New MacBook Pro Hands-on: Touch Bar Is NOT a Gimmick

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The MacBook Pro is supposed to be for serious work, but the new Touch Bar is a lot of fun. Actually, it's a lot more than that. After spending just 20 minutes with the new 13-inch ($1,799) and 15-inch ($2,399) models, I've found it be a real time-saver.

However, I do have some other issues with the new MacBook Pro, including the lack of Intel's latest Kaby Lake CPUs and a missing SD Card slot. 

Update 10/30: If you want most of the new features in the new 13-inch MacBook Pro minus the Touch Bar, we've just reviewed the new entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro

By default, the multi-touch display above the keyboard shows most of the same options you'd typically find in the function row, including buttons for the brightness and Mission Control. But the volume controls are different. I found it easy to slide my finger to the left and right to experience the 50 percent boost in volume from the stereo speakers.

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But the Touch Bar gets a lot more interesting when you start diving into various apps. In Photos, for example, you can rotate images and perform various edits, such as cropping, adding filters and retouching. All the buttons show up on the Touch Bar.MacBook Pro 2016 lineup

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I also had a blast in the messages app, which auto-recommends emoji on the Touch Bar based on what words you're typing. In the QuickTime app, I could quickly scrub video back and forth with my finger to rewind and fast forward.

The Touch Bar isn't quite as bright as I'd like, but the display is still plenty colorful, and it's fairly easy to see the various controls that appear as you dip in and out of apps. Another one I tried with the Touch Bar is Safari, which shows your open tabs that you can easily scroll through with your finger.Touch Bar Photos

The one thing I don't like about the Touch Bar is that it doesn't offer haptic feedback. It's too bad the Taptic Engine doesn't support this sliver of innovation.

What does vibrate is the mammoth touchpad on each of these MacBook Pros, which is twice as large as before. The Force Touch trackpads are positively huge, almost comically so on the 15-incher. It still feels like a real button when you press down, even though it's not.

So how about the keyboard? As someone who has been using the butterfly layout on the 12-inch MacBook, the flat layout isn't jarring to me, but it will be to those who are used to more travel from a traditional keyboard. Apple says that this 2nd generation butterfly mechanism offers better tactile feedback, but I didn't notice a huge difference. It felt just a little bit snappier.

When it comes to ports, I can probably live without full-size USB ports in favor of four Thunderbolt 3 ports, but I will miss having the SD Card slot. I don't use a dedicated camera much, but when I do I'd prefer not to schlepp a dongle.MacBook Pro Ports 2016

The new MacBook Pros offer a host of other improvements, including brighter displays with wider color gamuts and more power. The 13-inch model goes with a 6th-generation Core i5 processor and integrated Iris graphics, but the 15-inch model is for power users, packing AMD Radeon graphics along with a 6th-gen, quad-core Core i7 CPU.

I do wish Apple had included a 7th generation Kaby Lake CPU on the 13-inch model. Intel hasn't yet made the jump to 7th gen for quad core on laptops, so the lack of Kaby Lake on the 15-inch MacBook Pro is understandable.

If I had to pick one model to have as my own, it would be the $1,799 13-inch MacBook Pro. But not everyone has that kind of dough. You can also opt for a 13-inch MacBook Pro sans Touch Bar for $1,499 that has a slower Core i5 CPU. 

Overall, Apple has gotten the closest it has ever been to adding a touch screen without adding a touch screen. For whatever reason, the company simply doesn't want you to reach out and touch the display. That functionality is reserved for the iPad and iPad Pro.

Given that the MacBook Pro is a clamshell design, the decision to go with a Touch Bar makes sense, but it will be interesting to see if Apple sticks with this philosophy going forward as 2-in-1 devices gain in popularity.

 

 

 

 

 

Author Bio
Mark Spoonauer
Mark Spoonauer, LAPTOP Editor in Chief
Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptop Mag and Tom's Guide, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.
Mark Spoonauer, LAPTOP Editor in Chief on
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18 comments
  • George Says:

    Yes, the touch bar is NOT a gimmick. I don't own this laptop yet (still waiting) but I can see that Apple essentially made the function keys much better by turning it into a touch bar. I don't know how many people uses the f-keys without looking, and it makes sense that the new f-keys are now more visible and it's functions are actually shown. Future PC makers will eventually catch on.

