Review of New MacBook Pro with Touch Bar

Though I devote this blog to my PhD work, I thought today that I might share a review of the new MacBook Pro. There are several questions surrounding this laptop. How useful is the new Touch Bar? Will its small battery get you through an entire day of work? Will the computer’s USB-C ports let you, you know, actually connect this machine to…anything? I’ll try to address these questions and more below.

USB-C
Apple’s decision to go all USB-C with this machine created tremendous angst amongst the nerds who live on the interwebs. Basically, USB-C is a completely different port than the USB that we already know and use. Nothing you have will connect to this laptop. Your iPhone will not connect to it. Your printer will not connect to it. Your external displays will not connect to it. You will have to buy adapters to make any connection work.

Honestly, the transition to USB-C has not been the nightmare that I feared. I purchased a few adapters when I bought the MacBook Pro and have experienced no problems. My main objection now is an aesthetic one—I just do not like having adapters all over my desk while I am working.

This issue will work out in time. USB-C is the future. Eventually, every device will have it. This laptop is ready for that time. One day, we will all love the fact that our MacBook Pros have USB-C connections. Right now, well, we must look at adapters on our desks.

Keyboard and Trackpad
Everyone who has this computer told me that I would hate its keyboard on first try. I did. Everyone also told me that in time I would grow to love its keyboard. I did. Once your fingers adjust, typing on the MacBook Pro is a pleasure. The keys are firm and make a solid click sound. The key travel is very, very short but not uncomfortably so.

My opinion of the trackpad is mixed. To start with the positive, Apple makes some of the best trackpads in the business. The Taptic Engine from the iPhone is installed into the trackpad, and this mechanism gives you solid feedback when you click. (There is actually something of an illusion happening. You never truly “click” the trackpad. It remains completely still. The Taptic Engine tricks your fingers into thinking you have clicked it.) The trackpad also has a force touch feature. Click harder—like you are pressing into the machine—and you will receive more menu options on the computer’s screen.

On the downside, the MacBook Pro’s trackpad is insanely large. It is bigger than my wife’s iPhone 7 Plus. It is bigger than my hand. It is bigger than the screen on one of the first TVs that I owned. It is bigger than some of my ice cream cones (okay, this is not true—I like big ice cream, and I cannot lie). It looks like an iPad mini is sitting on the laptop below the keyboard.

 

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Big Ice Cream

 

I do not know why a person would need a trackpad this big; I see no advantage to its size. I do know of one disadvantage, though—accidental contact. On several occasions, I have been typing only to find that my cursor has suddenly flown off to another part of my document. My text has accompanied the cursor. The trackpad is so large that you cannot help but place your palms on it. It is like a black hole that sucks everything into its path. When your palms connect with the trackpad, they often move the cursor around despite your best efforts. Apple is supposedly using palm rejection to compensate for this fact. If so, their palm rejection software needs improvement.

 

trump_small_hands

The new trackpad will leave your hands feeling this big.

 

Design Aesthetic
This is an Apple device. So, you expect it to be thin and beautiful. And, this is a thin and beautiful laptop. You just have to get over that bulging trackpad at its bottom.

Screen
Steve Jobs famously said that OS X had icons so beautiful that people will want to lick them. [I prefer to lick doughnuts myself (though not like this).] This screen certainly has that “lickability” factor. It is gorgeous. The contrast ratio and color depth are impressive. Watch a movie on this laptop just once, and you will think that other laptops have vaseline covering their displays. The only screen comparable in the laptop market might be the display on a high-end Dell XPS 15’.

Battery
The battery on this device is tolerable, but it is not going to blow your mind. Bring a charger when you travel. Apple claims that you will get around ten hours of use if you do light work—text editing, light web browsing, etc. That estimate is a little optimistic but not far from the mark.

Part of the problem is that these MacBook Pros have a smaller battery than the models they are replacing. Supposedly Apple was working on some revolutionary battery technology—similar to the terraced battery cell in the smaller 12’ Macbooks?—but it could not complete the work in time. It had to go with a smaller battery size to make everything work. Hmmmm…

Performance
This machine is a beast. There is no other way to say it. I have not managed to push it to its limit. Several people are claiming that Apple placed some of the fastest—if not the fastest—SSDs in the business in this horse. I believe it.

This monster’s one weakness is the fact that it caps out at 16 GB of RAM. That amount should be plenty for most people, but when you buy a Ferrari you want it to have more power than you actually need. It is just the principle of the thing.

Touch Bar
The Touch Bar is an impressive piece of technology. Basically, Apple removed the laptop’s function keys (those F keys at the top of the keyboard that no one really uses) and replaced them with a multi-touch OLED screen and a fingerprint reader. A new Apple-designed chip, the T1, powers the Touch Bar and ensures that fingerprint data remains secure.

Apple bombards us with advertisements for the Touch Bar because it believes its new hardware will help users become more productive (and want to buy Macs). People will no longer have to log into their computers with a password; they can simply let their machines read their fingers. People will no longer have almost useless function keys; they can use the Touch Bar’s display to find contextually appropriate information. Microsoft Word, for example, displays in the Touch Bar the options to italicize or highlight text while users type. Apple Photos reveals small, full-color thumbnails from the photo library so that users can quickly scan through their picture albums.

 

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Touch Bar in action via CNET.

 

While the Touch Bar sounds cool, in practice it does not add much. The problem here is not the Touch Bar hardware. The problem is the software. There simply are not enough interesting and unique options in the Touch Bar display. Keyboard shortcuts already perform many of the actions that the Touch Bar offers. Why would someone want to spend time lifting their fingers from their keyboard to manipulate the Touch Bar screen when they can simply use the Mac’s already extensive library of keyboard commands? My Touch Bar often just sits there looking like something from Star Trek while my hands do real work on the keyboard just below it.

Things will likely not stay this way. Apple always launches new technology in a rather conservative manner and then ramps things up as time progresses. The new Mac operating system is supposed to add new features to the Touch Bar. I suspect, too, that as developers have more time to play with the Touch Bar that its usefulness will improve. So, right now, the Touch Bar is a fancy luxury item that looks great but adds no new functionality. This fact will likely change in time.

Conclusion
So, there you have it. I love this device, but it is not without its flaws. Most difficulties appear to originate from Apple’s ambition. USB-C and the Touch Bar look to the future but have little benefit today. Still, there are many positives here. The computer is light, fast, and fun. It has a great keyboard. The screen is gorgeous. Mac OS is preferable to Windows in my judgment. Two thumbs up.

Review: MacBook Pro 15’ with Touch Bar; 2.9 GHz Intel i7 Kaby Lake; 16 GB RAM; AMD Radeon Pro 560 with 4GB RAM; 512 GB SSD Drive

 

 

 

 

About David Rathel

Husband to April; Baptist Minister; Student at St. Mary's Divinity School at the University of St. Andrews
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