New MacBook Pro 2016 with Touch Bar review: Fast, fun, fully featured but flawed

Welcome to our MacBook Pro 2016 review. If you'd like to read about last year's models, read our 15in MacBook Pro (2.5GHz, 2015) review, 15in MacBook Pro (2.2GHz, 2015) review and 13in MacBook Pro (2.7GHz, 2015) review.

Apple's new MacBook Pro is here at last. Unveiled at a dedicated press event on 27 October, the new MacBook Pro comes in 13- and 15-inch screen sizes, features sixth-gen Intel Skylake processors, a slim new design and a cool customisable Touch Bar above the keyboard… and costs a bit of a fortune.

Our new MacBook Pro 2016 review evaluates the looks, design, features and value for money offered by Apple's latest line of professional-focused laptops.

Broadly speaking there are three models of the new MacBook Pro: a comparatively budget-focused 13-inch model without the new Touch Bar, and a 13-inch and 15-inch model with it. This review looks at all three models together, but we will make it clear when comments apply only to certain models.

Read more: MacBook Pro reviews | Best Mac buying guide autumn/winter 2016 | Buy MacBook Pro from John Lewis

New MacBook Pro 2016 review: Design

New MacBook Pro 2016 review: Design & build quality

The MacBook Pros are thinner and lighter than the previous generation: the 13- and 15-inch models are 14.9mm and 15.5mm thick (or 'thin', as Apple irritatingly styles it in marketing materials) and 1.37kg and 1.83kg respectively. (Last year's MBPs weighed 1.58kg and 2.04kg, and were both 18mm thick, so Apple has achieved reductions of 17 and 14 percent respectively in thickness, and 13 and 10 percent in terms of weight.)

New MacBook Pro 2016 review: Dimensions

  • 30.41cm x 21.24cm x 1.49cm; 1.37kg (13-inch models)
  • 34.93cm x 24.07cm x 1.55cm; 1.83kg (15-inch models)

New MacBook Pro 2016 review: Design

Externally the design is similar to last year's, albeit on a slimmer scale, but there are numerous physical changes under the lid. The most obvious, and the flagship feature that occupied much of the unveiling event, is a touchscreen bar above the keyboard that Apple calls the Touch Bar, which we discuss in the next section.

One more thing before we move on: as expected, Apple has removed the traditional USB ports on the MacBook Pro, and the MagSafe charging port, and replaced them all with USB-C/Thunderbolt ports: four of them on the Touch Bar models and two on the 13-inch model without a Touch Bar. And you get a 3.5mm headphone jack too: phew!

New MacBook Pro 2016 review: Ports

New MacBook Pro 2016 review: Touch Bar

The Touch Bar is effectively a slender touchscreen display that sits along the top of the keyboard and replaces the Function keys. Depending on the application you're currently running - and any customisation options you may have selected - it can display and enable a wide range of functions and controls.

New MacBook Pro review: Touch Bar

In Safari, for example, it shows bookmark thumbnails, forward and back buttons and the like; in Mail it shows QuickType typing suggestions and an emoji button that turns the entire bar into a gallery of frequently used emoji. (Mail also offers more general predictive suggestions, offering to move an email to a folder that it thinks is suitable, based seemingly on scanning the contents and/or sender of the message.)

The Touch Bar supports multitouch, and there some applications in which you'll be swiping and tapping with two fingertips at once. It also includes a Touch ID fingerprint scanner on the righthand end, so you can make Apple Pay payments without having to use a linked iPhone.

New MacBook Pro 2016 review: Touch Bar

"The coolest part of the Touch Bar is how quickly it changes as you switch apps," commented Susie Ochs. "I used it for scrolling through a full-screen album in Photos, as well as for scrubbing through the timeline in Final Cut Pro. Both were fast and responsive. However, when I opened a new Mail message and started typing, the QuickType suggestions shown in the Touch Bar lagged behind my fingers. I had to consciously slow down to be able to see the predictions and select them from the Touch Bar."

To learn more about the Touch Bar's functions, including how to customise the way it looks and behaves, read: How to use Touch Bar on the new MacBook Pro.

New MacBook Pro 2016 review: Touch Bar

New MacBook Pro 2016 review: Keyboard and trackpad

Let's talk next about the more traditional input elements: the keyboard and trackpad.

Trackpad

The trackpad first, because only the Touch Bar can outshine it as the MacBook Pro's crowning glory. This is a truly vast trackpad: the one on the 15-inch model measures an astonishing 159mm by 99mm. Apple says these new trackpads are up to twice the size of the ones on the previous generation, and the extra space really counts. It's easy to swipe clear across the screen with one trackpad gesture, without having to increase the sensitivity to such a point that it's impossible to be accurate.

