Is the 2016 MacBook Pro with Touch Bar worth buying?
Find out what the critics think of Apple’s 2016 MacBook Pro with Touch Bar. Are these new MacBook Pros worth the price Apple is asking?
Eye on Apple
By Jim Lynch, CIO
Apple’s recent announcement of new MacBook Pros with a Touch Bar caught the attention of many Mac users who have been waiting a long time to upgrade their laptops. Potential buyers of these new MacBook Pros have been wondering if the new Touch Bar feature is worth the money Apple is asking for the new computers.
That’s a very valid concern considering that the MacBook Pros with Touch Bar start at $1799 for the 13-inch model and $2399 for the 15-inch model, and go for $1999 for the higher-end 13-inch model and a whopping $2799 for the higher-end 15-inch version.
Fortunately, reviews have started to come out of the MacBook Pros with Touch Bar and I’ve compiled a helpful roundup to assist you in making your buying decision.
The Verge: A touch of the future
Jacob Kastrenakes at The Verge noted that the MacBook Pro with Touch Bar is a taste of the future but that that future isn’t quite here yet:
I may come off sounding quite critical of the new MacBook Pro, but the truth is that I really do like it. The hardware is incredible, macOS is a joy to use, and I don’t want to give up this screen and keyboard. It’s a fantastic laptop on build alone.
But everywhere I look, it feels like this incarnation of the MacBook Pro is shooting for a future it can’t quite reach. One where it can be impressively thin and powerful enough for the pros. Where it can be super light and have all-day battery life. Where its ports and keyboard morph and adapt perfectly to the needs of every user.
I have little doubt that in a couple years, the technology Apple has been waiting for will arrive and this vision, or something closer to it, will be complete. Apple just released this machine too soon, or was too aggressive in the decisions it made.
That future is almost certainly out there. But it’s not in this machine. Not yet.
Ars Technica: Touch Bar, Touch ID, dedicated GPUs, more ports, and a whole lot more
Andrew Cunningham at Ars Technica indicated that the new MacBook Pro with Touch Bar has much to offer certain users but that it comes with a high price tag:
If you’ve got a MacBook Pro that you bought in 2012 or earlier and if you’re convinced of the potential utility and novelty of the Touch Bar, these 2016 MacBook Pros were just about worth the wait. Replace a four- or five-year-old laptop with one of these and you’ll get a great new design, a respectable performance boost, a nice screen, the single most versatile port you can get in any computer, and a new input device that tries to combine the good stuff about PC touchscreens (fast response, malleable button layouts) while avoiding the bad stuff about PC touchscreens (adapting a mouse-and-keyboard driven operating system to finger input, blocking the screen by poking at it with your hand).
The main problem at this point isn’t that the Touch Bar is a bad idea, but that these laptops cost a whole bunch of money. Great, premium PC laptops are available for half this price, even if Apple still maintains an edge when it comes to graphics and SSD speeds. It really feels like the Touch Bar needs to be included in the £1,450 model, and that versions of the new designs without Touch Bars should be the entry level systems—right now, Apple’s entry-level Mac laptops were all released in mid 2015, and that’s only going to get more embarrassing as time moves on.
The other problem, and one that resonates for the rest of the PC industry, is that if you bought a MacBook Pro in 2013 or later there’s really very little reason to consider a new MacBook Pro. Intel’s processors deliver much better battery life than they used to, but the company’s new CPU architectures barely push performance forward and there are ever-wider gaps between new releases as it gets more difficult to move to better manufacturing processes.
I like these laptops a lot. I bought one to replace my 2013 MacBook Air, which still performs basically fine but doesn’t have the sharp screen or design chops of the PC laptops that have come out in the last two-or-so years. But the rest of the Mac lineup—all of the desktops and the more affordable laptops—are still stuck in the past. It feels like Apple might have a comprehensive vision for the future of its computers, but that it’s only ready to show us a small, expensive peek right now. The sooner the Touch Bar and USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 can spread across the entire lineup and end this awkward transitional phase, the better.
Nice new designs that are thinner and lighter than their predecessors.
Four Thunderbolt 3 ports each, two on each side—this is super convenient for charging, especially.
Low-travel keyboard still isn’t for everyone, but it’s a marked improvement over the first-generation version in the MacBook.
Good battery life.
Industry-leading storage performance.
Non-terrible laptop speakers.
1.3Gbps Wi-Fi, unlike the £1,450 version.
13-inch Touch Bar model doesn’t have the same battery life as the non-Touch Bar model.
Extremely limited repairability and upgradeability.
