Review: Apple MacBook Pro 15-Inch Gains Customisable Touch Bar
Apple's most premium laptop gets a long-awaited design and hardware update.
BY Stefan Vazharov | Dec 16, 2016 | Opinion
More than four years after its predecessor dazzled the tech world with its Retina display, the all-new 15-inch MacBook Pro captures attention with another, much slimmer screen. Dubbed the Touch Bar, the touch-sensitive display strip above the newcomer's keyboard brings a whole new way of interacting with the notebooks and its OS.
Of course, the Touch Bar is only one of the new features and improvements that the new MacBook Pro brings. The new model's long list of improvements also includes Touch ID support, vastly improved display and audio, an all-new keyboard and trackpad, and a powerful new processor and graphics chip, all tucked into a redesigned ultra slim body.
Fresh Design and Exceptional Craftsmanship
The new MacBook Pro features beautiful design that's clearly inspired by the looks of the 12-inch MacBook (think clean lines and no glowing Apple logo). There's also a brand new Space Grey colour that suits the notebook quite well.
Apple has made the notebook thinner and more compact than its predecessor, and the end result is truly stunning—the 15-inch MacBook Pro is hands-down the sleekest laptop in its class. The new model is barely thicker than half an inch and weighs only 4 pounds.
Most importantly, the new 15-inch MacBook Pro has a footprint that's 20 percent smaller than the outgoing model's. This is an impressive design and engineering feat by Apple, especially considering the high-end hardware that it packs.
The new MacBook Pro is also exceptionally crafted. Its aluminum body, just like in the case of its predecessor, will be the standard by which all premium laptops are measured for years to come.
Touch Bar Saves Time and Clicks
The defining hardware feature of the new MacBook Pro is the Touch Bar—a high-resolution multitouch display strip that changes its functionality depending on the apps you use and the tasks you perform. The Touch Bar makes interacting with macOS and its apps even more seamless and fun.
By default, the Touch Bar offers essential system controls in a collapsed strip on its right side. Expanding the strip brings the controls that we have grown accustomed to from Mac computers without a Touch Bar. The Touch Bar is also customisable, so you can truly make it your own.
The Touch Bar takes practically no time to get used to. It displays handy shortcuts that ultimately save you time and clicks. You can easily open Safari bookmarks and switch between tabs, format text in Pages, browse through and edit images in Photos, edit high-resolution video in Final Cut Pro X, and (of course) pick emojis in iMessage.
The amount of third-party apps that support the Touch Bar is unsurprisingly not large at the moment, though it grows on a daily basis. Currently, it covers the basics, such as Microsoft Office, Adobe Photoshop, Pixelmator, Affinity Photo, and 1Password among others. Apple has opened the API of the Touch Bar to developer, so the list will expand quickly.
Apple has equipped the 15-inch MacBook Pro with a sixth-generation Intel Core i7 quad-core CPU whose clock speed depends on the variant of your choosing, coupled with 16GB of RAM. Each MacBook Pro comes equipped with PCIe-based solid-state drive—the best option currently available.
Depending on the price point, each notebook comes equipped with Radeon Pro 450 or 455 graphics chip with 2GB of memory. You can however, opt to configure a more powerful Radeon Pro 460 with 4GB of memory, which is better suited for more demanding tasks.
Even Better Retina Display
The 15.4-inch Retina display of the new full-size MacBook Pro retains the same resolution as the outgoing model's (2880 by 1800 pixels). It is however, significantly brighter (67 percent to be exact), and more vibrant thanks to 67 percent higher contrast ratio, and it's also 30 percent more power-efficient.
It also displays colors more accurately, covering 25 percent wider range than the previous iteration. In short, it's an excellent upgrade over the display panel of the previous generation.
All-New Keyboard and Phenomenal Trackpad
The new MacBook Pro's keyboard features an updated variant of the butterfly mechanism that debuted alongside the 12-inch MacBook last year. The key feature of this mechanism is much shorter key travel time compared to the scissor keys of the older MacBook Pros, though it still delivers a pleasant click every time you press a button.