New MacBook Pro 2016 review: Force Touch trackpad

Desktop Luddites that we are, we continue to maintain that trackpads are an inferior choice to a decent mouse (your reviewer's office 2015 MacBook Pro has a USB mouse attached), but the glorious trackpad in the 15in MacBook Pro is almost enough to make us doubt that.

It's a Force Touch trackpad too, of course: once Apple commits to a new tech it really commits to it, and you can expect all new MacBooks for the next few years to boast Force Touch compatibility. For the uninitiated, Force Touch is different to traditional trackpad tech in both mechanism (when you click the trackpad it doesn't actually move, instead simulating the feel of a click, more convincingly than the solid-state Home button on the iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus, with a small haptic buzz) and function (it's sensitive to two different degrees of touch pressure, which means you can either click things normally, or force-click them to invoke secondary controls that vary from application to application).

Like the 12-inch MacBook models released last year and this year, but unlike any previous MacBook Pro models, these laptops get Apple's Force Touch trackpad, which is sensitive to varying degrees of touch pressure and uses harder presses to activate ancillary functions depending on the application. You can do a Force-click on a word in Safari to pull up a dictionary definition, for instance.

New MacBook Pro 2016 review: Trackpad

The lack of physical movement should in theory make the trackpad less prone to part failure (a little like more reliable flash rather than moving-disc storage), albeit at the expense of a tiny output of battery power making those little buzzes. More importantly, the fact that this is simulated means it's easier to customise - you can go into the System Prefs any time you like and fine-tune the magnitude of that 'click' effect.

And more important still, the addition of force-clicks holds the potential to greatly expand the MacBook's controls - a development as big in its way as the right-click. (And one that the Mac gets first, for a change!) There are some nice little tricks and shortcuts at the moment (force-click to look up a word's definition, fast-scrub a video timeline, and so on), and the longer the tech is out there, and the larger the user base of people with laptops that feature it, the more app makers are going to come up with clever Force Touch controls.

For more on the Force Touch trackpad, see 13 ways to use Force Touch on the new MacBook and Inside Apple's Force Touch trackpad technology.

Keyboard

All of which is the good news.

The down side is that some compromises have been made in order to incorporate this large and beautiful trackpad; principally in terms of the keys, which have been shunted up to make room. For most keys the difference isn't too noticeable. But the arrow keys in particular are squeezed into a skinny little rectangle of space. To be frank, we've found them almost unusable, having grown used to the space around those keys on the 2015 MBP. The arrow up and arrow down keys are now virtually interchangeable - whichever one we aim for, there seems to be a 50/50 chance we'll get the other.

New MacBook Pro 2016 review: Keyboard

The keys are lower to the bed of the keyboard than on last year's MBP, with a shallower typing action. To aid in the quest for slimness, and like the 12-inch MacBook, the new MacBook Pro features a low-travel keyboard using one of Apple's 'butterfly' key mechanism designs. In this case it's a second-gen design intended to provide a better feel, but we found it harder for our fingers to find the right keys when touch-typing and preferred the bouncier mechanism of Apple's old laptop keys.

We experienced a slight loss of typing speed and accuracy, then (most pronounced at first, as is generally the case with these things - you largely get used to the tighter layout). But this is somewhat offset by the QuickType text predictions that you get thanks to the Touch Bar, and the more pervasive auto-corrections that arrived with macOS Sierra. Other reviewers have observed a lag between even average-speed typing and the predictions appearing/updating on the Touch Bar, and this is fair comment; it is on the slow side. But for the auto-correct element of this equation speed is less of an issue. Indeed, we find it somewhat satisfying to mistype a word in Notes, for example, and see the red underline appear a couple of words later and then the auto-correct kick in a couple of words after that.

New MacBook Pro 2016 review: Keyboard

The keys also feel slightly rattly under the finger, presumably as a result of the new shallow-action butterfly key-press mechanism used to make the laptop thinner than its predecessors, and they're noisier than we'd like to boot. Mostly that doesn't matter, of course; but you might be surprised how often you find yourself typing next to your spouse on the sofa while they try to catch what's just been said on The Affair.

Read next: New MacBook Pro 2016 vs new Surface Book 2 with Performance Base

New MacBook Pro 2016 review: Speed testing & benchmarks

We tested the new MacBook Pro - the max-specced 15-inch model, with 2.9GHz i7 processor and 16GB of RAM - using the GeekBench 4.0.3 benchmarking suite. This model of the MBP recorded overall speed scores of 4,232 in single core and 13,211 in multi-core. Those are hot numbers by anyone's standards - but are they hot enough?

