Laptops

First look: New MacBook Pro without Touch Bar could be a solid upgrade

First look: New MacBook Pro wi...
New Atlas takes a first look at the entry-level 2016 MacBook Pro, which drops the Touch Bar but has more sensible pricing (relatively speaking)
New Atlas takes a first look at the entry-level 2016 MacBook Pro, which drops the Touch Bar but has more sensible pricing (relatively speaking)
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New Atlas takes a first look at the entry-level 2016 MacBook Pro, which drops the Touch Bar but has more sensible pricing (relatively speaking)
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New Atlas takes a first look at the entry-level 2016 MacBook Pro, which drops the Touch Bar but has more sensible pricing (relatively speaking)
The aluminum unibody design points back to the 12-inch MacBook
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The aluminum unibody design points back to the 12-inch MacBook
This is a great balance of power and  portability
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This is a great balance of power and  portability
The new models are 17 percent thinner than last-gen MacBook Pros
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The new models are 17 percent thinner than last-gen MacBook Pros
The trackpad gets 46 percent bigger this time around: It's huge
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The trackpad gets 46 percent bigger this time around: It's huge
2016 MacBook Pro, entry-level, 13"
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2016 MacBook Pro, entry-level, 13"

There's one 2016 MacBook Pro feature you're going to hear a lot about for the foreseeable future: the Touch Bar, an iPhone-like touchscreen strip that replaces the Fn keys, living just north of the keyboard. But if you don't want to fork over US$1,800 or more for another post-Steve Jobs Apple attempt at creating the future, the company also has a cheaper variant of the new Pro that skips the touch-strip but keeps most of the other upgrades. We have that entry-level 13-inch MacBook, sans Touch Bar, in house, along with some early impressions.

After ripping off the plastic and unsheathing the 2016 MacBook Pro from its packaging, my very first thought? This is a close relative of the 12-inch MacBook. The keys look the same (and feel nearly the same), the overall design language is very similar and, while it doesn't quite hit the light/thin extremes of the smaller MacBook, its overall footprint has moved far in that direction. If you liked the 12-inch model but wished it had a bigger screen and packed more punch, this is your notebook.

The smaller size won't only feel better in a backpack, it makes the new models a pleasure to use on lap. MacBook Air owners take note: This may be the new Ultimate Writing Machine.

One unfortunate trait it shares with the 12-inch MacBook is port selection. The Touch Bar version of the new MacBook Pro has four USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports, but this entry-level model only has two (the 12-incher has just one). And since both ports are on this laptop's left side, you also miss out on the neat charge-on-either-side characteristic of the Touch Bar models.

The trackpad gets 46 percent bigger this time around: It's huge
The trackpad gets 46 percent bigger this time around: It's huge

The trackpad's feel stays the same – still glass, still Force Touch – but it's now 46 percent bigger than the one on the older MacBooks. This thing is humongous, perhaps unnecessarily so: Maybe it's just habit from years of using the last-gen trackpads (which I thought were already large), but so far my fingers haven't come close to needing this much area. Not a bad problem, though, to have.

The screen pops. Display resolution stands pat from the last-gen MacBook Pro, but gets better in other areas, like color gamut, contrast and brightness (for the first time, I prefer to leave a plugged-in MacBook's brightness set at less than 100 percent). There was absolutely nothing wrong with the old MBP displays, but jumping from old to new you do see the difference.

This is a great balance of power and  portability
This is a great balance of power and  portability

Considering the Touch Bar doesn't really add anything (besides a fingerprint sensor) so much as it moves things from the main screen to this little multitouch strip, I'm skeptical about how much I'll care about it in the short-term. Maybe after a few years of developer support, it will become an essential Mac feature, but right now I'd be surprised if I thought it warranted an $1,800 starting price (but we'll keep an open mind when we review that model).

Assuming Touch Bar is indeed something less than essential on Day One, though, that makes this entry-level model the more manageable balance of progress and price.

The aluminum unibody design points back to the 12-inch MacBook
The aluminum unibody design points back to the 12-inch MacBook

The big annoyance is that Apple cut the USB-C port-count down to two: It's as if the company wanted to make the upsell to the more expensive Touch Bar models that much more tempting (a cheap sales tactic Apple employs more and more these days – see storage configurations on iPhones and iPads, as well as the Jet Black iPhone 7 models that only ship in higher storage tiers). It's hard to see two extra USB-C ports straining the budget of a $1,500 laptop, for crying out loud.

