MacBook Pro 13-inch (Touch Bar) Review

  • MORE

Editors' rating:
The Pros

Excellent overall performance; Brilliant display; Powerful speakers; Superfast SSD

The Cons

Expensive; No USB Type-A ports

Verdict

The 2017 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar is pricey, but it smokes competing Windows laptops' performance and offers a great display.

While last year's MacBook Pro offered a fresh redesign and introduced the OLED Touch Bar, its 6th-Gen Intel Skylake CPU made it outdated out of the gate. This year's MacBook Pro changes that: The latest version is faster than its Windows PC rivals, has a vibrant display and packs powerful speakers. But although this machine is a great choice for Mac power users with deep pockets, its high $1,799 starting price and lack of ports will be deal breakers for some.

article continued below

Design: Slim, but you'll still need dongles

The 2017 13-inch MacBook Pro looks identical to last year's version, with its thin, low-profile aluminum design. The laptop comes in space gray or silver, and I'd suggest the former, unless you want a MacBook that looks appears to have travelled here from the past, dieting along the way.

Weighing 3 pounds and 0.6 inches thick, the MacBook Pro is heavier than the Dell XPS 13 (2.7 pounds, 0.6 inches) and the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon (2.5 pounds, 0.6 inches), and slightly thicker than the 13-inch HP Spectre x360 (2.9 pounds, 0.5 inches).

MORE: Which MacBook Should You Buy? MacBook vs. Air vs. Pro

With four Thunderbolt 3 ports (split between its left and right sides) and a headphone jack, the MacBook Pro shows that Apple's future-facing view still requires that we buy dongles to plug in our pre-existing devices. That means I'd need one of the company's $19 USB Type-C-to-USB adapters to connect a device such as my USB hub.

Display: What a view

The MacBook Pro's 2560 x 1600-pixel display is a beauty, offering eye-popping color and sharp clarity. When watching the 4K sci-fi film Tears of Steel on this panel, I loved the gloriously vibrant pink tones of a holographic brain, and noted crisp, pure-white spotlights and rich, inky-black corners of a bellhouse attic. I even saw fine details, such as the red dot on a minuscule knob of a robotic forearm.

According to our colorimeter, the MacBook Pro's screen produces 123 percent of the sRGB spectrum. That beats the 98-percent ultraportable average, as well as the measurements from the XPS 13 (94 percent), the Spectre x360 (102 percent) and the ThinkPad X1 Carbon (104 percent).

The MacBook Pro's panel is also accurate, earning a 0.2 on the Delta-E test, where lower is better. That's below the 2.6 category average, the 1.3 from the XPS 13, the 0.7 from the Spectre x360 and the 4.4 from the ThinkPad X1.

This MacBook Pro kicked the competition's butt when it came to performance.

Emitting up to 458 nits (a measure of brightness), the MacBook Pro's screen also outshines the competition. That mark tops the 288-nit ultraportable average, the 302-nit XPS 13, the 318-nit Spectre x360 and the 275-nit ThinkPad X1 Carbon.

Keyboard, Trackpad and Touch Bar: Good, with slight learning curves

The MacBook Pro's backlit keyboard, trackpad and Touch Bar offer solid input experiences, but they may take some getting used to.

When testing the butterfly-mechanism keyboard on the 10FastFingers.com typing test, I clicked my way to 70 words per minute, dipping below my 80-wpm average. While the keys have only 0.7 millimeters of travel (far below the 1.5 to 2.0 mm we look for), they make up for it by requiring 74 grams of force (above our 60-gram standard) to actuate.

In comparison, the new 15-inch MacBook Pro's keys have a bit more travel (0.8 mm), but they felt better to me. If you're already used to the keys on the 2016 MacBook (0.5 mm), though, the 13-inch MacBook Pro will offer a nice improvement.

The MacBook Pro's 2560 x 1600-pixel display is a beauty, offering eye-popping color and sharp clarity.

