The first batch of reviews for Apple’s new MacBook Pro with Touch Bar are in, and they’re mixed.
If you need a new laptop, are a Mac user, and have the money to spend, go ahead and buy the new MacBook Pro, my colleague Steve Kovach writes.
“The latest MacBook Pro model is slimmer, more powerful, and downright attractive,” he wrote.”It’s the best MacBook you can buy, but it’s also not for everyone.”
Other reviewers had issues with the laptop’s battery life, next-generation Thunderbolt ports, and questioned the usefulness of the laptop’s banner new feature, a touchscreen strip that replaces the function keys that Apple calls Touch Bar.
The new MacBook Pro comes in three main versions: one with a 13-inch screen without the Touch Bar touchscreen keyboard integration, one with a 13-inch screen and a Touch Bar, and one with a 15-inch screen and a Touch Bar. These reviews focus on the versions with the Touch Bar.
Here’s what tech pundits are saying about Apple’s latest computer:
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 biggest surprise in my tests was just how inconsistent the Touch Bar Pro's battery life was. I have tested hundreds of laptops over the years and Macs have almost always excelled at meeting or beating their promised battery lives, both in my longtime battery test regime, and in typical daily use. But the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar wasn't as reliably consistent as previous Macs.
On my rigorous test, which I've used for years, the machine actually exceeded Apple's claim of up to 10 hours of battery life. The test involves setting the screen at 100 per cent, keeping it on and undimmed constantly, playing an endless loop of music, and leaving Wi-Fi on to collect email, tweets, and Facebook posts in the background. Result: 11 hours and 38 minutes.
So, my best advice is that even a mainstream, non-pro user can't count on this laptop lasting the promised maximum of 10 hours -- even in light to moderate use -- let alone the 12 hour maximum a new Air can pull off. And you won't have an accurate estimate to go by.
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.
And for now, that's the problem with the Touch Bar: It's not especially useful for either regular people or for the mythical 'pros' the new MacBook line is supposedly designed for. The Touch Bar is most compelling for professionals, but these people live and die by their memorized shortcuts, so for now, the Bar isn't not going to going to make a big impact. I don't need Touch Bar in Photoshop because I've already memorized how to switch between the Heal and Lasso brushes. Yet the lack of usability for Apple's former core market could change once third-party developers figure out how to create really customisable tooltips for the Touch Bar.
For now, the bigger win is Touch ID.
That's not to say they're all intended to be the only computer someone who uses heavy-duty creative apps needs -- the Mac Pro and iMac are there at least in part to meet those needs. But these are computers that the vast majority of people who use a Mac for work would be fine to use as their only machine -- that's certainly the case for me. This 15″ version I've been testing is slightly less portable than the 13″ version, but can be significantly more powerful, and could handle pretty much any video or photo editing task you'd want to throw at it.
Apple rates both the different 13-inch MacBook Pro models as having the same battery life on their product page, but in our review of the $1,499 model we noted a few factors that suggested otherwise. The $1,499 Pro has a lower-wattage processor and a battery that's larger by 10 per cent or so, for starters.
Our battery testing bears this out. The Touch Bar-equipped Pro's battery life is by no means bad, but it is quite a bit lower than the $1,499 MBP (and slightly lower than the 2015 MBP) in our light Wi-Fi Web browsing test.
Apple built the Touch Bar as an open platform, one that any third party can program to (but not for web apps since there's no HTML or Web API). There's also no guarantee that companies like Google will ever write to it. In my tests, Chrome, obviously, has no interaction with the Touch Bar. I somehow doubt that Chrome will ever work with it, but its also clear that many other third-party developers will be happy to tap into the visual touch panel with the ability to accept up to 10 fingers of input at a time. Adobe has already committed to a Touch Bar-ready Photoshop by the end of this year and Touch Bar abilities are also coming to Microsoft Office, Pixelmator, 1Password and Live Home 3D.
In the end, your decision may come down to something much more practical -- ports. Are you ready to move into the USB-C only future, where connecting a USB key, HDMI output, Ethernet cable, or nearly any other accessory will require a special cable or dongle?
People love Apple computers because Apple gets the basics right. The keyboard, the trackpad, the screen, the speakers, all the table-stakes things too many companies get wrong. And in most cases, Apple made the best even better with the new MacBook Pro.
The upside is battery life on the MacBook is much better, so you likely won't need to charge it during the day. Apple says you'll get up to 10 hours per charge, but I didn't get that close. It was more like eight hours. (Although I tend to keep my screen brighter than most people.)
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