MacBook Pro 13" with Touch Bar 6 Month Review

I've been using my MacBook Pro with Touch Bar for around 6 months now. Here's my thoughts on the machine having used it for a while.

UPDATE 01/01/2018:

There is definitely something wrong with the power management in my machine. My battery has gone from 100% to 78% whilst sleeping over a 22 hour period. Going to take into Apple and see what's up. If I'm told that this is normal I will be requesting a new unit as that's unacceptable drain when the computer isn't in use at all.

Negatives

No wedge shape

I miss the shape of the Air. The wedge/tapered shape put the keyboard at a downward facing angle that made typing easier. Same goes for the external keyboard. With this unit, I have often raised my knees a bit when typing, to compensate for the lack of inbuilt angle.

Butterfly Keyboard

Yes the keys are more stable, less wobble, but in my experience it doesn’t make them better to type on. I find it’s easier to miss keys like when typing faster as you get less feedback. It’s ok, just don’t think it’s better. Still don’t like the arrow key cluster: it was much better when there was a space above the left and right keys as it made it easier to orient yourself without looking at the keyboard.

Saying that, having typed this out on my external magic keyboard, I am noticing more fatigue as I have to press the keys harder. So maybe it’s something I’m getting used to more than I realise.

Bottom feet

Why are these plastic and not rubber? They slide around on many surfaces and don’t do the job they’re supposed to, which is to stop exactly that! Bizarre.

Air vents (not present on non-Touch Bar model)

The air vents on my model on the sides underneath are comically sharp. They also happen to run the majority of the length of the sides, meaning they’re almost impossible to avoid when you try to pick the machine up. The same goes for the screen hinge. Stupid.

Touch Bar software

The software that runs on the Touch Bar is a bit dodgy sometimes. Safari for example crap out with the tabs rendering and gives some spectacularly useless results.

Using the Touch Bar controls for brightness, volume etc is nifty, but ultimately still slower and not as convenient as a physical button that is always in the same place and more importantly, the same size i.e. doesn’t shrink if the media controls come up.

Internal trackpad

The software for the internal trackpad seems to be worse that the external one, or the the inbuilt one in the Air. I get accidental right clicks when I don’t remember having them ever before and I never get them using the external trackpad. Hopefully this can be addressed in an OS update.

Oddly the surface is noisier and not as silky feeling as the external trackpad or Air, so it much be a slightly rougher surface microscopically. Doesn’t really affect usage but noticeable and worth mentioning.

Fingerprint sensor

This is more a personal niggle, but it doesn’t work with my fingers. Probably because they’re all leathery from climbing. The sensor on my phone (Xperia Z5 Compact) doesn’t work either, so it’s not specific to the MBP. Bit of a shame though as logging in without having to type a password would be great.

Hinge design

The design of the screen hinge makes the internal space between the screen and the Touch Bar a dust and crap trap. Bit annoying and disconcerting hearing crunchy things happening there!

Lack of MagSafe

The lack of MagSafe makes it annoying to plug in, sometimes taking far longer than it should do trying to line up the USB C shape to the port. Before it was just waving the coord somewhere near the side and boom, it magnetically attached. Effortless. There is also the laptop saving issue if tripping over the coord, but that was never an issue for me personally.

I know you can get several third party replacement cables for this issue. Problem is they all require you leave a tiny magnetic adaptor in one of your ports, dedicated to making it the MagSafe port. I guess in reality this makes it the same as the original design I was used to on the Air, except I could choose the port as and when by moving the little dongle thingy. If I ever find that I’m in an environment where I require MagSafe again, I will purchase one of the many third party cables I guess.

Speakers

These are really good, but their placement, to the side of the keyboard deck, makes it easy to muffle the sound if your hands move over them whilst typing sometimes. This isn’t a huge issue, but having the speakers near the screen like on the new MacBook would’ve avoided this entirely.

Finicky Software

This must be a High Sierra issue, but I’ve had several weird things happen such as:

Random occurrences of the volume controls being unavailable, either through the Touch Bar or System preferences. System lockups when accessibility zooming - I use the zoom function (ctrl + scroll) a lot as I find it convenient to use in lots of situations. I’ve had a few times it’s just gotten stuck and I’m unable to zoom back out again. Internal trackpad accidental right clicks as mentioned above. In all these cases (except trackpad) a reboot has resolved the issue. This is annoying, but restarting the system is fast and I will live with it as the issues are not frequently occurring. Software update would be able to fix these definitely.

Positives

Thin and light

The machine is thin, only a tiny bit heavier than the Air, but much more powerful. It is volumetrically smaller which means it fits in my rucksack just fine too.

Noise levels

The cooling and fan designs much be much better as my workload hasn’t significantly changed, but I rarely hear the fans kicking in. Most of the time I can’t even hear the fans when I hold the machine up to my ear. That’s great.

Touch Bar possibilities

The introduction of the Touch Bar has some genuinely useful applications. For example the Touch Metronome I developed :)

I like that obscure functions can be brought up front, like ‘Back’ and ‘Forward’ in VSCode, formatting options in Pages, Numbers. I didn’t even know that stickies had alignment options until they popped up in the Touch Bar!

Ultimately though, it is down to developers to implement functionality via updates to their apps. I think the reason some people call it a gimmick is that the apple dev guidelines state you should not use the Touch Bar as a method of primary input, rather to augment the main app. Thus, there’s nothing you can’t achieve via the keyboard and mouse that you can ONLY do on the Touch Bar.

But for people who don’t want to or can’t remember tons of shortcuts with convoluted keyboard combos, it’s a great way to bring extra functionality to the forefront in a simple way. Time will tell if it gets any updates, or is dropped altogether.

Speakers

They sound great. Very clear, good overall sound and now watching movies with my machine connected to a projector in my room, I often don’t bother hooking up the external speaker I’ve got, because it’s more than good enough for casual Netflix, YouTube, music enjoyment.

Screen

The screen is far better than the Air. Much more crisp, more than bright enough and makes programming especially easier with so much focus on text.

Battery life

This is much better than my previous Air. I know that the newer Air has a better battery life still, but I didn’t have that one. So I still win. Would be nicer if the management was improved though, as I’ve had some very weird draining in sleep which I don’t think should happen. Hopefully this is a software issue and not related to hardware, e.g. the type of RAM used and its power draw. Again, time will tell.

USB C ports

Plugging in power to any available port, on either side is great. Super useful depending on which desk/couch I’m using at any particular time. The fact that all the ports are the same makes it a no brainer plugging something in. You just choose the most convenient available port at the time, no thought necessary. Obviously I have some adapters for traditional USB devices but I just leave them attached to the cables so it’s a non issue for me.

File system

The new file system APFS is very fast. Copy, paste and general operations are snappy and it’s a very welcome change to the system stability and performance.

Force touch trackpad

The internal trackpad is nice as I can click anywhere without worrying if I’m too close to the top hinge mechanism of the old design, as it’s simply not there any more. I am also able to adjust the click pressure needed. As it’s force touch and not mechanical, I often don’t have to lift my finger off the pad to click or tap when I’ve moved the cursor, which shaves microseconds of effort off my day. All adds up!

Conclusion

Overall it’s a good machine. It has more flaws than I would expect for its price that could’ve been avoided, like the sharpness of the vents, hinge, speaker placement, plastic feet instead of rubber. Otherwise, I’m certain the issues can be resolved and even improved upon over time with OS updates. Let’s keep our fingers crossed!

D

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