Review: One week with a new MacBook Pro
Just over a week ago, a small human decided to knock my beloved 2012 MacBook Pro from the edge of a couch onto the hardwood floor.
Normally, Apple’s computers are pretty robust, however this was the third brush with gravity in quick succession, and the already ailing laptop was feeling positively ancient in the days leading up to its final decent.
Although I had been eyeing off the new 15” MacBook Pro I had baulked at the price. $3,500 is a lot for ANY piece of the in 2017, but given the fragile state of my current workhorse, it was looking inevitable I’d be coughing up for a new laptop before too long.
What is it?
The 2016 MacBook Pro comes in two sizes, two colours and with or without the ‘TouchBar’. From the outset, Apple’s latest ‘amazing’, ‘gorgeous’ and ‘incredible’ gimmick looked to be exactly that. However, a couple of reviews from late last year suggested it may work better than many had expected.
Both the 13” is available with (or without) the TouchBar. It’s standard on the 15” model. There’s also a much larger trackpad, and the screen brightness is greatly improved. Given this is an Apple product, the laptop weighs less than previous versions – almost 30% lighter than the computer I was replacing.
This is where the MacBook Pro has courted the most controversy. From early days it was clear something was very wrong with the new model. Users were experiencing only three or four hours of battery life, despite Apple’s original claim of 10 hours of video playback and web browsing.
There needs to be at least eight hours of usage available to users. Anythign less severely limits its ability to function as a day-to-day laptop.
Verdict: It’s puzzling to see how Apple got this wrong. The battery life of their phones and tablets are remarkably consistent.
In the relentless pursuit of thinness, the USB slots are gone and USB-C exists in its place. The 15” model has four placed close together near the screen hinge.
This is a blessing and a curse: not only do the new ports feel sturdy and secure, the power cord can be plugged into any of the four ports to keep that battery charged and, much like the iPhone’s lightening cable, there is no such thing as upside down.
It’s sad to see the Mag-safe power connector disappear (God only knows how many times that it saved my laptop from other falls), but Apple argued that it wasn’t as necessary because a full charge will get you through a day’s work (something we now know not to be the case).
Curiously, unlike the new iPhone, the standard 3.5mm headphone jack has survived.
Verdict: If I didn’t have to carry the bulky charger, this would get a pass-mark.
One thing that isn’t immediately obvious is the new keyboard. Originally launched into the 12” MacBook a couple of years ago, the ‘butterfly’ mechanism is another space-saving strategy in the relentless search for thinness.
Reviews of the version found on the MacBooks found that the travel was far too short, and that power users felt a soreness in their fingers after an hour or two of use. The revised version found in the Pro is certainly an improvement, however I have experienced some soreness after a couple of thousand words within a short session. Perhaps this will improve over time.
The best thing about the new arrangement is that profile is so low that your fingers seem to almost glide over the surface of the keyboard. There’s almost no need to lift your finger. Combine that with the short travel of the keys and typing suddenly feel much more efficient.
Verdict: If you asked me a week ago, it might have been a FAIL, however, I think I’m really going to love it.
Let’s face it. This is the one you really want to hear about. Is it a gimmick, or is there some sort of productivity gain?
Firstly, the implementation is stunning. The virtual ‘keys’ light up almost instantaneously, and the resolution is enough to remove any grain.
I cannot touch type. I spend about 50% of my time looking at the keys, and the TouchBar is largely within my field of view. This means that it’s not a real battle for me to reach up and selecting an option from the top row.
For touch-typers, things will be very different. The need to look down will slow you up considerably. For these users, data entry or text input will render the TouchBar redundant.
There are benefits for creative software offerings. I can easily imagine a selection of ‘favourite’ commands in Photoshop or InDesign where there has always been a lot more visual engagement between the keyboard and the screen.
Adobe is still trying to work out exactly how to utilise the feature, describing their current implementation as beta. It will be interesting to see what it looks like in six months.
The other problem is the inconsistent manner of the implementation. When we had function keys, you knew exactly what was where. One of the benefits of the TouchBar is that very specific controls can be offered, however the drawback is that consistency of placement has been lost.
Verdict: The jury is out; however, I’ll reserve judgement based on potential of the innovation.
Should you buy it?
Before you decide, ask yourself a couple of questions. “Will I be using this all day?”, “Am I a PC/Windows user?” and “Will I upgrade within three years?” are all great places to start.” If the answer to most of those is “No” then there are some seriously good offerings among Microsoft’s Surface range.
However, if you’re like me and your satchel looks like it’s been stuffed with the bounty from a raid on the Apple Store, this is a very impressive piece of kit.
Side-by-side, the numbers (storage space, RAM and processors) don’t match with the competitors in the same premium market. However, Apple’s machines trend to be incredibly efficient and therefore do a lot more with less.
Plus, with ever-increasing use of the ‘cloud’, dongles and onboard storage aren’t the problem they might once have been.