A mid-life refresh is typically Apple. But in this case it addresses some key issues.
Get it? Don't? Well, it's also the most powerful ever!
While competitors have certainly caught on to what seems to be the magic formula of sleekness and power that a typical working professional demands, the MacBook Pro has always held the elitist pedestal that's on everyone's wish list, even if it's just to enhance your image.
With this 2018 refresh, it only reinforces its position, especially if you manage to wrangle the massive 32GB RAM/4TB SSD variant like our test sample here was. Though not yet available in India in this spec, it accentuates who Apple is trying to lure - developers, photographers, editors, publishers and literally anyone who doesn't want to lug around a 6 kilo gaming laptop in the name of extreme performance. Like with all things Apple (and courage), there are compromises made to preserve clarity of vision and design integrity. If you're a MacOS user, you won't complain but even for a Windows user, it's hard not to fall in love with its simplicity and timeless allure.
Side by side with my 2-year-old MacBook Pro, the new one looks identical. Which is a compliment! These things don't age with their aluminium unibodies, dense build and a casing that is devoid of any superfluous elements. You also get the same number of ports as on the last gen model, which isn’t necessarily a good thing. I still miss an SD-card reader and especially when a portable machine is aimed at photography professionals, it’s absurd not to support current formats in the wake of showing “courage”. It’s entirely another matter that the ones who are invested in the MacOS and Apple ecosystem will work around this or just come to terms with it. There are those who will still sneer at the lack of native connectivity and sure enough, using dongles hasn't become cool suddenly but at least, now there are more USB-C peripherals to choose from.
Under the hood
The sixth-gen Core i9 can clock in at 4.8GHz if you need it to but even at non-turbo speeds of 2.9GHz, it is blazing fast to install the complete suite of Adobe CS5 for making this magazine in less than 3 minutes, compared to more than 15 on the last-gen MBP! Photos, another heavy app to both open and execute changes in just waltzes through my library that consists of more than 8000 pics and a lot of them are in high-resolution TIFF files used for cover shoots of our print edition. Apple seems to have addressed some of the thermal issues related to MacBook Pro’s getting too hot on the lap and whether this is due to throttling down the CPU is still debatable but unless you’re video editor handling multiple 4K streams, you may never notice it.
During a simulation test, we ran multiple iPhone emulators without a glitch so it really does depend on how far to breaking point you push the processor before Apple’s leash cuts it back. In normal, everyday use, I doubt if anyone will ever experienced slowing down. Alternatively, to have so much power in such a fine chassis available everyday is something of a trade-off that you have to decide for your work case. Besides the Asus ROG Zephyrus and ThinkPad P Series, no other Windows-based laptop matches it for svelteness and portability. And even they don’t offer the 10-hour battery power of the MacBook Pro, which in this new iteration, has managed to squeeze in even larger batteries than before to counter the effects of faster processing without negatively impacting run time. In my own daily mix-use, I consistently got about 7-8 hours of power before I was drawn to a power outlet. This included using the screen at full brightness almost all the time, iTunes and CS InDesign running throughout while floating through a fair number of apps.
X hits the spot
MacOS still remains rock solid in its stability as an OS and in my last 9 years of using it across various hardware and OS X versions, never had a malware or virus attack. More importantly, the annoyance of constant anti-virus updates slowing down front-end tasks is a non-issue and again, if you’re locked in to the Apple ecosystem, the joys of signing in to your MacBook Pro automatically as long as you’re wearing an Apple Watch is something small, but smile inducing. Clipboard and handover are other features that work seamlessly across your iOS devices and the Mac and taking calls on the Mac while working has become second nature. In the rapidly growing Apple product line, the MacOS is still truest to the ethos of Steve Jobs that an Apple product should “just work”. And it does.
Even the sound gets a boost by drawing power straight from the system, enhancing both clarity and output and the difference really is audible on virtually any kind of material. Even if you do use the 3.5mm out, the soundcards in MacBook Pros for the longest time have been the standard for excellent audio and using our in-house Audioquest DragonFly USB/DAC, it sounded good enough to be a studio workstation.
Some key issues
The most pressing issue plaguing the previous ten MBP in the past few months has been the butterfly keyboard and its failure. After the 'N' and 'B' keys started choking on my earlier-gen MBP, I realised the problem was real and a potential epidemic. With a thin silicon membrane under an improved butterfly mechanism, the keys are much quieter now and hopefully less likely to eat dirt. There is still little travel but it does feel a bit more satisfying to type due to the lack of the clackety sounds. By no measure is it the best keyboard out there, but thank god for the brilliant Force Touch trackpad!
The trackpad that looked almost comical when it first made an appearance on the 2016 refresh of the MacBook Pro has become the gold standard by which all others are compared. The gestures built into the MacOS obviously brings the abilities of the trackpad front and centre and is a big reason why MacOS feels so addictive if you’re a constant smartphone user. The swipes, pinches and deep presses feel natural now and going back to small, tightly squeezed trackpads on Windows competitors just don’t look inviting anymore.
Another minor tweak to an ageing but effective hardware bit is to the 2880 x 1800 pixel Retina display which now gets TrueTone tech borrowed from the iPad Pro. Although this doesn't sound useable in practice, it works brilliantly in every condition except if you're a video pro who needs the same colour profile under all situations. It's subtle yet effective in noticeably reducing eye fatigue over long hours. The competition has moved on to 4K and beyond yet strangely even when you open a 430MB TIFF photo, the detail and accuracy of colours is nothing short of stunning. It’s plenty bright at 500 nits and its support of the P3 colour gamut means that it still might remain the creatives choice.
Touch me not?
But just besides it, sits the controversial Touch Bar. Such an incredible sliver of tech that you want to love but sadly, there just aren't enough instances to. Barring a few native Apple apps, it still feels like a work-in-progress and more often than not, the brilliant trackpad gets the job done faster. Scrolling through endless strips of emojis in iMessage feels like an eternity as opposed to selecting one from the drop down menu. Substituting or auto-finishing a word in Pages means that you have break the rhythm of typing to lift your hand and select the suggested word on the Touch Bar, by which time, you could might as well type the remaining letters of the word faster, manually. It works well for casual scrubbing of tracks and photo editing duties but we still have to see a use case where it genuinely improves the traditional function keys.
Sure, it still looks cool and in typical Apple fashion, the True Tone tech has been applied to this little OLED strip as well but it’s not enough. By my personal experience of using it for the past two years, I feel it would’ve been a lot quicker (hence more likely to be used) if it was placed right between the keyboard and the trackpad, nearer to the thumbs which are the least used digits while typing and could double down on the Touch Bar shortcuts. Just a thought, Apple, if you’re reading…
The new T2 chip handles secure booting and storage encryption but also brings 'Hey Siri' to the Mac. But, if you also have an iPhone and Watch, you could be the master of very confused assistants. More often than not, the iPhone placed in the vicinity kept waking up to take instructions. The Touch ID though is even faster than before, leading one to believe that the next generation is ready to move on to Face ID.
The bonkers specs list on our test machine won't win any value-for-money awards but as an everyday laptop that is portable, capable and most importantly, desirable, the 15in MacBook Pro in Space Grey has few peers. For any working professional, it gets the job done in the most non-fussy and unassuming way, calling least attention to itself with the lack of fancy stickers or lights and the cleanest (and possibly lightest) profile of any high-performance laptop out there. It may not have a 4K screen or a mechanical keyboard but if you can afford it, you won't care because it's still so dependable and still so good!