  • Walid Says:

    I wish they completely replaced the classic mechanic keyboard with a single piece of touch keyboard.

  • COBill Says:

    Why would I want a touch-sensitive laptop screen?

    The only thing worse than that would be having to suffer through the Windows UI; I gave up Playskool long ago.

  • BillK Says:

    The last thing I want is a laptop I have to poke at the screen of.

    There are touch devices and laptops, and distinct uses for each.

  • Vistar Says:

    28 watt Kaby Lake with Iris graphics are also not out, not just the quad cores on the 15"...that is why it was not included in the 13".

  • Bryan Says:

    Dissapointed that both this review or this author did not mention anything about the lack of HDMI or video out options. Where I realize that there will be adapters for HDMI to USB-C it's alot nicer for the system to have HDMI which is the new standard unless USB-C is going to be on TVs now and this is the new standard. However this doesn't seem to be happening any time soon. Think of all of the conference rooms or TV's that you plus your laptop to will now need an adapter...

  • Eddie G. Says:

    Wow. I'm amazed that this is such a big deal. I mean we have 66" Smart TV's that can pull up data for you from across the globe. We have the MS Surface which is supposed to be the greatest tablet / laptop / hybrid on the planet, we have Linux spreading everywhere like a zombie apocalypse, we have Windows 10 which is growing more and more sophisticated as the days and weeks progress, we have touch screen laptops and phones that rival some Chromebooks, but somehow' all that is overshadowed by the fact that Apple has finally added a touch screen where their "F" keys once were. Hmm....and they say it's not a gimmick?...I dunno....its just....hmmm.....I dunno.

  • Samuel Says:

    People have started abusing the word gimmick and misinterpreting its meaning since curved TVs were released.

  • None Given Says:

    It most certainly IS a gimmick. And one I refuse to buy. So long Apple. Take your $30 adapters and cram them where the sun don't shine.

  • A tech guy Says:

    I forgot to say it is getting surface dial too
    It can just run gta v at 50 55 fps(in this new surface book).just price tag is good(apple fan will say!!!)it has hinge

  • A tech guy Says:

    Look look
    A revolutionary upgrade
    Apple added touch display!!!!
    Its completely new(in apple devices)
    The last super duper amazing high end upgrade is touch bar!!!!!
    Microsoft surface book just added dedicated gpu(nvidia gtx965)that we can only use it power hungry apps.nothing special.it has pen and 16 hour battery.it can be used as gaming laptop(a thin ultrabook).it is convertible and has 3000*2000res.16 hour battery life and nvidia 965 is just an upgrade for them.what do you expect for new gen laptop of them!!!
    I am saying again there is nothing revolutionary in surface book.i forgot it has detachable keyboard.revolution is touch bar!!!!

  • Simon-Pierre Says:

    When Lenovo introduced their 2nd x1 carbon, they put just that and nobody made a big deal of it: actually it was the opposite because people wanted their f-keys back. Why the difference in attention?

  • Dane Hoffman Says:

    "Touchbar is NOT a gimmick"

    "...auto-recommends emoji on the Touch Bar..."

    Are you kidding me?

  • JohnnyL Says:

    So the touchbar is a lot like what you would have if Apple offered a touchscreen but instead of doing that they just downsized it.

  • ZRobZ Says:

    Just wondering how Apple are going to take the Touch Bar forward when it comes to the iMac. Looks like a new keyboard must be in the works. n Haven't seen anyone comment on this yet.

  • Jerry Attrick Says:

    A touch bar Ooooh so exciting. (Sarcasm) Go look at the Surface Studio that's exciting. I can't understand why Apple gets so much attention for doing so little.

  • Ruturaj Says:

    @Mahcus 13 inch uses 28W and 15 inch uses 45W.

  • mahcus Says:

    "including the lack of Intel's latest Kaby Lake CPUs..."

    It's not possible for them to have included Kaby Lake processors. Apple uses 45W CPUs for its MBP lineup, and there are only 15W Kaby Lake CPUs out at the moment. The latest 45W CPU is Skylake. So you can't complain about the processors.

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