Review: New MacBook Pro Is A Bold Step Into Familiar Territory

Review: New MacBook Pro Is A Bold Step Into Familiar Territory
8.1Overall Score
Design9
Performance8.1
Value7.3

As painfully cliche as it might be, both to read and to write, the new MacBook Pro really is Apple’s “best MacBook Pro ever”. That doesn’t mean it’s perfect, but it does make it a bit tricky to review. After all, it’s far from unimpressive that Apple’s 2017 offering continues to live up to this pedigree – but its not exactly surprising either.

As we noted in our review of the new iPad Pro, there’s something to be said for a company that holds true to the idea of not trying to fix something that isn’t broken. Sure, the company’s history of innovation has to come with a bunch of asterisks, footnotes, caveats, terms and conditions but, then again, that’s not super-uncommon within the tech world. Nevertheless, their ability to hone in and successfully iterate on what matters to their core audience has birthed both a fearsome reputation and a sometimes-fanatical following.

Even if the improvements offered by each new successive MacBook aren’t equal in their meaningfulness, they are still significant enough that they mostly live up the claim that this new laptop is the “best” MacBook ever.

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Of course, if this is Apple’s “best” MacBook Pro yet, it’s equally fair to say the pitch for the notebook is their “most” MacBook Pro yet.

If you were worried Apple’s ongoing quest to make each new version of their product thinner than what’s come before had run into trouble, then worry not. The new MacBook Pro – available in both 13.3-inch and 15-inch varieties – manages to be both thinner and lighter than it’s predecessors.

The unit we reviewed was the 13.3-inch model – which is 18% thinner and 23% lighter in volume than the company’s previous iteration. In comparison, the 15-inch model boasts similar gains of 14% in thickness.

Having not used a MacBook for four or five years, I found the gains in form-factor quite striking. It’s difficult to imagine a laptop any sleeker than this. Even if that’s a quality nothing new for Apple, the polished curves and smooth surfaces that define the company’s sense of product design here haven’t lost their charm.

In terms of the specs, the new MacBook Pro comes with an Intel-made i5 2.3GHz dual-core processor, 8GB of RAM and your choice of 256GB, 512GB or 1TB SSD. The processor and RAM on both the Touch Bar and non-Touch Bar models is pretty configurable too. Though such upgrades don’t come cheap, it is to pretty much part-and-parcel with the brand at this point.

Still, it’s hard to complain too much given the performance afforded. Things move mighty fast on the MacBook Pro’s 13.3-inch (2560×1600) 227ppi IPS display. And while it’s not exactly 4K, there’s also not any 4K content available through the iTunes Store – so it’s hard to get too worked up about the exclusion. On the bright side, it does come with support for the P3 color gamut and pack in a brilliant 500-nits.

Unfortunately, and as always, there are a few caveats. It only takes a few moments with the notebook to notice one of its biggest drawbacks: an absence of conventional ports. The MacBook Pro features a single 3.5mm headphone jack (presumably, Apple didn’t have the ‘courage’ to get rid of it) and four USB-C ports. That’s it. Not a single USB in sight, nor any sort of video output. While Apple have been moving in this direction with the MacBook Pro for a few years, it still still stung a little.

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If even the idea of working on a PC with these limitations bugs you, let me assure you, the reality is not much better. Sure, there are plenty of adapters out there and the absence of traditional ports is far from insurmountable but it’s still a significant cost to pay in the pursuit of thinness.

Essentially, Apple are making the argument here that in order to have the most convenient device to carry – you need to rule out using the most convenient data storage standard on the market. Again, this was known well in advance, but it still proved a real pain-point for me.

Thankfully for Apple, there’s a good chance that the converted won’t mind as much. This year’s “Best MacBook Ever” is nothing if not a case of preaching to the choir. There is, of course, one key exception to this. The Touch Bar.

Introduced in last year’s MacBooks, the new Touch Bar is a small 2170×60 rectangular microdisplay that sits above the keyboard. Though your mileage with this feature is absolutely going to vary – based on both the apps you use and your own ability to adapt to make use of it – I found it really useful for juggling between tabs within my web browser and changing the volume on the MacBook’s speakers. I found it a little less intuitive when it came to using the Touch Bar to auto-fill text boxes. Again, my gut feeling is that your mileage is going to vary. Regardless, there’s a charm and potential to the feature that stuck with me from the moment I first started playing with it.

Conclusion

Apple have been making MacBook for a long time. It probably shouldn’t surprise anyone that the company know what they’re doing with the product in 2017. More to the point, they know who they’re making the MacBook Pro for. They know what features matter, what features don’t  and how best to sculpt and mould the latest refinement of their flagship formula to the whims of the modern Mac user.

While this year’s MacBook Pro didn’t invent the Touch Bar, it does cement it. With that in mind, you have to hand it to Apple. Sure, it still sits on the expensive side and carries along all the usual limitations and is hardly going to convert the skeptics – but it’s still clearly the “best” MacBook ever.

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