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MacBook Pro with Touch Bar review: More than a touch overpriced

MacBook Pro with Touch Bar rev...
New Atlas reviews the Apple MacBook Pro (2016) with Touch Bar
New Atlas reviews the Apple MacBook Pro (2016) with Touch Bar
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We handled the space gray, 13-inch, $1,800 variant of the 2016 MacBook Pro
1/11
We handled the space gray, 13-inch, $1,800 variant of the 2016 MacBook Pro
If you're used to the older models, the new MacBook Pro's thinner design is apparent
2/11
If you're used to the older models, the new MacBook Pro's thinner design is apparent
The Touch Bar lighting up with emoji, one of the few perks (right now) to having the strip of screen
3/11
The Touch Bar lighting up with emoji, one of the few perks (right now) to having the strip of screen
In apps that don't yet support the Touch Bar, you just see basic system settings like brightness
4/11
In apps that don't yet support the Touch Bar, you just see basic system settings like brightness
New Atlas reviews the Apple MacBook Pro (2016) with Touch Bar
5/11
New Atlas reviews the Apple MacBook Pro (2016) with Touch Bar
The new MacBook Pro has Touch ID
6/11
The new MacBook Pro has Touch ID
The screen is brighter, with better color range and contrast, than previous MacBook Pros
7/11
The screen is brighter, with better color range and contrast, than previous MacBook Pros
The 46-percent bigger trackpad
8/11
The 46-percent bigger trackpad
Another look at the thin profile of the 2016 MacBook Pro
9/11
Another look at the thin profile of the 2016 MacBook Pro
Four USB-C ports is all you get, meaning there will likely be dongles in your workflow
10/11
Four USB-C ports is all you get, meaning there will likely be dongles in your workflow
Swiping through some emoji options on the new MacBook Pro
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Swiping through some emoji options on the new MacBook Pro

Apple has reinvented the laptop yet again. Or at least that's what the company's marketing will tell you, as it plugs this lighter, thinner, Touch-Bar-ier MacBook Pro for holiday shoppers. But is the new strip of screen a game-changer? And does any of this justify a starting price that's approaching US$2,000? Read on, as New Atlas reviews the new MacBook Pro with Touch Bar.

The new MacBook Pro lineup is an improvement over the last-gen models. They're 13-percent lighter, 17-percent thinner, with a better-looking screen. Add the Touch Bar, a contextual strip of screen sitting above the keyboard, and it also adds a bit more fun.

But when a new product has a $500-higher starting price than the product it's replacing, we have to look at everything through that lens. Is the new MacBook Pro with Touch Bar a nice laptop? You bet. Is it worth $1,800 or more?

I don't think so.

Right now the Touch Bar is little more than a novelty. It's possible that, over time, younger Mac users – those who grew up using mobile devices – will become accustomed to it and find it as natural as using a trackpad and keyboard. Chat apps, or other places where you might use emoji, for example, are a great fit: Tap the smiley-face icon and immediately see the strip light up with smiley, frowny, thumbs-up-y or poopy icons.

And for those worried about the row of Fn keys being gone, have no fear: As soon as you press the Fn button they appear on the Touch Bar.

Swiping through some emoji options on the new MacBook Pro
Swiping through some emoji options on the new MacBook Pro

At this point, though, third-party developer support for the Touch Bar is nowhere near being "there." It's going to take time for contextual actions and shortcuts to pop-up in most or all of the apps you use. In ones where it doesn't, you just see the basic system settings for things like brightness, volume and Siri.

The bigger issue, though, is that the Touch Bar doesn't really add anything to the laptop experience, so much as it moves things from the screen down to this little landing strip. In the apps where Touch Bar use is fully supported (which usually means Apple's own apps, like Safari, TextEdit and Messages), I've yet to see anything pop-up that I couldn't already do another way. Usually just as quickly and easily.

In apps that don't yet support the Touch Bar, you just see basic system settings like brightness
In apps that don't yet support the Touch Bar, you just see basic system settings like brightness

I can't help but think this was a case where Apple looked at its touchy-feely Windows competitors, realized its non-touch MacBooks were looking a bit old-fashioned to younger users, and settled on the Touch Bar as a middle-ground between dated/unappealing-to-millennials and full-on touchscreen (something Apple has consistently sworn against adding to Macs).

