I returned my 2016 MacBook Pro with Touch Bar

tl;dr: After two weeks of use, I returned my 2016 13" MacBook Pro with Touch Bar and bought one with Function Keys instead. Read on for detailed Battery stress tests, performance tests, and an exploration of how Apple's botched this year's Pro lineup.

I've owned almost every generation of Mac desktop and laptop computers, and have survived many transitions: 680x0 to PowerPC, Classic Mac OS to OS X, to the PowerPC to Intel switch. I've also owned almost every generation of iPhone and iPad. I even maintain a huge list of all the Macs I've owned! I could justifiably be labeled an 'Apple fanatic'.

I use a Mac as my daily driver, and have rarely made a tech-related purchase I regretted. And I've never returned a Mac, until today.

MacBook Pro Touch Bar on 13" laptop
A close-up of the Touch Bar, one of Apple's most controversial innovations.

Late last year, Apple introduced the controversial '2016 MacBook Pro with Touch Bar', and there was quite a backlash from the developer community. Apple critics were quick to jump on the bandwagon and trash the laptop, but as an 'Apple fanatic', I was willing to give the Touch Bar a fighting chance.

After all, I thought, surely an engineer or manager would've put an end to the Touch Bar if there wasn't some redeeming value, right?

Boy, was I wrong.

Reasons for upgrading

I have been using an 11" MacBook Air as my primary computer since 2011 (I've owned three separate 11" models—I love this netbook-like form factor!). After seeing the beautiful retina displays on MacBook Pros, I was biding my time for a new MacBook Air model that would include retina. Unfortunately, that never panned out, as Apple introduced the 12" MacBook, which is a nice computer in its own right, but not nearly as utilitarian as an Air, with its two USB ports, a Thunderbolt port, and a Magsafe connector. Really, the only two things I would've liked to have changed on my Air were a retina display and a nicer keyboard.

11" MacBook Air on box
My old 2013 11" MacBook Air. It's been a faithful companion.

So every year I watched and waited, and the Air line got more stale. And in 2016, when the shoe dropped and the Air went on life support (along with the Pro and Mini, it seems), I decided to give the 2016 13" MacBook Pro with Touch Bar a try. Even if it cost ~$300 more than it should.

First impressions

2016 13" MacBook Pro - hero image with Apple.com in Safari

There are a few aspects of the 2016 MBP that are great improvements over the 2015 and earlier models (I have a brand new 2015 13" MBP for work purposes too, so I'm comparing two brand new devices):

  • Size matters: Some developers don't care about weight or size. I'm not one of them. I used an 11" Air for years, and am used to the ease of transport, the thinness, etc., and since I travel a bit, it's vastly superior to the older 2011 15" Pro I had decked out previously. The 2016 13" Pro is almost perfect—I really wish it still had the taper like my Air, because it's more comfortable to use as a laptop, but it's still better than the thicker, heavier 2015 model. I'm willing to pay a little bit in battery life and performance for a size reduction (to a point—more on that later).
  • The keyboard is best in class: I love the crisper feel of the butterfly mechanism and larger keys on the 2016. I haven't done enough testing yet, but I feel I'm more accurate typing on the internal keyboard. Too bad it's sitting on my desk closed 80% of the time...
  • Thunderbolt 3 / USB-C is the future: I'm no luddite; I welcome new standards and tech that will become ubiquitous. USB-C is the future, and I can't fathom why Apple hasn't switched the iPhone to USB-C yet... you can use the Google Pixel out of the box with Apple's current flagship laptop, but you can't use an iPhone without buying a separate cable or a dongle.
  • Trackpad: Apple makes the best tracking device on the market, bar none. More is better. Some people argue palm rejection might be flaky, but I haven't had an issue yet. This is Apple's best trackpad ever, and when I use my wife's 2010 Air, I'm reminded just how much improved the tracking is on the 2016.
  • SSD: Whoa, this thing is fast. It's fast enough that the SSD test utility I usually use, Blackmagic Disk Speed Test, maxed out at 2,000 MB/sec read and 1,888 MB/sec write speeds on the internal SSD. Using iozone, I benched more accurate random read speeds at 2083 MB/sec, and random write at a much lower 645 MB/s. Still blistering fast. I wish Apple made enterprise SSD controllers for my database servers—who needs RAM when disk I/O is so fast?!

