Late 2016 MacBook Pro with Touch Bar User Review

Introduction

I have been using the late 2016 15″ MacBook Pro with Touch Bar for about 2 months now, so I have a reasonable grasp of what there is to like and not like about the new MacBook Pro with Touch Bar. In this review I will highlight the key user experience aspects of the new MacBook Pro, thus no technical specs, etc. will be discussed – you can find these on Apple’s website.

Design

Arguably the biggest change is the new design, and by design, I do not merely mean the replacement of the row of Function Keys with a new swanky-looking Touch Bar.

A lot of subtle changes has been made in the new MacBook Pro, I will go through them individually below (in no particular order).

General Aesthetics

Figure 1. 2016 MacBook Pro sitting on top of 2012 MacBook Pro.

Before one even sees the Touch Bar, the first striking difference one would notice is the new colour option of Space Gray (obviously, only for those who have chosen the Space Gray option).

Next is the port configuration of just 4 USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports. 2 on each side of the machine. Oh and let’s not forget about the standard 3.5mm headphone jack that is poorly placed behind the USB-C ports (i.e. on the side further away from the user) on the right side of the machine.

Finally there is a couple of minor changes that one would not normally notice. The Apple logo is no longer illuminated and the new MacBook Pro is smaller, thinner and is approximately 200 grammes lighter than its predecessor.

Touch Bar

Figure 3. Close up of new Touch Bar.

The most talked about and hyped feature of the new MacBook Pro.

Apple labels it a ‘touch of genius’. To me, it is an annoying gimmick. The only thing I use on the Touch Bar is the Touch ID – which is not exactly a part of the Touch Bar.

As I work in an open office, the Touch ID is indespensible. I have all my passwords saved on LastPass and Keychain, so the only protection I have is the system password. Thus, not having to constantly enter my system password into the machine (as one would do everytime they walk away from their machines), helps me dramatically reduce the risk of someone picking up my system password.

Going back to the actual Touch Bar itself. I have nothing good to say about it. It is an ill-conceived idea (Steve Jobs would have axed it as soon as he saw it).

Screen Bezel

Figure 4. Close up of the two MacBook Pros screen bezel.

The screen bezels have been shrunk (my guess is to decrease the overall size of the machine, not much else they can reduce).

I like the idea of a smaller, more compact machine. However, I believe they have over shrunk the new MacBook Pro. The new MacBook Pro feels a bit tight. I feel the ‘breathing space’ for resting my palms is now gone.

Track Pad

Figure 5. Close up of the two MacBook Pros base layout.

Still using a 2012 Retina MacBook Pro at home, I really liked the new Force-Touch enabled Track Pad on the new MacBook Pro. It is so much quieter and I can press anywhere on the Track Pad.

The one and only complaint and change Apple made to the Track Pad in the new MacBook Pro is its size.

As I mentioned above, I like to have some ‘breathing space’ to rest my palms. But with the magnitude of the size increase of the Track Pad, a new issue is presented – and no, I am not referring to accidental Track Pad presses, which by the way has not happened at all so far.

The new issue is one’s palm no longer rests on a flat even surface. It now rests on an uneven surface and can feel uncomfortable after a period of time.

Keyboard

Figure 2. Default view of MacBook Pro Touch Bar.

Apple’s new Butterfly 2 keyboard found in the new MacBook Pro may look nice and provide for thinner machines. But as a keyboard, it is horrendous. I feel so strongly about this, that I would go as far as to say: Apple took the best keyboard in the world, their existing keyboard, and turned it into the worse.

The Butterfly 2 keyboard suffers from the same ‘compression’ issues I talked about in the above two sections. The Butterfly 2 keyboard neglects the basic design principle of providing enough ‘breathing space’.

Sure they increased the size of the keys – but who complained about the size of the keys in the previous keyboard? The size of keys in the previous keyboard was perfect.

To accomodate the larger-sized keys, they reduced the spacing between the keys themselves. This has caused me to constantly mistake pressing the right shift key for the up arrow key.

Finally, the flat design provides an awkward feel and is much more louder than the previous keyboard.

Ports

After reading all the negative talk about USB-C dongles. I was skeptical of the dramatic change to only have USB-C ports on the new MacBook Pro.

Like the majority of people out there, I have ZERO USB-C devices (thus zero USB-C cables) and the bulk of my devices are USB-A. I would need to buy many adapters and/or cables (and so I thought). However, after using the new MacBook Pro for a bit over a week, I realised, I did not need to buy a ton of adapters and/or cables. All I needed was a single dongle/dock.

Sure. One needs to fork out a bit for a dongle/dock. But with the ultra fast speed of USB-C and power delivery capability, it means, all one needs is just a single connection between the new MacBook Pro and the dongle/dock. That’s ultra convenient for those who like to move around with their MacBook Pros and the main reason we buy MacBook Pros is for its portability – right?

Now, I am totally pro USB-C. Though, I must say, I would have liked Apple to have kept the SD card slot or at least replaced it with a microSD card reader (hopefully they will add one in as part of the 2017 refresh).

3.5mm headphone jack – who can forget about the little guy Apple removed from their iPhone 7 range of devices.

If you had been following the rumours, you would have read a few weeks before the official announcement, Apple had sent surveys out to professionals asking if they needed a 3.5mm headphone jack in their MacBook Pros.

I guess the answer was an overwhelming yes. And as proof of this survey taking place, there can be no better proof than the awkward placement of the 3.5mm headphone jack. It is placed behind the USB-C ports on the right hand side, far away from the user. Like a last minute addition (which I am sure it was!).

Terrible placement. But at least there is one, I guess.

Performance

As the new MacBook Pro is provided by my work. I have not tried out gaming on it and so cannot say how much better gaming-wise is on the new MacBook Pro vs my 2012 Retina MacBook Pro.

For general/work usage such as browsing the web, viewing/editing documents, running design software such as adobe’s creative suite, and various development IDEs such as Visual Studio Code and Xcode. There is a tiny speed improvement, but not significant enough for one to really notice.

The main difference I see between my 2012 Retina MacBook Pro and new MacBook Pro is the heat coming from the machine.

My 2012 Retina MacBook Pro gets warm under normal conditions (because I have set the machine to always use the discrete graphics card) and burning hot when under heavy load (like when I am playing games).

The new MacBook Pro (also with machine set to always use discrete graphics card) runs cool under normal conditions, but will only get warm when I have it under heavy load. I have yet to experience the new MacBook Pro running burning hot.

Build Quality

There not much to say about the build quality. Top notch as expected of a premium product from Apple.

Conclusion

Steve Jobs absence has undoubtedly had a massive impact on the new MacBook Pro. The majority of issues I have highlighted are user experience issues that would have been picked up by Steve Jobs. My guess is they have either not found a new replacement (for the UX role) or someone with the balls to stand up to the heavy weight Jonathan ‘Jony’ Ives. Until they find someone like that, the user experience of ALL future Apple products would degrade gradually over time.

If you are on the market for a new MacBook Pro. You have no choice but to put up with these annoying quirks.

If you had a choice between the MacBook Pro with Touch Bar vs MacBook Pro with Function Keys, my recommendation is to get the model with the Touch Bar. It is more future-proof and the convenience of having Touch ID alone is sufficient reason.

But if you are not tied into the MacOS ecosystem, my recommendation is to take a look at the Surface Book range. Hopefully Microsoft will release a 15″ model soon, 13″ is just too small for professionals.