And, on a usability level, I have no problem with this compromise. The problem is that it makes for an $1,800 and up laptop.

Also consider that history tells us Touch-Bar-equipped MacBook Pros will very likely see a price drop within one to three generations. If or when that price drop comes – at which point there will also be better developer support – we'll be happy to revisit the significance of the Touch Bar. Right now, though, the early-adopter tax Apple has slapped on here brands it as more gimmick than anything. It's a gimmick through financial context more than by functionality.

The new MacBook Pro has Touch ID
The new MacBook Pro has Touch ID

One nice perk that goes along with the Touch Bar is Apple's fingerprint sensor, Touch ID, making its way to the Mac for the first time.

It's nice not having to type passwords, but I've also experienced an intermittent bug where it often doesn't give me the option of using Touch ID to log in. There I am, typing my password, just as I could do on much cheaper, nearly-as-capable MacBooks.

Another look at the thin profile of the 2016 MacBook Pro
Another look at the thin profile of the 2016 MacBook Pro

In other areas, our impressions from the cheaper non-Touch-Bar model still hold. The lighter/thinner design is a nice step forward for the MacBook Pro lineup, with shades of the 12-inch MacBook combined with healthier horsepower (though its battery life hasn't improved; we may have preferred a middle-ground with longer uptimes and a bit more thickness/heaviness).

Its screen has better brightness, color range and contrast than the last-gen MacBook Pros. And its trackpad is 46-percent bigger than the ones on the old MacBooks: an unnecessary change, as the others were already large, but not one to warrant any complaints.

The port situation is going to annoy some old-school laptop users, and make us all question how hard today's Apple execs have to try to stifle a laugh when they use the word "Pro." This model has four USB-C ports, period. That's its entire port situation. One is used for charging (though that means you can now charge on either side of the device, a nice touch), and the others will be used – likely with adapters – for everything else.

Four USB-C ports is all you get, meaning there will likely be dongles in your workflow
Four USB-C ports is all you get, meaning there will likely be dongles in your workflow

We get it, Apple. You believe you're on a holy mission to push us mindless lemmings into the future. And sometimes we lemmings don't know what's best for our future lemming-selves. You do, and so you take away our beloved past technology standards so we can eventually look back and thank you for giving us that tough-love nudge we needed back in the old days of 2016 (remember that crazy election? Wow!).

But the fact is, right now if you buy this machine you're likely to need to lug around a bunch of dongles everywhere you take it. In the name of supposedly creating a cleaner, simpler-looking MacBook-future, Apple sure is adding a lot of clunky complexity to the MacBook-present (and let's not forget, this is $1,800+ clunky complexity).

The screen is brighter, with better color range and contrast, than previous MacBook Pros
The screen is brighter, with better color range and contrast, than previous MacBook Pros

What it adds up to is a laptop that feels more like an attempt to look cool and innovative than to truly serve the professional crowd. Looking cool and being innovative are two qualities that have served Apple very, very well through the years. But I can't help but think that this one is more grasping at straws than truly changing anything.

The new 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar is available now, starting at $1,800 for this model that has a Core i5 processor, 256 GB storage and 8 GB RAM.