Black Magic Speed Test - 2016 MacBook Pro with Function Keys
The SSD is really this fast. Even with random 4K reads.

But for every improvement, there is something disappointing:

  • Touch Bar is useless: In fact, it's worse than useless. Even after two weeks' use, my pinkie could never find the escape key. And it's much too sensitive, as I would accidentally hit one of the other buttons when I was fat-fingering a + sign or hovering near the 'Delete' key. Read more about my distaste for the Touch Bar.
  • 2 Thunderbolt ports on the Fn-key model is a slap in the face: Apple decided to only add two Thunderbolt/USB-C ports on the Function key model. After using both laptops for over a week, having at least a third port makes a lot of common scenarios easier (e.g. charge, plug in a USB hub, and plug in an external monitor). It's painful having just two ports, even though they're individually awesome, because I now have to use something like this AUKEY hub just so to plug in a 4K monitor and keyboard while powering my laptop at the same time.
  • Battery Life: This deserves its own breakout section. See below.
  • Soldered-in-everything: This irks me less than it used to, but it was (and is) amazing how people with 2009, 2010, 2011, etc. MacBook Pros can easily swap out hard drives for SSDs or upgrade their RAM and have a completely fresh and fast experience on a 5-6 year old Mac. At least the SSD should be upgradeable—and luckily, it is (maybe) in the function key model.
  • Different chipsets: Apple went with a lower TDP chip in the function key Pro, along with a larger battery. But the chipset also means that there are slight speed differences in the two series of 2016 Pros. It's annoying to have to make tradeoffs between the two.
  • Touch ID requires Touch Bar: I would've gladly paid a little extra for Touch ID in the function key Pro I'm currently using, since it makes login, auth and sudo that much faster... but it's not an option. It works as well as the Touch ID on my iPhone 7, and I had no complaints with it whatsoever. It irks me Apple didn't put it in all the 2016 Pro lineup.
  • Price: This is the kicker—you have to pay more for the Touch Bar, even though it provides a worse computing experience. And you can't get Touch ID, two extra Thunderbolt ports, or a few other niche niceties without also taking the baggage that is Touch Bar along for the ride.

But enough with lists... let's deep dive into a couple of the primary reasons I chose to return my Touch Bar laptop and get a less expensive MacBook Pro with Function Keys.

Battery Life

The battery is the straw that broke this camel's back. I was limping along disliking the Touch Bar for a couple weeks, thinking I could live with it and get used to it, but after two times using the Touch Bar model on the road without power nearby, I nearly lost it when my laptop was under 10% battery remaining after only three hours of use.

I'm a developer who also dabbles in photo and video work. I hit my laptops hard. With my older 11" MacBook Air, I was used to 3-4 hour battery life during development sessions on an airplane or in other places where power outlets were impossible to find. I'm willing to sacrifice some power for a smaller footprint, and I'm used to it. But with the 13" Pro, which promised 10+ hours of productivity (which should translate to 4-5 hours of 'actual' productivity with my usage pattern), I was expecting to at least maintain the status quo, but get the speed boost a Pro model promises.

Apple quotes both the Touch Bar and Function Key models as having "up to 10 hours wireless web", but as iFixit's teardowns (Fn key | Fn key) show, the Function Key model has a 54.5 Wh battery, while the Touch Bar model only packs 49.2 Wh. The 2015 13" Pro crammed in a whopping 74.9 Wh battery!

Since I'm a developer, and one of my goals in life is to automate all boring work into oblivion (heck, I wrote a book on the topic!), I decided to automate a battery slugfest—a fairly realistic test of the most brutal conditions I would be subjecting my laptop to—and I came up with (and open sourced the code for) the MacBook Pro Battery Life Test. You can read more about the test and methodology in that GitHub repository (I used version 1.1.0 for the test results below), and came up with the following data points for comparison:

# Builds completed Total battery life Avg. Build time
2016 Touch Bar - 3.1 GHz i5 24 3:30:00 0:08:45
2016 Fn key - 2.4 GHz i7 30 3:54:00 0:07:52
2015 Retina - 3.1 GHz i7 48 5:36:00 0:06:58

Raw data from the third test run on each laptop is available in this Google Sheet: 2016 MacBook Pro Battery Comparisons.

