The 2016 15" MacBook Pro

I recently purchased the 15” version of late 2016’s MacBook Pro, their last model as of this writing. Touch bar and everything. This came as a necessity as my former laptop—another MacBook Pro—is turning 4 years old in a few months, and in dire need of some repairs and well deserved rest and repurpose.

I’m not the usual review guy, but this model has been receiving a whole lot of hate all around. My expectations were very low when I got it, as I’ve seen almost every updated part of the machine being ripped apart in internet reviews. They say the secret to happiness is low expectations, and they’re probably right: I’m enjoying using this model. Let me tell you why from a software engineer perspective.

Most of my work involves a text editor and a bunch of terminals. And of course the omnipresent browser. In a normal day of work I’ll spend some hours browsing and coding while I’m hosting several background processes running automated test suites, databases and support systems. I also program a bit after work. I haven’t yet played anything in this computer, still waiting for that decent sale on Civilization VI.

Taking that those are my necessities into account, here are my observations.

The screen

The screen is clearly better than its predecessor. Brighter, and with slightly more contrast. It has a higher resolution than the former model as well. It is very comfortable and easy on the eyes at high and low brightness settings.

The keyboard

The keyboard takes some time to get used to, but I ended up liking it. It’s almost flat, so it has quite a lot less travel time than the old ones. On the other hand it’s harder and crisper. I feel it requires more pressure to actuate, so it balances out. Keys are larger, but the spacing between centres is the same.

The clicking noise is different from the old chiclet style, and louder. Sounds rather weird at first, but again, one gets used to it.

The retro illumination looks uneven in some spots. This makes the keyboard look somewhat cheap, in contrast with the 300$ touch bar right above it.

The touchpad

Not to be confused with touch bar. The touchpad is huge, humongous, gargantuan. I get the need to have it larger, but this was way too much in my opinion.

It works wonderfully well though. The force feedback mechanism, while not indistinguishable from the real thing, is very pleasant. The palm rejection calculations also function very well.

The touch bar

Useless at this point, and somewhat cumbersome at first. Took me 1 hour to become fed up with the new “Escape button” and remap it to the Caps Lock key.

I’m not entirely skeptical about it, and I believe a lot of good stuff can be done with it, even in my field. After speaking with some friends we came up with two possible uses: a permanent display of metrics—such as the requests per second your app is receiving, its percentiles, how many users connected to your app, or how much sales you had today—and to be used as your editor’s usual bottom bar which displays the git branch, automated test results, etc…

But for now it just sits there. Drawing power.

The chassis

This worries me a bit. A lot of changes happened to a chassis that I knew was good enough to last me 4 years. The keyboard changed, the hinge changed, and the touchpad changed, along with some overall body modifications here and there.

Everything looks sturdy enough, but lets see how it fares against the test of time.

Lighter and thinner, so good on my back.

Battery life

Better than my old computer. But then again, my old computer is 4 years old. I haven’t measured anything yet, but it looks like it’s worse than what my old computer could do 4 years ago.

Ports

I had to buy some adapters for standard USB and Thunderbolt 2/Mini Display Port. So yeah, I jumped on the adapter train.

I’m kind of divided in this. USB-C is great and also the future. However, a couple of standard ports would be nice as well. All that talk about adapters and lack of ports makes an awful lot of sense for most people—although truth being said, it doesn’t affect me that much. So lucky me.

The lack of a MagSafe power supply is a bummer. It is very nice, however, that you can plug in the power from both sides of the laptop. It’s also nice that you can plug in more than one power adapter, even though it’s plainly useless.

The price

Terribly expensive. I got it under very special conditions which made the deal attractive to me, but I probably wouldn’t have gotten it otherwise.

The fact is that including a mandatory 300$ touch bar into a laptop with such an universal use as the MBP hurts a lot of people. It is a nice shenanigan but at this point it is nothing beyond that: a shenanigan.

What about the specs?

Those are fine. Performs better than my last computer when doing CPU intensive work. The SSD is also faster. The internet is ripe with benchmarks regarding this.

I’ve gone with Apple because of good build quality, a decent screen and a comfortable experience. These things are important to me as I can easily spend at least 8 hours a day using a computer. I really don’t care for that extra fast CPU if it means having my palm rests burning all the time.

These are the things I expect from this computer. That and some durability.

You don’t go to Apple if you’re pursuing specs. Stop kidding yourself.

Thoughts

So as I lay in my sofa typing this in a brand new MacBook Pro I realise the criticism against this release of Apple’s professional laptops was greatly exaggerated. There is still some merit to them, but the computer is good, albeit very expensive.