Last year, I bought Apple’s 13“ MacBook Pro with Touch Bar. I had been waiting for an upgrade to the MacBook Pro line for a couple of years, and my 13” MacBook Air was getting up in age. When my Machine arrived in November, I posted my initial impressions. Candidly, they were relatively lackluster. I’ve been using the 2016 MacBook Pro with Touch Bar for about a year now as my primary machine, and I figured it was time for an update.
When I bought my new MacBook Pro, I knew I wanted a 13“ model, but as a ”power user" I opted for a top of the line model. I decked my machine out with a 3.3 GHz Intel Core i7 Processor, 16 GB of RAM and a 512 GB SSD. While I’m not sure I use all this processing power, it’s nice to have. Though I in all likelihood, I could have gotten by with a lower end model and opted to upgrade the RAM and SSD.
Look and Feel
I was instantly blown away by the size and weight of the machine. Still today, I love the way this machine looks and feels which I pick it up to take it with me. At 3.02 pounds and only 0.59" (1.49 cm) thick this Machine is in every way the natural successor to the MacBook Air. I opted for Space Gray, of course, and have been happy with that choice, though I have noticed a few nicks around the edge of the machine, especially around the USB-C ports where the coating has started to wear.
Keyboard and Trackpad
I was initially quite upset about the keyboard and trackpad. I will say the Keyboard has grown on me and while I still prefer the old style Apple Keyboards, I have become accustomed to the feel of the MacBook Pro keyboard. Most of the day my MacBook Pro is docked at my desk, and I use an external keyboard. My current Keyboard of choice is a Logitech K750. However, now that Apple (finally) offers a Magic Keyboard with a Numeric Keypad (a requirement for me) I will likely switch to that next time I’m in the market. I have been lucky and not experienced any problems with stuck or broken keys that seem to plague these models. However, about 85% or more of my use is on an external keyboard.
After about a year of use, I still find the larger size trackpad on the MacBook Pro not only unnecessary but annoying. I’ve discovered the increased size of the trackpad affords me no real benefit. Because the trackpad is so wide, I find my wrist and palms naturally rest on it which can make clicking and moving the cursor more cumbersome than on the smaller trackpad of the 13" Air. While I’ve adapted somewhat, I am still finding it less comfortable to use and more missed clicks as I contort my hand. I have long struggled with RSI issues so may be more sensitive to this than most.
All the Dongles
Over the course of the last several months, I’ve spent a few hundred dollars on various adapters and still find that I don’t have a single native USB-C device to use with my computer. I looked at the different Thunderbolt 3 docks on the market, and while I pre-ordered the OWC Thunderbolt 3 Dock, I ultimately canceled my order because it (as were most Thunderbolt 3 Docks) was so delayed by that I had already spent a small fortune on adapters and found solutions that worked for me. At any given time I typically have 3 of the four ports on my MacBook occupied. (1. Power, 2. Display, 3. USB Hub.) If I had a lower-end MacBook Pro with only two ports, I think a dock would be much more critical.
My favorite accessory for my new MacBook was a Dell 24“ 5K display. After much debate about purchasing the LG 5K display, I ultimately choose to purchase the Dell UltraHD 4K 24” Monitor P2415Q. It was a fraction of the price, (currently about $350 on Amazon) has a beautiful screen and includes a few additional USB-A ports. Whenever possible, I purchased new USB cables for my existing devices. Since I still have a large number of USB-A devices, I kept my USB-A hub, but swapped out the cable for a USB 3.1 Type C to Type B Cable, making everything connected instantly compatible with my MacBook Pro.
After a short period of adapting all the devices at my desk, the Thunderbolt–3 Ports have become a non-issue. However, I do have to carry a few more dongles when traveling. I’ve bought USB-A to USB-C adapters to keep in all my laptop bags.
Touch Bar and Touch ID
I’ve saved perhaps the most controversial update to the MacBook Pro for last. When I wrote my first impressions of the Touch Bar back in November of 2016, I called it “gimmicky.” A year later, while the Touch Bar has been more widely adopted by Apple and third party developers, I’m not regularly using it.
One of my most significant barriers to use with the Touch Bar is that my computer is so often docked at my desk and I use a third party external Keyboard. This makes the Touch Bar inaccessible. However even those times when I’m using my MacBook Pro alone, I find I never reach for the touch bar. I find just about anything that I can do with the Touch Bar can be done more quickly with keyboard shortcuts.
I sent out a tweet not long ago mentioning I didn’t find the Touch Bar added any value for me beyond Touch ID. About 75% of the responses I received were in agreement. A few people said they used the Touch Bar more than prior function keys, but still not significantly.
There was a small but vocal crowd who pointed out there were ways to maximize the Touch Bar’s usefulness. Particularly with the addition of a third party utility such as BetterTouchTool. Evan Kline of 40Tech wrote an article on the topic titled “How to Make The MacBook Pro’s Touch Bar Useful.” I also heard from people who find the Touch Bar useful in specific applications such as for video or audio editing. Since my Touch Bar is essentially sitting dormant, I should try to find a way to make it more useful.
I don’t regret the purchase of the 2016 MacBook Pro. However, if I had to do it all over again, I might have waited for one more generation and opted for the lower end model without the Touch Bar (dubbed by Marco Arment and others as the “MacBook Escape.”)
Dropping down to the MacBook Pro without Touch Bar would have yielded me a slightly slower processor (which probably would have been of minimal real-world impact), the loss of the Touch Bar I never use, but perhaps more significantly, the loss of two Thunderbolt ports. It also would have saved me about $500, maybe a little more. Would it have been worth the trade-off? Maybe. Then again, maybe not. The loss of ports would have required buying a Thunderbolt dock (which runs around $300), so the actual savings would have been less.
The reason for waiting for a generation would simply have been to allow some of the inherent bugs that come with a first generation product to work their way out of the system. My first MacBook Pro had to be replaced due to logic board problems within its first month of life. There have also been some reports of keyboard problems and a stealth update to the keyboard in later models to correct this. Waiting another few months would also have allowed accessories to catch up with the market.
Either way, I’ve been mostly happy with my 2016 MacBook Pro, and it’s a machine that has grown on me the last year.