MacBook Pro reviews roundup: Promising, not groundbreaking

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Here's what the reviewers say.
Photo: Apple

Reviews are out for Apple’s controversial new MacBook Pro, which adds innovations like the Touch Bar but ditches a variety of ports in favor of USB-C (and adds a hefty price tag to boot).

So what do the early reviews make of Apple’s new pro laptop? In a nutshell, that it’s futuristic, but maybe not an entirely successful device for present-day users. Check out some of the pros and cons of the laptop’s most talked-about features below.

How magic is the Touch Bar?

The simply named Touch Bar is the most immediately recognizable innovation with Apple’s new MacBook Pro, but how useful is it actually?

“I find it most useful for inserting emojis, scrubbing through videos and music and changing font color,” writes Joanna Stern in The Wall Street Journal. “Otherwise, I can accomplish many shortcuts faster with the keyboard or trackpad.”

The Verge‘s review by Jacob Kastrenakes suggests that, like the 3D Touch feature Apple’s been playing with for a while now, this is an innovation that’s going to be subject to plenty of A/B testing to get it right.

“It’s clear … that Apple has quite a few ideas about how the Touch Bar can be used, from simple buttons to complex touchscreen controls,” he writes. “Some of those ideas work, but quite a few of them do not…. There really is a lot of good stuff here. But for every smart use of the Touch Bar, there’s another that’s too complicated or entirely meaningless.”

Walt Mossberg describes the Touch Bar as having “potential, but it’s not magic.” Time’s reviewer echoes that opinion: “While I like the Touch Bar, there are plenty of ways Apple could improve it.”

ArsTechnica‘s Andrew Cunningham writes, “The more I use the Touch Bar, the more I become convinced of its potential utility” — although a lot of its ability to replace the old function buttons remains hypothetical for now.”

Touch ID finally arrives

Touch ID is singled out by the Wall Street Journal as “the biggest hardware advancement” on the MacBook Pro. “Why this isn’t available on all of Apple’s MacBook laptops — especially the entry-level, 13-inch, no Touch Bar Pro — is baffling,” writes the reviewer.

The Verge suggests that the feature “works well” but is confusingly implemented: “There seemed to be a fifty-fifty split between times I’m prompted to enter my password to log in, install an app, or change a setting and the times I’m able to do all of that through Touch ID.”

Apple’s butterfly keyboard gets an upgrade (but isn’t perfect)

Apple re-engineered the butterfly mechanism for for the new MacBook Pro keyboard. The update is better, although not entirely successfully, according to the Wall Street Journal.

“You will get used to the spring of the keys on the new flat keyboard,” the review notes. “You also get used to sleeping on a rock when camping. What won’t the people around you get used to? The loud clacking sound of the keys.” Hardly the most ringing of endorsements.

The Verge calls the keyboard “awful” in terms of aesthetics, but says that it “feels great.”

Mossberg notes how personal keyboard preferences can be, but says that while he “hated” the first MacBook’s flatter keyboard, he likes this new iteration “just fine” and calls it “clicky and responsive.”

ArsTechnica warns that the new keyboard is not for everyone, but represents “a marked improvement over the first-generation version in the MacBook.”

Lack of MacBook Pro ports

Apple gets rid of ports like Taylor Swift gets rid of boyfriends — although Cupertino doesn’t even bother writing songs about them to mark their disappearance. The lack of ports on the MacBook Pro fueled some of the harshest criticism of the new notebook, and today’s crop of reviews won’t convince you Apple made the right choice.

The Wall Street Journal gives the most benevolent feedback (basically, “it’s not you, Apple, it’s me!”), stating that USB-C is a “wonderful … dream” of a single port, although — until the rest of the tech industry catches up — “it’s a dongle nightmare.” The SD card slot is particularly missed.

The Verge echoes that appraisal, suggesting that — in decidedly un-Apple fashion — the company shot for the future, but missed the present.

“Apple is right to push toward a future with USB-C,” the review states. “But it’s wrong to do it like this. Pros need ports that can do things today; and if you’re not going to give them that, at least give them a cable or two to work with.”

Engadget reviewer Dana Wollman said the same thing. “I get why Apple went with USB-C,” Wollman wrote, but right now “I would have preferred a mix of USB-C and full-size USB sockets.”

As the closest thing to an everyday user review, Mossberg says that, while he understands the criticism Apple received for its decision, “I honestly don’t think this is a big problem for average Mac users, whose main need will likely be a new Mac-to-iPhone cable.”

In other news

The display itself gets positive reviews, and is probably the biggest selling point for the MacBook Pro at present. Performance of the laptop (particularly as a “Pro” model) gets mixed reviews. Battery life is said to be somewhat inconsistent, too.

Ultimately, we won’t be able to get a true sense of how the MacBook Pro stacks up until we try it ourselves. Like last year’s MacBook, however, this sounds like it’s another attempt by Apple to deliver a laptop that reconfirms how far ahead of the curve Cupertino is. Like that machine, the new MacBook Pro doesn’t totally come up trumps.

Are you planning to buy a new MacBook Pro with Touch Bar? Leave your comments below.