With the 15-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar now shipping out to some customers who pre-ordered it, the first set of reviews of Apple’s new laptops are out as well. The new MacBook Pro was long overdue so it’s understandable that there’s a lot of demand for them.
However, if you have been in two minds about buying the new 13-inch or 15-inch MacBook Pro from Apple with Touch Bar or not, check out our review roundup below to help you make up your mind.
On the Touch Bar:
For all the complexity that the Touch Bar is capable of, its simplest uses are often its best. Mail has Archive and Spam buttons that are great for burning through all of the bad Kickstarter pitches I get. There’s an emoji button when you’re typing that lets you swipe through the entire library of icons (it was the favorite Touch Bar feature of everyone I showed the laptop to). And I love having a button in Photos that lets me flip back and forth between my edited and original picture.
Those are the simpler issues. The Touch Bar gets worse when Apple tries to do too much with it. In Pages, for example, the Touch Bar displays at least five types of buttons: one that slides out with a keyboard, one that pops up new formatting options, two that drill down into scrollable menus, one that drills down into a static menu, and several more that are just toggles.
If you want performance, go for the 15-inch MacBook Pro, but still might not be enough:
Performance was better on the 15-inch. Nielsen saw it as a step up from older 15-inch Pros, capable of handling smaller 4K projects in Premiere and Final Cut without issue. But on a larger project file, like the one made for the seven-and-a-half-minute “How to manufacture fear” video she edited last month, “the computer starts lagging pretty seriously,” she said. The performance was better than the 2014 Pro she has at home, but not on par with the 2013 iMac she uses at work.
The battery life has, surprisingly, turned out to be quite a fair bit lower than Apple’s quoted 10-hour mark.
As with performance, the 15-inch model did better on battery. Nielsen got 6 to 7 hours during her typical use of the computer (which, she qualified, included watching a lot of videos at high brightness), while the laptop cut down to about five ours of battery when she was editing video. Those numbers are “basically the same” as what she gets on her older Pro; they aren’t amazing numbers, she said, but they aren’t bad either.
I may come off sounding quite critical of the new MacBook Pro, but the truth is that I really do like it. The hardware is incredible, macOS is a joy to use, and I don’t want to give up this screen and keyboard. It’s a fantastic laptop on build alone.
But everywhere I look, it feels like this incarnation of the MacBook Pro is shooting for a future it can’t quite reach. One where it can be impressively thin and powerful enough for the pros. Where it can be super light and have all-day battery life. Where its ports and keyboard morph and adapt perfectly to the needs of every user.
On the Touch Bar:
On the two higher-end MacBook Pro models, Apple replaced the traditional row of function keys with a new glowing touch strip. I find it most useful for inserting emojis, scrubbing through videos and music and changing font color.
Otherwise, I can accomplish many shortcuts faster with the keyboard or trackpad. (Example: Cmd-B bolds words quicker than I can lift a finger to hit the Touch Bar’s little “B.”) Plus, you always have to look up since the controls keep changing and your sense of touch doesn’t help at all.
In everyday use and in testing, I found that the processing power in the new 13-inch MacBook Pros wasn’t faster than their predecessors. There was no significant improvement, for instance, in exporting a 4K video in Adobe Premiere. The new laptops also lack Intel’s new seventh-gen processors (though they would probably boost efficiency more than power). The new machines were faster than the older ones in graphics-intensive tasks like video rendering, however, with the new 15-inch Pro blowing them all away.
Buy it, if you really want it:
So how do you decide? Do you invest in the present—the “old” MacBook Pro with performance, good-enough portability, a keyboard to cherish and lots of ports? Or do you invest in the future—a beautiful, highly portable machine with new tricks? Or maybe you do what I’m doing: Stare down at your three-year-old laptop and wonder if you can tough it out another year or two while this sorts itself out.
The Touch Bar can be annoying:
What’s annoying about this whole setup is that either way, some of the most important system controls are now buried in Touch Bar menus. Want to lower the volume? You can either hit the volume icon and hit the slider, or hit the arrow key and tap the volume up or down key. That’s less efficient than just pressing a dedicated volume button in the function row. It’s inconvenient enough that I eventually started using my mouse to do things like pause Spotify or raise the volume on a track. Apple made me change my way of doing things, and not necessarily for the better. That pisses me off.
Inconsistent battery life:
Apple rates both the 13- and 15-inch MacBook Pro for up to 10 hours of battery life, and that’s either with web surfing or iTunes movie playback. Even after half a dozen battery tests, I’m still noticing some inconsistencies in my results: 13-inch battery life is sometimes in the seven- to eight-hour range, with some tests hinting at a ten-and-a-half-hour capacity. Testing on the 15-inch model has also been inconclusive. I’ve generally seen between nine and 10 hours of video playback, but in one instance I exceeded the 13-hour mark by lowering the brightness slightly. I’ll be conducting more tests and updating this review with final battery life results.
A MacBook Pro for the future:
As I said, there’s ultimately a lot to like about the new MacBook Pro. But it’s designed for someone who I’m not sure exists outside Apple’s fantasies of how professionals use computers. The MacBook Pro I want to see is built around real people’s work habits. I still recommend it, and I imagine many of you who have been waiting patiently will indeed buy this. But I’d enjoy it more if it were designed for people like us.
So, if the reviews are anything to go by, the new MacBook Pro is very much like the first MacBook Air: it is ahead of its time by at least 2-3 years. The average battery life and the mediocre performance boost are definitely going to disappoint a lot of people who were holding out on a MacBook Pro refresh.
What do you think about the new MacBook Pro lineup from Apple? Do you still intend on buying one despite their high price and middling reviews?