I replaced my 5 1/2 year old Macbook Pro with the sparkly new Macbook Pro with Touch Bar. I’ve been using it for about a month and a half and thought I’d share my impressions. Note: I’m just a queer sf/f writer (who happens to have worked in the tech industry for more that a quarter of a century); I’m not a professional technology reporter, I’m not making any money from this blog and certainly not any money from Apple. But I own and use a lot of Apple products and have been using computers for over thirty years. So take this review accordingly…
One more note: if you’re the kind of person who hates Apple products, please don’t send me snarky comments about this review. I swear, any time I mention on the net any Apple product I own, someone (who often ends their comment with the disclaimor that they will never own any Apple products) feels the need to tell me what an idiot I am for liking a product that meets my needs. I have no idea what they think they’ll accomplish doing this. Don’t waste my time (which will be the few seconds it takes to block you on every social media service I use), and don’t waste your time composing the mansplain-y message1.
The first thing that wow-ed me when unboxing the new Macbook Pro was just how incredibly light it is. My husband has owned a couple of different Macbook Airs, so I am used to the concept of a very light computer. I’ve held previous generations of Retina Macbook Pros owned by friends and was intellectually aware that they were lighter, but this new 15″ Macbook Pro is like a pound lighter than the 13″ Macbook Pro I’ve been lugging around from 5 1/2 years, so it was very noticeable.
When I opened the laptop, I didn’t even have to wait for it to boot up. It is shipped with a charged battery and sleeping in standby mode–which you can safely do with a solid state drive.
And the screen! Oh, my goodness, the screen is beautiful. Certainly in comparison to my older non-retina Macbook Pro. Now, I have been using retina-screen devices for a while, since I currently own both an iPhone 6s and an iPad Pro, and this screen seems a bit crisper and the colors seem more brilliant than the iPad Pro.
The new SSD is fast. My old Macbook Pro didn’t originally have an SSD, but we replaced the original hard disk with an SSD a bit over a year ago, so I thought I was used to a fast hard disk, but this is much quicker. The speed of the SSD means that the OS has much faster options for dealing with memory management, which means that one of the critiques some people have leveled against the machine3–that the laptop is limited to 16gigs of RAM–does not seem to be a problem.
I have not tested this as much as some peole have (see the links to reviews below), but even with several InDesign files and a bunch of image files and vector graphics open in various programs, plus having at one point 20 Scrivener projects open and roughly 80 tabs open across three different browsers simultaneously I couldn’t make the system lag. A real test would have been to open all my images and graphics in Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, except I don’t have those resource hogs any longer, having migrated to Pixelmator, Affinity Designer, and Affinity Photo in the last year.
I’ve also only managed to get the laptop to speed up its fans to the point where I could hear them just once, and I’m still not entirely sure what pushed it over the edge.
The keyboard is very interesting. I learned to type on old manual typewriters, and for most of my computer career I prefered keyboards with a lot of travel and a reasonably loud mechanical click. But back in 2006 or so when a white plastic Macbook became my primary laptop, I became very fond of the Apple so-called chiclet keyboard. They had a quieter click and a lot less travel to the keys than my preferred keyboards. But within a few years they became my favorite.
The new keyboard is nothing like the chiclet keyboard. The keys have only a fraction of the travel. When the new keyboard was described, I was afraid I wasn’t going to like it, much. I figured if I was really unhappy with the keys, I would just switch to the solar-powered Logitech Blutooth keyboard that I used with my older iPad and occasionally the old laptop.
I didn’t dislike the keyboard when I first started using it. The keys themselves feel more solid than the chiclet keys. And they click, slightly more loudly than the chiclets. It’s not so loud that it annoyed me (that would be the horrid Dell keyboard that I have to use at work). It actually seems perfect. You can tell when you’ve hit the key, and I think the increased verbal cue helps you learn to stop trying to push the key further than it will go. Some other keyboard changes have taken me a few hours of typing to get used to the feel so I stopped noticing it while I typed, this took less than an hour.
The most obvious change in this Macbook Pro from previous models is the Touch Bar. And it’s wonderful. When I was showing my laptop to a friend, he was surprised to learn that the Touch Bar’s controls change depending on which program you’re using and the context. This is the entire point of the Touch Bar, but somehow that isn’t being conveyed well to people who didn’t watch Apple’s event introducing the Touch Bar. To be fair, some of the examples of the Touch Bar’s functionality that Apple has included in their ads and demos are, in my humble opinion, bad examples.
The primary problem with the Touch Bar at this time is that a lot of developers have not added the functionality to their programs. Given how new this device is, that’s understandable. I’m looking forward to what more developers will do with it once more of them start using it.
Another misconception I’ve seen people talk about is to think of it as a display tht will distract you. Apple’s guidelines are that elements on the Touch Bar shouldn’t move unless the user is actually touching them. If they follow those guidelines, the bar really does simply become virtual keys most of the time. The user has the ability to customize the bar. And one of the options you have is to simply have the Touch Bar display the standard function keys all of the time, if you want.
