Apple MacBook Pro (2017): Australian Review

Image: Apple

Apple's new MacBook Pro is the first significant upgrade to the creative professional's go-to laptop in years. It adds the first touchscreen that any Mac has had, updates to new(er) Intel processors and AMD graphics, and makes a swathe of behind-the-scenes usability changes. It's the sum total of those small changes, though — not the new processing power or the not-exactly-amazing battery life — that make the new MacBook Pro a worthwhile purchase if you're considering one.

What Is It?

The late-2016-into-2017 Apple MacBook Pro is the first design refresh in four years for the most powerful portable notebook that Apple currently produces. It's thinner and lighter than the now very outdated MacBook Air, aggressively abandons old connection standards in favour of USB Type-C across the board, and upgrades to a brighter and more colourful display and a much, much larger Force Touch trackpad. And, of course, it runs macOS.

You're able to buy a MacBook Pro from a starting price of $2199 in Australia for an entry-level 13-inch model, which you can spec up to $2999 for the top 13-inch or as much as $4249 for the best possible 15-inch variant. That $2199 won't get you the new MacBook Pro's most talked-about feature, though; the cheapest Touch Bar-enabled MBP is $2699 in Oz. 13-inch models get a Core i5 CPU and 256GB or 512GB SSD as default, while the 15-inchers have Core i7s; you can spec any machine up to an i7 and larger SSD, though, although the best processors and 2TB SSDs are restricted to 15-inch only.

The Touch Bar is an interesting compromise between a touchscreen laptop display — as seen on Apple's direct competitor from Microsoft, the Surface Book — and good ol' fashioned keyboard buttons. It replaces the old row of 12 function keys on the previous MacBook Pro with a fully customisable, touch-sensitive OLED panel with TouchID. It's still an interesting move by Apple not to make the Pro laptop touch-enabled across its entire screen, but that's a move that would require significant work on its macOS operating system as well as on the hardware level.

Those USB-C ports are all multipurpose, too — you can use them all for charging, for data, or video, or any other transfer standard that USB-C supports, as long as you have the right cable or a dongle. Apple claims up to 10 hours of battery life from all of the different MacBook Pro 13- and 15-inch models in its regular wireless web browsing tests, but it's worth noting that the new 87-Watt power adapter that connects over USB-C will charge the laptop much faster than its predecessor. I'll go into detail on my varied experiences of the MacBook Pro's off-charger battery life performance later on, but I will say now that when you visit a charger to top up you'll get plenty of battery reserve back very quickly.

What's It Good At?

The biggest and most important updates to the new MacBook Pro, I think, aren't under the hood: they're on the outside. Most obvious is the noticeable improvement in usability that the new MacBook Pro's keyboard and trackpad bring. It's absolutely true that there's a not-exactly-shallow learning curve to using the Pro's incredibly short-travel keyboard, which it has inherited from the 12-inch retina MacBook, but once you're used to the key positioning, it's a joy to use. I can blast through emails and longer articles — like this review — at a greater speed and with greater accuracy on the MacBook Pro's keyboard than on the Logitech mechanical keyboard that I use on my desktop PC daily.

The Touch Bar is an interesting development, and while it definitely feels like a first-generation device — it's not incredibly high resolution, it doesn't have bespoke controls in every app — it's also a very very smart idea. Having a fully customisable panel in front of your fingerprints means keyboard autocomplete and autocorrect is instantly as easy as it is on an iPhone, choosing an emoji from the list that pops up is simple, and apps like Photoshop that have integrated Touch Bar support do it very well. Being able to choose a colour by swiping your finger across the panel is a quantum leap over a keyboard. And the larger trackpad is equally as important. It's massive, and that helps a lot for general navigation around MacOS as well as gestures like pinching and zooming around apps like Maps.

The new screen, too, is much brighter, and that's a godsend whenever you're working anywhere that you can't control the lighting within. It's two thirds brighter than the last generation at 500 nits, and that level also means it's one of the brighter easily-portable laptops out there. If you need a notebook that you can work on while you're out in a cafe, while you're sitting outside, while you're travelling on a train or a bus on the way to work in the morning, the MacBook Pro kicks ass. It supports DCI-P3 wide colour and has two thirds more contrast than the last generation, but what you need to know is that it just looks good.

Being smaller and thinner and lighter means that the MacBook Pro — and remember this is a Pro, with a full-fat Intel processor and fast storage and discrete graphics on the 15-inch model, not the lightweight Core M of the 12-inch MacBook — is actually portable. It's the first iteration of the MacBook Pro that I'd actually carry to work and back with me every day, in the same way that I've been doing currently with the Surface Pro 4. You don't make the usual sacrifices of thin and light laptops, either — for example, the MacBook Pro has speakers that don't sound terrible.

