When Apple unveiled its new MacBook Pro laptops at a media event last month, Adam Leventhal, a software engineer, was eager to learn about them.
Yet by the time he finished watching a live stream of the event, Leventhal, who has owned only Mac computers for the last 30 years, was turned off. “With this one I was really disappointed,” he said.
For a new laptop, the MacBook Pro has been divisive. That may partly be because the model, which has long been used by creative professionals and coders, has stayed largely the same since 2012. So this time, when Apple introduced some fairly radical changes, emotions among some longtime Mac customers ran high.
In their latest incarnation, MacBook Pros have only one type of connection port, as opposed to the several types they had before. That will require people to buy adapters to plug in devices that use different types of connectors. On the keyboard, Apple also replaced the top row of physical keys, including the Escape key, with a virtual touch strip called the Touch Bar.
The benefits? The new laptops are faster, much thinner and lighter than the previous generation, and they have about 10 hours of battery life. The Touch Bar’s virtual buttons transform depending on the app you are using, unlocking the potential for software makers to create custom shortcuts.
I tested the new MacBook Pros which cost $US1500 ($1988) to $US2800, depending on the model while gathering reactions to the new computers from engineers and information technology professionals over two weeks. I concluded that while the new laptops are capable enough for many professionals, there is no need to rush to buy one.
Highlights and lowlights
USB-C: Stock Up on Adapters
With the new laptops, Apple has gone all in on USB-C, the next-generation USB port. This small, oval-shaped connection is expected to replace the bulkier, rectangular port known as USB-A on many computing devices and accessories in the next few years.
In my tests, having only USB-C on the MacBook Pros was the biggest change. The previous MacBook Pros included USB-A and some other types of ports, including HDMI, for connecting devices like printers and monitors. Now the USB-C ports will be the only way to hook up just about everything, including power chargers, external screens and photo-card readers, to the laptop. The entry-level MacBook Pro has two USB-C ports, and the higher-end models include four.
What this means in the near term is that you may have to buy adapters to plug in devices with different connectors. Annoyingly, that includes the iPhone power cable, which has a USB-A connector. So to charge an iPhone on a new MacBook Pro, for example, you have to hook up the cable to a dongle that connects USB-A and USB-C devices.
The transition to USB-C might be a headache, but it is easily resolved by picking up some inexpensive adapters. I bought mine from Monoprice.
Touch Bar: A Blank Slate
With the Touch Bar, Apple intended to replace some outdated keys with a versatile strip that adapts to the apps you are using. Apple also built a fingerprint sensor into the Touch Bar.
The Touch Bar is a breeze to get the hang of, but I didn’t find it helpful in streamlining tasks. If you open the Photos app, for example, the Touch Bar displays thumbnails of photos in your library, and you can tap one to select a photo to edit. That’s neat, but why not just select the photo on your laptop screen? When using the Safari browser, you can use the Touch Bar to select a different browser tab but using keyboard shortcuts (Command+1 to choose the first tab, for instance) is quicker.
The Escape key also exists as a virtual button on the Touch Bar. I didn’t mind that because I rarely use this key, but the design decision made Leventhal, the software engineer, wince. He said the physical Escape key was crucial for coders, and not being able to press it seemed crippling.
Speed and Memory Limits
Many Apple loyalists have fixated on the memory constraints and underwhelming performance of the new MacBook Pros. The new models have a maximum of 16 gigabytes of RAM the same limit as the previous MacBook Pro and roughly the same processor speed as the last professional notebooks. But that’s not the full story.
The new notebooks are much faster in some ways than older models, while other parts are only slightly faster. In speed tests run with the app Geekbench 4, the 15-inch MacBook Pro’s computer processor was only 10 per cent to 17 per cent faster than the 15-inch model released in 2012. Yet the graphics processor, which is crucial for heavy computing tasks, in the new MacBook Pro is about twice as fast as the one in the older model, and the storage drives are much faster, too.
The RAM limit might irk users who need power. The more RAM you have, the more applications you can open and the more quickly your computer can juggle them. The problem, in theory, is that in a few years if your future apps hog more memory, you won’t be able to add more memory to MacBook Pros because the most they can hold is 16 gigabytes.
Wait for the Early Adopters
Professional Mac users are too divided on the MacBook Pro for me to make a blanket recommendation.
One thing is sure: For casual users or anyone buying their first laptop, who may just want a computer for web browsing and lightweight apps, the MacBook Pro is overkill. A Chromebook, like the $US430 Chromebook 13 from Dell, or the $US1,000 MacBook Air, Apple’s least expensive notebook computer, are slower and have lower-resolution screens, but they are powerful enough for your needs.
The new MacBook Pros are probably powerful enough for most professionals.But if you consider yourself a power user and are skeptical about the MacBook Pro, you might wait to see whether the initial concerns are borne out after early adopters start using their machines. Plenty have already bought them: Apple said early orders for the new MacBook Pro have been stronger than for past professional notebooks.
On the plus side, these notebooks are fast, with high-resolution screens and responsive keyboards. But the Touch Bar so far feels gimmicky, and not many devices or accessories come with USB-C connectors yet.
The MacBook Pros are also expensive, and some users may end up spending thousands of dollars above the retail price for add-ons like extra storage.
So if you aren’t ready to make the jump to USB-C and you don’t want to spend a big chunk of your savings, it’s reasonable to wait for the new Apple notebooks to realize their potential or drop in price.
By: Brian Chen, The New York Times
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