2016 MacBook Pro with Touch bar mini-review

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I recently spent some time with a 13” MacBook Pro with touch bar. I wasn’t able to push performance but was able to assess the keyboard and use the Touch bar. Overall, I was pretty impressed. However the price is so high and ports are so limited that it is difficult to recommend.

The 13” MacBook Pro is a very svelte machine. It feels about the same size as a 13” MacBook Air but is a much more powerful machine. At 3lbs, the weight is definitely in the Ultrabook space.

Port

Famously, the only ports on the machine are USB-C/Thunderbolt. You have to use that to charge the machine and for all connectivity, such as external displays, Ethernet, etc. The world is still using USB-A, so you’ll need a C to A hub for the foreseeable future.

Ten years from now, USB-C will be what we use, for now, it would have been nice for Apple to include at least one USB-A port. Apple used to do this, blend cutting-edge new technology while maintaining the old. MacBook Pros and PowerBooks before that would include Firewire and older Thunderbolt ports. There is plenty of space for more on the MacBook Pro. I haven’t heard a single valid argument for having USB-C as the only port option on a pro-grade machine.

Screen

The screen on the 13” MacBook Pro is lovely. The bezel is small, the resolution and screen quality are fabulous. I’m comparing the 13” MacBook Pro with my lovely new ThinkPad Anniversary Edition 25. The screen on the MacBook Pro is just better. It’s a bit smaller; I think that 14” is the perfect size for an all-around machine. 13” is a bit small for me, but that aside, my only other critique of the MacBook Pro screen is that it isn’t matte. I’ve always preferred a matte screen, Apple hasn’t shipped one since it went unibody back in 2008. Clearly the market has spoken. Such is life.

Keyboard

While the screen on the MacBook Pro is just great, the controversial keyboard is another story. Assuming Apple can correct their dust problems with future revisions, I still have mixed feelings about this new keyboard. Apple laptop keyboards have pretty much always been top-notch. I don’t get that impression with this keyboard. Typing on it feels a bit… weird, but I think one could get used to this. The keys, despite the lack of travel, are super loud. I have a very light touch typing and it was even quite loud for me.

Touch bar

The touch bar is the biggest feature of the keyboard. It has replaced the traditional function keys, including the escape key. This is a deal-breaker for me. I didn’t get a chance to use the machine much with the terminal, but unless the touch bar is perfect in this context, it would be impossible for me to use. It will also make loading Linux on these machines (admittedly a niche use case) a no-go. I also question the utility of this change, especially given how much it drives the price up. The touch bar is essentially a very small, embedded iOS device. It has an ARM CPU, and a screen that is always on. This drives the price of the laptop up by several hundred dollars. From my limited use with the machine, I don’t think it’s worth the cost. One area where it would be very, very welcome would be for the integrated Touch ID sensor. But Apple could have just added a fingerprint reader like everyone else.

I didn’t find the touch bar distracting in use, which surprised me. When typing, auto-correct suggestions would pop up, which could be more useful than function keys, which you don’t use constantly.

Still, as has been argued already, it really does feel like an expensive, complicated solution looking for a problem. If I was going to buy a new 13” MacBook pro, which I am not, I would buy an upgraded base model just to keep the old keyboard. You save several hundred dollars, and get to keep the old, less error-prone keyboard with a real escape key and function keys.

The Price

Again, I compare this 13” MacBook Pro with my ThinkPad 25. The list price for it is $2450CDN. The equivalent 13” MacBook Pro is $2889. This gets you the same dual-core CPU, 16GB of RAM, and a 512GB SSD. You also get a smaller screen, 3lbs instead of 3.5, far fewer ports, no discrete GPU, and a one year warranty. Adding Apple Care for a three year warranty sets you back another $279, pushing the pre-tax price well over $3000CDN. This is a very expensive machine.

The base-model 13” MacBook Pro without touch bar is only available with 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. It runs for $1979 with a one year warranty. Very expensive either way, considering that this is the floor of the MacBook Pro line.

Wrapping Up

I suspect that the 2016 MacBook Pro won’t hold up well over time. I seriously wonder if the touch bar and new keyboard will be looked back on as mistakes in an otherwise iconic laptop line.

In my opinion, the screen and size and weight of the 13” MacBook Pro the best that it has going for it. They’ve proven that they can do this while keeping the better, older keyboard. Now they just need to add USB-A back in and they’ll have a winner. I doubt they’ll do this, Apple is a pretty stubborn company, but I do think that this is what the market would like best.

I still think that Apple peaked with the 11” and 13” MacBook Airs. It seems that Apple and Lenovo both had some of their best designs in 2011/2012. Lenovo has returned to form with the ThinkPad 25. I hope that Apple does the same in 2018. As it stands, I’d have a hard time recommending the current MacBook Pros to anyone. They’re simply too expensive, too limiting, and potentially not reliable enough.

GoSaBe Blog - Nov 11, 2017 | Hardware, macOS