Apple Macbook Pro (15-inch,2.6 GHz i7) Notebook Review 2016
- Innovative Touch Bar
- Mobile workstation levels of performance
- Very thin and light for a 15-inch laptop
- Professional-quality Retina display
- Extremely expensive
- No user upgrades or repairs
- Lifeless keyboard
- USB-C ports will require expensive adapters
The new 15-inch MacBook Pro is a quintessential Apple product. It’s genuinely innovative, and elegantly designed as always, but also frustratingly convinced of its own infallibility, and — especially for those of us in post-Brexit Britain — jaw-droppingly expensive.
Above all else, though, this update to the MacBook Pro range is long overdue, with only modest speedbumps in recent years to placate Apple’s demanding professional users — who, let’s not forget, kept the company afloat in the lean years before the advent of the all-conquering iPhone. The pent-up demand for new MacBook Pro models seems to have ensured strong pre-orders for Apple, even though the shipping date for this 15-inch model has now stretched to late December, so owners of older MacBook Pro models will obviously want to know whether this new model has been worth the long wait.
Apple has often been criticised for failing to adopt touchscreen displays in any of its desktop or laptop computers, but the new Touch Bar included in the 2016 13-inch and 15-inch MacBook Pro ranges (barring only the entry-level 13-inch model) shows that Apple can still “think different” (sic) and come up with its own innovative use of touch technology.
Replacing the traditional row of Function keys on the keyboard, the Touch Bar is a touch-sensitive glass panel — with a resolution of 2,170 by 60 pixels — that provides context-sensitive controls for individual apps, and even for individual tools within apps such as Adobe’s Photoshop. By default, the Touch Bar displays controls for standard settings such as brightness, volume, and the new Mac version of Siri. The ‘Esc’ key is there too — it’s not quite dead yet, as Apple VP Phil Schiller announced during his demo.
But when you switch into an app that supports the Touch Bar you’ll see a new set of controls designed for that specific app. In Mail, for example, you’ll see predictive text and formatting options, while Messages displays a multitude of emojis. That’s unlikely to impress professional users who need to get work done, but Apple does provide an API for the Touch Bar that allows third-party developers to use it within their own apps. Adobe has already demonstrated the use of the Touch Bar in Photoshop, and the ability to quickly step backwards and forwards through a series of complex edits with just a flick of a finger is the sort of thing that will have many designers queuing up to upgrade. Microsoft Office is due for a Touch Bar update as well, although no release date has been announced yet.
The Touch Bar is also home to the new Touch ID sensor. That’s less innovative as there are plenty of existing business laptops with fingerprint sensors – but of course, Apple’s laser-cut sapphire crystal sensor is considerably more stylish than its Windows-based rivals.
The Touch Bar could well prove to be a useful time-saver, but the best gift Apple can give its neglected professional user base is a more capable machine that will help them to meet their deadlines. The 15.4-inch Retina Display of the MacBook Pro retains the 2,880 by 1,800 resolution (220ppi) of its predecessors, although it now provides 500-nit brightness — 67 percent brighter than the 2015 model, according to Apple — as well as supporting the DCI-P3 colour space used for professional-level video-editing. So, if Apple is aiming at those sorts of high-end applications, then the new MacBook Pro really needs to step up with genuine professional performance.
Key things to know
Sizes:Available in 13-inch or 15-inch. They are “the thinnest ever MacBook”, around 20 per cent smaller in volume than previous models
Best new features:Touch Bar, TouchID and USB-C ports
Battery life:up to 10 hours
Colours:silver and space grey
RAM:8GB – 16GB
Key dates:Out now
Touch Bar is a screen that replaces the function keys at the top of the keyboard. The buttons on the new strip change depending on what program you’re using at any given time.
For example, when you’re in Safari it will display shortcuts to your favourite websites. It can also be used to adjust brightness and change the volume of a song, as well as straighten a picture in Photos or suggest words while you’re typing.
Instead of a standard USB port, the MacBook Pro has four USB-C ports. All four sockets can be used to charge the laptop or attach USB-C, Thunderbolt, HDMI and USB connectors. You’ll need an adapter of course, but these can be purchased for less than £20 online.
Portability versus performance
In addition to its performance, the 15-inch MacBook Pro does have one or two other tricks up its elegantly tailored sleeve. This new model has lost a fair bit of weight, dropping to 1.83kg (from 2.04kg) and measuring 349.3mm wide by 241mm deep by 15.5mm thick (compared to 359mm x 247.1mm x 18mm). That makes the 2016 MacBook Pro one of the thinnest and lightest 15-inch laptops currently available.
Battery life is good too, aided by the ability to automatically switch between the discrete Radeon GPU and the Core i7’s integrated Intel HD 530 Graphics (which can be turned off if you need to stick with the Radeon for specific apps). The Retina display’s 500-nit maximum brightness allowed us to turn it down to 50 percent, under which setting the MacBook Pro delivered 7.5 hours (450 mins) of streaming video when using the BBC iPlayer. That’s not going to win any awards, but it’s still good going for a powerful Core i7 system — it’s also virtually identical to last year’s MacBook Pro, and almost double the 230 minutes achieved by the Dell Precision 5000.
That’s no mean feat, but this laptop’s portability does come at a cost. The first thing I noticed is that the 2016 MacBook Pro now uses a slimline keyboard panel, similar to that on the ultraportable MacBook, which feels rather lifeless compared to the more responsive keyboard on my trusty MacBook Air.
Apple has also jettisoned most of the MacBook Pro’s traditional connectivity features, equipping the 2016 model with just four Thunderbolt 3.0 ports, all of which use a USB-C connector. The speed and versatility of Thunderbolt 3.0 is certainly impressive — up to 40Gb/s on each port, while also allowing you to connect external storage, monitors and other devices. The downside, of course, is that you’ll have to spend even more cash on an assortment of cables and adapters in order to connect existing HDMI, or USB 3.0 and other peripherals.
More importantly, the already limited upgrade options of previous models have now been eliminated altogether. The memory and solid-state drive are both soldered onto the motherboard, so user upgrades and repairs are simply out of the question. Apple’s expensive build-to-order options do allow you to upgrade the solid-state drive and GPU at the time of purchase, but the memory is fixed at 16GB, which can cramp the style of professional applications such as Photoshop or 4K video-editing in Final Cut Pro. There’s always a compromise between performance and portability in laptop computers, but a ‘pro’ laptop should surely prioritise the former over the latter.
If you are looking at the MacBook Pro for everyday work, you will not be disappointed. This is a powerful, versatile computer that can handle whatever you can throw at it.
If you are a pro wondering if you should buy a MacBook Pro, I can tell you from my tests, the MacBook Pro performed incredibly well. In fact, I didn’t have a single problem, no matter what I tried.
Every pro category has different wants and needs. Perhaps buying an adapter will be more of a hassle for you than it was for me in the short term, but it won’t be like that forever. Thunderbolt 3 accessories will be coming and then this whole conversation won’t matter. A $10-$30 adapter is not going to stop me from having the best computer I can get to create music.
We expect Apple to move its products and the industry forward. Sometimes those changes can be difficult, but we can’t tell Apple to move forward, but not change anything.
The MacBook Pro is a great computer. Only you can decide if it’s the right computer for your needs. I’ve done my daily work with it, created music with it and I love it.