New MacBook Pro: Hands-on with Apple’s most expensive MacBook range yet


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New MacBook Pro  Hands on – That MacBook Pro sitting in front of you? It’s a relic. Apple just consigned its current range of MacBook Pros to the history books with its announcement of the all-singing, all-dancing new MacBook Pro family for 2016. They’re not bigger, but by crikey are they better.

You’d expect nothing less than for the new MacBook Pro to be thinner, lighter and more powerful(er) than ever before, but the key new arrival to Apple’s laptop range is the new Touch Bar, and the addition of Touch ID. The Function Keys are dead.

Phil Schiller took a quiet moment to mourn their passing, but I suspect that everyone else will be quietly pleased to see them go. In their place on the pricier two MacBook Pros in the range – yes, there is still a slightly less terrifyingly expensive Touch Bar-free model (which I’ll discuss a little more on page two) – you’ll find the new Retina-class Touch Bar. It’s responsive to multi-touch, gesture and taps, and presents a context-sensitive range of buttons, sliders and shortcuts for any supported application.

I want to take you to a Touch Bar

This means that you can personalise the Touch Bar to present the quick actions you use the most, but also means you no longer need to consign hundreds of key combinations to memory for every single possible application. Using Final Cut Pro? Then you’ll get a full overview of your current timeline that you can skip through with a flick of a finger. Tap and you can zoom into a specific section. Select a clip and the Touch Bar will present a range of relevant functions, each assigned to a button or a slider instead, allowing you to quickly cut, fade or adjust the volume. Fire up Photoshop instead, and… you get the idea.

How does it feel? Well, pretty awesome. It’s responsive, fluid and it works exactly as you’d expect. I do wonder if it will ever become one of those indispensable features you’ll come to expect on any laptop, but I’ll have to have a new MacBook Pro in front of me for longer than five minutes to make that call – hell, maybe even a week or so.

Amazing things come in small packages

You might remember Dell making a big song and dance about how its XPS 13 was smaller than any other rival 13in laptop – well, now its Apple’s turn. The new 13in model is now 17% thinner than previously (it’s now a dainty 14.9mm thick), and your long-suffering laptop bag will be particularly pleased to hear that it’s now 23% smaller in volume, too. Remarkably, the new 13in MacBook Pro’s footprint is now markedly smaller than the 13in MacBook Air, and as it weighs just 1.37kg, it’s only 20g heavier – which is pretty, well, remarkable.

Performance has skyrocketed. Apple never talks specifics, but the specs suggest that we’re getting a 2GHz Intel Core i5-6360U in the “budget” 13in MacBook Pro, while the Touch Bar-equipped versions get a 2.9GHz Core i5-6267U with Intel HD Graphics 550 in the base model that stretches up to a 3.3GHz Core i7-6567U – if you can find another £270 in the piggy bank, that is. RAM now accelerates to DDR4 2,133MHz speeds, and you can double the standard 8GB of the stuff for £180. Bargain.

It was the SSD that kept the old MacBook Pro out in front of its Windows rivals for so long, though, and now it’s got faster – twice as fast, to be precise. This may be just enough to shunt Apple back out into the vanguard of blazingly quick mobile SSDs – and to reclaim the fastest laptop crown.

Pump up the volume (also: the brightness, contrast and colour gamut)

Apple’s MacBook Pros were never behind the curve when it came to display quality, but this update sees them return to the front line. Apple claims that they’re dramatically brighter, have higher contrast levels, and now for the first time have a wider colour gamut – and seeing them in the flesh it’s easy to believe.

The macOS Sierra desktop looks divine, almost-holographic icons etched in glass, and photographs look astonishing. It will be interesting to see how tightly Apple has calibrated these new displays, though, as there weren’t many – maybe any – comparably priced laptops to the previous generation that offered the same calibre of colour accuracy as the MacBook Pro. I’m keen to find out.

It wouldn’t have been an Apple event without a slew of other dramatic design improvements, and Phil didn’t disappoint – he also claimed that the new speakers in the MacBook Pros have twice the dynamic range. Can I believe it? Yes, I can. The new MacBook Pros are all about doing more with less, and while those speakers have had to fit into a smaller space, they sound better than ever – there aren’t many laptop speakers I’d want to listen to music on, but these come close to changing my mind.

How much?! Blame Brexit

If you have to ask, well, you’re probably going to be disappointed. Sans-Touch Bar, the new 13in MacBook Pro comes in at a punishing £1,449. Really want that Touch Bar? Then you’ll need £1,749. Desperate to double your storage to 512GB? Oh dear. Your poor wallet. That’ll be £1,949. And don’t forget, you better save a few pennies to grab some USB Type-C adapters while you’re at the checkout.

This might sound obscenely expensive, and it is, but it looks like the weak UK-US exchange rate is very much to blame here. The last-generation 13in MacBook Pro is still on sale, but the arrival of the new models has seen the price soar from £999 to £1,249. It turns out that Brexit means very, very expensive MacBook Pros. Are they still worth the cash? Well, given what I’ve seen today, the surprising answer may well be yes. Keep your eyes peeled for our full review.

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