MacBook Pro: Too slow and not enough ‘pro’ [Review]

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MacBook Pro
The new MacBook Pro is here, but is it worth it?
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

It’s been four long years since Apple’s last big update to the MacBook Pro lineup. But Apple finally answered our prayers and delivered us the brand new MacBook Pro we’ve been waiting for — or did it?

It’s a beautiful machine with an intriguing new interface element called the Touch Bar. Check out my full MacBook Pro review below for more.

Beauty runs in the family

MacBook
You can’t deny that the new MacBook Pro looks stunning.
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

Let’s start off with the design.

The new MacBook Pro takes a lot of inspiration from the MacBook range. It comes in space gray, is thinner and lighter than its pro predecessors, and boasts smaller bezels and fewer ports.

Regardless of your thoughts on this last part, the one thing you can’t argue about is how beautiful the new MacBook Pro is.

Its thinner bezels around the screen and keyboard make the new Apple laptop 23 percent smaller than the previous generation, which makes it feel super-sleek and easier than ever to carry about.

Then there’s that new, larger Force Touch trackpad. Although it’s great that the trackpad now offers more real estate for swiping and clicking, I find myself resting my palm on it from time to time.

Yes, it employs “palm rejection” technology to combat this, but it doesn’t work 100 percent of the time.

There’s also that new compact keyboard with Apple’s improved butterfly mechanism. It’s shallower than the previous MacBook keyboard, which means it has less travel when typing. Thankfully, it’s still a joy to type on.

If you’re moving from the previous MacBook Pro or even a Magic Keyboard, it’s going to take some getting used to. The keys are still nice and clicky, but it takes a few hours to build up touch typing confidence — especially with those new arrow keys.

Of course,  the addition everyone wants to know about is the shiny new Touch Bar.

MacBook Pro Touch Bar is like a tiny iPad

Touch bar
The Touch Bar is like a tiny sliver of an iPad.
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

Apple has replaced the top row of function keys with the Touch Bar, a super-bright and clear OLED touchscreen. In practice, it’s less a row of digital buttons and more a tiny iPad.

The standard function keys have been replaced with a row of always-present buttons — volume, brightness, escape and so on are always accessible through tapping on each button. They also extend out if you want a more traditional, full row.

The four fixed buttons can thankfully be customized to different functions, so if you’re not a Siri user you can switch it out for something like Spotlight.

It’s when you open different apps that Touch Bar truly comes alive, though. The center of the thin OLED strip transforms to become useful for whichever app you’re using at the moment.

Currently, this works better in some apps than others. For example, in Safari the Touch Bar will add tab and back buttons as well as a search bar; Pages will give you formatting options; Messages offers you emojis; and Photos helps you out with some edit keys.

However, the Touch Bar fails on typing suggestions. This functionality works great on an iPhone, but on the Mac it feels strange and out of place. I found it just slowed me down.

In all, the Touch Bar is a nice idea, but it still feels a little bit like a gimmick. Most pro users tend to already know traditional keyboard shortcuts they utilize on a daily basis. I never find myself looking down at the keyboard when working, as I know all the shortcuts I need when editing videos or images. As a result, whenever I was working on my new MacBook Pro, I’d actually forget the Touch Bar was there.

It’ll be interesting to see in coming months what third-party developers such as Adobe come up with, but at the moment I don’t think the Touch Bar is there just yet.

Also hidden within the Touch Bar is the power button with Touch ID.

I didn’t think too much of it before getting my hands on the new MacBook Pro. But at times when I had to switch back to my old Pro, I really missed Touch ID. Being able to log into my Mac without a password or wearing my Apple Watch was bliss. This is the perfect way to access my Mac.

Is the MacBook Pro still for pros?

MacBook Pro
With its fancy gimmicks, can it still be called a pro device?
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

Surely, the most important thing about a pro MacBook is performance, right?

If you’re a day-to-day average user, the MacBook Pro is going to be super-snappy.

