New Apple MacBook Pro: 10 things we learnt from trying the redesigned laptop

It's lighter, brighter and better

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The Independent Tech

Apple has launched its latest products in its headquarters in Cupertino, California. In the 24 hours since, I’ve been trying out the new MacBook Pro for size. Here’s my initial response.

First of all, I should point out that this is the entry-level MacBook Pro, not the more expensive MacBook Pro with TouchBar. TouchBar is the ground-breaking innovation where the top row of function keys is replaced with a long, touch-sensitive display strip. I tried this briefly and it’s frankly pretty amazing. But I’ll be reviewing that and the sapphire-crystal power and Touch ID button also found on the MacBook Pro with TouchBar in due course.

1) Even the entry-level MacBook Pro is a big step up from last year’s model

This is a 13-inch screened laptop that is most closely compared to the MacBook Air, but way more powerful. The Air is more affordable but if you think you will need the processing power that some more demanding programs require, the Pro delivers. In everything I tried, it was fast and responsive, a real performer.

2) The new design is a subtle refinement but a big improvement

Apple has always been forensic in its approach to design. The new laptop has a full metal jacket – the plastic edging on the back of the hinge is gone, replaced by aluminium. The slimmer profile, especially when placed alongside the last model, is very striking. This is the first MacBook Pro to lose the backlit Apple logo on the laptop’s lid, replaced with an Apple that is colour-matched to the finish of the rest of the laptop – silver or the highly agreeable space grey. The space grey is particularly eye-catching.

And as with every MacBook of recent years, but unlike laptops from many other manufacturers, the top and bottom halves are perfectly balanced so you can open the lid one-handed. Try this with other brands’ laptops to see what I mean.

3) Lighter is better

And this laptop feels preposterously light. The 12-inch MacBook is the most portable in Apple’s range, a feather weight at 0.92kg, but this isn’t that much heavier (1.37kg). For a performance machine, it’s impressive.

4) The display is brighter

The brightness of the new display is apparent immediately and it has greater contrast than before. This is the first MacBook Pro to have a wide colour gamut, which Apple says delivers 25 per cent more colours than the previous Pro. In short: it looks fierce.

5) The keyboard feels brilliant and the trackpad is a revelation

This keyboard is similar to the one on the MacBook, that is, it uses a butterfly mechanism which is springy and nimble. Apple’s keyboards have always been good. This one though, like on the MacBook, takes a while to get used to after the soft cushioning of the previous system, and it’s certainly a noisier typing experience, but it’s good to use, even for extended periods.

The trackpad is so much bigger (46 per cent bigger, since you ask) that it feels completely different. And the Force Touch capabilities – where subtle haptic feedback gives the impression it’s properly travelling when you press hard, though it’s actually barely moving at all – are tremendous. It makes a different noise from the MacBook’s trackpad, by the way.

6 It’s nearly silent

The redesign continues inside the machine and the thermal management to keep the powerful chips from overheating involves newly shaped fan blades which are quiet but effective.

7 There’s no SD card slot

So you can’t stick your SLR camera’s memory card in the side. Actually, you never could if your SLR used Compact Flash instead of an SD card. The only sockets are USB-C ports which use the latest Thunderbolt 3 protocol. It means power and data can be transferred in the same port – Apple says these are truly universal ports.

This model has two of these sockets, others in the range have more. It means you’ll need adaptors, for sure. When Apple has changed sockets before (on the iPhone and the MacBook) there has always been some initial pain but usually long-term gain in convenience. Let’s hope it will be this way here.

8 Battery life is strong

Early days, of course, but the battery holds up well. I’ve been using the MacBook Pro for writing, watching video, editing video and more. Apple says it has all-day battery life, claiming it’ll run iTunes film playback for up to 10 hours. I haven’t used it as long as that but the drop in charge seems proportionally about right to bear this out. More details after I’ve reviewed it for longer.

I’d add that I didn’t feel the need to turn this laptop off. The power consumption when it’s asleep is minimal. A bit like people, then.

9 The UK price isn’t cheap

Compared to the US price, we’ll pay more. But some reports have exaggerated the difference. The model I’ve tested is £1449 in the UK. In the States it’s $1499 which is £1233. However, it’s important to remember that the dollar price is a pre-tax price, while ours includes 20 per cent VAT. Actually, that means the price here is £1207 plus £242 VAT. It’s true that US sales tax rates are lower than 20 per cent, so buying the laptop in New York City, say, would cost $1499 plus $133 sales tax. That total of $1632 is £1341, so cheaper, but maybe not worth the flight.

It’s no secret that the EU referendum vote has left the exchange rate turbulent, of course.

10 It’s a heck of nice machine

There’s no doubt that the real innovations are the TouchBar and TouchID power button, found only on the pricier models. But this is a great bridge option for people who want a bit more power than aMacBook or MacBook Air offer, without significantly compromising on weight and size.

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