfere with the cursor.

The display is the same resolution as the 2015 model, but it's brighter and offers wide color gamut.

The new MacBook Pro has the same 2880-by-1800 pixel Retina display as the previous generation, but it’s brighter, at 500 nits (vs. 300 nits) and can display wide color gamut, which means that it can portray colors beyond the standard RGB range (most computer screens are limited to displaying colors defined by varying red, green, and blue values, hence RGB).

The iPhone 7 and 7 Plus are capable of wide color capture. In other words, the devices can photograph a wider, more true-to-life range of colors, and you’ll be able to view that full wide color gamut on a new MacBook Pro display.

The speakers are impressive, especially on the 15-inch.

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The MacBook Pro’s redesigned audio system sounds pretty damn good. My editor, John Paczkowski, considers the speakers “HEAVY METAL MACBOOK GOOD.” Music comes through loud and clear through tiny speaker grills machined into the MacBook’s chassis at either side of the keyboard, while bass pumps through the bottom of the side vents.

But, let’s be honest — if you’re getting a MacBook Pro, you’re going to be listening to music through your high-fidelity audiophile headphones anyway. :signofthehorns:

Battery life was all over the place.

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I got the claimed 10 hours (and sometimes beyond) on the 13-inch without Touch Bar while Facebook-ing, checking email, reading articles, and writing in Google Docs – just pure web browsing.

But under heavier use, which adds Spotify streaming, sending and receiving Slack messages, photo editing with the Photos app and Photoshop, video editing on Final Cut Pro, and GIF-making on an app called GIF Brewery to the mix, I got much less. On the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar, I lasted anywhere from four to seven hours. On the 15-inch, I haven’t been able to get more than six.

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Apple claims that both models have a 10-hour battery life, and its numbers are based on brightness at 75% (four clicks from the top which, BTW, is quite dim) with the ambient light sensor turned off.

An Apple rep thought that my Chrome browser use was the culprit, as Safari is designed to work more efficiently in MacOS. I checked my Activity Monitor and saw that Chrome was, indeed, the battery hog. So beware, Chrome users.

For people who work with different types of media, the USB-C adapter nightmare could be a pain point.

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Most of the criticism of the new MacBook Pro has stemmed not from what it has, but what it hasn’t. USB-C is a connection standard that Apple first integrated into their MacBook laptop. It's also been adopted by Google's Pixel phone, the HP Spectre laptop, and many others. The main benefits are that it's reversible (like your iPhone's Lightning cable) and versatile. This single port is capable of charging, connecting to regular USB-A devices, powering Thunderbolt 3 displays, and transfering data through HDMI or VGA output.

Apple went all in on combination USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 ports, which meant sacrificing ports essential to many people’s workflow. There are two ports on the no-Touch Bar version and four on the Touch Bar version with two on each side, which means the laptop power adapter can be plugged in on the left or the right.

For me, it’s the SD card reader that will be most missed. It’s the perfect solution for photographing events on the road. The built-in reader cuts down on unwieldy cables and card readers in an environment where staying light and working fast is incredibly important.

To work with the new MacBook Pro, most people will need at least one accessory: a Lightning to USB-C cable to connect their iPhone (even if it’s the newest 7, just months old) to the computer. Others, namely photo/video professionals or hobbyists, will likely need a USB-C to USB ($9) adapter for existing accessories and the Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 adapter ($29) to connect their displays. One of the only USB-C card readers on the market, the SanDisk Extreme Pro ($29), is currently backordered for a month and a half.

It’s no surprise that Apple is the biggest player in the the USB-C accessory market for Macs. For example, the company carries one of the only multi-port hubs ($49) that supports pass-through charging for its USB-C computers. Earlier this month, Apple slashed prices for its USB-C accessories, hoping to make the transition a little easier – and quell the anger of longtime Mac users.

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USB-C might be the future, but it’s not here yet. For a computer you’ve sunk a lot of money into, it seems silly to be nickeled-and-dimed for the small army of cables and dongles you’ll inevitably need to buy. Apple could have included an adapter in the box (as it did with the headphone jack–less iPhone 7), but it didn’t. So, get ready to accessorize.

I’m not denying that the USB-C future looks amazing. One port for all things sounds ideal — and maybe the MacBook Pro will push the port so far forward that others will fall in line quickly. Belkin, Anker, and Griffin already have a slew of hubs, adapters, and dongles available.

It’s worth noting that Apple has, historically, been much better at predicting things we don’t need before we realize we don’t need them (see: FireWire, CD drive, ethernet ports, and, maybe, the headphone jack). And it even foresaw the ubiquity of those technologies, long before people thought they were needed. Apple is making future-proof laptops, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t suck to spend $150 on adapters you'll need to work in the present.

Okay, let’s talk about what makes this laptop a Pro: its performance.

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The new MacBook Pro is the first to ship with MacOS Sierra software, which was released as a free upgrade to the public in September.

The read/write speeds on the laptop’s solid state drive are insane. Compared with the previous generation, you’ll get 50% faster speeds on the15-inch model and 100% on the 13-inch. The new 15-inch MacBook Pro duplicated a 1GB file in less than a second.* The new laptops might have the fastest read and write speeds of any consumer computer available.