For a very rough comparison, we looked at GeekBench 4 scores for the nearest equivalent from last year's generation of Pros, the 2.8GHz 15-inch model, also with 16GB of RAM.

This test produced scores of 4060 and 12033 respectively for the 2015 model; but this one produced 4415 and 14627 - the older model actually beating this year's upstart. (GeekBench scores are publicly available. Click here to search through scores for last year's 15-inch Pros.) On the whole public scores suggest a small speed boost this year.

But for a more scientific analysis we turn to the systematic tests run by our colleagues at Macworld US, who put three models of the early- and mid-2015 MacBook Pros and three 2016 models through GeekBench 4.0.1. They found an undeniable upward trend but for general processing it was small: between 1 and 5 percent in the single-core tests, although the multi-core scores were a little less predictable.

Single-core processing speed scores (GeekBench 4.0.1)

New MacBook Pro 2016 review: Single-core GeekBench processing speed scores

  • 15-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar (late 2016, 2.6GHz): 4,216
  • 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar (late 2016, 2.9GHz): 3,927
  • 13-inch MacBook Pro with function keys (late 2016, 2.0GHz): 3,765

  • 15-inch MacBook Pro (mid-2015, 2.5GHz): 4,151
  • 13-inch MacBook Pro (early 2015, 2.5GHz): 3,724
  • 13-inch MacBook Air (early 2015, 1.6GHz): 3,219

Multi-core processing speed scores (GeekBench 4.0.1)

New MacBook Pro 2016 review: Multi-core GeekBench processing speed scores

  • 15-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar (late 2016, 2.6GHz): 12,842
  • 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar (late 2016, 2.9GHz): 7,599
  • 13-inch MacBook Pro with function keys (late 2016, 2.0GHz): 7,316

  • 15-inch MacBook Pro (mid-2015, 2.5GHz): 13,564
  • 13-inch MacBook Pro (early 2015, 2.5GHz): 7,022
  • 13-inch MacBook Air (early 2015, 1.6GHz): 5,719

New MacBook Pro 2016 review: Speed testing

New MacBook Pro 2016 review: Tech specs

Let's look at those tech specs in a bit more depth.

13-inch MacBook Pro model (without Touch Bar)

  • 2.0GHz dual-core Intel Core i5, Turbo Boost up to 3.1GHz, with 4MB shared L3 cache (Configurable to 2.4GHz dual-core Intel Core i7, Turbo Boost up to 3.4GHz, with 4MB shared L3 cache)
  • 8GB of 1866MHz LPDDR3 onboard RAM (Configurable to 16GB)
  • Intel Iris Graphics 540
  • 256GB PCIe-based onboard SSD (Configurable to 512GB or 1TB SSD)
  • 13.3-inch LED-backlit display with IPS technology; 2560x1600 native resolution at 227 pixels per inch; 500 nits brightness; Wide colour (P3)
  • Built-in 54.5-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery; estimated battery life up to 10 hours wireless web use
  • 802.11ac WiFi; IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n compatible; Bluetooth 4.2
  • Full-size backlit keyboard with 78 (US) or 79 (ISO) keys including 12 function keys and 4 arrow keys; Force Touch trackpad
  • 2 x Thunderbolt 3/USB-C ports; 3.5mm headphone port
  • 720p FaceTime HD camera
  • 30.41cm x 21.24cm x 1.49cm; 1.37kg

13-inch MacBook Pro model (with Touch Bar)

  • 2.9GHz dual-core Intel Core i5, Turbo Boost up to 3.3GHz, with 4MB shared L3 cache (Configurable to 3.1GHz dual-core Intel Core i5, Turbo Boost up to 3.5GHz, with 4MB shared L3 cache; or 3.3GHz dual-core Intel Core i7, Turbo Boost up to 3.6GHz, with 4MB shared L3 cache)
  • 8GB of 2133MHz LPDDR3 onboard RAM (Configurable to 16GB)
  • Intel Iris Graphics 550
  • 256GB PCIe-based onboard SSD, or 512GB PCIe-based onboard SSD (Configurable to 1TB SSD)
  • 13.3-inch LED-backlit display with IPS technology; 2560 x 1600 native resolution at 227 pixels per inch; 500 nits brightness; Wide colour (P3)
  • Built-in 49.2-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery; estimated battery life up to 10 hours wireless web use
  • 802.11ac WiFi; IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n compatible; Bluetooth 4.2
  • Full-size backlit keyboard with 64 (US) or 65 (ISO) keys including 4 arrow keys; Touch Bar with integrated Touch ID sensor; Force Touch trackpad
  • 4 x Thunderbolt 3/USB-C ports; 3.5mm headphone port
  • 720p FaceTime HD camera
  • 30.41cm x 21.24cm x 1.49cm; 1.37kg

