MacBook Pro with TouchBar Review – Sensational, with some flaws

This device is everything about the forward-thinking future Apple - a bit too soon?

I’ve been using the new MacBook Pro (13″ with Touch Bar) now for several weeks – determined not to use my gut reactions as my formal review.  With time now passed and some solid use-cases out-of-the-way, I think I can call it – this is a sensational device, with some flaws that every buyer really must consider.

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I chose to review the 13 inch because I’ve never been one for the “bigger” laptops, if I needed something big I’d use my desktop.  At a glance the new touchpad is huge,  though when side-by-side with the 15 inch it’s nothing to compare – the 15’s touchpad is enormous.

That said, I still think the compact nature of the 13 inch MacBook Pro is its defining and best-selling feature.  It’s just 1.49cm thick, and weighs just 1.37kg.  Seriously, this thing is ultra-portable, and those dimensions put well within what Intel used to call the UltraBook category – no longer needed given how many devices have trimmed down these days.

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The 13 inch screen running at 2560×1600 resolution squeezes into the top lid staying ultra thin, while packing out all but 5mm of the lid all round.

Favourite Features:

Without question the screen must be close to the top of that list.  It’s new wide-colour capabilities really make your photos and videos pop. Of course the wallpaper it ships with is designed to take full advantage of this – but in everyday use I noticed this with image and video editing the most.

As I noted above, the general size (or lack-thereof) is a top selling point.  I found this easy to carry around in a sleeve, just raw in the hand or in a backpack no issue at all.

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My favourite feature of all? TouchID – Yep, that simple little process of resting your finger to verify your identity as is the case on iPhones since the 5S is now available on the MacBook Pro.

I touch to sign on and touch to approve app installation.  I bloody hate putting in my password all the time, and this just works.  So Great.

Interestingly, I note that some times I just have to put a password in to sign on – I think this relates to the length of time since I last used the computer (for security reasons), as well as some app installations didn’t support it.

Neither here nor there:

The keyboard is completely new.  Like the thin 12 inch MacBook, but even newer.  Frankly, if you’ve used the MacBook you would struggle to notice the difference, but they’ve refined and improved it.

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This keyboard features a very small amount of key travel, which makes touch typing a breeze, however I still find it a loud typing experience and somewhat strange even weeks later.  Bottom line, you’ll get used to it – and you can thank this keyboard for a few mm of thickness saving overall.

Ok – that Touch Bar

This is one of Apple’s most innovative features in a very long time.  I can imagine the time and effort that went into it – but I just don’t get it fully.

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In Safari it should be at its most useful.  Each of the tabs you have open show up on the middle of the screen which now sits in place of your F or function keys.

My issue is, I still find it easier to glance up and let the mouse follow my mind on screen.  I really didn’t use it much after day 12.

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I don’t use Emoji’s in conversation nearly enough to justify having a whole row of keys for them.

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Perhaps the most likely use will come as Apps are updated to support it.  Photoshops usage is excellent, things like transparency, even stepping back through your workflow, very cool indeed.

However, It’s hardly ideal in direct sunlight if you’re like me and like to work outdoors in the park or elsewhere, and frankly pumping up or down the brightness or down or up with the volume feel like it takes extra steps than when we had a dedicated set of keys.

I’m just so frustrated here, Apple has the best technology and the most experience it could be argued in touch-screens.  So why on earth is this whole beautiful screen in front of me not a touch screen!

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No, you don’t use a touch-screen constantly, but its bloody easy to choose a browser tab or open an app and click OK or SAVE.  tell me Launch Pad on Mac OS isn’t designed for a touch-screen.  It just makes sense.

At $2199 I’d choose the new 13 inch MacBook Pro without Touch Bar in a heartbeat – the Touch Bar is a $500 premium, but it does include Touch ID.  Oh, Apple, that’s where you have me torn – Touch ID!

Plugs, sockets and adaptors

The most controversial and discussed aspect of this device is the ports – or lack thereof.  Yep, on this model I have four thunderbolt ports (actually USB-C but with Thunderbolt compatibility).

There are two on each side.  GOOD NEWS: Charging on both sides.  BAD NEWS: you might trip your mates over and see your laptop smashed on the floor because there’s no more MagSafe.  An outrage right?

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This was one of Apple’s greatest features, I honestly don’t know why you’d remove it.

Oh, and wondering if your Laptop is fully charged, or charging at all?  Good luck.  No way of telling that.  None. Another simple but beautiful feature gone.

As is the SD Card slot.  I can cop the move to the future with USB-C, but SD cards are a professional tool – this is the MacBook PRO – PROFESSIONAL – are you seriously telling me that Photographers and Videographers will just go wireless?  No way – it’s too slow.

Fortunately, I’ve been carrying around USB-C multi-port adaptors, but if I forget that – trouble!

It’s a seemingly ridiculous situation.  I honestly don’t get it.  Hopefully I’ll be proven wrong down the track, but right now it looks anything but courageous.

 

The upshot?

I’ve not gotten 10 hours of battery – but it sure as hell will last a full day of work. I’m sure ditching Chrome and flicking around with brightness and wifi will help.

Pro buyers aren’t going to suddenly abandon Apple.  There might be plenty of great PCs out there, but they don’t have MacOS.  It’s speed, simplicity, movie and graphic editing dominance mean they won’t go running to Microsoft any day soon – despite the moaning on social media.

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Apple have created a sensational machine with the MacBook Pro.  So sleek, so fast, so easy to use.  But they’ve really thrown a cat among their own flock of pigeons with this one.

Get yourself a multi-port adaptor to carry around and don’t listen to the haters.  Good luck deciding on the Touch Bar or not – I’d probably save the $500 right up the front and go without.

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Tech

Trev produces two of the most popular technology podcasts in Australia, Your Tech Life and Two Blokes Talking Tech. He hosts a nightly radio show on Talking Lifestyle, 8pm Monday to Friday in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, appears on over 50 radio stations across Australia weekly, and is the Tech Expert on Channel 9’s Today Show and A Current Affair. Father of three, he is often found down in his Man Cave. Like this post? Buy Trev a drink!
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