MacBook Pro 13” with Touch Bar (late 2016) Review

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I have now used the new MacBook Pro every single day since 5 December — a total of 18 days — and have a few thoughts. Please note that I don’t have the time to write down everything that I would like to, so if you have any specific questions, then please leave them in the comments below.

Foreword

I have been using Macs for a decade or so and have had a number of MacBooks over the years. This means that I more or less know what to expect from them, especially in terms of battery life. I also have a desktop Mac, which is my main machine — MacBooks have always been my cloud computers. I have them set up so that everything on them is also either also on my main computer or in the cloud, hence losing or breaking it won’t result in data loss. I don’t even bother backing it up — I would lose no more than a few seconds or perhaps minutes of work.

The software that I use hasn’t much changed over the past two years, but I have recently stopped using Dropbox — from experience, I would get an extra hour of battery life if I closed the app instead of letting it run in the background. I have replaced it with Resilio Sync Pro (formerly BitTorrent Sync), which doesn’t tax the battery as much.

Here’s a list of the third-party apps that I have installed on the new MacBook Pro:

  • 1Password
  • Adobe Creative Cloud – Photoshop & Lightroom
  • Amphetamine
  • BBEdit
  • coconutBattery
  • FruitJuice
  • iA Writer
  • ImageOptim
  • Karabiner-Elements
  • Keyboard Maestro
  • Pastebot
  • Resilio Sync
  • Screentaker
  • Sip
  • Tweetbot
  • Ulysses

Hardware

In terms of build quality, this is probably the best MacBook that Apple has ever created. I was shocked at the rigidity of the first unibody construction. I had the exact same feeling when I picked the late 2016 model up. I can’t say that it’s best-in-class, because I haven’t used or experienced every notebook out on the market, but it surely is right up there, at the top.

I went for the base Touch Bar model, with an Intel Core i5 2.9 GHz CPU, 8 gigs of RAM, and 256 GB of flash storage. I did opt for the US keyboard layout — we get English International layouts by default over here — since I preferred it back in the day, but for various reasons I was unable to procure a Mac with that keyboard (mostly due to the fact that I didn’t want to wait the extra time needed for it to arrive to my local reseller).

Is It Fast?

I upgraded from a mid 2014 MacBook Pro 13” (Core i5 2.7 GHz, 8 GB of RAM, 128 GB SSD), so in theory, according to synthetic benchmarks, the jump should be small. But it isn’t — performance has increased quite a lot. Subjectively, everything is a lot faster, especially various animations, which actually play a role in some of my Keyboard Maestro macros, which cycle through various Spaces and windows. I did try to do some heavier testing — I started up Lightroom and proceeded to post-process a batch of 42 MP RAW files from a Sony A7R II. With Smart Previews set to on, I was extremely surprised at how well this small Mac coped with everything — I experienced no delays or stuttering.

Unfortunately, I have not had the chance to test Final Cut Pro X, mainly because the latest update makes the app crash as soon as I launch it, on both my machines.

The Display

This was the main reason for my upgrade. I found that I couldn’t completely rely on my 2014 MacBook Pro screen for colour correction in Lightroom, when travelling. I would have to check all the photos on my desktop Eizo before exporting them out, just to make sure. I almost always made a few corrections before doing so. This has not been the case with the new P3 display — it appears to be much more accurate. I processed a few photos on both the MacBook Pro and on my desktop machine — the results were close to identical.

The Keyboard

I never could get used to the 12” MacBook keyboard, despite it being almost the same. It turns out that small details can go a long way — the increased stability and more feedback, despite having the same short key travel, mean that I have come to like the new MacBook Pro keyboard. I now have problems typing on my Apple Wireless — it feels much too spongy. The funny thing is that I am still faster on the latter, averaging about 10 more WPM than on the MacBook Pro (95 vs 85 words per minute).

The Touch Bar

I was sceptical when I first saw Apple demo the Touch Bar during their keynote. I had two thoughts back then — I will miss the physical ESC key and the lack of any feedback, which requires the user to actually look down from the screen, to know what she or he is pressing. Both of those thoughts have been accurate after more than two weeks with the new MacBook Pro.

I’m adept at using (and learning) various keyboard shortcuts for functions that I often use. They’re much faster to use than taking my eyes off the screen and finding the appropriate function that I’m looking for. Having said that, while using the search function of Finder, I have found that using the Touch Bar to switch between searching the current folder and the whole disk is faster by pressing the appropriate button.

Perhaps novice users, or people who have never naturally used keyboard shortcuts to access various functions in software, will find the Touch Bar more accommodating, but quite frankly, I have found it almost completely useless. If I would, I would have chosen to have the exact same spec, but without the Touch Bar.

There is one function which I am missing — the Touch Bar took it away from me. Whenever I need a file from my Desktop folder, I would press Command + F3 to move all the Windows out of the way. I would then grab the relevant file with the cursor, press Command + F3 again, to show the windows again, and drop the file wherever I deem is necessary. This is no longer possible or I haven’t found a way to invoke the same shortcut with the Touch Bar.

