MacBook Pro with Touch Bar (13-inch, Mid-2017) review

A faster, but still divisive, MacBook Pro

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It shouldn’t come as any surprise that the latest MacBook Pro is awfully powerful. With the latest Intel processors inside and some of fastest flash storage available in a laptop, we wouldn’t expect anything less.

Benchmarks

Here’s how the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar (mid-2017) performed in our suite of benchmark tests:

Cinebench CPU: 383 points; Graphics: 34 fps
Geekbench 4 Single-Core: 4,383; Multi-Core: 9,313
Battery Life (TechRadar movie test): 6 hours and 37 minutes

During our time with the device, not once have we hit any sort of lock-up, stuttering or freezing. We’ve yet to bear witness to the so-called “beach ball of death” either.

Granted, this is during our normal workload of 10-plus Google Chrome browser tabs as well as the Slack chat app – both of which are known for their considerable demands on system resources. We also find work in Photoshop to be silky smooth, too.

It should also come as no surprise that this MacBook won’t compare well on paper to rivals we’ve reviewed, as the XPS 13 we’ve tested has a stronger processor inside. In the case of the Surface Laptop, straight performance comparisons are even harder to make, given we couldn’t run any of our standard benchmarks on it short of our battery test.

Regardless, expect a similar level of performance between the three devices, given that they all make use of the latest Intel processors and super speedy SSDs. Not to mention that this MacBook Pro houses RAM clocked at 2,133MHz to its rivals’ 1,866MHz, helping shore up some differences.

Also, don’t worry about that Touch Bar and Touch ID module hogging any system resources, as both are powered by an ARM-based T1 coprocessor – the very same found in Apple’s own Series 2 Apple Watch. This keeps 100% of the Intel chip’s power devoted to core computing.

Battery life

However, we can’t say the Touch Bar – and the coprocessor beneath it – doesn’t impact battery life. This MacBook Pro lasted for 6 hours and 37 minutes through our in-house battery test, looping 1080p video at 50% brightness and volume – with all backlighting and radios (but Wi-Fi) disabled – until it dies.

That’s nearly an hour short of how long last year’s 13-inch MacBook Pro without the Touch Bar ran on the very same test: 7 hours and 24 minutes. (Not mention well short of both the XPS 13 and Surface Laptop.) Plus, last year’s model was actually conducted at 75% screen brightness. 

Between that fact and that the Kaby Lake Intel Core processor inside this year’s laptop is generally believed to be more power efficient, we’re left wondering why the two results aren’t at least closer. Both of these points are rather strong tells that the Touch Bar’s nearly always-on display and its coprocessor have a measurable impact on battery life.

This is before even mentioning that the Touch Bar seems takes up a bit of space beneath the hood that would normally be occupied by battery cells. While we haven’t gotten inside the thing, why else would the model sans Touch Bar house a 54.5-watt-hour battery whereas the model with the Touch Bar included packs a smaller, 49.2Wh power pack?

Surely, you’d want more battery to power two screens and two processors if you could manage it.

Regardless, the newest MacBook Pro is still going to last you on most US flights and perhaps even flights across the Atlantic into western Europe. That should be also good enough to get most through a work day – either way, it’s still short of Apple’s 10-hour claim.

We liked

Getting a hold of a brand new MacBook Pro never gets old. There’s a reason why countless vendors have ripped Apple’s designs over the years: because they’re that good. The Force Touch trackpad should be lauded as an engineering marvel, while the newer keyboard is surprisingly easy to use and vastly improved over the first go at the butterfly hinge. Finally, Touch ID on a MacBook Pro works nearly as fast as it does on an iPhone, and it’s a no-brainer feature at this point.

We disliked

Our most chief concern with the MacBook Pro is what it offers for the price in comparison to rivals running Windows 10. It’s almost painfully easy to configure a more powerful, longer-lasting and more pixel-dense Windows laptop at online checkout for the same price or even less. Also, despite its merit as another engineering feat, we find the Touch Bar lacking in convenience and necessity for the hit that battery life takes to accommodate the extra hardware.

Final verdict

When it comes to Apple products, especially laptops, there are some whom will never be swayed one way or the other. Either they’re vehemently for or against the MacBook, and will defend either position by any means necessary, whether that be with their money or yet another Mac vs PC Reddit thread.

However, for the scant few of you that might be on the fence (whether you’re coming from a Windows laptop or debating whether to upgrade your MacBook Pro), consider what you’re getting for the price in comparison to rivals. But, also consider the inimitable features that a MacBook Pro affords, like deeper iPhone integration than you can get anywhere else and some of the best keyboards and trackpads we’ve tested, to name a few.

The new MacBook Pro is a marked improvement over the previous generation, upping the processing power and RAM speed as well as improving the keyboard among other features. However, Apple sticking to its guns on things like Thunderbolt 3 ditching the SD card slot and display resolution only stand to hurt it in straight comparisons. 

All told, the newest MacBook Pro will not disappoint both incumbent fans and those jumping the fence – just apply due diligence before clicking the ‘buy’ button.