One week with the new MacBook Pro (Touch Bar)

The new MacBook Pro; we waited a long time for it. It was long overdue and some people were even predicting it would not be until Spring 2017 for the new Mac to arrive. Others were already looking for alternatives like the Dell XPS or Microsoft Surface. I picked mine up on December 31st.

This was my first week with it and it was awesome.

The MacBook Pro received lots of negative attention

Even after Apple revealed the new machine people were sceptical (including me) and/or actually disappointed (not me). Delivery times were high; I had to wait almost two months. It was not going to be in time for the Holidays. Specs seemed low, or at least not high enough according to some to justify the ‘Pro’ aspect. Then there was an upgradeability of almost ‘zero’ as iFixit showed in their teardown review. Some assumed a lack of innovation. The Touch Bar was just a gimmick. Trackpad too big. RIP MagSafe. USB-C only(!?) and no way to connect their new iPhone7. #DONGLELIFE. Thank god, there is still a headphone jack.

However, what stood out was the high starting price and the reports that were coming in on horrendous battery performance. 3–4 hours max whilst others reported no issues at all. Weird. But the sheer amount of users complaining that their new MacBook Pro never reached the ‘promised’ 8–10hrs under normal usage were a sign of something being wrong. Or at least different from other MacBook introductions. Oh, and the 2nd gen Butterfly keys were supposed to be a bit better than the MacBook keyboard, but still ‘awful’. Like you will read below, some of the criticism is true, but others… well.

I was in the market for the 13″ MacBook Pro

The 13″ was the one I wanted because of the portability and the fact I am almost always hooking it up to an external display anyway. I got the 256GB base-model and upgraded to the 16GB RAM. I plan on using this device for the coming 4–5 years and was in doubt 8GB would suffice. The MacBook Pro is used both at work and as my main home Mac (Besides my wive’s ’15 13″ rMBP).

As a Product Owner / Webmanager I use the Mac in several different ways. From — casual — browsing and emailing, to spreadsheets, photo-editing, UX-design (Sketch) and a little HTML/CSS here and then. Nothing that will be quite heavy on this Mac. No movie-editing, VMs, or web-development etc. For now, the 8GB is plenty, but I don’t really know if it will be enough in 2–3 years. And as this Mac cannot be upgraded in RAM: 16GB it is.

Color: Space-Grey. Just because it looks super nice.

Design

It looks stunning. They managed to cram everything in an even smaller body and this still amazes me. Of course, this is nothing new if you are familiar with Apple’s attention to detail and what the Mac feels like. It is — really noticeably — smaller than the previous 13″ models. I have had colleagues asking what size it was and could not believe it was the 13″. Construction quality is an absolute 10/10.

I know this will sound ridiculous but when I open the new tbMBP en put aside the ‘older’ 2015 model rMBP the latter really does look ‘old’. I know it is stupid, but for some reason the keyboard looks more clunky, and the bezel looks so much thicker. Even considering the new MBP has speakers on the side; it still seems smaller. Maybe it’s the color too, I don’t know. But perhaps I am just being weird…

The hinge is I my favorite part together with the large trackpad. The display moves smoothly (lighter?) but it feels way more ‘fixed’ or tighter as I remember my old MBA did. As for the trackpad: amazing palm detection. I tend to lay my palms on the trackpad a lot while typing and it has never interfered with what I was doing at that moment.

The display and its colours are beautiful. 60% of screen brightness is typically enough for me during the day. At night I have f.lux installed if I am not doing any photo-editing.

Ports

4 USB-C ports? Don’t really care actually. I bought two super cheap USB-A to USB-C adapters on AliExpress and they work just fine. I don’t need a card-reader as I connect my DSLR via USB-A for which I can use the above-mentioned dongle now. The only thing I do need is a Thunderbolt-adapter. Which will set me back another 35€.

Headphone jack? Check. Good it’s still there. But I’ll receive my AirPods in the next 3 weeks though. So I guess I won’t be using it much anymore then.

I was a bit confused about taking away the MagSafe (not really a port I know, but still) but I could not remember ever being saved by it. I know: If it only saves you 1 time MagSafe has proven it’s usefulness. MagSafe was a nice and smart addition. And I can imagine others being truly grateful for all the times it prevented their MacBooks from losing the battle with gravity. The fact I can now use any port to charge the MacBook is more valuable to me.

Input

The Trackpad is huge! Which I find really great. I got used to it pretty quickly as I owned the 2nd gen Magic Trackpad before and I think it is almost the same size?

