THE NEW MACBOOK Pro comes in three flavors: two 13-inch models and a 15-incher. They all have thinner bodies, better screens, and trackpads so big they blot out the sun. And you can buy it in space gray. But the important addition is the Touch Bar. This capacitive strip of OLED glass above the keyboard is supposed to change everything, again, about how you use your laptop.“For 25 years,” Tim Cook said while unveiling the device, “we’ve been defining and redefining what a notebook is and what it can do.” Dramatic pause. “And today, we’re going to do it again.” Of course, Apple expects you to pay up: the MacBook Pro with Touch Bar starts at $1,800.
It’s been several years since the last big MacBook update, and mine is, like yours, long in the tooth. I’d been waiting for a reason to buy a new one, and jumped at the chance to try the new Pro. This is supposed to be it! The laptop of the future, and the future of the laptop. After using it, poking and prodding it, and plugging things into it, I have one word of advice.
Can Touch This
People love Apple computers because Apple gets the basics right. The keyboard, the trackpad, the screen, the speakers, all the table-stakes things too many companies get wrong. And in most cases, Apple made the best even better with the new MacBook Pro.
The trackpad doesn’t physically click, but feels like it does, and it is so big and smooth you’d be crazy to use a mouse. The keyboard (a refined take on the 12-inch MacBook’s butterfly keys) doesn’t have much travel and takes getting used to, but it’s accurate and crisp and works beautifully. The speakers are louder and clearer than ever. I get eight or nine hours from the battery, as long as I’m not Photoshopping all day and keep the brightness below eye-bleeding levels. And the screen is, well, the screen is ridiculous. Apple’s ultra-wide color gamut, on top of the super-high resolution, makes it the best laptop display I’ve ever seen.
The 13-inch Pro, which I’ve been using, is a bit over half an inch thick and weighs almost exactly three pounds. I carried a MacBook Air for years, and this feels like that. (The footprint is actually a bit smaller.) Everything about it, even the charger, is smaller than ever. Apple could have kept the body the same and added more battery, or more power, but opted for smaller and lighter. How you feel about that says a lot about whether you’ll like the new Pro.
Apple’s Touch Bar doesn’t quite count as revolutionary, but it’s the biggest change in years. The thin OLED strip, where the function keys used to be, knows which app you’re in, tries to guess which features or settings you might need, and puts them within reach (barely) of your fingertips. In Safari, the Touch Bar offers small indicators for each tab and bookmark, plus quick access for search and opening a tab. In Messages, it becomes the Emoji Bar, which is objectively the best thing ever. You can scrub through your timeline in Final Cut, or swipe through photo albums in Photos. There’s no new functionality here, just easier and more obvious access to common stuff.
Technically, the Touch Bar works brilliantly. It’s fast and smooth and responsive. The textured glass feels great, and looks fantastic. Using my fingerprint on the Touch ID reader to log in and to pay for stuff is the best. But the implementation feels unfinished.
With no function keys, shortcuts for adjusting brightness and controlling music are hidden in a tiny menu to the right of the Touch Bar. Three are accessible at a tap: mute, volume, and screen brightness. (What madman needs brightness controls that much?) Pausing or playing music—something I do about 45,000 times daily—requires carefully tapping on the tiny left arrow, waiting a moment for the menu to expand, then finding and pressing the button.
“It takes a heartbeat longer to pause my music” hardly qualifies as a burn-it-down kind of problem. But the Touch Bar exists precisely to make these small, repetitive tasks easier. And too often, it just doesn’t have the option or button I’m looking for. The screen changes constantly, moving things around to the point where I can’t find anything. I’d like to see Apple open the Touch Bar so users can customize it. Then it could be everything I want it to be, because I could make it so. Right now, I’m subject to Apple’s best guess about what I want.