The 5.3 x 3.3-inch Force Touch trackpad provided accurate tracking as I navigated the desktop. Because it's a nonmoving input surface that sends haptic feedback, the pad doesn't offer much of a clicking feel by default, though I changed that in the Trackpad section of System Preferences, by dragging the Click slider to Firm.

Dragging and dropping objects, though, works differently than on any other notebook I've ever tested, requiring you to use a half press before dragging objects. This took as much focused effort to learn as Luke Skywalker needed to move the rocks in Empire Strikes Back.

MORE: How to Customize the MacBook Pro Touch Bar

When I moved among my favorite apps, I noticed the Touch Bar light up with options. I made some use of the video playback navigation bar for YouTube videos in the browser and the resizing objects slider in Pixelmator. Although the Touch Bar offers some neat features, I found it useful mostly as a helpful reminder to delete Safari's stock bookmarks (Yelp, Yahoo, Disney, TripAdvisor and more). Since the Touch Bar launched last year, other applications -- such as Evernote, Dashlane and Spotify -- have added support for it.

Audio: Professional-level sound

The MacBook Pro can kick out the jams. Its speakers filled our large conference room with sound, drowning out our loud air conditioning. Calvin Harris' "Rollin" sounded great on the notebook, with strong, sturdy bass; clear vocals; and accurate synths. While audio pros likely have high-end headphones and speakers to connect to, this notebook offers some of the best sound I've ever heard come from an ultraportable.

Performance: Worth the wait

This MacBook Pro's modern 7th-Gen Intel Core i5-7267U CPU, coupled with 8GB of RAM, enables serious multitasking. I saw no slowdown after opening all of my favorite Mac apps (1Password, Tweetbot, the image editor Pixelmator, the email client Airmail and Slack) while I had already a streaming 1080p YouTube video playing and 12 Safari tabs open.

MORE: Laptop CPU Comparison - A Guide to Intel's Processor Hierarchy

This latest-gen CPU kicked the competition's butt, enabling a score of 9,213 on the Geekbench 4 general performance test. That beats the 6,999 category average; the 7,053 from last year's MacBook Pro (6th-Gen Core i5, 8GB of RAM); the 7,287 from the XPS 13 (Core i5-7200U, 8GB of RAM); the 8,147 from the Spectre x360 (Core i7-7500, 8GB of RAM); and the 8,571 from the ThinkPad X1 Carbon (Core i7-7600U, 8GB of RAM).

The 512GB PCIe NVMe solid-state drive in the MacBook Pro duplicated 4.97GB of multimedia files in 7 seconds, for a speed of 727 MBps. That's much faster than the 200.83-MBps average for ultraportables, the 508.9-MBps SSD in last year's MacBook Pro, the 339.3 MBps from the XPS 13 (256GB SSD), the 318 MBps from the Spectre x360 (512GB PCIe SSD) and the 242 MBps from the ThinkPad X1 Carbon (512GB PCIe SSD).

The Intel Iris Plus Graphics 650 in the MacBook Pro support modest gaming, as it ran Dirt 3 (set to medium at 1650 x 1050 resolution) at 41 frames per second, which exceeds our 30-fps smoothness threshold. That's similar to the 40 fps from the Spectre x360 (Intel HD 620), and better than the 37-fps category average, the 38 fps from last year's model (Intel Iris 550), the 28 fps from the XPS 13 (Intel HD 620) and the 28 fps from the ThinkPad X1 Carbon (Intel HD 620).

Battery Life: Solid, but not fantastic

The MacBook Pro offers solid battery life, but it's not as long as the runtimes of some PC rivals. The 2017 MacBook Pro lasted 8 hours and 40 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test, which is longer than the 8:24 average for ultraportables and close to the time from last year's model (8:48). The XPS 13 (13:49), the Spectre x360 (10:06) and the ThinkPad X1 Carbon (12:21) lasted longer.

You might want to consider this MacBook's big brother if you want longer battery life. The 15-inch MacBook Pro lasted 10 hours and 59 minutes on this test, which is long enough to make me consider leaving the power cable at home.

