The MacBook Pro line-up has at­tracted a fair few neg­a­tive re­sponses, due to its USB-C de­pen­dency and hefty price tag. So is it worth it?

THE NEW MACBOOK PRO IS FI­NALLY HERE. IT’S EX­PEN­SIVE, DE­PEN­DENT ON USB-C AND HAS A FANCY NEW TOUCH­SCREEN ATOP THE KEY­BOARD. SO SHOULD YOU BUY ONE?

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It’s fair to say there’s been more than a few neg­a­tive re­ac­tions to Ap­ple’s new MacBook Pro line-up.

There’s a (some­what worth­while) school of thought that says this lap­top should have been a new MacBook Air, with Ap­ple an­nounc­ing a work sta­tion-level notebook called the Pro.

Nat­u­rally this would have also come in for some crit­i­cism. But it’s clear that Ap­ple does not see it­self as a main­stream sup­plier of note­books. It’s some­what odd to think of the MacBook Air as old hat, but that’s ex­actly what it is – the clos­est thing Ap­ple has to a mid-ranger.

Here we’re look­ing at the TouchBar ver­sion (which comes in 13- or 15-inch sizes, in Sil­ver or Space Grey), but there’s also a base-level MacBook Pro with­out TouchBar and with only two USB-C Thun­der­bolt 3 ports that nips $500 off the 13-inch TouchBar price.

What’s in­cred­i­ble about all the new Pros is that they’re the same thick­ness as the rear of the MacBook Air but with retina dis­play and far more power. Ex­cept for a small sub­set of users, these are do-any­thing de­vices.

They bor­row the best new fea­tures from the 12-inch MacBook, drop all ports (save the head­phone jack – Ap­ple hasn’t gone com­pletely mad) in favour of four all-pur­pose USB-C Thun­der­bolt 3 ports, boast a mas­sive track­pad and max out at 16GB of mem­ory (this is the max­i­mum of low power mem­ory al­lowed by In­tel’s Sky­lake plat­form).

The retina dis­play con­tin­ues to as­tound, es­pe­cially with the 15-inch ver­sion, and in these Macs the retina dis­play has a wider colour gamut, too. The key­board takes a bit of get­ting used to, but it’s an im­proved ver­sion from that on the 12-inch MacBook.

The 15-incher fea­tures quad­core In­tel Core i7 chips, the 13-incher a still-speedy 2.9GHz Core i5.

The lim­i­ta­tion of 16GB of low power mem­ory isn’t ideal for some peo­ple who would have con­sid­ered this notebook. But it’s a small amount of peo­ple – for many, 16GB will do fan­tas­ti­cally. And all mod­els are 8GB by de­fault, any­way. Ap­ple be­lieves that the speedy 256GB or 512GB SSD drives used here (3GB/s write) means that these Macs can use the drive as ex­tra mem­ory with­out a per­for­mance hit for all but the high­est-de­mand user. WHAT ABOUT USB-C? But USB-C (which in­cor­po­rates the new Thun­der­bolt 3 tech here) is no ‘maybe’. It is re­al­ity. Ev­ery notebook in this class as well as ul­tra­porta­bles

will boast USB-C ex­clu­sively within months. The HP Spec­tre 13 is a prime ex­am­ple. It’s a bit em­bar­rass­ing for Mi­crosoft, which says ‘Sur­face Book is the ul­ti­mate lap­top’ when the new sec­ond-gen unit still es­chews USB-C.

Ap­ple isn’t afraid to chal­lenge con­ven­tions. From no head­phone jack on the iPhone 7 to no floppy drive in the orig­i­nal iMac, it’s al­ways been ready to move on – and the move to USB-C is no bad thing. The orig­i­nal Thun­der­bolt, which used the same con­nec­tor as Mini Dis­playPort, showed Ap­ple was ar­guably ahead of the curve, but most ven­dors ig­nored it.

USB-C is a great so­lu­tion for con­nect­ing de­vices as well as for video with a sec­ond mon­i­tor. It’s also great for charg­ing, but it doesn’t come away as eas­ily as MagSafe did (to pre­vent your Mac from end­ing up on the floor if some­one trips on the cable). Ap­ple reck­ons that the loss of MagSafe is just one of those things that has to go in the name of progress, but there is a truth when it says that you will rarely need to charge these things. If you can get ten hours out of a lap­top, or 30 days standby, will you re­ally charge it in ev­ery cof­fee shop or meet­ing room you go into?

There is a lit­tle is­sue with us­ing USB-C for charg­ing, and that is that not all USB-C power adapters have the same 87W rat­ing as the charger that comes with the new MacBook Pro 15-inch. Other charg­ers (like the 61W ver­sion that comes with the 13-inch) can be used, they just won’t be as fast.

You can use any USB-C port for charg­ing – but no, you can’t charge from more than one charger. The sec­ond you plug in will be ig­nored!

One of the added ben­e­fits of USB-C is that it en­ables the whole thing to be lighter and thin­ner than re­tain­ing legacy ports. And if you’ve ever lugged a MacBook Pro around in a bag, you’ll know how great that is.

