Hands-on with the new MacBook Pro and its Touch Bar
Apple has been working on an update for the MacBook Pro series for a long time. Often overshadowed by the more popular MacBook Air, and out-designed by the new MacBook, the Pro line felt like a workhorse that had been a little neglected.
Not any more. At its event in Cupertino today, I had the chance to get some hands-on time with the new MacBook Pro, which comes in both 13in and 15in versions. My quick verdict: it’s an amazing machine, but you’ll pay a pretty steep price for it.
The new MacBook Pro takes advantage of all the internal upgrades you’d expect, as well as a few more surprising ones. There’s a sixth-generation Core i7 processor, ATI Radeon Pro graphics card with up to 4GB of RAM, and an up to 2TB SDD that Apple claims is “up to” 50% faster. The 15in model comes with 16GB of RAM as standard. The speakers have had an update, although in the crowded demo room I could barely hear them so we’ll have to take Apple’s word for it for now.
But the internals aren’t what really makes the MacBook Pro “new”. Instead, there are four areas that really define it: the thinness; the keyboard and trackpad; the screen; and the all-new Touch Bar.
Thinner, lighter, faster, brighter
This is the thinnest and lightest MacBook Pro ever, with the 13in version coming in at a mere 3lbs – the same as a 13in MacBook Air. If you think that’s impressive, then consider that it’s also thinner than a MacBook Air, at least at the thick end. Of course it doesn’t taper like a MacBook Air, but it’s still a very thin machine.
And of course this doesn’t mean sacrificing on speed. I haven’t benchmarked the machine yet, but in a brief bit of use the MacBook Pro feels very, very quick indeed.
What I can say, though, is that the screen is epically lovely. It’s 67% brighter, has a 67% better contrast ratio, and displays 25% more colours. You’d have thought they would have made it 67% more colours just to keep a pleasing balance, but either way it looks amazing.
The butterfly-switch keyboard on the MacBook isn’t to everyone’s taste, so the fact Apple has adopted the same switches on the MacBook Pro is likely to be controversial in some quarters. Personally, I like the shorter travel – and of course what you get in return is a thinner machine. One difference though is that on the 15in model, the keys are BIG. You’re really not going to miss them. I suspect that most users will get used to the shallower travel in a few days.
What’s also bigger is the trackpad. It’s twice the area on the 15in MacBook Pro, and 46% larger on the 13in. Given that Apple has always led the way when it comes to making trackpads bigger, this isn’t a surprise, and as always it’s a great-quality trackpad.
The standout feature, though, is the Touch Bar. This is an OLED touch strip above the keyboard, replacing the function keys. What appears on the Touch Bar is programmable, so different applications have different “keys” appear. For example, Safari can display a set of “keys” for your open tabs, letting you quickly flip between them.
This doesn’t sound like such an essential feature, but even in the short time I used it I could see how good it was, and how quickly I would miss it. Going back to my older MacBook Pro, I found myself thinking “I’d love to use the Touch Bar for this” – and that was after just a short time with the new MacBook Pro. I’m really looking forward to seeing what developers do with it.
One thing that was immediately useful though is the inclusion of a Touch ID sensor at the right-hand side of the Touch Bar. As with the iPhone and iPad, you just put your finger on it and it unlocks the Mac – and what’s more, you can set it up so that different users’ fingerprints will log them in to their account without having to log out.
However – and this may be just an issue with the model I used, which was (obviously) a pre-production machine – the Touch ID sensor isn’t quite flush with the rest of the bar. That makes it easier to find just by touch, but it feels a little un-Appleish.
Oh, the price
Even with just a short period using it, it’s easy to see just how good a machine the new MacBook Pro is. But there’s a price to pay, and it’s a big one: the cheapest 13in Touch Bar-equipped MacBook Pro will set you back £1,749. Want a 15in version? You’ll pay at least £2,349. That’s a heck of a lot of money, and that’s not even for the top-of-the-range machine – the “entry-level” 15in comes with 256GB of SSD storage, which feels pretty mean.
It’s too early to draw many conclusions – we’ll save that for our full review – but that price makes me a little nervous about whether there’s enough in the MacBook Pro. Yes, you’re getting a heck of a lot of machine: fast, thin, light and incredibly well designed, and the Touch Bar looks like it will be amazingly useful. But that’s a lot of money to pay for a laptop in 2016. Personally, though, I’m sold. I might have to sell an organ or two to get one, but I’d like this machine sitting on my desk.