However, if you’re a pro user, the news isn’t as great. When editing a 1080p video project within Premiere, the MacBook Pro handles it no problem. But when I start adding 4K video and try to layer shots on top of each other, it all falls to bits. The MacBook Pro simply can’t handle it.

Even export times aren’t significantly faster than my old MacBook Pro. Geekbench scores have clearly shown that the new MacBook Pro is faster for single-thread tasks, but when it comes to multithread it’s actually a little bit slower.

Users are reporting that Apple’s own video editing software, Final Cut Pro, handles 4K no problem — but if you’re editing commercially, chances are you’re not using FCPX. And no one should have to change their workflow for their laptop.

I’ve also noticed little glitches here and there. The MacBook Pro will seem to freeze on certain apps, not allowing me to click on anything unless I swipe off the app and back again.

Whether this is due to my hand resting on that larger trackpad or it’s a software bug that can be fixed down the road, it’s not something I want to see in an $1,800 laptop.

Plus, limiting the MacBook Pro to just 16GB of RAM seems a little bit strange, as 32GB would have benefited a lot of people. (Apple defends this controversial choice, saying adding more memory would turn the MacBook Pro into a battery hog.)

The MacBook Pro boasts a 10-hour battery life. I’m getting around six to eight hours depending on what I’m doing, which is about the same as my previous MacBook. It’s by no means bad, but there’s no big improvement.

Liveing the #DongleLife

Dongle
Let’s get ready to dongle.
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

First Apple took away the headphone jack with the iPhone 7. Now it’s taken away all of our USB ports, HDMI ports and SD Card slots from the new MacBook Pro in favor of four USB-C ports and (surprisingly!) a headphone jack.

While it’s great that USB-C lets you charge your MacBook, transfer data or plug in displays at the same time, but it’s still a huge pain in the arse for everyone like myself who uses a load of peripherals.

I know there are a growing number of native USB-C products, but the port is still in its early days. There’s no doubt that you’re going to need some adapters and new cables.

Thankfully, Apple has cut the prices of its dongles for a limited time. It’s still an extra cost you should factor in before picking up the new MacBook Pro, though.

The entertainment factor

MacBook
The MacBook Pro’s speakers and screen are better than ever.
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac

Two features I have absolutely no complaints about are the display and speakers.

The display itself is super-crisp. The colors are noticeably more vibrant, with deep blacks and increased brightness. And the speakers on the new MacBook aren’t necessarily a lot louder but deliver a much fuller sound.

(If you’d like to see a full, side-by-side comparison between the new MacBook Pro and the 2015 model, make sure to stick around as that’ll be up soon after this video.)

MacBook Pro review: The verdict

So the main question, is the new MacBook Pro worth its premium price tag? To be honest, I’m a little bit split. For a starting price of $1,799 for the base model, you want to be sure you need the upgrade.

If you’ve got an older MacBook Pro without the Retina display, then definitely go for it. The amazing display and killer speakers are worth it alone, plus you’ll see definite speed improvements in everyday tasks.

If you’ve got a more recent MacBook Pro with the Retina Display, however, I’d say hold off.

The Touch Bar isn’t enough of a reason to make the switch, especially until we truly see what developers can do on the platform. Apple’s integrations are nice, but whether I actually use them is a little hit and miss — plus I’m still kind of waiting for the novelty to wear off.

In terms of performance — which is what I’d really like Apple to concentrate on for its Pro lines — the new MacBook Pro Doesn’t offer a massive increase over the 2015 model.

I may sound really harsh on the new MacBook Pro, but that’s because I expect a lot of it.

Despite its flaws, I genuinely like this laptop a lot. It is an upgrade over the previous model: It’s quicker and sexier, with an amazing display and speakers. And it easily remains one of the best laptops Apple ever made.

But for now, I’m going to hold off on upgrading.

Thanks to Paragon Pictures for helping to produce the video.

MacBook Pro
For a lot of people, it’s better to wait till next year.
Photo: Ste Smith/Cult of Mac