Overall, the keyboard of the 2016 MacBook Pro is excellent once you get used to it. Switching to the new model from the previous generation will likely require a couple of typing sessions to get fully acquainted.
The notebook's Touch ID sensor is stealthily integrated into the unmarked power button in the top right corner of the keyboard. The process of setting it up is quick and intuitive—you will be prompted to turn on the feature when you first power up the MacBook.
Long known for making the best trackpads in the industry, Apple delivered its best yet in the 15-inch MacBook Pro. The gigantic Force Touch trackpad of the new model is simply heavenly—it provides ample space for gesture controls, top-notch accuracy, and great tactile feedback.
Wired Connectivity is Ahead of Its Time
This is an area where the MacBook Pro left us with mixed feelings. The notebook features a quartet of USB Type-C ports that support the blazing-fast Thunderbolt 3 standard. This means that the 15-inch MacBook Pro can easily power two 5K displays. You can also use any port to charge the notebook.
However, it also marks the end of the line for the venerable and incredibly useful MagSafe charging port. Also, it means that you will need to use dongles if you need to connect standard USB flash drives, SD cards, Thunderbolt 2 devices, or an HDMI monitor to the notebook.
For power users with legacy external hardware and accessories, this can be a frustrating—as well as costly—affair. You will not only have to spend money on dongles, but also carry them around with the notebook.
Apple is ahead of the curve with the new MacBook Pro on this instance. The tech world is inevitably headed towards USB Type-C as a universal connectivity standard, but it's not quite there yet. By preparing the notebook for the future, Apple left a notable part of its present functionality to attachable accessories.
Excellent Performance and Battery Life
The 15-inch MacBook Pro packs a powerful combination of a quad-core CPU, 16GB of RAM, speedy graphics card, and ultra fast solid-state storage, so it's handily the most powerful laptop Apple currently offers. It handles heavy computing tasks without even a hint of slowing down, including processing multiple large images and high-resolution video.
In terms of graphic performance, the notebook is considerably zippier than its predecessor (up to 130% in 3-D tasks and up to 57 percent during video editing). The speed bump would have been even larger had Apple chosen NVIDIA graphics chips. However, the tech giant opted for Radeon Pro chips due to their superior power efficiency.
Speaking of power efficiency, Apple promises that the new 15-inch MacBook Pro can deliver up to 10 hours of screen-on time on a single charge. During our time with the notebook, we got between eight and nine hours of mixed use from a charge—a hugely impressive feat considering the its hardware specs and form factor.
Apple has equipped the new MacBook with a duo of speakers that sound incredible, especially considering the device's ultra thin metal body. Bass is surprisingly punchy, and overall, the sonic experience is crisp and free of distortion.
The Best MacBook for Power Users Money Can Buy
The 15-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar is the most capable laptop Apple currently offers, as well as one of the best full-size laptops out today. It offers a blend of powerful hardware, beautiful design and craftsmanship, top-notch performance and portability, as well as great battery life.
The Touch Bar makes both the notebook and macOS more interactive. More importantly, it helps speed up common tasks, so it's overall an excellent addition to the MacBook lineup. It's also certain that the feature will get better going forward, as the list of apps that support it will grow on a daily basis.
Ditching legacy ports and an SD card slot for the future-proof USB Type-C connector is one bit that we didn't quite like about the new MacBook Pro. Apple deserves credit for recognising the issue and significantly discounting all essential accessories (including the sweet new LG UltraFine 4K monitor) to ease up the transition. However, you will still need to attach multiple dongles to your sleek new notebook in order to make your older accessories work.
To sum things up, if you are a power user looking for a new MacBook, this is the one to get. Buyers who don't need so much processing and graphics power should probably save a bit of money by opting for the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar. It dual-core CPU and Intel Iris graphics, but it's still an exceptionally capable machine.
Just like its predecessor, the latest 15-inch MacBook Pro is far from affordable. Its pricing kicks off at USD2,399 for a model with Intel Core i7 and 256GB SSD, and goes past the USD4,000 mark for a fully loaded variant.
Photos by Stefan Vazharov
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