Intel’s CPU speed increases in the last few years have been discouraging.
Need for dongles will be inconvenient, especially at first.
Dana Wollman at Engadget found that the new MacBook Pro with Touch Bar wasn’t quite what she wanted, and that she missed her function keys:
I’m one of many Mac owners out there who has been waiting for Apple to upgrade the MacBook Pro line. Now that it finally has, I find the new laptop isn’t quite what I wanted. For me, the ideal MacBook Pro is actually a mashup between this and last year’s model. Let me keep my full-size USB ports, and my function keys, and my longer battery life, but stick with this thinner and lighter design. Stick with this improved display, Touch ID sensor, fast disk performance and more robust audio quality. For me, this is both a step forward and a step backward.
I’m sure Apple disagrees, and not just because its job is to sell lots of computers. Apple seems to earnestly believe it knows how people should be getting work done – so much so that it has the chutzpah to ask loyal customers to unlearn old habits. Get used to using dongles to attach your existing accessories. Say goodbye to your memory card slot, creatives. Resign yourself to adjusting the brightness or volume with taps and swipes, instead of a simple button press. Accept the risk that your existing Thunderbolt 3 peripherals might not work.
As I said, there’s ultimately a lot to like about the new MacBook Pro. But it’s designed for someone who I’m not sure exists outside Apple’s fantasies of how professionals use computers. The MacBook Pro I want to see is built around real people’s work habits. I still recommend it, and I imagine many of you who have been waiting patiently will indeed buy this. But I’d enjoy it more if it were designed for people like us.
Jason Snell at Six Colors was initially skeptical about the Touch Bar in the new MacBook Pro but warmed up to it after using it for a while:
I was skeptical of the Touch Bar when it was first rumored, but it’s obvious that Apple has taken great care in refining the concept to focus it on being a contextual extension of the keyboard rather than a very squat iPad. Apple’s implementation of the Touch Bar interface in its apps vary from incredibly detailed to more generic, but I expect that over the next year or two we’ll all learn more about what makes an effective Touch Bar interface and what doesn’t. My gut feeling is that some of the more ambitious, complex interfaces will prove to be less useful than quick shortcuts, and that customization will be invaluable. But we won’t know until we try.
If the Touch ID sensor is a little less exciting, that’s because it’s so familiar from iOS that it doesn’t seem that unusual to encounter it on the Mac. And I do like reducing the number of times I need to type in my password.
I’m also happy that this is brand-new Apple hardware that’s immediately accessible by third-party software developers, which should limit the really awkward period where early adopters rush to a new feature only to find it supported by Apple but with no hope for more until the next year’s OS update.
So who says there’s nothing new under the sun? Here’s a new dimension added to the Mac, with a debt owed to iOS, but undeniably its own approach. It never forgets it’s a companion to the keyboard and trackpad, but adds more flexibility than a static keyboard ever could. I’m looking forward to seeing how it evolves—and I have to admit, I kind of want one to place above the top row of my own external Mac keyboard now. I never felt that way about function keys.
Brian Heater at TechCrunch liked the Touch Bar but noted that the spec bump in the new MacBook Pro was the biggest draw for him:
The less celebrated spec bumps are what make the new Pro a worthy upgrade, particularly for those who, like me, have been suffering through their old system’s death rattles (or fan buzzing, at least), waiting for a significant update from the company. Better processors, more storage, a brighter display and better speakers are all wrapped up in a sleeker and lighter package than before.
The Touch Bar feels like a nice bonus for the time being. It’s a compelling new input device that has the potential to alter the way we interact with applications on a laptop. In this early stage, it’s a cool feature that further distinguishes the Pro from other similarly spec-ed laptops, proving most useful in the consumption and creation of media like video, audio and images — all part of the creative professional demographic that has long served as one of the company’s core user bases. As Apple and third-party developers continue to play around with the form, its usefulness will only continue to grow. And perhaps it won’t be too long before we start seeing desktop applications built with the Touch Bar in mind, rather than adding such functionality in hindsight. The addition of Touch ID, however, has some immediately welcome functionality, including more secure startups and purchasing.
And, as ever, the new MacBook Pro doesn’t come cheap, with a starting price of $1,799 (for the 13-inch Touch Bar version) all the way up through the fully packed model that goes well north of $4K. But let’s be honest, users have never bought Macs because of their rock-bottom prices.
For those who have been holding out on buying a new MacBook, the time is right, with an upgrade that should be sufficiently future-proof to take on the next few years — or however long it takes for the next major upgrade. Hopefully you’ve been saving up in the meantime.