If you’re a believer in all things Apple does, you'll see the grand vision in this exotic piece of hardware.
When you walk out the store with one of the new 15in MacBook Pro Touch Bar models in your town, you'll be seen with envy but at the same time you'll be questioning your own intellect as well. The thing with such a gorgeous (and expensive) piece of engineering is that it constantly requires justification. And that is the very basis of this test, because on paper and in the metal, there’s no denying that this is the fastest and most advanced version of the most-loved professional laptop in the world. But is this new generation model worth the substantial bump in price?
Apple is known to hold on to a great design for as long as it can, with subtle and more challenging evolutions to the size, girth and weight of the device. While this may not be obvious at first glance, digging deeper into the innards proves that the small increments take a lot more effort and Apple is obsessed with putting its stars on a strict diet. So, the new generation MacBook Pro gets thinner, sleeker and sharper with more than 250gms shaved off the tipping scales for the 15in model we have here.
There’s also a new sinister looking Space Grey finish option that firmly establishes you as the new kid on the block in a room full of glowing Apple logos. Yes, that and the fact that your logo won’t be glowing. With the advances in screen tech, Apple has managed to make this new-generation Retina Display more vibrant and brighter than ever before, and this means no space for vanity. You'll eventually get used to it and may even start appreciating the similarity between your iPhone’s appearance and the laptop’s.
Apple MacBook Pro 15in with Touch Bar design: It may be grey but it ain’t dull
For a 15in screen, this may be the most compact form factor ever for a laptop. The bezels have become ridiculously thin and the keyboard now gets the second generation butterfly mechanism to make the chiclets clicker but with even less travel. It’s a reassuring feel and the large size of the keys along with autocorrect suggestions on the Touch Bar meant that my typing speed went up considerably. I’m still shy of numbers, so let's just leave the WPM statistic alone, okay?
What dominates the view as you open it is the comically huge, but completely essential, Force Touch trackpad. Never before have I swiped using multi-finger gestures with such ease and effortlessness. It becomes a way of life faster than breathing. Well, almost.
In the quest for ultimate slimness and forward thinking, Apple has eschewed every legacy port barring a headphone out. Which in itself is bewildering, since Tim Cook so vehemently upheld the courage of the company to introduce the world to new, wireless interfaces. Why the exception here, on a futuristic laptop?
At the same time, the move to USB-C means that the existing universe of iPads or iPhones cannot be charged via your MacBook Pro without the purchase of another dongle, since they all still use the Lightning connector. And this seems more strange since the iPhone 7 and this new-gen MBP would’ve undergone field testing around the same time in their development cycle so weren’t the engineering teams talking to each other or does Apple really account for adapter sales to add to their bottom line now?
New MacBook Pro 15in keyboard and Touch Bar: Keyboard and trackpad
Yes, this does require its own section because it's such a significant step forward in the way we interact with our laptops. The size of the Force Touch trackpad is enough to rewire your computing habits. It can swallow an iPhone 7 Plus and yet have space to spare and this comes in handy once you've mastered the two, three and even five finger gestures that MacOS Sierra allows.
Expose and Launchpad work like a breeze while palm rejection is absolutely fantastic, allowing you to rest your palms on the left and right of the trackpad without fear of making typo errors or setting Sierra on fire. Even the haptic feedback is noteworthy and a superb replacement for the mechanical click.
There’s hardly any difference between this and the earlier “click”, with the added advantage of having a slimmer design and a larger surface area to play with. What’s not to like?
The second-generation butterfly mechanism on the keys works brilliantly too, with a satisfying click on every key except the directional arrows, which are too closely put together for comfort. Otherwise, the size of the keys is increased slightly and they greet your digits perfectly without ever missing.
This may be low on travel, but high on tactility and might be on its way to becoming the best keyboard of its generation, at least amongst super slim laptops.
Apple MacBook Pro 2016 Touch Bar and Touch ID: Touch me, bar bar
This has to be the elephant in the room. It’s no secret after looking at Apple’s pricing that this thin little strip of OLED goodness adds a substantial bit to the price tag of the MBP. So, does it do enough to justify the premium? Well, the short answer is no, but this is a matter that requires a lengthier answer, so bear with me.
Now, the OLED strip is retina resolution and optimised for a 45° angle, which is ideal for your seated height so it’s been engineered to fit right in the slot where the function keys used to be but with a lot more promise. It’s real world use is still something I'm struggling with because of years of muscle memory limiting my ability to focus on anything but the keyboard and the screen and nothing in between. Most of Apple’s native apps are well optimised to make use of the Touch Bar and as I use Pages to write this very review, I can’t help but smile at the auto-predict and correction suggestions that pop up on the OLED strip.
Every time the word ‘apple’ is being typed, green and red apple emojis show up and the temptation keeps getting stronger and stronger to use one just for Touch Bar’s sake. In day-to-day use, I found the most relevant use in iTunes and scrubbing through songs, even while working on another window. The Mail app throws in a lot of functionality too such as email suggestions, moving to folder and of course, as you start to type, word predictions and suggestions, which are accurate most of the time, but the problem is habit.
