The Air apparent
THE TECHLIFE TEAM TESTS THE LATEST DEVICES, GADGETS & ACCESSORIES, INCLUDING APPLE’S CONTENTIOUS NEW MACBOOK PRO.
Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch (Core i5, Late-2016) A NEW LOW-END PRO, OR A NEW HIGH-END AIR?
APPLE’S NEWEST MACBOOK Pro isn’t equipped with the new Touch Bar control strip. You almost feel like it would make more sense if Apple had made this a new 13-inch version of the MacBook, with the Pro name reserved for models with the Touch Bar. As we started to test it, however, we could see why Apple was happy with the Pro name.
Its dual-core Intel Core i5 processor proved to be almost as powerful as the 2.7GHz processor in the previous-gen entry-level model. That machine managed our real-world video encoding test in 57 minutes, while this machine took 55. This amount of processing power makes it more than capable of mid-range video editing and photo work, impressive to fit in a smaller, lighter frame with the same battery life. Intel’s Iris 540 GPU is a much more advanced design. In our Batman: Arkham City test, we got an improvement in frame rate of more than 50% over the previous model. This is great for apps such as Photoshop or Final Cut Pro, which can use GPU power to speed up certain tasks.
Another improvement is the storage. In BlackMagic’s Disk Speed Test, we recorded 1,241MB/s for writing to the MacBook Pro’s internal SSD. We switched to Xbench to get accurate drive read speeds, recording around 3,000MB/s at the peak. It’s astonishingly fast — perfect for those working with giant media libraries, including video editing and photography. It comes with 8GB of RAM, which should be fine for most people. You can upgrade to 16GB when you buy, though, and you can also get more than the default 256GB of storage, or upgrade the processor to a 2.4GHz Intel Core i7 model — but the $480 price for the latter is the almost the same cost as upgrading to the 2.9GHz Touch Bar model.
The display is still a 2,560 x 1,600-pixel Retina display, but is now much brighter and features the wide colour gamut seen on the Retina iMacs, iPad Pros and iPhone 7. It’s a really detailed, vivid, stunning screen. The keyboard is the new style that premiered with the 12-inch MacBook, though in an updated form, with switches that have a marginally ‘clickier’ feel, offering more feedback. We liked it on the MacBook, and this version is slightly improved. We love the crisp feel with the large size of the keys, and find them accurate and comfy. The trackpad has increased in size, too.
Apple has also included new speakers, which are a vast improvement. They deliver a fuller sound across the range, with especially improved bass helping to make everything feel less tinny. Ironically, in other ways, Apple has made the machine impressively quiet — we only noticed the fans make significant noise when running our Tomb Raider graphics test.
Battery life is fantastic. Apple still quotes around 10 hours of usage, so it can last a whole work day, but that depends on your usage. That said, we can’t talk about usability without discussing the ports. Two Thunderbolt 3 ports don’t go very far when one of them is also your power connection. Adapters for basic USB and SD card readers are inexpensive, but you’ll definitely need to invest in one. For those coming at this machine as a MacBook Air replacement, this will probably seem okay. As a replacement for an entry-level MacBook Pro, it’s a major drop in native connectivity.
In conclusion, we really like this machine — it’s fast, usable, with a lovely screen. But it’s sitting in a slightly awkward middle ground in Apple’s lineup — and one of the many other models may ultimately suit you better.
APPLE MACBOOK PRO 13-INCH (CORE I5, LATE-2016) From $2,199 www.apple.com/au CRITICAL SPECS 13.3-inch IPS ‘Retina’ LCD @ 2,560 x 1,600-pixels; dual-core 2GHz Intel Core i5 CPU; Intel Iris 540 GPU; 8GB RAM; 256GB PCIe SSD; 1.37kg.