The Keyboard: I use the keyboard a lot and I have not had any problems adapting the new 2nd gen Butterfly keys. True, it does feel different and the key-travel is way less than I was used to. I think it’s simply a matter of getting used to. Some users are reporting they absolutely hate the new keyboard. Or they are experiencing a burden on their hands and forearms. Luckily, not me. They keys feel tactile and stable and I find it a joy to type on.

Now for the Touch Bar: I can see the huge potential, however at the moment it is not fully used. This of course depends on what developers are going to do with their apps. I have BetterTouchTool installed and have customised a couple triggers together with Alfred (I will deep-dive into this in another post). The display of the Touch Bar is well designed and crystal clear. The buttons look like real buttons and are perfectly viewable from the ‘typing-angle’. For now the Touch Bar does have some inconsistencies and bugs and I find it frustrating not all stock-apps take advantage of it (yet). But again, I expect once devs are starting to update their apps we will start seeing more options and possibilities. If you want to you can customise the Touch Bar on a per-app basis. Per-app customisation will take up some time, but customising it is probably better than some of the useless default solutions.

Performance & Battery

Performance-wise everything is a breeze. This is obviously the joy of a having new machine and everything feels new and speedy. So let’s see how this evolves in the coming months.

I must admit I was pretty nervous about the battery life. When I read into it a bit and was prepared for ‘bad battery life’ in the first few days. This due to Spotlight-indexing and the fact that I was installing several apps and setting up the new Mac. As this isn’t normal usage therefore I was prepared for the worst. Because Apple removed the battery life indicator I used iStat Menus to display the time left.

The first day I charged it fully and I got an easy 7–8 hours. Mind you: this is a day of pretty heavy usage due to installing and setting up etc.

The second day was even better but it was Sunday and not a normal usage day.

On Monday I got to bring it to the office for the first time. Fully charged of course. I can say this was a typical day at the office and when I left at around 530pm it said I still had about 1.5 hours left. At some time the indicator even said 14 (!) hours left.

The indication obviously depends on what apps are open, screen brightness, background apps, usage, (bluetooth) peripherals etc etc. but it still gave me a fair impression.

Everyday after that I always left the office with enough battery life to open up the Mac at home again and use it for a couple more hours.

This resulted in the following:

I am not bringing my charger to work any longer… This is something truly new to me. I don’t need it. And this is also why I think Apple removed the MagSafe adapter. It is no longer necessary to charge your MacBook Pro during the day (again, under normal usage). This laptop will easily last your day in school/college/work. If you do need to charge your MacBook you probably have a docking station or other more ‘tucked away’ solution to make sure no one is tripping on your cable and dropping your Mac. I think Apple’s idea with the MacBook Pro is like with your mobile devices: you charge it during the night/at home and in the morning you unplug it and use it all day. That simple, and no need to bring your charger.

I guess this is also why they changed the design of the charger. They have removed the two little pins which you could use to wrap your cable around. No longer necessary as your are not bringing the charger with you everywhere.

In the end: RIP MagSafe. You were a valuable addition to the MacBook, one that truly showed Apple’s ingenuity. But you can rest now, your job’s done.

Price & Wrap-up

But is still friggin’ expensive. Or is it? In Europe the MacBook Pro I got will set you back a mere €2300. That feels expensive and it is. However, people do tend to easily forget that the same-spec’d 2015 rMBP used to cost about the same. Hence: entry-level HD space has gone up from 128GB to 256GB SSD. Apple upped the entry-level, which is still a bit of a shame, but they do provide other/cheaper options like the MacBook and the MBP which will replace the MacBook Air. It is still a lot of money, but as I plan to use it for 4–5 years I think it is definitely worth it.

So. Yes it took a long time before they announced (and delivered) the new MacBook Pro. And no, it has not come with a 32GB RAM option (do you really need that, I mean REALLY?). No, it hasn’t got the latest Intel chips, but this is a good thing ’cause Intel was too late with its development. No, there is no way to upgrade your Mac so you better choose wisely. The Touch bar is certainly no gimmick, but time will tell and reveal its true potential. Trackpad is not too big (it’s perfect actually) and the keyboard is a joy to type on. Yes, RIP MagSafe, but it was time. USB-C: fine with it. Price: expensive? Yes. Worth it? Double yes. Battery-life-gate? No problems here (thank god).

All in all my first week with the new ’16 MacBook Pro (Touch Bar) was awesome.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact me.

(EDIT: I might update in about a month or two if I find things have changed.)

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Originally published at carlobloks.nl on January 8, 2017.