There's not a whole lot new about the latest 15-inch MacBook Pro ($2,799 as reviewed, $2,399 to start), though you can argue that there doesn't really need to be. Apple's notebook for power users still packs a gorgeous 15-inch Retina display and innovative Touch Bar controls into an impossibly slim design. And thanks to Intel's latest Kaby Lake processors, the MacBook Pro has gotten even faster.
However, while the latest MacBook Pro retains what makes Apple's professional notebook great, it also preserves the laptop's few flaws. The Pro's limited port selection makes it hard to get work done without a myriad of dongles, and it still doesn't feel like the Touch Bar has quite reached its full potential yet. But if you're looking for the fastest, most feature-rich MacBook out there, this is it.
Stunning Design, Stunted Ports
Apple's highest-end laptop looks more like a MacBook Air these days, with stunningly slim edges that measure in at just 0.61 inches. That puts it right on a par with the Dell XPS 15 and Microsoft's new Surface Laptop (both 0.6 inches), and is notably slimmer than the Razer Blade Pro (0.88 inches).
The MacBook Pro's sleek aluminum chassis is travel-friendly at 4 pounds, but still feels sturdy and substantial enough to give you a sense that it's made for serious work. I really dig the Space Gray color our unit came in, though there's also a nice-looking Silver option for those who prefer lighter shades.
However, the MacBook Pro's sheer slimness comes at the cost of some convenience. The notebook's port selection is made up entirely of four USB-C connections (as well as a headphone jack), which future-proofs it for the latest accessories but makes using just about anything else a pain.
Want to plug in your iPhone charger or any other traditional USB cable? You'll need a $9 USB-C to USB adapter. Need to copy some files to an SD card? Get ready to cough up at least $11 for a USB-C SD reader. The Pro's hidden costs add up fast, especially for power users who will need access to all types of storage drives, displays and Ethernet cables.
While I still wouldn't call the MacBook Pro's Touch Bar absolutely essential, it does a lot of neat tricks -- and is simply a ton of fun to use. Replacing the traditional row of function keys, the Touch Bar is an LED strip whose controls will morph on the fly based on whichever app you're using.
I got the most use out of the Touch Bar while flipping through Safari tabs -- it was really nice to see a visual preview of each page I had open. I also appreciated how the bar would provide autofill options any time I was typing, and how easy it was to fast-forward and rewind a video by simply sliding my finger. Creative users could get a ton of use out of the Touch Bar once they mastered it; for example, you can adjust the volume settings of individual GarageBand instruments with a few taps, or quickly split up clips in iMovie without using the touchpad.
However, I don't see the Touch Bar becoming a true game-changer until a lot more third-party apps add supports for it. It currently works with programs such as Photoshop and Microsoft Office, but I'd love to be able to use it with non-Apple browsers such as Chrome -- or even to get some extra control options in my favorite Steam games.
The latest MacBook Pro's 15-inch, 2500 x 1600 Retina display is predictably beautiful. On-screen text looked thick and handwritten, and the snowy Sierra mountains in the notebook's default background was startlingly true-to-life.
The notebook made a great showpiece for the latest Wonder Woman trailer. Every shot burst with color, from the flowery fields that a young Diana Prince rode her horse through to the fiery battlefields that she beat up bad guys in as an adult.
The MacBook Pro's impressive color performance was backed up by our lab tests, in which the notebook reproduced an impressive 126.4 percent of the sRGB color gamut with a Delta E accuracy rating of 0.2 (closer to 0 is better). That makes it both more colorful and accurate than the HP Spectre x360 (113, 3.47), but not quite as vibrant as the Dell XPS 15 (188, 1.4).
The Pro registered an ultraluminous 460 nits of brightness on our light meter, outshining the XPS 15 (282 nits), the Spectre x360 (255 nits) and our average for mainstream notebooks (275).
The MacBook Pro's speakers are impressively booming, offering satisfying bass and crunchy treble. The menacing guitars and rollicking double bass drums of the Doom soundtrack sounded extra punchy on Apple's laptop. When I made a full 180 to the sunny pop vibes of Paramore's "Rose Colored Boy," I was treated to bouncy bass, bright guitars and especially smooth vocals.
Keyboard and Touchpad
The MacBook keyboard continues to blow my mind by offering seemingly shallow keys that feel better than any I've used on a notebook. Whether I was cramming away at a Google Doc or firing off a quick email, everything felt wonderfully snappy and comfortable. Despite a short travel of 0.81 millimeters, the keys made it easy for me to blaze through the Key Hero Typing Test at 98 wpm with near-perfect accuracy and zero finger strain.