If you can live with the scant port situation, though, this model is worth buying over one of the last-gen MacBook Pros (which you can still get). Yes, this one starts at $200 more expensive, but it also gives you 256 GB storage; last year's 256 GB base model also rang up for $1,500, so technically there's no hike there.

The new models are 17 percent thinner than last-gen MacBook Pros
The new models are 17 percent thinner than last-gen MacBook Pros

This model's sales pitch, rather than the Touch Bar, is ultra-portability coming to the MacBook Pro lineup for the first time. Consider the better screen, bigger trackpad and newer/faster processors to be added bonuses. As for the two measly USB-C ports, I see that as a sign that today's Apple often forgets the true meaning of "Pro," a flaw that may or may not be forgivable depending on how you use it.

The new 13-inch MacBook Pro without Touch Bar costs $1,500 and is available now. Touch Bar models, which we'll review in November, start at $1,800.

Product page: Apple

10 comments
Rann Xeroxx
About the only thing that Macs really have going for them is that they are the only computers that run Mac OS. Its a boon to Apple but also a anchor as it also means Mac OS can't be run in a VDI which means lack of adoption in the enterprise and on new cloud solutions like AWS workstations. My company runs hundreds of Windows client VDIs and Terminal Server sessions.
ec5bef1eb7234d96ab8bd5d13ab93871
"for the first time, I prefer to leave a plugged-in MacBook's brightness set at less than 100 percent" Goodness gracious, time to take off the Dan Akroyd sunnies, mate
swaan
It has two Thunderbolt 3 (USB Type-C) ports because it has a single Thunderbolt controller, the other models have two controllers. While I don't fancy carrying around a USB adapter there are luckily more and more USB Type-C docks and adapters - some with HDMI, SD card and regular USB 3.0 ports can be had for less than 50$. Also with USB Type-C you can use non-Apple chargers: 12V car charging, power banks and other Type-C laptop chargers and I think thats great.
Njall
Given the fact that one can't even plug lightning based earphones into this I have a one word criticism of the review. Shill
Island Architect
Will, your comment: "The smaller size won't only feel better in a backpack, it makes the new models a pleasure to use on lap. MacBook Air owners take note: This may be the new Ultimate Writing Machine." May well be exceptionally insightful... at some point in time a hammer becomes a hammer, perhaps with a rubber handgrip and it completes a functionality cycle. Steve has brought us some wonderful things and it sure was stunning to read from another source that Apple is a huge supplier to Microsoft and that they are using Apple computers. Being a CAD and Art oriented guy, it appears that Microsoft is heading in that direction so with Parallels I am able to capture both environments which also provides redundancy which can come in very handy. So we continue to see refinements and improvements but it would appear that with over a million Apps Steve's mission in innovation sure has brought us some wonderful things. And while many platforms only work in the Windows Environment Bill isn't dead and continues to contribute.
Nicolas Zart
So long Apple. Thanks for a nice past decade. Onward now with Linux for me. I'll avoid closed eco-systems from now on. Perhaps if one day you reintroduce what won me over, no cheap upgrade tricks, the quality you had a decade ago, and most importantly, start treating your computer users as well as you treat your wearable and iPhone/Pod/Pad, then I will consider it again. Unfortunately my upgrade cycle is now and nothing much woes me over from you these days :(
noteugene
Easy enough to tell Gizmag is an Apple shill. They rave on about all Apple products. It's kind of disappointing that they can't be more objective. Apple is no where the innovative company it used to be. All improvements are anemic & they don't give a crap about their customers. They are losing ground a little each year. Can anyone say corpse?
oldguy
I wish I didnt have to agree. Apple seems to be losing ground. The operating system is excellent and the computers are very good. But people are more and more willing to put up with the inconvenience of Windows and its 'pasted on billboard' of an operating system because the computers are cheaper and there are so many peripherals that just work with them. Added to that, it seems that Apple is just playing around with the number of USB ports and charging ports etc. I love my apple Mac Pro, but im getting tired of being bullied by the folks at Apple HQ
JimFox
Top of the range slim aluminium laptops from ASUS and others cost not a lot less than the Apple equivalent, IMO. Come resale time, the price difference [TCO] is negligible, or in Apple's favour. Anyway, all these wonderful Windows products are STILL copies of Apple...