The results boggle the mind. Well, not really, when you realize the 2016 Touch Bar Pro has a smaller battery, a CPU chugging twice the wattage (under load), and a second display (the Touch Bar) to power (aside: my test didn't even power up the Touch Bar, so in normal usage (where the Touch Bar would keep lighting up every time you do anything), the battery life would be even worse)!

Here's a comparison of battery life measured in total test run time vs battery capacity. Percent differences are compared to the baseline of the 2015 model:

Capacity Capacity % difference Total battery life Life % difference
2016 Touch Bar - 3.1 GHz i5 49.2 -34% 3:30:00 -36%
2016 Fn key - 2.4 GHz i7 54.5 -27% 3:54:00 -30%
2015 Retina - 3.1 GHz i7 74.9 baseline 5:36:00 baseline

I'm willing to take the hit on battery life for the size. But I'm not willing to take that much of a hit compared to last year's model. After running these tests a few times and realizing it's not a fluke, I decided the Touch Bar model had to go. I immediately ordered a Function Key Pro, which isn't a huge improvement, but at least gives me another 30 minutes of runtime under heavy load.

CPU / General speed

Interestingly, from all my research online, it seemed the faster-clocked 3.1 GHz i5 CPU in the Touch Bar Pro should've bested the 2.4 GHz i7 I now have in my Function Key Pro... but it didn't, at least not for any of my real-world use cases (notice that the average time per build in the graph above is 11% faster on the Fn key). And it barely beats the Function Key in raw CPU benchmarks:


Single core Multi core
TouchBar / 3.1 GHz i5 'Skylake' 4059 7723
Fn Key / 2.4 GHz i7 'Skylake' 3809 7495
2015 / 3.1 GHz i7 'Broadwell' 3860 7356

I am generally pleased with the performance of either of these Skylake CPUs. They're many times improved over the relatively ancient 1.7 GHz i7 I had in my 11" Air, and they're even faster (at lower clock speeds) than the higher-clocked 2015 Broadwell models. The snappier GPU this year is also nice, though nothing beats an independent GPU like the ones found in the 15" Pro lineup.

It irritates me, however, that the same options aren't available in both the Function Key and Touch Bar Pro models. Not only does it feel insulting to not be able to get the fastest CPU just because I don't want an annoying second screen on my keyboard, but it also makes comparing pricing between the models difficult.

I spent over an hour reconfiguring models and searching all over the Internet to find spec sheets for the different CPUs used in the models before I came to the conclusion (which I found later to be somewhat incorrect) that the 3.1 GHz i5 would be adequate for my needs. This is not the customer experience I normally have when purchasing Apple products. It feels more like the era that produced the Performa 637CD or 6360, Power Macintosh 6200, etc... all those models that had such slight differences and were a far cry from the 'Good', 'Better', 'Best' configurations Steve Jobs espoused.

Fit and Finish

2016 13" MacBook Pro - large trackpad surface
The 2016 MacBook Pro continues to lead in trackpad feel and performance.

The build quality is the single largest factor in my decision to stick it out on Apple's platform for the foreseeable future. I've tried out both the Lenovo and Dell thin developer-oriented laptops, and there were always little issues that irritated me, like strange scrolling behavior, a creaky case, and varying levels of support for Linux that require me to put on my developer hat to work through problems (I want my workstation OS and hardware to just work, thank you very much!).

I also have a Lenovo T420 sitting on my desk that I use for work in Windows 10, Fedora 25, and Ubuntu 16.04, and if I didn't care about portability, I'd likely be fine with a tank of a laptop like the T4xx line. But it's not for me as a daily driver—rather, on the MacBook Pro, you have the trackpad, the screen (the wide-color-gamut retina display is a great display), the keyboard, the backlighting... put it all together, and this is still (in my opinion) the best laptop hardware put together by any manufacturer.

The question in my mind is: if Apple decides the Touch Bar is the wave of the future, where does that leave me? I'm vowing right now to not buy another laptop with Touch Bar (at least not in its current form).

I hope, for Apple's sake, they can nip this in the bud and figure out where the Mac lineup is going before too many developers switch back to other hardware. Otherwise some of the amazing software that does keep me somewhat locked in, like RadarScope Pro, Transmit, Sequel Pro, nvAlt, TweetBot, and the Adobe CC apps will likely falter, and that would be the tipping point for me.

