To Touch Bar or not to Touch Bar; that is the question. At least, it was the question with the 13in MacBook Pro.
The answer, somewhat surprisingly, was 'not to Touch Bar', as its overall usefulness is still a bit questionable and the Touch Bar version of the Pro doesn’t really justify its price premium in other areas of its spec list.
But this is a different story. Yes, the 15in MacBook Pro is astronomically expensive and yes, the Touch Bar contributes to that price, but at the same time there’s no doubting the step-up in performance over its smaller siblings. This is a very pricey machine, but it’s also a powerhouse, and one that’s an utter delight to use.
But that’s not to say it’s perfect…
Apple MacBook Pro 15in with Touch Bar design: the smallest big laptop in town
It’s easy to grasp the size of the 13in MacBook Pro because it’s smaller than a MacBook Air, which is to say it’s very small indeed. With the 15in version it’s a bit trickier but suffice to say it’s about as compact as you can imagine a laptop being while also having a 15in screen.
Compared to the model it replaces this Pro is 14% lighter, half a pound lighter and occupies about 20% less volume. Those numbers don’t really do it justice, though - while not as shockingly small as the 13in Pros, the 15in model is a beautiful, classy thing to behold, particularly in the “Space Grey” finish. Even the move from a glowing Apple logo on the lid to an unpowered, shiny one - which sounds like a step backwards - enhances the grown-up look of the thing.
New MacBook Pro 15in keyboard and Touch Bar: a dream to use
Open it up and the first thing you notice is the trackpad. It’s absolutely huge. It’s the sort of size you’d expect a full-sized hand scanner to be. In fact, you can fit an entire iPhone 7 Plus in its outline and still have about an inch of spare space on the bottom edge. At about 7.3in on the diagonal, it’s not far off the size of the iPad Mini’s screen. That’s insanely big for a trackpad.
The reason for that huge surface area is that it makes gesture controls a far more viable method of operating your MacBook, and as long as you take some time to learn the gestures and practice them in the early days, you’ll find they become second-nature and extremely useful.
If anything this is an even more delightful typing experience than that offered by the 13in model, despite the keyboards being identical. That’s because on the 15in model your palms rest nicely on the areas to the left and right of the trackpad, rather than straddle the edges of the machine. That little bit of extra comfort goes a long way, although do be prepared to have to deal with sweaty palm prints.
I know that some people struggle with the clackiness and lack of travel in this second-generation butterfly keyboard, but I firmly believe it’s the nicest keyboard available anywhere.
There’s the same, minimal amount of travel here as there is with the 12in MacBook, which was the first laptop to get Apple’s butterfly keys, but improvements to the design make it feel as though there’s more and, combined with that clackiness, makes typing fabulously satisfying. Typos are reduced by the size given to each key and the stability with which each one depresses. I’ve also encountered a good number of people with a natural typing style that produces almost no noise from the keyboard. I’m just not that type of typist - and I don’t want to be. Keep it clacky, folks.
I’ve also grown quite accustomed to the minimal feedback offered by the trackpad at this point, so that it now feels pretty natural to me. I’d say it could still do with a smidge more ‘travel’ (it wouldn’t be actual travel because the feedback is provided by haptics rather than actual movement), but it’s no longer something that bothers me as it did when I first got the MacBook Pro.
MacBook Pro 2016 screen and speakers: sharper, brighter, louder
The screen is also utterly fabulous. The resolution has been bumped up to 2880x1800 to match the extra couple of inches this display has over that of the 13in Pro, and the result is a supremely sharp image.
It’s also been given the same turbo boost in the brightness, contrast and colour departments. The previous Pro’s Retina display was a thing of beauty, and this is even more so. Photos and videos pop like never before, but at the same time the balance is natural and refined.
On top of that, the entire speaker system has been redesigned, and this 15in model benefits from woofers and tweeters that project out of the machine as directly as possible. This is genuine stereo sound that can go loud and project clearly, although a good Bluetooth speaker or headphones will still sound far better.