What's It Not Good At?

Over the past couple of weeks of road-testing, the battery life of the MacBook Pro has been... mediocre. Not abysmal, but just not particularly impressive. It's understandable, though: the new MacBook Pro has more going on than the old one ever did. A lot of that comes from the extra power required by that massively bright 500-nit screen and the Touch Bar and the better backlighting of the redesigned keyboard, as well as the more powerful processor and new discrete graphics. With the screen at high brightness and wireless working away actively, I've seen battery life in the region of five hours, half of Apple's testing. For what it's worth, recharging that battery with the fast USB-C charger happens quickly.

Apple's timing for the update of the MacBook Pro means that it uses Intel's sixth-generation Skylake mobile processors, rather than the seventh-generation Kaby Lake chips that are starting to appear in competitor notebooks post-CES. That's a pity, because the new chips are both more powerful and more energy-efficient. That doesn't make the MacBook Pro any less good, but it does mean that there will be competing machines from the likes of Razer and Dell and Lenovo that may have superior battery life or more outright grunt.

The switch to Thunderbolt 3 and USB Type-C is a Good Thing, and I won't hear anyone else say otherwise. I'm not blinkered enough to think that it's not going to be a difficult thing, though, for anyone considering an upgrade that still has a legacy device that they need to plug in regularly. Anything with a standard USB connector will need an adapter, any non Thunderbolt 3-compatible monitor will need a converter on its cable. It's possible to upgrade other components of your setup when you buy a new MacBook, but that's just an extra cost to consider.

And it's one small price to pay for the relentless march of technology, but have you noticed that the new MacBook Pro doesn't have that beautiful glowing Apple logo on the top of its lid any more? I miss it.

Should You Buy It?

The new MacBook Pro is, in so many ways, a huge and quantum improvement over its predecessor. It's smaller and thinner and lighter and has a brighter screen and a better keyboard and a bigger trackpad and more powerful processor and you can unlock it with your fingerprint. If you've used a MacBook Pro from the last generation or two generations ago, every one of these improvements should be useful to you in some way.

But the road to the future is paved with difficulties and failures along the way. You have the potential to use the new MacBook Pro's batter faster than you could on the older models. The Touch Bar still feels like a work in progress, and you'll probably have to wait for your favourite Mac app to make the best possible use of it in the months and years to come. You'll need new cables or bulky dongles, for now at least, to use those Thunderbolt 3 ports. It's worth it, but it's not an entirely painless upgrade.


Comments

    If it had a touchscreen, it'd be perfect and I would have jumped at it without a second thought.

    The best the new windows lappies are coming out with only 2-3 USB-C ports which is a bummter, four would be ideal for me.

      Why do you need four C ports? Genuinely curious.

        It is more of a want. All my other devices are USB-C now.

    The new MacBook Pro is, in so many ways, a huge and quantum improvement over its predecessor. It's smaller and thinner and lighter and has a brighter screen and a better keyboard and a bigger trackpad and more powerful processor and you can unlock it with your fingerprint. If you've used a MacBook Pro from the last generation or two generations ago, every one of these improvements should be useful to you in some way

    I don't understand how a laptop that is thinner with a brighter screen makes it better than the previous release? When new versions of laptops are released they will have better hardware so I'm confused how you can say this will make it better when every company that design a laptop does the same, HP, Dell, Microsoft and so many other companies.

      "thinner with a brighter screen" -- how is that not better?

        Thinner? don't see it. Brighter....use the button that brightens up the screen. I don't see how these two are major improvements? Less Weight (not always thinner) is something I can understand but to me, if it becomes too thin, it seems more brakable or more fragile

          Use realise that brightness buttons have a limit, right?

            I hear you can turn this one up to 11.

              It actually turns up to 15, in a ratio of 1:10 hahahaha

          You've obviously never had a job where you have to cart laptops around with you everywhere you go.

            Yes, hence why I purchased a Surface Tablet/Laptop. It's compact design and the weight was one of the reasons why I purchased it. Instead of carrying a 3kg laptop plus cables, plugs, tools etc...the bag I used would be over 5kgs. The Surface made that well below 3kgs now.

              Er... okay... so you don't see the value of lighter, thinner form factors, but they influence your purchasing choices... curious.

                Not 100% true but apple and oranges there. Surface is more of a tablet to me than a laptop

                  And you're saying that its weight and form factor didn't influence your decision to use a Surface as your work computer... lol

        It's not better when it shortens battery life and every review I've read, including this one, says that it has done exactly that. Your defence of it doesn't exactly make sense, either, as newer CPUs and GPUs are far more power-efficient than older models and the OLED used in the Touch Bar should be very power-efficient, too. When Microsoft can release a new Surface Book with 14 hour battery life, Apple should be able to at least come close with this if they hope to remain relevant.

