Apple 15-inch MacBook Pro (2016) review: Fast, light, innovative, and expensive – ZDNet

 In Technology
The new 15-inch MacBook Pro is a quintessential Apple product. It’s genuinely innovative, and elegantly designed as always, but also frustratingly convinced of its own infallibility, and — especially for those of us in post-Brexit Britain — jaw-droppingly expensive.

Above all else, though, this update to the MacBook Pro range is long overdue, with only modest speedbumps in recent years to placate Apple’s demanding professional users — who, let’s not forget, kept the company afloat in the lean years before the advent of the all-conquering iPhone. The pent-up demand for new MacBook Pro models seems to have ensured strong pre-orders for Apple, even though the shipping date for this 15-inch model has now stretched to late December, so owners of older MacBook Pro models will obviously want to know whether this new model has been worth the long wait.

Touch, Apple-style

Apple has often been criticised for failing to adopt touchscreen displays in any of its desktop or laptop computers, but the new Touch Bar included in the 2016 13-inch and 15-inch MacBook Pro ranges (barring only the entry-level 13-inch model) shows that Apple can still “think different” (sic) and come up with its own innovative use of touch technology.

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The main innovation in the 2016 MacBook Pro is the context-sensitive Touch Bar, which replaces the Function keys in previous models.


Image: Apple

Replacing the traditional row of Function keys on the keyboard, the Touch Bar is a touch-sensitive glass panel — with a resolution of 2,170 by 60 pixels — that provides context-sensitive controls for individual apps, and even for individual tools within apps such as Adobe’s Photoshop. By default, the Touch Bar displays controls for standard settings such as brightness, volume, and the new Mac version of Siri. The ‘Esc’ key is there too — it’s not quite dead yet, as Apple VP Phil Schiller announced during his demo.

But when you switch into an app that supports the Touch Bar you’ll see a new set of controls designed for that specific app. In Mail, for example, you’ll see predictive text and formatting options, while Messages displays a multitude of emojis. That’s unlikely to impress professional users who need to get work done, but Apple does provide an API for the Touch Bar that allows third-party developers to use it within their own apps. Adobe has already demonstrated the use of the Touch Bar in Photoshop, and the ability to quickly step backwards and forwards through a series of complex edits with just a flick of a finger is the sort of thing that will have many designers queuing up to upgrade. Microsoft Office is due for a Touch Bar update as well, although no release date has been announced yet.

The Touch Bar is also home to the new Touch ID sensor. That’s less innovative as there are plenty of existing business laptops with fingerprint sensors – but of course, Apple’s laser-cut sapphire crystal sensor is considerably more stylish than its Windows-based rivals.

Pro performance

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The Touch Bar could well prove to be a useful time-saver, but the best gift Apple can give its neglected professional user base is a more capable machine that will help them to meet their deadlines. The 15.4-inch Retina Display of the MacBook Pro retains the 2,880 by 1,800 resolution (220ppi) of its predecessors, although it now provides 500-nit brightness — 67 percent brighter than the 2015 model, according to Apple — as well as supporting the DCI-P3 colour space used for professional-level video-editing. So, if Apple is aiming at those sorts of high-end applications, then the new MacBook Pro really needs to step up with genuine professional performance.

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The resolution of the 15.4-inch Retina Display is unchanged in the 2016 MacBook Pro, but it now delivers up to 500-nit brightness and supports the DCI-P3 colour space.


Image: Apple

Here in the UK, prices for the new 15-inch MacBook Pro now start at an eye-watering £2,349 inc. VAT (£1,957.50 ex. VAT, or $2,399 in the US) with a 2.6-3.5GHz quad-core Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM, a 256GB solid-state drive and a discrete Radeon Pro 450 GPU. There’s a second configuration with a 2.7-3.6GHz Core i7 and 512GB of SSD storage for £2,699 inc. VAT (£2,249 ex. VAT, or $2,799 in the US), but we took the plunge and opted for a few build-to-order upgrades, including a 2.9-3.8GHz Core i7-6920HQ processor, a 1TB of SSD, and a Radeon Pro 460 with 4GB of VRAM. That brought the final price of the top-of-the-range 15-inch MacBook Pro to a mind-boggling £3,329 inc. VAT (£2,774.16 ex. VAT, or $3,499 in the US).

To be fair, the MacBook Pro does provide very impressive performance. Delivering single- and multi-processor scores of 4,550 and 14,050 in Geekbench 4, the MacBook Pro outguns the raw processor performance of Apple’s top-of-the-range 5K iMac, and sits only slightly behind HP’s Xeon-based Z1 G3 desktop workstation. The solid-state drive flies too, with write and read speeds of 2,057MB/s and 2,505MB/s under Aja System Test Lite. The Radeon GPU is no slouch either, hitting 85.8fps when running the Cinebench R15 video tests. That’s about 9fps behind the iMac, but still 2.5x faster than the 31fps achieved by the 2015 edition of the MacBook Pro — which is still on sale as a token gesture towards people who can’t afford £2,000-£3,000 for a laptop.

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