We just aren’t used to taking our hands off the keyboard when in the flow of typing and as much as Apple would have us believe, it doesn’t save a LOT of time as opposed to just typing out the word in the time you would take to move your finger off the key, select a word and get it back on the keyboard. It DOES make a lot of sense and fun for iMessage though, where the emojis are available right there making it super easy to replace actual words with representative emojis without going into the dropdown list and finding the right equivalent.
More third-party apps will make use of the Touch Bar intelligently in the coming months and I can’t wait to use it more than I do right now, honestly. Not just because it’s an extremely cool evolution of the traditional input method, but also because of its genuine innovative nature that just needs more takers.
Not having any settling issues is the superbly implemented Touch ID fingerprint sensor. It works on the MBP almost as quickly as on the iPhone 7 and will make entering passwords feel so passe. If you share a machine between multiple users, it gets even better as each individual can unlock and dive right into his/her profile just with the Touch ID. Payments and buying apps and songs off iTunes also gets the touch love and I’m sure it’s going to spread to third-party devs and apps soon, making the world a password-free place soon!
Before I forget, there’s Siri on the Touch Bar too now but really, it’s best forgotten. After a few failed attempts, I gave up my hopes of having a digital assistant as capable as Google and reverted back to just fending for myself. The Touch Bar can be easily customised though and Apple has to be commended for making that a fun task as well. Just drag and drop virtual functions from the main screen onto the Touch Bar’s OLED stip!
Apple MacBook Pro 2016 power: Enough for every task
Apple claims that this new-generation of MBPs is up to 130% faster than the previous ones and we were handed the 15in version that bore an Intel Core i7 chip running at 2.7GHz with a dedicated 2GB Radeon Pro450 graphics card. Its 512GB of SSD is also said to have a huge impact on performance. However, in everyday tasks and use that included my usual mix of Safari, iTunes, InDesign, Photoshop and cloud-based services, the difference was so subtle, it was impossible to attribute to any of the upgrades. That’s not to say it was slow by any measure.
It’s blazingly quick on every task or most games, but it’s not such a huge step up over the last generation as Apple’s claims make it out to be. The biggest difference I did experience was in the thermal management and my lap wasn’t as fried as it used to be in the earlier generation MBP. That’s a big thumb up, especially considering how tightly things are packed on the insides to the extent that there aren’t many serviceable parts!
Working on it is a joy though as an overall package. The Retina Display screen now delivers 500 nits of brightness, enough to be working while getting a tan on the beach. Thanks to the enhanced colour space, every image now pops with even more realism and saturation, without looking unnatural. Working on the Photos app is now better than ever, with the Touch Bar adding a handy before/after tool to see the edits you’ve made to the picture. It even comes in handy to scrub through the rolls of pics and lock in on a desired one without much effort.
Of course, if you're locked into the Apple ecosystem, more benefits can be reaped such as using your Apple Watch to unlock the screen, stream content wirelessly onto your Apple TV from your Mac, use AirDrop for large file transfers in a jiffy and HandOff that allows you to pick up a task on an iOS device and end it on a Mac just like that. It all works seamlessly and is a great reminder that the premium Apple commands are usually not just for the product you buy, but for the experience of all of its products delivered in unison.
New Apple MacBook Pro 15in verdict
There's no sugar-coating the price tag of the 15in MBP. At close to ₹2.5lacs, it’s downright crazy money for something that’s destined for obsolescence. But then again, it’s on the bleeding edge of tech right now and the parts of it that do work, work flawlessly and clearly trounce the competition. The crisp audio, eye-popping screen, sleek form factor and the blazing performance is only a given. What makes it a worthy contender over anything else are the trio of new innovations - Touch Bar, Touch ID and the trackpad. Together they can transform your experience in a few days from draggy to “let’s get to work”.
As you might have noticed, I didn’t pick on the lack of USB ports because honestly, I didn’t miss them all that much. Sure, having a Thunderbolt 3 - to - Thunderbolt 2 - to - Gigabit Ethernet was a bit much to get on our office server but besides that, most of my work was managed via AirDrop and/or cloud sharing. Admittedly, I did end up buying a USB-C - to - USB-A dongle so I could use my Audioquest Dragonfly DAC in the sound chain. But as a senior Apple rep said during my meeting, in the next 18 months, the MBP owners will be the ones laughing at the others for not moving on to USB-C early enough. The future is definitely USB-C and like it or not, we all will have to evolve and adapt.
Sure, I don’t understand why Apple gave up the genius idea of MagSafe magnetic power connector on this and why no SD card slot was provided on a “pro” machine, but besides these gripes, I would say this is the best everyday work machine out there in the tech wild today. If you have the money to spare, buy it by all means. If you don’t, stay happy in the knowledge that your 2013 MacBook Pro is almost as good in terms of performance and battery power.