Apple made the biggest change ever to its MacBook range since the first MacBook Air was launched in 2008. This time, it meant killing off the Air, in favor of the MacBook Pro which is now thinner than the MacBook Air but much more powerful. I have been using the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar for a few days and here are my thoughts about it. Also Read - Apple co-founder Steve Jobs' job application sold for over Rs 2.5 croreAlso Read - Apple iOS 15, iPadOS 15 beta 4 released: What’s new, how to download
The first time I used a MacBook — the MacBook Air in 2010 — I was mesmerized with the sheer design, functionality and portability. It was slick, light and nothing like I had ever seen before. Three years later, I moved to a MacBook Pro 13-inch, which was more powerful but at the same time was heavy, thick and not quite portable. One had to choose between portability and performance, even with the 12-inch MacBook that Apple launched last year. But that was till Apple announced the new MacBook Pro in October. The 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar is now thinner than the MacBook Air. It weighs almost the same, but is a much more powerful machine. You no longer have to compromise between portability and functionality. Also Read - Apple shines in June quarter, posts record sales for iPhones, Macs and iPads
The headlining feature of the new MacBook Pro is the Touch Bar, which replaces the traditional function keys and throws up contextually aware shortcuts, options in apps that support the feature. Currently all Apple native apps support it — you can see all open tabs on Safari, scroll through photos or even get editing options — and some third-party apps also support it. Apple expects more third-party apps would support it.
During the few days of usage, I found the Touch Bar to be an interesting feature — you don’t have to reach out to touch the display and the options are within easy reach. You can even edit the functions on the bar that appear at all times, enabling you to add options that you use a lot — in my case the screenshot function for instance. It also does away with the need to remember shortcut key combinations because most of them appear on the Touch Bar. It is really fun typing and getting formatting options on the Touch Bar, for instance.
The Touch Bar also throws up icons when you need to select from multiple options in popup windows (think about ok/cancel scenarios). There is a dedicated Siri button that you can press and get the assistant going. You can accept or decline FaceTime calls too.
People who use native Apple apps would tend to make the most of the new interface, which unfortunately I don’t. Nevertheless, I see users who do a lot of photo or video editing to benefit a lot from it, with the ability to do precise actions, which was not very intuitive with the trackpad.
Talking about the trackpad, the new MacBook Pro features the largest trackpad that Apple has ever placed on a MacBook. The idea is to have enough real estate to perform gestures and at the same time enable long swipes. However, there is a downside to it too — accidental touches, especially while typing.
The other big feature is the new Retina display. Apple says that the 500-nits LED backlit display is the brightest and most colorful display it has ever put on a MacBook. Apple claims the display shows 25 percent more colors than sRGB and has 67 percent higher contrast ratio. Using the new MacBook Pro is like getting a new pair of eyes. Once you get used to it, there is no going back.
The new MacBook Pro also gets a TouchID button, which can be used for Apple Pay, which unfortunately isn’t available in India. Apple says third-parties can also use the TouchID button for authentication, just like on iPhones and iPads, but it is understandably still in its infancy considering it has been just a couple of months of launch. Having said that, in India the most useful case for the TouchID button would be to manage multiple user profiles. Now you don’t need to enter your password manually to log in, and can just use TouchID to authenticate yourself. One downside, however, is that you have to log in manually for the first time after shutting down the MacBook, just like it happens on iOS devices.
Then there is the battery. Apple promises up to 10 hours of usage, but it entirely depends on what you are doing on it. A Netflix binge watching session with display brightness turned up all the way would deplete it in about five hours, using it more judiciously could give you about 8-9 hours. But yes, I have been able to get through an entire work day without having to plug it into the charger, which is the purpose of the 10 hour battery claim.
The elephant in the room
I know you have been waiting for it and yes, the new MacBook Pro doesn’t have the legacy USB Type-A port. Instead, you get four Thunderbolt 3.0 (compatible with USB Type-C) ports. While this is certainly better than the MacBook that gets just one port, the MacBook Pro is meant to be a pro-grade productivity machine and users are expected to have peripherals they’d connect to their laptop. Unfortunately, all those users would have to rely on dongles (either Apple’s or third-party) to do connect them or upgrade their peripherals.
It is a bittersweet bargain. Apple is known to get rid of legacy ports to make way for newer technologies (think about the optical disk drive and ethernet port, among others) and it has decided that the USB Type-A port is the next on its way out. In a way, Apple is paving the way for the future that is to come and expects most devices to come with either Thunderbolt 3.0 (very limited) or USB Type-C (more likely) connectivity and is attempting to make the new MacBook Pro’s future proof. The company expects users to use their MacBooks for a few years and the machine would still be relevant post this transition of technology. I call it the early adopter’s curse. ALSO READ: Phil Schiller explains why Apple dropped SD card slot but retained 3.5mm audio port on the new MacBook Pro
Then there is the question of pricing. The new MacBook Pro with Touch Bar is expensive, very expensive. The MacBook Pro range now starts from Rs 129,900 for the 13-inch model without the Touch Bar and goes up to a whopping Rs 241,900 for the MacBook Pro with Touch Bar 15-inch 512GB variant.
Is the MacBook Pro with Touch Bar the best MacBook ever? Absolutely yes. Is the compromise on the absence of legacy USB Type-A ports worth it? Depends on where you are coming from and how many peripherals you connect. But yes, you will need a connector even to attach a pen drive, so there is no escaping at least one connector to ensure backward compatibility. Is it worth the price? No.
In my books, the pricing in India is the new MacBook Pro’s undoing. There is no way one can justify the outrageous pricing and that’s something Apple will have to live with, at least here in India. Having said that, if you have that kind of money and are looking for the best MacBook Pro out there, don’t think twice.
Photos: Abhishek Maythla