        And, correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't Samsung have a Series 9 laptop with a 500 nit screen four or five years ago?

        Last edited 11/01/17 2:55 pm

    "... once you're used to the key positioning, it's a joy to use. I can blast through emails and longer articles — like this review — at a greater speed and with greater accuracy on the MacBook Pro's keyboard than on the Logitech mechanical keyboard that I use on my desktop PC daily."
    Would you care to elaborate on exactly how this works, Campbell? If this is true, then Apple's marketing is missing a big trick because there must be something truly magical in keys that feel like buttons, that nobody but you has discovered. Seriously, the best keyboard in the universe is not going to magically make me type faster or more accurately than the keyboard I use every day, assuming that keyboard doesn't have some fatal flaw. I just can't see how it's possible without some level of revolutionary design or some incredible innovation.

    One of my colleagues, who is a touch typist and complete Mac fanboi, told me the problem he has with the new keyboard is that it is too sensitive, so his touch-typing method results in too many unintended key presses. This is from a guy who has never previously said anything even midly critical of anything Apple have ever done and has drunk th eKool-Aid like it is going out of fashion - iPhone, iPad Air, iPad Pro, MacBook Pro and iMac.

    "The switch to Thunderbolt 34 and USB Type-C is a Good Thing, and I won't hear anyone else say otherwise." Then you are simply refusing to listen to reason and commn sense. What makes infinitely more sense is to do what Dell have done with their XPS machines - offer both the new Thunderbolt/Type C port and standard USB 3 ports to allow users transition to the new standard in their own time. e.g. I am not ditching my Samsung T1 drive just because a laptop manufacturer can't be arsed to put in USB 3 and adding a dongle to it would make it unreasonably awkward for zero benefit.

    Last edited 11/01/17 2:49 pm

      For the kind of typing that I do -- bottoming out, full power, blast away at the keys touch typing -- keys with shorter travel work really well, as long as they have a strongly tactile feel. And because the MBP's keyboard is both really tactile and has short travel, I can type quickly on it. I don't have to lift my fingers so much when I'm moving between keys, for example, which I have to when I'm typing on a traditional keyboard to avoid accidentally striking the wrong keys.

        I also tend to hit the keys very hard, as I learned to type on a mechanical typewriter, and what would worry me about using the new keyboard is that my fingertips would get very sore from the lack of travel. It is little different to banging on a plank of wood. I found that I could feel it even after just typing a paragraph in a shop. I can't imagine how my fingers would feel after a full day of using it.

    Says USBC exclusively is a good thing, then proceeds to list the reasons why its bad and mentions no reason why its good?

    Does it even come with at least one free normal USB to usbc adaptor? Even cheap graphics cards come with adaptors... You can have the progress with tech, while not needlessly obsoleting everything. Apart from the money its bad for the environment.

    Also I assume you were using a full spect 15" model. Is battery life better with one of the more basic 13" models?

      I was on a mid-spec 13in. By my estimation the 15-inch would be worse due to the larger (relative) screen to battery ratio and the discrete graphics.

        Not to mention the 15" models are the only ones with a quad-core CPU, which would alsouse more battery power. And if I recall correctly, the GPU in the 15" model is not switchable, so it runs full-time rather than using integrated GPU for low-power tasks.

    Compared to the last MacBook Pro and even competitors such as the XPS, I really do not see this as an improvement at all (coming from a current Mac user). "Thinner and brighter" are not sufficient replacements for such a major decrease in battery life compared to the last model, I don't know many people who use their MacBooks at max brightness so an increased brightness does not mean much.

    The Touch Bar seems like a waste of space for anyone who actually knows what they're doing with programs such as photoshop or illustrator as the keyboard shortcuts for actions will already be much faster to use for them than reaching to the top of the screen to swipe or scroll on a touch bar.

    The keyboard is horrible and while it is an improvement over the "MacBook" keyboard, it is nothing compared to their last generation Pro keyboard.

    Lack of ports is also horrible, I understand and agree with moving forward with ports but to completely just cut out support is bad. Most current windows laptops include at least a usb 3.0 port with usb-c or a free dongle, this laptop has neither of these and would rather charge a premium.

    A horrible product and a seemingly bias review.

      A horrible product and a seemingly bias review.

      Recently I've noticed pretty much every Gizmodo review of apple products barely mentions competitors, it only compares it to the previous model.

      Agree on the ports, USB-C is nowhere near mainstream in our market, the laptop might be thinner and look nice on its own but once you add all the cables, adapters, dongles etc to make it a functional piece of equipment it looks awful and is a nightmare to transport.

      Each to their own I guess!

        It's hard to compare when you don't have a 5 year old laptop lying around to compare it too.