Product page: Apple

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8 comments
christopher
You should mention build quality: I purchased the first ever macbook retina and I have had the have the screen replaced 3 times and the SD-Slot motherboard replaced. I bought a spare power adapter, and both that and the original de-laminated and became a plastic-shedding dangerous mess, which Apple point-blank refuse to replace. They have a well-oiled warranty refusal gig going on in their stores, complete with pamphlets they give you telling you to go away and complain to the government - obviously they worked out it's cheaper to let customers find out that Apple are within their rights to refuse to help you when their shoddy materials begin to make their products unusable. Me and my family own a total of 8 macbooks now (3 Pros, 5 Airs) and every single one has keyboard scratching on the display (they all touch the keys when closed, and this physically blemishes the screen). 5 of those Macs have display "de-lamination" problems (the glue below the upper layer of glass oxidizes and spreads cancerous blemish right over the display) which does not start to show until just after warranty runs out (I got apple-care for the retina, but they only fix this problem 1 time). These are not just expensive - they do not last very long either!
exodous
I wish I could afford apple, but I can't. I just ordered a notebook that beats this in every aspect for just over $1,000, so $800 less and I get more. I went with System76 and I hear the support is phenomenal like I remember Apple being when I owned the last G4 based apple book they put out. I used to like OSX since I'm a Linux user and they are both unix based but the OS isn't worth the extra price. In the end I'd pay for a aluminum notebook to wipe the OS and install Linux and that isn't worth $800 for me.
AppleUser
Without Steve Jobs - Apple is loosing it's way? My Mac Book Pro with 16G Ram, DVD writer and 1TB hard drive will have to last until Apple wakes up. Jobs had the vision to know what we needed before we knew - current management at Apple doesn't have a clue. Quality control is also slipping - with the latest iOS, the alarm on my iPhone is no longer reliable. Steve Jobs had standards - perhaps hard to work for but standards existed which gave us products that worked - that we could trust. Too bad that Musk doesn't have time to takeover one more company!
englishfil
What Apple has produced is the MacBook Air+. What the pros wanted has not materialized because Apple did not know/care to ask them. I hope for Apple's sake that it takes on-board and addresses at least some of the criticism; if not, a lot of engineering/technologist/scientist/creative/spook types will be jumping ship when their current MBPs come up for renewal. The new model could have had a single 'legacy' USB-A/3.0 port (you know the one people need day-in/ day-out), an SD card slot (for cameras, 3D printers, scanners usw.) and a magsafe-type USB-C power cable. If it had all those things people would easily stomach the price hike and the 'adjustment' to the 'touch-bar'. As it is, the new Pro model suits coffee-shop poseurs, who need no connectivity beyond free wi-fi, and the deskbound who probably should have saved money and bought an iMac.
Lbrewer42
JObs being gone has certainly done to Apple what it did the first time he was no linger part of the team. Then he came back and picked Apple up from drowining in the sea of the much inferior Microsoft Kool-aid craze. At least Microsoft has been forced to become a lot more reliable in the last decade. But, as always, their concept of simplicity is to make things take many more steps than before. And now Apple is again following suit. Sad, very sad. I hope we don;t have to go back into the Dark Ages of Microsoft being the "cutting edge." This from a former Amiga user who spent years of misery on the incredibly less advanced computer platforms of Microsoft and then Apple that were the only alternative when Amiga killed itself.
Siyuan Xing
The fact that they put so much effort to perfect something that is so gimmick is just sad. They have got too much money and people yet do not know what to do for the next step. This is the sign of an apple that is going downhill...
Gabor
I dunno... I hear the comments below (screen mess, and USB-c), but that screen thingy was a big issue with my vintage MacBookPro (Late-2011-ish). I switch between new Windows laptops, and my (bought used 18 months ago) MBP-Pro, and MBP wins every time. Still as good as new, runs latest OS + software (mostly), and my only complaints are it uses USB2, and Bluetooth 2.1. Guess I cant blame Apple for that, as today's tech had not been invented back then :-). In my view, it works so well, and looks so good, that it is a joy to use, daily. Windos machine(s) are mostly collecting dust (VMWare Fusion runs windows when needed). Whole family has converted, and would not switch back to Windows. Apple just works. Not annoying. (Really) well integrated (hardware, software and features), and similarly, once yu use the trackpad for a bit, a mouse just does not cut it. As for price, that $1800 MBP in the article can be sold for probably $800 in a few years, whereas the $1000 Windows system will be simply recycled. So which one is really less expensive? Apple wants their money, no question, and repars / warranties can be a pain (my iTouch battery replacement was no fun), but overall, I am very happy. If my current system got run over by a truck (and it did not work anymore...), I would look around for the previous MBP with the connectors I need (USB-3, SD, etc.). Not liking the power -> USB-C as the breakaway cable has saved me a few times already. Apologies it is not specifically about the new MBP, but neither was the screen staining, etc., mentioned above. Cheers,
StanCratcha
Not everyone (including many professionals), uses a bunch of attachments with their laptops. Personally, I very rarely find myself using any peripheral with mine. I can understand the inconvenience for some, but I would rather have a machine that is set up for the future, than one with outdated, useless ports in 2 years.