I still have a hard time believing that the laptop's Force Touch trackpad has no actual click button, because the haptic feedback it provides is incredibly satisfying. The trackpad's pressure-sensitive functions, such as hard-pressing on a website to preview it, all felt intuitive. While the touchpad is comically huge at 6.1 x 3.8 inches, it left me plenty of room for comfortably navigating web pages and performing gesture-based shortcuts.
Performance and Graphics: Now with Kaby Lake
I already knew the MacBook Pro would be a multitasking beast -- the notebook chewed through my heavy routine of running a dozen Chrome tabs and five Twitch streams while downloading an app and streaming music. But how much of a bump does it get from its new Kaby Lake series Core i7 CPU?
A pretty solid one, it turns out. Our 15-inch Pro netted a 15,170 on the Geekbench 4 general performance test, making a notable improvement over last year's model (13,215) while also topping the Dell XPS 15 (13,911; Core i7-7700HQ), the Spectre x360 (8,017; Core i7-7500U) and our mainstream notebook average (11,068).
The MacBook Pro's 512GB SSD copied about 5GB of files in just 7.6 seconds, for a blazing transfer rate of 653.9 MBps. That trumps the XPS 15's 512GB SSD (339.28), the Spectre x360's 512GB SSD (282.13) and our average (302.84).
Packing discrete Radeon 560 graphics, the MacBook Pro is well-equipped for graphic-intensive tasks as well as some light gaming. The notebook ran the racing game Dirt 3 at a buttery- smooth 76.49 frames per second, topping last year's Radeon 455-powered model (60 fps) and the Spectre x360 (29 fps; GeForce 940MX), as well as our mainstream laptop average (53 fps).
The new MacBook Pro ships with the same macOS Sierra software that first launched last year, which means you can look forward to talking to Siri, making Apple Pay payments with your fingerprint, and using your iPhone to unlock your laptop. The Mac experience will soon get even better with macOS High Sierra, which will offer a safer and faster Safari, smoother overall performance and support for virtual-reality applications. You can try out the public beta now, or wait for the full thing this fall.
The MacBook Pro's 720p FaceTime camera is as solid as ever, though it feels like time for Apple to make an upgrade. The shooter did a fine job accurately capturing my blue shirt and skin tone, but there was some pretty clear pixelation in my selfies -- even under decent lighting in our lab.
WIth the 15-inch MacBook Pro's impressive endurance, you can leave your charger at home. The laptop lasted a full 10 hours and 59 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test, which involves continuous surfing over Wi-Fi. That's far ahead of the mainstream laptop category average (6:52), the Dell XPS 15 (8:23) and the HP Spectre x360 (8:36). Last year's MacBook Pro endured for 10 hours and 32 minutes.
The MacBook Pro's beastly performance comes with a caveat: it can get a little warm. After 15 minutes of streaming HD video, the notebook's touchpad rose to a manageable 81 degrees. However, the keyboard got too hot for our 95-degree comfort threshold at 96.5 degrees, and the laptop's underside came dangerously close at 94 degrees.
The 15-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar starts at $2,399, which gets you a 15.4-inch, 2880 x 1800 display; a 2.8-GHz Intel Core i7 processor; 16GB of RAM; a 256GB PCIe SSD; and Radeon Pro 555 graphics. You can upgrade the storage to 512GB ($200), 1TB ($600) or 2TB ($1,400), as well as bump the graphics to a Pro 560 ($100) and the CPU to a 3.1-GHz Core i7 ($300).
We reviewed the higher-end $2,799 model, which includes a faster 2.9-GHz Core i7 CPU, a 512GB SSD and Radeon Pro 560 graphics. As with the $2,399 model, you can shell out for more storage or a faster CPU clock.
If you've been on the fence about getting a MacBook Pro, now's a better time than ever to get one. Apple's highest-end notebook crams a ton of power into a wonderfully slim design, and its 15-inch Retina display is a beautifully bright canvas for getting work done or just kicking back with movies. While not absolutely essential, the Touch Bar opens up a whole bunch of neat control options that make the Mac even more intuitive and fun to use.
The latest MacBook Pro delivers a slight performance bump with its Kaby Lake CPUs, but it's not a drastic enough change to warrant an upgrade from anyone who owns last year's model. There are lots of outstanding Windows alternatives out there -- the Dell XPS 15 packs a 4K touch screen for hundreds of dollars less, while Microsoft's Surface Book ($1,499 starting) offers a detachable display that's great for drawing and note-taking. Still, for creative professionals and power users that prefer macOS, Apple's most powerful MacBook Pro is hard to top.