Is the Macbook Pro 2016 overpriced

Test: The new MacBook Pro with Touch Bar is really that good

It only takes seconds to realize that the Touch Bar is actually a fascinating addition. And it takes a few hours before you realize that it has the typical quirks of an innovation in the first generation: It does not yet work everywhere as one would expect. Especially in third-party applications - which of course was not to be expected otherwise and will change quickly. Then after just under a day you can see that it can still be a really useful tool. And otherwise the new MacBook Pro is a rock-solid further development.

New MacBook Pro 2016: This is how the Touch Bar works

Unlike a touchpad or trackpad, the Touch Bar is a real display. A screen with 2170 x 60 pixels, which, according to Apple, can best be read from a viewing angle of 45 degrees. That makes sense, because after all, this is roughly the angle from which you automatically look at it when you work with the laptop.

The elongated touchscreen above the conventional keyboard doesn't feel like the touchscreen of an iPhone or iPad. The matt touch bar feels more like the keyboard itself: Using the additional screen feels natural and not as if it were a foreign body.

The Touch Bar is divided into three areas: The left and right parts of the Touch Bar are so far only available to Apple's own buttons. For example, the left section with a width of 128 pixels is used for the escape key. The “control bar”, the 600-pixel-wide section on the right-hand side, is the place where buttons for volume or brightness control land - and the button for Siri. Even if these areas can only be used by the operating system itself so far, you can modify them as a user (System Settings> Keyboard> Customize Control Bar). For example, you can exchange "Siri" for the screen lock or quick access to the message center.

The largest section with 1370 pixels is in the middle of the Touch Bar and is available for the extended operation of apps. It's the area where developers can let off steam, and where most of the surprising and innovative uses of the Touch Bar can be expected.

The Touch Bar of the MacBook Pro Late 2016 in use

All previous MacBook Pro generations had built-in function keys that were useful in everyday work above the row of numbers on the keyboard. Keys for controlling the volume, for example. Or for lightening or darkening the screen, as well as for using Exposé, Mission Control and more.

The Touch Bar now has to take over these functions and does this quite satisfactorily. The most important function keys can now be found in the right area of ​​the Touch Bar. Always and constantly. You can configure what is important yourself. With a tap on the arrow next to the leftmost of the four elements, additional function keys are displayed over the full width of the Touch Bar.

The use of some function keys has become more complex. There are four buttons at the top right by default: display brightness, volume, mute and Siri. The latter two work as expected. After tapping the buttons for brightness and volume, nothing changes at first. Instead, a slider appears to the left of the block of four, which you can use to make the desired changes. Alternatively, you can of course tap the arrow button already mentioned above and all the classic function keys will then be displayed. Either way, changing volume and brightness now requires one step more. However, you quickly get used to the change: After a day of working on the new MacBook Pro, the operating mode is just as anchored in the muscle memory as the previous tapping on the corresponding keys.

It is somewhat irritating that the ESC key (which is almost always displayed) is shown indented and is not positioned right on the left edge. Presumably Jony Ive prevailed once more. Because the right touch bar button is not placed on the right edge either, as the Touch ID sensor is next to it. And who do we know who is very keen on symmetry? Correct.

The compromise is that the touch bar is still touch-sensitive to the left of the ESC button, so that you don't have to hit the ESC button exactly, but can, at least with your fingers that are not too pointed, aim exactly where the ESC button is sat and still triggers the corresponding action.

In addition to the various really useful functions (and a few that are clearly still in the development phase), there is also a pretty cool function on the system side of the Touch Bar: the emoji bar. Personally, I'm not that big of a fan of the inflationary use of emoji, but unfortunately it's a lot of fun with this Touch Bar keyboard. The entire middle area of ​​the Touch Bar is filled with colorful faces, figures, et cetera and with one swipe you can scroll through relaxed and let the emoji fly past you.

Currently, however, the Touch Bar fails when Apple tries to do too much with it. This is the case, for example, in Apple's word processing program Pages, where the Touch Bar displays a wide variety of elements, so that menus, so to speak, are outsourced to the Touch Bar, which are then quickly no longer clear.

Nothing for quick typists

Up to now, word suggestions such as those familiar from the keyboard on the iPhone and iPad have been integrated into Apple's own programs such as Notes and Mail. The existence of this function on those devices can easily be explained by the fact that you usually cannot type with 10 fingers and write more slowly. On the Mac, however, the word suggestions are a wasted effort. Especially for people who can type quickly. If you are able to move with a high number of keystrokes on the keyboard, then you type "blind" anyway, or with your eyes on the screen - and do not even notice the suggested words. And even if you force yourself to do so, they hardly help you. Not only are they often a little late, you are also usually much faster with the touch-up of the respective word than if you occasionally stretch your middle or index finger up in order to reach the corresponding word suggestion on the Touch Bar.

The new, new keyboard

If we are already dedicating ourselves to typing, then we can also take a trip to the keyboard itself. The keyboard in the new MacBook Pro is a revised version of the keyboard that we already know from the MacBook.