          Seeing that I'm reading a Technology focused blog that have continuously published comparisons between 13-inch laptops for the past few months, I would expect that it is well within their ability to compare it to similar laptops such as the XPS or Razer Blade Stealth (Even though the use of last generation's processor in the MacBook makes it a bit harder).

          When the last paragraph of the review is "Should you buy it?", if they are trying to help customers make an informed opinion of a product, they should be informing customers about superior products that exist at a lower price.

            I agree completely, but honestly unless you are desperate to use OSX or hang with the cool kids why would you even bother with reading a Mac review. They are always slightly better/worse than the last one and not as functionally or economically good as the competition so best not mention them.

              I can see your point and agree, I'm just someone who currently owns two MacBooks, one for personal use and one required by my workplace. It was interesting to read about what Gizmodo thought about the new models.

              I love my 2015 pro which was only $1500 when I bought it new compared to the $2200 for the non-touch bar model and $2700 for the touch bar model. That's $1200 more to get the full improvements of the new models, it just doesn't look like there is anything in it worthy of upgrading to compared to the current windows ultrabooks.

        "Recently I've noticed pretty much every Gizmodo review of apple products barely mentions competitors, it only compares it to the previous model"

        Reviews are always going to be written from the perspective of the writer - that's inherent in the process of a review. It's going to be framed by the needs and preferences of the person doing the review. In this case, most tech journalists use a MacBook of some description for their work, because these products are perfectly suited to journalists. They're frequently working while travelling in very variable environments, live-blogging events, doing light photo edits and quick video edits. A reliable, lightweight laptop with long battery life in a compact form factor is exactly what suits a journalist's needs.

        So when a new model is released that's smaller, lighter and can be more easily used in bright environments like a train, you can easily imagine that it's going to get favourable reviews from those who have this kind of usage....substantially reduced battery life and poor port selection notwithstanding (apparently). Even the astronomical price tag is not a big deal if you're getting tax breaks for a work expense, and it's a device that's vital to your livelihood.

        That said, it's also the case that many other devices are now very competitive in this space. The range of XPS and Spectre devices are great examples of this. But a lot of journalists are now deeply entrenched in the Apple ecosystem, which is notoriously sticky and hard to leave - they would need a very good reason to switch to a Windows device.

        For my own kind of work, a 15" screen, a quad core CPU, a powerful GPU and Windows OS are all pre-requisites. Battery life and device weight are not important - I don't carry it that much, and it's always plugged in when I'm working. In that very different context, the new MacBook is over-priced hot garbage - the piss-weak GPU alone makes it utterly unviable, and I can get a far more powerful and capable device for around half the price. And the bonus fact that I wouldn't need Bootcamp to run all my required software.

        Last edited 12/01/17 9:48 am

      The Touch Bar seems like a waste of space for anyone who actually knows what they're doing with programs such as photoshop or illustrator as the keyboard shortcuts for actions will already be much faster to use for them than reaching to the top of the screen to swipe or scroll on a touch bar.

      Lol. Man making adjustments in PS / Lightroom is a treat with the touch bar. Much nicer to slide a slider than clicking and dragging with a mouse... and without having to cover the screen with your hand... awesom!

        Why? It seems like two very similar ways of achieving the exact same thing, except that using your mouse doesn't require you to look away from your screen, where locating a slider on the Touch Bar definitely does. It's an interruption to your workflow, not an enhancement.

          Okay. Thanks for telling me how much worse my workflow is now that I have a new MacBook.

          And clicking and dragging with a mouse is a completely different action than sliding a finger...

    But come on everyone... you're missing the point. You MUST buy this because Apple is "courageous". No other marketing spin required...

    Issues of OS and brand loyalty aside, why would you buy this over something like the Razer Blade?

    Similar price and form factor, much better performance in the competitor.

    Wasn't there an article to that effect recently here on Gizmondo?

    Seriously curious, when I was looking myself (back in late 2015) my initial impulse and reason for looking was I wanted a MacBook but ended up going with a Blade as it gave so much more bang-for-buck.

      For me it is because of OSX.

      The Blade with it's external GPU enclosure would be perfect for me, fixing a lot of shortcomings the Apple lineup has... but I enjoy using OSX for my personal tasks.

      I have plenty of Win 10 machines available to me, but my MacBook is the machine I use the most, it just works the best for what I need it for.

      I haven't really had a chance to use the keyboard on the new MBP's just yet, but I love the keyboard on the 12" MBP... I can type a lot faster than I can on most other keyboards I have previously owned.

    I'm curious why anyone wanting to spend idiotic amounts on a skinny metal laptop would buy this over a Razer Blade. If you really need Apple software, dual boot it, or bootcamp it, would take 20min max to do. Better price, better specs by a mile.

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