It’s high time I finally write down my review of the 2016 MacBook Pro, Apple‘s latest iteration of mobile computers.
I fully transitioned to Apple’s computing ecosystem in 2009 when I purchased my first Macintosh computer – a fully specced MacBook Pro. It was fast, sturdy, upgradeable and highly reliable, and the synergy between hardware and software made it an absolute joy to use. I took great care of the device, and even after extensive daily use and a couple of deployments abroad, the laptop still looked like new until the day of its demise.
In late 2015, I started to notice multiple graphical glitches and frequent green lines on my screen. After taking it to the Apple Store, the verdict was grim – the GPU was near death. My machine was also too old to be still eligible for repair.
So a new MacBook Pro was the logical choice. However, at that time, Apple was not on par with its competitors. Their 2015 MacBook Pro still used a 3-year old processor architecture. And not wanting to spend my hard earned cash on outdated hardware, I decided to wait.
In late 2016 – nearly a year after my old one broke – the upgraded 2016 MacBook Pro was finally released. I wasn’t incredibly impressed with the new features, but decided to order a fully specced build-to-order machine.
Quality Control Issues?
Once the device arrived on my doorstep, my initial excitement quickly turned into great disappointment.
When I opened the lid for the first time after unboxing, I immediately detected an ugly scuff mark underneath the left speaker. It was not a scratch as the surface of the aluminium body was smooth. Whatever it was, it was distracting and noticeable from different angles under day light conditions.
Already in a foul mood, I continued my thorough inspection and tests of the device. On several occasions I also encountered minor to severe graphical issues. And after the umpteenth glitch, my tolerance reached its boiling point and the computer went back into its box. Clearly I received a faulty, defective product. This was not something I was willing to accept. I promptly returned the MacBook Pro and demanded – and received – a full refund. To be fair, the Apple staff were very forthcoming and helpful.
After further online research, it turned out I was far from the only person with these problems. Several people already complained about identical cosmetic damage on their 2016 MacBook Pro on a MacRumors forum thread. I also noticed many reports on similar graphical glitches.
Despite my doubt and increasing reluctance, I placed a new order for another MacBook Pro with the same specifications. Upon delivery, the replacement went through a new inspection. This time the machine passed the test. It’s this 2016 MacBook Pro I’ve been working on these past weeks and the subject of this review.
Generally I opt for the highest tier MacBook versions. Together with my OCD-level of care, this ensures that most of my electronic devices will last me for several years. This time, I chose a 2016 MacBook Pro with the following build-to-order configuration:
Coming from a 2009 computer, the 2016 MacBook Pro is a major upgrade for me in the hardware department. It’s a solid combination of good portability and decent performance. For a mobile computer, it is quite powerful and should handle everything I throw at it. So far, the quad-core Skylake processor is a definite improvement.
The Radeon Pro 460 GPU with 4 GB of memory should also be enough to drive my more graphically intensive tasks for the next couple of years. It isn’t the best and most modern graphics card available, but this GPU is a decent compromise between performance and portability (i.e. battery life).
Despite several online complaints on disappointing battery life, I personally have not had any problems with this. Any battery issues are now reportedly fixed after a software patch. Apple officially advertises up to 10 hours of battery life with normal use. And that’s about what I get, so no complaints there.
Memory & Storage
Surprisingly, the new MacBook Pro only comes equipped with 16 GB of RAM. To be fair, I doubt I will ever fully use 16 GB of RAM. But 32 GB of RAM would at least increase the longevity of my new laptop and prepare it for more advanced software. According to some technology reviews, the RAM restriction was another compromise between adequate performance and battery life. The upcoming Kaby Lake processors are reportedly also limited to 16 GB of LPDDR3 RAM, so don’t expect a 32 GB MacBook Pro anytime soon.
For data storage, you can choose 256 GB, 512 GB, 1 TB and 2 TB Solid State Drives. My films and music normally fill up my hard drive, but are now stored in the cloud. Therefore, I no longer need large capacity storage drives. The 1 TB SSD is therefore more than sufficient for my needs. The read/write speeds on this SSD are also impressive. It’s a very fast drive which will not disappoint you.
Thinner and Lighter…
This MacBook Pro is a beautiful engineering marvel. It truly is a thin and light machine, and pictures really don’t do it any justice. Despite its slim chassis, the notebook still feels very sturdy and solid. The plastic screen hinge from older versions is removed. The top screen and hinge are now made out of one solid piece of aluminium. It’s top notch and I know of no other computer manifacturer that comes close to Apple’s level of build quality.
The laptop’s retina screen is exceptional and definitely one of the more redeeming qualities of the 2016 MacBook Pro. Photos and video will show with deep and vivid colors on a great IPS-technology screen, supporting a resolution up 2880 x 1800 pixels.