Webcam: Coach quality cameras in first class

This $1,999 MacBook Pro features a 0.7-megapixel FaceTime HD camera that doesn't match its price tag. Sure, it captured accurate colors from my purple T-shirt and the red wall behind me, but that image contained the same grainy noise we see in shots captured on $500 notebooks.

Heat: A lap-friendly powerhouse

This MacBook Pro is one cool customer. After we streamed HD video on it for 15 minutes, our heat gun captured temperatures on its touchpad (82.5 degrees Fahrenheit), G and H keys (89 degrees) and underside (90 degrees) that were all lower than our 95-degree comfort threshold.

Software: Good, and getting better soon

As much as I'm looking forward to macOS 10.13 High Sierra, it's still nice to have the perks of Sierra (10.12). The 2016 OS update brought Apple Pay, Siri and Picture-in-Picture mode to the notebook, as well as the multimachine conveniences of iCloud Desktop.

Due out this fall, High Sierra will make this MacBook Pro even greater than it already is by introducing APFS, Apple's new file system that will speed file transfers, save storage space and make for a more stable experience. The new OS will also feature improvements to the Safari browser, such as protecting your privacy and preventing autoplaying videos from jarring your experience.

Configuration options

Our test unit of the 2017 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar costs $1,999 and features a 7th Gen Core i5-7267U CPU, 8GB of RAM, a 512 PCIe NVMe SSD and integrated Intel Iris Plus Graphics 650.

MORE: Here's a Guide to How Much RAM Your Laptop Needs

Users who don't need that much storage can save $200 by opting for the entry-level $1,799 model that's basically the same, except for its 256GB SSD. Apple offers a $200 upgrade option to double the RAM from 8GB to 16GB, and a $400 option to move from a 512GB SSD to a 1TB drive.

If you don't need a Touch Bar, you can get the 13-inch MacBook Pro without a Touch Bar starting at $1,299. That model includes a 2.3-GHz processor, 128GB of storage, 8GB of RAM and two Thunderbolt 3 ports.

Bottom Line

The 2017 Macbook Pro offers the blisteringly fast speed that professionals need, as well as a superbright and colorful display. The speakers are also impressive. However, this laptop would be even better if Apple had offered a wider variety of ports and a more affordable starting price for the Touch Bar model. If you're willing to live without the Touch Bar, consider the $1,299 MacBook Pro, which has two Thunderbolt 3 ports instead of four, less storage and a slower CPU.

But if you're not married to the macOS platform, you can save a lot of money by getting a Windows 10 machine instead. Opting for a Core i5 HP Spectre x360 with comparable specs (and a touch-screen display) will save you a whopping $810, and a similarly configured Dell XPS 13 is $700 less. You can even save $300 by going with the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon, which has one of the best keyboards we've seen in a laptop. But the MacBook Pro outperforms all of those systems.

Still, if you can afford it, this MacBook Pro offers plenty to love.

Credit: Laptop Mag

CPU Intel Core i5-7267U
Operating System macOS Sierra
RAM 8GB
RAM Upgradable to 16GB
Hard Drive Size 512GB SSD
Hard Drive Speed
Hard Drive Type NVMe SSD
Secondary Hard Drive Size
Secondary Hard Drive Speed
Secondary Hard Drive Type
Display Size 13.3
Highest Available Resolution 2560 x 1600
Native Resolution 2560 x 1600
Optical Drive
Optical Drive Speed
Graphics Card Intel Iris Plus 650
Video Memory Shared
Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n/ac
Wi-Fi Model
Bluetooth Bluetooth 4.2
Mobile Broadband
Touchpad Size 5.3 x 3.3 inches
Ports (excluding USB) Headphone
Ports (excluding USB) Thunderbolt 3
USB Ports 4
Warranty/Support 90 days of complimentary technical support, 1-year limited warranty.
Size 12 x 8.4 x 0.6 inches
Weight 3 pounds
Company Website https://www.apple.com/macbook-pro/