New MacBook Pro
Can you feel the Force Touch?
From £999 Manufacturer Apple, apple.com/uk Processor 2.7GHz, 2.9GHz or 3.1GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 Memory 8GB, upgradeable to 16GB Storage 128GB, 256GB, 512GB or 1TB flash storage
Apple has received a lot of criticism over the years for describing its product as “magical”, or some variant of it, and it’s probably fair to say we should be impressed by smart technological advances for the ingenious constructions they are, rather than couching them in terms of mysticism or suggesting that the impossible has been achieved (when, evidently, it was possible).
The trouble is that Apple, more than any other company, tends to leave you poking at its latest device, shaking your head and muttering, “witchcraft” under your breath. Which is exactly what happens with the Force Touch trackpad in the new 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro.
Now, some might say that a new trackpad isn’t much of an upgrade for a laptop. This MacBook also has an updated processor to boast of, along with improved graphics. That’s it – but that’s all it needs. It was already one of Apple’s best machines, offering more than enough speed for most people and a Retina screen for a good price.
The processor is still a dual-core CPU, but it’s from Intel’s newest generation of chips, which consume less power. It runs at 2.7GHz in the entry-level machine we have here, which is a small bump from the 2.6GHz of the previous equivalent model. The graphics chip is an integrated Intel Iris GPU, again just like the previous model, though here we’re expecting more improvement – Intel is still aiming to make big strides in this area.
We’ll come to what kind of performance improvements those bring later, but the Force Touch trackpad is the thing that will initially grab your attention because it’s a fascinating thing. Old trackpads have a hinge at the back, and when you click the trackpad, it pivots on the hinge. The pad physically moves. The new trackpad doesn’t move, yet it feels as though it clicks beneath your fingers. There’s an electromagnetic motor inside, and when it detects the pressure of your finger, the motor creates a click. It’s such a small thing – after all, it just replicates how things used to work – but when you know that feeling of clicking is ‘fake’, it leaves you smiling. Witchcraft.
Use the Force, Cook
While that’s all nice, it’s not exactly a useful a change in itself. But the Force Touch trackpad adds extra functionality over the old style of trackpad. You’ve still got Multi-Touch gestures, and it’s also now pressuresensitive, capable of registering presses of different strengths. If you click on something, then keep
You’ve still got Multi-Touch gestures, and the trackpad is also now capable of registering presses of different strengths
pressing harder (you can adjust how hard in System Preferences, pleasingly), you get a second click from the trackpad, and something different will happen – replacing the long click of old in some places, such as the Dock. In QuickTime Player, the harder you press, the faster the fastforward option goes. In Preview, when signing your name, it can detect your drawing pressure. It’s another way of interacting, and it’s a nice addition, but we do think Apple could have implemented it better. The main issue is that, though you can make use of it in all sorts of places around OS X, it’s not always obvious what it will do. For example, ‘Force click’ (in Apple’s parlance) on a file’s icon and it opens it in Quick Look, but Force click on the file’s name and it makes the name editable. These two things don’t share any common factor (such as a keyboard shortcut), yet you can invoke them both by moving the cursor just a few pixels on one file. There’s no mental map you can make to predict what the new interaction will do in what situation until you try it and learn it. Hardly the end of the world, but we like obviousness and consistency in interfaces as a rule.
Actually, some of Force Touch’s most impressive use is in pure feedback, such as in iMovie. When a clip snaps to a point on the timeline, for example, you get a jolt from the trackpad to indicate that it has snapped. It’s a lovely little touch, and we hope many developers will make use of it and the pressure sensitivity.
You can’t touch this
So what about those few other changes? The processor is indeed a small difference, offering an improvement of less than 10% in our Cinebench benchmarks, and only about 3% in our real-world video encoding tests. Performance is pretty good (thanks in part to a solid 8GB of RAM) for all but the highestend tasks, and there’s a fantastic improvement in a different area: battery life. In our intensive video streaming test, the new machine lasted six hours and 45 minutes, hugely surpassing the older version’s five hours and eight minutes. Now, the 13-inch MacBook Air takes home the trophy for battery life (see p85), but this is great for the Retina MacBook Pro, which already offered good longevity under normal use.
Sadly, the new Intel Iris 6100 graphics haven’t delivered much of a performance improvement – or, really, any noticeable change at all – over the old model in our Batman: Arkham City tests. But this means the machine is still capable, if not high-end, for graphics. At 1280x800, you can play Batman at its High settings comfortably, so most newer games should run fine with the visual fidelity lowered slightly. One advantage of the Iris 6100 is that 4K displays will work at 60Hz with this machine over DisplayPort. Apple isn’t officially supporting this at the moment, but it works.
Also, you’ve still got the fast SSD storage (even if 128GB is rather small for a ‘pro’ machine) – in fact, our review unit offered much better performance in this area than last year’s model, but we believe that’s down to variations in the components Apple uses – as well as plenty of ports including two USB 3.0 and two Thunderbolt 2 connections, and, crucially, that awesome Retina display. It’s bright, it’s clear, it offers vibrant colours and contrast, and it will spoil you for any screen that isn’t at least as sharp.
This may not be a big leap forward for the MacBook Pro, but that’s okay. If you have last year’s model, you’ll still be happy with that.
There’s nothing about the 13-inch MacBook Pro’s exterior to tip you off that this is anything more than a minor refresh until you apply increasing pressure to its trackpad.
There are no outward changes to the MacBook Pro – unlike the upcoming MacBook, you can connect your existing USB and Thunderbolt peripherals.
It feels like the Force Touch trackpad presses down into the MacBook’s body, but it really doesn’t move at all.