15-inch MacBook Pro model (with Touch Bar)

  • 2.6GHz quad-core Intel Core i7, Turbo Boost up to 3.5GHz, with 6MB shared L3 cache, or 2.7GHz quad-core Intel Core i7, Turbo Boost up to 3.6GHz, with 8MB shared L3 cache (Configurable to 2.9GHz quad-core Intel Core i7, Turbo Boost up to 3.8GHz, with 8MB shared L3 cache)
  • 16GB of 2133MHz LPDDR3 onboard RAM
  • Radeon Pro 450 with 2GB of GDDR5 memory and automatic graphics switching, or Radeon Pro 455 with 2GB of GDDR5 memory and automatic graphics switching (Configurable to Radeon Pro 460 with 4GB of GDDR5 memory and automatic graphics switching); Intel HD Graphics 530
  • 256GB PCIe-based onboard SSD, or 512GB PCIe-based onboard SSD (Configurable to 1TB or 2TB SSD)
  • 15.4-inch (diagonal) LED-backlit display with IPS technology; 2880 x 1800 native resolution at 220 pixels per inch; 500 nits brightness; Wide colour (P3)
  • Built-in 76.0-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery; estimated battery life up to 10 hours wireless web use
  • 802.11ac WiFi; IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n compatible; Bluetooth 4.2
  • Full-size backlit keyboard with 64 (US) or 65 (ISO) keys including 4 arrow keys; Touch Bar with integrated Touch ID sensor; Force Touch trackpad
  • 4 x Thunderbolt 3/USB-C ports; 3.5mm headphone port
  • 720p FaceTime HD camera
  • 34.93cm x 24.07cm x 1.55cm; 1.83kg

New MacBook Pro 2016 review: UK price

The new MacBook Pros are available right now in the UK, although their newness means you may sometimes may face slight delays getting them shipped out to you. (At time of writing, we're seeing estimates of 4-5 weeks for the Touch Bar models.) And the prices are fearsome:

  • 13-inch model (without Touch Bar): Starts at £1,449
  • 13-inch model (with Touch Bar): Starts at £1,749 (256GB) or £1,949 (512GB)
  • 15-inch model (with Touch Bar): Starts at £2,349 (2.6GHz, 256GB) or £2,699 (2.7GHz, 512GB)

For those who urgently need a MacBook Pro but baulk at the prices above, Apple still sells last year's 13-inch 2.7GHz MBP for £1,249, and last year's 2.2GHz 15-inch MBP for £1,899.

Remember that these are just the base prices; if you configure higher specs than the standard, you'll pay more. You can buy all of these models of the MacBook Pro direct from Apple here: MacBook Pro on Apple Store. You can also buy MacBook Pro from John Lewis.

Apple has issued its usual statement about international prices being affected by "currency exchange rates, local import laws, business practices, taxes, and the cost of doing business", and although it didn't mention Brexit by name that appears to be the cause of these prices. But it should be said that while potentially Brexit-related price rises are becoming more and more common in the tech sector, no other tech company has cranked up the prices post-Brexit quite as brutally as this.

New MacBook Pro 2016 review

New MacBook Pro 2016 review: Colour options

The new MacBook Pro 2016 is available in two colour finishes: silver and Space Grey. It looks pretty great in Space Grey, we reckon.

OUR VERDICT

We're rather in love with the new MacBook Pro, but as with many love affairs there are irritations.

The trackpad is huge and wonderful to use; but it's so big that the keyboard has been pushed up to make room, as well as flattened down to make the laptop slimmer. These factors together mean typing on the new Pro is a little harder - especially for touch typists, who will struggle to locate keys at first - than on on previous models. And those arrow keys are a nightmare.

The Touch Bar is lovely to look at and fun to use. It's early days, both for us - we're only beginning to grasp its capabilities - and for app developers, who will surely come up with reams of clever Touch Bar features. Right now it's fun, but we're reasonably confident that it will become essential; the key will be getting lots of users on machines with Touch Bars. The tech is in this respect a little further back along the track that 3D Touch is following.

This is a fast machine, of course, but maybe not quite fast enough for some tastes; it's worth reflecting on that maximum spec of 16GB of RAM, which may hold this machine back from a role in genuine pro settings. We're somewhat hopeful for a March update to add the option of more RAM and Kaby Lake processors.

All in all, this is a fast and beautiful laptop but one with some flaws to consider. And ouch, that price tag is steep.

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