Flying Under the Touch Bar

Review: The MacBook Pro — Sans Touch Bar — Is Apple’s Secret, Affordable Weapon


Tech By Photo by Chase Pellerin
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When Apple announced its new MacBook Pros at its “Hello Again” event in late October 2016, the 13-inch model sans Touch Bar seemed like an afterthought. The Touch Bar-equipped models took center stage for roughly 45 minutes, with pro tutorials and spec-by-spec analysis. Then Phil Schiller, Apple’s senior VP of marketing, spoke about said 13-inch model for less than three minutes — three — before moving on to general pricing of all the new Pros. The whole keynote presentation ended five minutes later, and if you forgot about the Touch Bar-less model, you weren’t alone.

The 13-inch Pro line will play a prominent role in Apple’s computing future. It’s already made the MacBook Air line obsolete, and as Schiller explained, the new MacBook Pro is “smaller [than the MacBook Air], but better in every way.” It has a higher-resolution screen, faster processor, faster memory, faster storage, faster graphics and new features, like a better keyboard and trackpad. Apple is motivating the MacBook Air-using populace to switch over.

Specs
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Display: 13.3-inch LED-backlit display with IPS technology
Resolution: 2560 x 1600 native resolution at 227 ppi
Processor: 2.0GHz dual-core Intel Core i5, Turbo Boost up to 3.1GHz
OS: macOS Sierra
Storage: 256GB
Memory: 8GB
Graphics: Intel Iris Graphics 540
Ports: two Thunderbolt 3
Weight: 3.02 pounds

Buy Now: $1,499

The new Bar-less Pro also holds its own against its 13-inch Bar-endowed brethren. At entry level, they both have the same high-res 2560 x 1600 display, Force Touch trackpad, backlit keyboard, HDR stereo speakers, 8GB of memory and 256GB of storage. The Touch Bar model wins in processing power (2.9GHz versus 2.0GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor), Turbo Boost (up to 3.3GHz versus 3.1GHz), graphics (Intel Iris Graphics 550 versus 540), and number of Thunderbolt 3 ports (four versus two), but for most users — myself included — these features are superfluous.

After the initial excitement of the event faded, many Mac enthusiasts voiced concerns about whether the Touch Bar models were “pro” enough. For creative professions, the lack of variety of ports (for starters, there’s no SD card slot — though an argument can be made Pro users lean towards CompactFlash cards), non-gamer-friendly graphics cards, and a max 16GB of RAM simply isn’t good enough. Plus, at a premium price (starting at $1,799), there are more value-for-money Windows options to buy.

And while the Touch Bar is beautiful, functional and full of promise, many early reviews are saying it isn’t quite a Pro-level feature. It works well with apps like Safari, Messages, Photos, Photoshop and, as shown at the Apple event, djay Pro. But as of yet, it’s not completely customizable, and for the average MacBook user, although neat, is not necessarily a game-changer. Yet. The proof will be in the software, which, like apps, are already showing signs of great promise.

At $400 dollars less, the 13-inch MacBook Pro sans Touch Bar is the “responsible retina” option. It hasn’t garnered the same flack as the Touch Bar models because, quite simply, it isn’t trying to be a “professional” laptop — just a much better MacBook Air upgrade. If you’re someone who has been waiting several years to upgrade their 13″ MacBook Pro, or MacBook Air, this is the laptop you’ve been waiting for.


Further Reading: MacBook Pro (With Touch Bar) Reviews
Backchannel, The MacBook Pro’s Touchy Feely Thing
Wired, Review: Apple MacBook Pro With Touch Bar
Engadget, MacBook Pro Review (2016): A step forward and a step back
CNET, Apple MacBook Pro with Touch Bar review: Second-screen dream machine