This is going to sound weird, but one of the joys of using the Touch Bar is adjusting volume or brightness. Touch the brightness icon and immediately slight your finger to adjust brightness. The same with volume. It is so much more intuititive that tapping a Brighter key multiple times, then tapping the dimmer because you want too far. It seems like a really minor thing, but sometimes it’s the little things that really make a difference.
I also am so glad that Apple has brought Touch ID to the the Mac. Not having to type in my Apple ID and password (or a lot of other passwords) is so nice. When Touch ID first came to the phone a few years ago, I remember trying to explain to one friend just how much I loved Touch ID and how much time it saved me. He was very skeptical. A mutual friend who was sitting with us pulled out his iPhone and said, “No, seriously! It’s wonderful!” I realize that I look at my phone a couple hundred times a day, and I have a passcode on it, so saving a half a second at least 200 times a day my add up a bit more for me. I remember coming to resent my iPad for not having Touch ID (until I upgraded), and on a couple of occasions I caught myself pressing my thumb against my old Macbook Pro’s trackpad when something asked for a password and I was a bit distracted.
Being able to now actually touch a thumb or figure to a button on the keyboard and have it unlock passwords is very nice.
Speaking of the trackpad, on the new machine it isn’t just big, it’s huge. This is also an improvement. I can drag the pointer from one corner of the screen to the other without lifting my finger. And it’s a lot easier for my to do multifinger gestures with the larger pad. The palm rejection is excellent. I type with one of both hands resting on the laptop and it almost never mistakes inadvertent presses of one palm or the other for a tap.
Overall, I really like the new laptop. The screen has a lot more resolution options than my old one. I love typing on the keyboard. I find the Touch Bar much more useful than fixed function keys4. Touch ID on the Mac is wonderful. And it is more than powerful enough to handle the programs I use. It’s a really nice upgrade from my older Macbook Pro.
But you don’t just have to take my word for it:
One Professional’s Look At The New MacBook Pro “No matter what you think the specs say, the fact is the software and hardware are so well integrated it tears strips off “superior spec’d” Windows counterparts in the real world.”
The New Touch-Bar-Equipped MacBook Pros and the State of the Mac
MacBook Pro with Touch Bar review: The best bits of iOS in a really great Mac
Pro video editor offers early MacBook Pro review, says it beats out superior spec’d Windows machines in real-world
MacBook Pro Diary: I’ve come to terms with the fact that it’s the end of the line for upgradable MacBooks
Review: Touch Bar MacBook Pros give an expensive glimpse at the Mac’s future
1. And it really would be mansplaining. I learned programming back in the day when programs were written on punch cards. The first computer I ever owned I had to solder together myself. I have tested, documented, designed help systems for, and very very occasionally written software to run on operating systems ranging from DOS to OS/2 to Solaris Unix to many flavors of Windows to Linux. My professional duties have included being a Hardware Analyst and Quality Assurance Engineer in addition to Technical Writer, Graphic Artist, and Information Architect. The upshot is, if you attempt to explain to me what is wrong with the tools I prefer from a technology side, you will very likely be “explaining without regard to the fact that the explainee knows more than the explainer.”2
2. This isn’t to say that people (regardless of their technological expertise) can’t disagree with me about which systems we prefer. That’s a separate issue.
3. So far as I have been able to tell, none of them have actually used one, they’re just looking at the specs and leaping to conclusions.
4. When the Touch Bar was first announced, I kept seeing all sorts of people online grousing about the loss of a physical escape key. And most of the people I saw making these comments were people younger enough than me that most of them have never used a computer before the 1990s. So here’s the thing: your Windows or OSX or Linux box does not have a physical escape key. It may be a mechanical keyboard, but the keyboard communicates the key strokes as software signals to the operating system, no matter which key it is. The escape key has not had a direct access to the system in any modern operating system. You are already typing on, as far as the CPU is concerned, a virtual keyboard. Seriously, it would be impossible for it to be otherwise through a USB port, which is what most people use for connecting a wired keyboard to their computer. And if you think there is any practical technological difference between the escape key on, let’s say, a 2014 keyboard of any computer, and the virtual one on the Touch Bar, well, that tells me that you are not anywhere near as tech savvy as you are trying to make yourself sound5.
5. I think what many of those people are really referring to is the lack of a persistent escape key. I have set my machine’s preferences so that the escape key is always in that corner of the bar, no matter what else is happening. And I think that’s the default. It is a legitimate critique to point out that if something happens to the Touch Bar that an escape key signal is harder to send to any software you’re using. But speaking as someone who has seen a lot of damaged keyboards over the years, I have to point out that a mechanical keyboard can experience broken keys. And again, if there is a severe enough system software problem happening on your machine where the virtual key is ignored, the mechanical keys are almost certainly being ignored as well.
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