Some Apple fans feared that the new Pro might be underpowered. As with previous MacBook Pros, the laptops are still limited to 16GB of RAM. Both 13-inch and 15-inch models run on Intel’s sixth-generation Skylake processor, rather than the just-announced Kaby Lake chips. The new Kaby Lake version is 12% faster than Skylake, performance-wise, but offers little battery-life improvement.

*On the base model, which has 2.6GHz i7 with 16GB of memory and 256GB of flash storage.

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The processor in 2016's 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar, which I’ve spent more time with, is essentially as good as the 2015 13-inch model. It has the same processing power, but the new Pro’s CPU runs cooler (15W TDP vs. 28W TDP for my fellow n3rds).

It was perfectly adept at performing everyday tasks: running with 10 or more browser tabs open, streaming video online, playing music, photo importing, and Photoshopping. For heavy photo and video editing or animation, however, you're going to want the 15-inch.

The base model of the new 15-inch version has a 2.6GHz processor (vs. 2.2 GHz in the 2015 model). However, the 2015 model has Turbo Boost capabilities up to 4.0 GHz versus 3.8 GHz in the new version.

I’ve only had about four days with the 15-inch model, but it’s handled photo and 4K video editing with ease. If you have a 2015 MacBook Pro with Retina and an upgraded processor, I’m not sure you’d notice the difference immediately. But one thing is certain: Despite what naysayers have claimed about the computer’s specs, it doesn’t *feel* underpowered.

One bigger improvement is the new MacBook Pro’s graphics performance, which, in the 15-inch model, Apple claims is 130% faster with discrete graphics in the new version vs. last year’s model. It has a Radeon Pro graphics chip, in addition to built-in Intel integrated graphics. That means faster render speeds for programs like Final Cut Pro and AutoCAD, as well as gaming (though hardly anyone is buying a MacBook Pro for gaming).

The bottom line: I’m not quite sure who to recommend this MacBook Pro to.

Let’s look at the good first. The Touch Bar wasn’t as gimmicky as I thought it would be. Touch ID on the Mac might be my favorite feature of all time. The display, which is brighter and offers wide color gamut, will be a huge plus for designers and photo editors. The audio quality was impressive. Being able to charge on either side of the laptop was great. The MacBook Pro’s industrial design, as always, is unparalleled for a laptop. Space gray did not disappoint.

And now, the meh. The shallow keyboard will be a hard sell for some people. The USB-C ports will be a bummer for professionals who work with a lot of media in the field and don’t want to carry around adapters. Performance is adequate, but not dramatically improved. The battery life is the same (if not worse??).

Most meh of all is the new MacBook Pro’s pricing scheme. The entry-level MacBook Pro, a 13-inch version without the Touch Bar aimed at replacing the MacBook Air, starts at $1,499, while the early 2015 13-inch MacBook Air with the same amount of storage is $1,199 (you can, however, buy less Air storage for $999). The next tier, a 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar, starts at $1,799, while the previous generation started at $1,299. The most premium tier, the 15-inch with Touch Bar, starts at $2,399, compared with the 2015 model’s $1,999.

It just got a lot more expensive to get a new Mac. The barrier to entry for the latest laptop from Apple is much higher than it was when the Air first came out.

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Early adopters and Mac loyalists will have no problem upgrading to this MacBook Pro. But for everyone else, the choice isn’t as clear.

For those looking to replace their MacBook Air, there are three options: Get a hyper-portable MacBook ($1,299 to $1,599) with less power and only one USB-C port; a new MacBook Pro, which is thinner, lighter, and faster than the Air, but costs at least $500 more; or last year’s MacBook Pro, which offers more power for less.

I imagine Air users value portability above all else so, if you’re primarily a web browser and light Photoshopper, I’d suggest getting a MacBook with at least 512GB of storage. It’s the least powerful computer in the Mac lineup, but there are major payoffs. It’s impossibly lightweight.

On the off chance you want to start dabbling in photo and video, I’d say that the new 13-inch MacBook Pro without Touch Bar and Touch ID (which, as much as I’m into it, does not seem worth an additional $300) is a good choice. It’s more expensive than the 2015 model (which would save you money on accessories, too), but the 2016 base model gives you more storage (256GB vs. 128GB) and it’s more lightweight than the Air.

I’d strongly advise upgrading to 512GB if you can afford it. You’ll be surprised, with all of the photos and videos you’ll capture on your phone, how quickly you can blow through 256GB. And since Macs that are 2012 and newer aren’t upgradable (their parts are soldered to the logic board), you’ll want to anticipate your storage and processor needs.

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For those looking to upgrade their MacBook Pro, it depends. If you have a mid-2014 MacBook Pro and newer, you already have a powerful, lightweight machine with a Retina screen, plus a comfortable “chiclet” keyboard and all the ports you could possibly need. Unless money’s no object, I wouldn’t suggest getting the 2016 MacBook Pro.

If you have a machine that’s older than 2012, its CPU is probably showing its age. If you work with SD cards and HDMI cables and don’t want to give up MagSafe chargers, or the keyboard, the 2015 15-inch MacBook Pro is still around and you’ll save yourself $400.

If, as I mentioned before, you’re an early adopter who's eager to be a part of the USB-C future, than this 2016 MacBook Pro is clearly for you.

The 2016 MacBook Pro is technically a fourth-generation MacBook Pro, but in many ways it feels like a first-generation product. And as many longtime Apple users know, waiting for gen two is almost always worth it.