The dis­ad­van­tage is that you’ll need an adapter, but you don’t need to buy Ap­ple’s of­fi­cial stuff – we bought a USB-C to HDMI and USB 3.0 hub for $40 from an on­line store. It works bril­liantly. How­ever, you will

def­i­nitely need to buy one cable if you have an iPhone – a USB-C to Light­ning cable. We got caught with­out one and couldn’t charge our iPhone 7 Plus.

CAN’T TOUCH THIS

Ap­ple has clearly de­cided that its Macs shouldn’t have touch­screens and this has re­sulted in the Touch Bar. That’s all well and good, but Mi­crosoft

has fi­nally made touch use­ful with Win­dows 10 and more and more of us ex­pect to be able to touch screens, es­pe­cially chil­dren who are now used to de­vices like Ap­ple’s own iPad.

The sim­ple fact is that, at some point, the Mac will have to be touchen­abled. Maybe Ap­ple just doesn’t feel macOS is up to it yet. Maybe it will re­quire a merge of macOS and iOS to make it hap­pen. What­ever, Ap­ple has clearly de­cided that the Touch Bar is an ef­fec­tive tool for now.

One great thing about the Touch Bar is that it is beau­ti­fully app-spe­cific – and even more gran­u­lar within that. If text is se­lected, it’ll show you the text tools – that kind of thing.

You can cus­tomise the small sec­tion of sys­tem con­trols on the right-hand side of the Touch Bar, known as the Con­trol Strip. When edit­ing the con­tents of the strip, the icons wob­ble, just like on your iPhone. When you add some­thing, you can change its po­si­tion by drag­ging it on the Touch Bar in this view, which is super cool. And you’re also able to select what ap­pears in the col­lapsed view, as well as what ap­pears in the full ex­panded Con­trol Strip view. This level of cus­tomi­sa­tion is what Ap­ple is hop­ing will make the MacBook Pro ir­re­sistible to power users.

This goes some way to deal­ing with one of the is­sues of the Touch Bar – you don’t quite know if the fea­ture you need will be there, a bit like us­ing 3D Touch on your iPhone.

Press­ing the Fn key brings up the func­tion keys on the Touch Bar, but you can change this to en­sure it shows the ex­panded Con­trol Strip should you wish. The Es­cape key is pretty much al­ways shown – one in the eye for those who said Ap­ple was los­ing it be­cause of the phys­i­cal key’s ab­sence.

If there is a prob­lem with the Touch Bar it is that it’s not as nat­u­ral to use (yet) as the track­pad is – or key­board short­cuts. Af­ter all, for many apps, Pro users will know how to make things hap­pen with­out re­sort­ing to the track­pad. Will the Touch Bar change this be­hav­iour, and is there rea­son to?

But it does put much more at your fin­ger­tips – not ev­ery­thing has a sim­ple con­trol, af­ter all. Chang­ing a colour from a colour picker, for ex­am­ple, is way eas­ier when us­ing the Touch Bar. It will also be great for those of us who take pride in a clut­ter-free screen, as there won’t be quite the need to have so many pan­els open in pop­u­lar apps. And, if we’re hon­est, it’s go­ing to be those most pop­u­lar baked-in macOS apps where the Touch Bar will be well-used, as well as some third-party apps that have oft-used func­tions you need to use while you’re typ­ing – in Mi­crosoft Word or Out­look, for ex­am­ple.

Touch ID is a very cool fea­ture to have, but you’ll still need your pass­word if your Mac has been re­set or has been asleep for a cou­ple of days, just like other iOS de­vices.

So what do we think about the new MacBook Pros? In a word, stun­ning. In another word, ex­pen­sive. But we love see­ing awe­some stuff here at and these ma­chines slot firmly into that cat­e­gory. These are supreme note­books that you won’t mind spend­ing big money on be­cause they’ll be com­pan­ions for years. Want to know the only thing we re­ally don’t like? The Ap­ple logo on the lid no longer lights up. That’s a sad­ness. But USB-C and the new Touch Bar? That’s wel­come progress.

Cus­tomise the Con­trol Strip to make it suit the way you work

ABOVE Your Mac doesn’t need to be turned on any­more – just open the lid. The start-up ‘bong’ has gone, too

ABOVE Un­like the iPhone 7, the head­phone jack re­mains (thank­fully) The 15-incher weighs 1.8kg – a vast re­duc­tion on the old model. The 13inch ver­sion weighs just 1.37kg BAT­TERY LIFE Ap­ple reck­ons you can get around ten hours of ev­ery­day use be­fore you need to recharge THE WEIGHT

Amazingly pow­er­ful: you won’t re­place it for years

What, no Es­cape key? Purists are up in arms!

USB-C is the fu­ture, but you’ll need don­gles

It won’t be right for every­body, but the Touch Bar can be gen­uinely use­ful, es­pe­cially for con­text-spe­cific tasks where you would have pre­vi­ously had to pull up a pal­ette on screen TOUCH BAR ABOVE The larger Force Touch track­pad is de­signed to en­able much more ex­pres­sive ges­tures than were ever pos­si­ble be­fore

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