The air vents are moved to the side of the chassis, allowing for better air circulation. This provides better cooling of the MacBook’s internal components. This is needed during high performance tasks, as MacBook Pro notebooks tend to get hot. This MacBook Pro is no different, although not as bad as earlier versions. The fans still spin like crazy, but are also noticeably quieter when compared to my 2009 MacBook Pro. During average use (i.e. writing, surfing, watching video, etc.), the 2016 version is very silent.
… But With Less Options
Apple replaced all older USB Type-A ports with the newer USB Type-C ports with Thunderbolt 3 connectivity. These 4 new generation ports provide faster data transfer, while the Thunderbolt 3 controller allows you to connect a wide variety of peripherals to your device. All with one single port.
This understandable but unpopular decision will drive third party manufacturers forward to natively include USB Type-C connections on their devices. I have no problem to use an external dongle until that time. Another interesting point is that the Thunderbolt 3 controller will allow the use of external GPUs in the future, providing some extra longevity to my computer.
The beloved MagSafe connector is no longer present. This simple yet brilliant technology saved my previous MacBook Pro from death in many crowded situations. The magnetic charging connector prevented your computer to fly off your table when you (or someone else) tripped over the charging cable. It still don’t understand why Apple decided to remove one of its greatest features. You charge the 2016 MacBook Pro via any USB Type-C port of your choice.
The Touch Bar
The Touch Bar is the main feature advertised for the 2016 MacBook Pro. Instead of the traditional function keys, you have a digital OLED screen which displays app contextual menu options. It works okay. I have to occasionally press it multiple times before it properly registers my input.
Overall, the Touch Bar is a useless gimmick to me. It seems specifically designed for teenage girls for quick emoji selection. There’s no added value for normal and professional users at this time. Perhaps this will change as more apps integrate its functionality. Nonetheless, most computer-savvy people use actual keyboard shortcuts for a fast workflow. With the Touch Bar, you have to interrupt your focus by looking down to the bar and then back up to the main screen. Quite annoying.
Built into the power button is the Touch ID sensor. Similar to the recent generations of iPhone and iPad, this sensor allows you to unlock your computer with your fingerprint(s). Works great and fast. Sadly, it only works when you wake up your Mac from sleep or lock mode. Touch ID is not functional at all when you attempt to log on after booting your machine and will always require your password. Quite the disappointment. Especially since Windows computers have been able to do this for years. Yet another example of good intentions but sloppy execution.
Keyboard & Trackpad
Similar to the 12″ MacBook, Apple also used the new butterfly key mechanism in the 2016 MacBook Pro. I tried it on the MacBook and did not like the lack of key travel. And although the key travel improved slightly on the new MacBook Pro, I’m still not a fan. And the damn thing is loud. So fucking annoying. It will take time to get used to this keyboard.
Apple’s trackpads also have a well deserved reputation. No other computer brand has ever done them right. But in this new MacBook Pro, Apple took it too far. It’s absolutely massive. Too big even. My hands rest on the trackpad’s surface area while using the notebook, but that hardly gives me any issues. The palm rejection technology is quite good.
The non-tactile feedback is not on par, though. The trackpad frequently refuses to recognize my click and drag efforts. Moving files tends to become quite frustrating as a result. It is at times also difficult to determine the boundaries for my right clicks.
Pros: Quality build and design; solid performance in a portable package; amazing screen.
Cons: Ridiculously expensive; lack of real innovation; limited memory options; shitty keyboard.
Am I satisfied with the 2016 MacBook Pro? Mildly. Am I ecstatic about it? Hell no.
Don’t get me wrong, the laptop is doing its job. It is a good compromise between performance and portability, but comes at a high cost. I simply can’t shake the feeling that I paid way too much. Yes, I know Apple always charged a premium price for its products. And they used to be worth the high price. But now Apple is pushing it too far. The company seems to forget that its competitors are catching up. Based on online reactions, the increased price has put off many potential customers. If Apple continues this trend, it further risks alienating a big portion of its customer base.
Apple has become complacent. After the longest wait between upgrades, the only real new feature of the 2016 MacBook Pro is the Touch Bar. In times where Microsoft brings the impressive Surface Studio, the HoloLens, and easy 3D design/printing to the table, Apple only replaces the keyboard’s function keys with a useless touchscreen. Where’s the innovation? It seems like we’re now at the tipping point where Microsoft becomes the new innovator while Apple morphs into… the old Microsoft. Such a shame. With the old “think different” slogan in mind, Apple once used to stand for the creative rebels. That era is over. After all, CEO Tim Cook is nowadays more involved with virtue signaling and social justice nonsense than actually building great products.
Nonetheless, I hope this MacBook Pro will serve me well enough for a couple of years. I’m moderately content with this new computer. However, if Apple doesn’t catch up with its competitors soon, this MacBook Pro may very well be the last Macintosh computer I own.
For now, I will predominantly use this machine to write my blog. If you want to start a blog as well, go check out the Bold & Determined BADNET service.
Take care of yourself and until next time.
Update on 1 March 2018: I lowered the score a bit more. I just can’t get used to this piece-of-shit keyboard.