Personally, I've come out several times as a fan of the same keyboard, but I know that it also has numerous opponents. The second generation of this keyboard has an even crisper stroke. I enjoy writing on it. And I'm extremely fast on this keyboard; you can feel this after just a few days in everyday text-heavy editorial work.

While I feel that most of my comments about the Touch Bar are general, I am sure that my love or hate relationship with this keyboard is entirely subjective. Anyone who has always cried after the old Apple keyboards from the 1990s or 1980s will not be able to warm up to this keyboard.

Touch ID

With all the talk about the Touch Bar, don't forget Touch ID - the other big innovation this MacBook Pro generation brings with it. Of course, the integration of Touch ID into the Macs was foreseeable. It is all the more gratifying that Apple has now taken this step.

However, the use of Touch ID is almost eliminated if you have an Apple Watch. Opening the MacBook Pro including automatic unlocking with the Apple Watch is not much slower than authentication via the new Touch ID button.

An optional combination of the various security mechanisms would be nice for the future: If you have a Mac with highly sensitive data, it would not be wrong if you could configure it to unlock Touch ID and the presence of the Apple Watch or typing one Password would be required.

MacBook Pro with Touch Bar: the ports

One of the absolute excitement topics after the presentation of the new MacBook Pro models was the new connection situation. Apple now fully relies on USB-C sockets that work with Thunderbolt 3. The cheaper 13-inch MacBook Pro without Touch Bar has two of these ports, all other models have four. On the technical side, Apple has once again opted for a superior standard and it is not surprising that Cupertino is once again going "all in" and throwing all other connections overboard.

For customers, however, this is a double-edged sword. Although you have a future-proof device, you need an adapter for practically every accessory. And if you are already well equipped with Thunderbolt adapters, you still need new variants.

Old hard drives, USB sticks, network cables, SD cards - all of these and many more devices can no longer be directly connected to the new MacBook Pro. Even the brand new iPhone 7 requires an adapter to connect it to Apple's computer, which was released less than two months later.

USB-C clearly belongs to the future. But the MacBook Pro exists in the here and now. With the MacBook, a device for avant-gardeists and people who for the most part get by without peripheral devices anyway, this is a different matter. The MacBook Pro, however, lacks the previously known “variety” of connections, consisting of at least two different sockets plus an SD card slot. The excitement would certainly have been a little less if Apple had decided to use part of the space for adding a USB-C adapter. As with the iPhone (Lightning on jack).

On the benchmark test bench

So far we only had the 13-inch model of the new MacBook Pro generation with Touch Bar in the test laboratory. There weren't too big leaps in comparison to the previous model. In Geekbench, our benchmarking tool of choice, it scored 3,921 points in the single-core test and is about 5 percent ahead of the old 13-inch MacBook Pro. In the multi-core test, it left the old MacBook Pro around 8 percent behind with 7,592 points.

The balance of power in the GPU tests is different. In the Geekbench OpenCL test, the Touch Bar MacBook Pro achieved 30,812 points compared to the 16,781 points of the old MacBook Pro - almost twice as good.

The new graphic power

A hotly debated topic, at least in tech circles, is Apple's change of heart with graphics chips. Apple is completely separating from Intel's Iris Pro and is instead relying on various AMD models, whereby the 15-inch models still have Intel's HD-530 graphics processor - for those moments when the full graphics performance is not required.

The main reason for this decision is likely to be the performance of AMD's graphics chips. This is enough to fire two of the 5K Thunderbolt 3 displays from LG, which were also presented at Apple's press event, which Intel cannot currently offer. Because, and here comes the surprise, the MacBook Pro, strictly speaking, delivers two images for display on the 5K monitor, which are merged into one image. Apple probably decided to take this step based on the specifications of DisplayPort. Intel's in-house graphics processors, however, do not support this method because the bandwidth is too low and therefore cannot operate the screen at 60Hz. The next version of the DisplayPort standard (version 1.3) will offer enough bandwidth. However, the current standard is not, so Apple delivers two DisplayPort 1.2 streams over a Thunderbolt 3 cable. With their six “lines”, the AMD chips can operate two external 5K monitors, the internal screen and a normal monitor.

Conclusion

The Touch Bar takes getting used to, but you quickly get used to working with it. In many cases it is actually more than a gimmick and a really useful addition.

Most of the points currently complained about relate primarily to the connections, so they are problems that will resolve themselves over time. With one exception: The fact that Apple has disconnected from the MagSafe connection for charging the MacBook Pro is, despite all the advantages that USB-C brings with it, a cause for real sadness: The magnetic charging connection was and is simply ingenious! Still, having four really universal connections is great! The incredibly fast-reacting flash memory is also often overlooked, an area in which Apple continues to set the bar.

A real disadvantage is the new price: The new MacBook Pro starts at 1,699 euros - without the Touch Bar. The first Touch Bar model is only available from 1,999 euros. Prices that are anything but sympathetic even for Apple's standards. Technically, however, the new MacBook Pro is a well-rounded affair that leaves little to be desired.