Another issue that I have is with its visibility. I usually use my MacBook on my lap. It’s back is in the vicinity of my knees, which means that my hands actually hide the Touch Bar from view. I have to move them aside to see what functions are available on it — a waste of time.

Touch ID

This is probably the best new addition to the new MacBook Pro. It should be present on every Mac.

I do have to mention however, that my MacBook forgot my fingerprints twice already. I have no idea why.

The Trackpad

It’s huge. Unnecessarily so. Also, since I often leave my left hand resting on the keyboard, with my palm resting on the Trackpad itself (in the corner), I often manage to initiate a double click with my right hand, because it doesn’t correctly recognise my accidental touch. This is frustrating.

Battery Life

The elephant in the room… I have extensively tested the MacBook Pro with Touch Bar in various software configurations, even opting to wipe it clean once, just to make sure it wasn’t my fault. An Apple Support Senior Advisor had a look too, remotely logging into my Mac from Ireland — she said that ‘something is most certainly wrong’ and that ‘I should exchange it.’ I am writing these words from the replacement unit — it arrived today.

I managed to get a record-breaking battery life of 8 hours, with every single app turned off, apart from Ulysses — I spent the day writing a review. Let me clarify — I had one lightweight app running, was not using iCloud (I used a local file), and managed to get only 8 hours of battery life.

On average, under a light workload, I have been constantly achieving between 5 and 6 hours of use. I would use Safari (3-5 tabs open at any one time), Ulysses, ImageOptim, Keyboard Maestro (to run an ImageOptim macro), Photoshop, and Tweetbot. The latter barely made any difference if I had it closed. Photoshop and ImageOptim were used for perhaps 10 minutes over the course of the day (5-6 hours).

Running Lightroom and editing 42 MP RAW files would result in 1.5-2 hours of battery life.

These numbers are half of what I would get on my MacBook Air (11”). My MacBook Pro (13”, mid 2014) would easily go for 8-9 hours with my light workload.

Unfortunately, this is not acceptable — battery life is an important selling point for my needs and I bought this machine based on Apple’s estimates. I have always exceeded them in the past and I expected to do the same thing here. 10-11 hours would have been perfect.

I now have my replacement MacBook Pro set up — it arrived today — which means I will continue to monitor my actual battery life results over the next few days. If they don’t improve dramatically, then I will be returning this computer and replacing it with either the non-Touch Bar model, or with the previous generation.

MagSafe & The Charger

I really miss MagSafe, with its little green or orange LED, plainly showing me if the computer is charged or not yet ready from across the room. I also find the chime, which sounds when I connect the power cable, to be too soft — I missed it a few times already and had to replug the Mac, to make sure it was connected properly. I also miss the retractable ‘ears’ from the previous charger, which allowed me to bundle up my cable around them.

I am glad that the cable is now detachable though.

Apple is Cheap

Unfortunately, I have two complaints about my $2200 base MacBook Pro 13” (yes, that is what it costs in Poland). The price has increased, yet at the same time, Apple has removed the following items from the box: the charger extension cable and the cloth, which I used to wipe down the screen every single day.

These are perhaps small details (although I have failed in actually finding a better cloth than the one included by Apple), but they’re details, along with MagSafe and its LED, which make owning a MacBook a better experience. These tiny perks just make everything more pleasant.

They are now gone.

Should I Buy It?

This is probably Apple’s best MacBook Pro, but with the most abysmal battery life that I would never have expected. If you actually need or expect this computer to work for more than 6 hours regularly, then I simply cannot recommend it. In fact, I will be returning mine if I don’t get up to a minimum of 8 hours (turning off software to increase battery life is not a compromise I am willing to accept).


I really hope that Apple isn’t losing its edge, but from my recent bad experiences, it certainly seems to be.

Chcesz zwrócić mi na coś uwagę lub skomentować? Zapraszam na @morid1n.

10 Comments

  1. “My MacBook Pro (13”, mid 2014) would easily go for 8-9 hours with my light workload.”
    nigdy nie miałem takiego czasu na identycznej konfiguracji.

    “Unfortunately, I have two complaints about my $2200 base MacBook Pro 13” (yes, that is what it costs in Poland). ”
    to nieprawda. twój model kosztuje w PL $2130. ;)

  2. Z przejściówkami jest $2200. 😉

  3. There’s always the XPS 15 :P

  4. good joke/ ;)

  5. I don’t pay much attention to ultrabooks because I value performance over battery life, but AFAIK there are a few Windows ultrabooks that come close to or exceed MBP battery life.

  6. Good book, but battery – generally – it’s a bottleneck – “wąskie gardło”.

  7. u mnie na MBA ctrl+⇣ działa tak jak cmd+f3 (w sumie to tego Twojego skrótu nie znałem ;))

  8. Pingback: Michael Tsai - Blog - An Apple Support Experience

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