Aside: I spend 95% of my day working in a Terminal or in a browser building giant enterprise websites and other software. I'm mostly platform-agnostic (heck, I do most of my work inside VMs anyways), but the GUI apps I use for the other 5% of the day are highly optimized and will likely never be available on Linux. Therefore, I can't envision a future working in a Linux environment for my day-to-day workstation (at least, as long as macOS maintains its mostly-POSIX-compatible nature).

Odds and ends

There are a few other things I've learned after a few weeks' use of both models of laptop, which you might want to consider if you're buying a new Pro:

  • No more Magsafe: One minor disappointment (but a necessary one) is the removal of a Magsafe charging port in favor of charging via USB-C/Thunderbolt. In some ways, this is more convenient—more manufacturers make hubs with pass-through charging, and you can charge a MacBook Pro even with a weaker generic 30W USB-C charger—but there has never been a port as much a joy to use as Magsafe.
  • Speakers: The speakers are a mixed bag. And yet another thing different between the models. On the Touch Bar Pro, the speakers deflect more sound down, so on solid surfaces, they sound full and loud. On a lap, not quite as much, but they're still pretty good. On the Function Key Pro, the speakers project up through the grill, so they provide more consistent sound, but lack some of the depth I heard from the Touch Bar model.
  • Touch Bar is annoying: I just have to put in another jab. I hate this thing. I remember many occasions where I would be typing and something weird would happen because my finger hovered near (but barely touched) a softkey on the Touch Bar. Also, the annoyance of seeing new things constantly happening inside the Touch Bar, but always delayed by ~200ms from when I did the action that caused the new display to appear. I just can't believe Apple decided to ship the thing in a 'Pro' laptop. Maybe it would work better as a neat gimmick in the 12" MacBook.

Conclusion

The 2016 MacBook Pro is a mixed bag. Many features (most shared between the two models) are huge improvements in the Pro lineup—like the SSD speed, size and weight, keyboard feel, and Thunderbolt 3/USB-C. Other features (like the Touch Bar) are worse than useless—they make the user experience worse.

I hope Apple realizes the blunder with the Touch Bar (and with the confusing lineup of laptops they currently sell) and either fix it or remove it entirely. I'd be happy if Apple only preserved the Touch ID/power key combo.

Comments

Did I mention how useless and annoying the Touch Bar was?

yes, you did.

I don't believe you did...

agreed.
in my third month and still accidentally fat-fingering the Touch Bar.
escape is a disappointing and un-rewarding experience now, assuming I actually pressed it.
I've had to customize and remove all the buttons from the Touch Bar, so it's only for escape and TouchID now.

Is the touchbar that much of a hassle or is it just the escape key thats a hassle.

I have the 2015 MBA which is why I'm considering holding off on buying this model. There is no way the battery life can compare to the air. I also don't see myself using the escape key really. So is it the position and the placement of the touchbar thats a hassle or is it just a bad item to have on a keyboard. Even without it I don't see the purchase being necessary for my daily needs which is just a portable laptop. My only gripe about the air is the screen resolution.

They had enough room to include both the Touch Bar and the F keys.

But they needed that huge track pad!

They still had room.

Can you repeat that please

I've had the Pro-Touch since November and for the first time as an Apple user, I'm regretting not going for the Lenovo Yoga OLED instead. The Touch Bar is truly useless from an application standpoint. I can't remember ever thinking, "yes, I must touch the OLED bar instead of just moving the mouse on the screen and clicking." I mean, basic user research should have convinced them to table the feature (bug?) because I can't imagine anyone at Apple deciding, "yes, this is what our customers have been longing for."

The machine has its share of bugginess -- especially the need to log out and back into WiFi every time I open the lid (even if it displays that it's connected). Wish I didn't but it.

You might have the results of the battery test switched. The 2016 Touch Bar and 2015 Retina seem to be switched if I look at your spreadsheet

Sorry about that; I updated the table as I had accidentally switched the count and battery life for the Touch Bar and 2015 models!

Hi Jeff - I think your table under "Battery Life" has the row data listed in reverse order. I see

# Builds completed Total battery life Avg. Build time
2016 Touch Bar - 3.1 GHz i5 49 4:54:00 0:08:45
2016 Fn key - 2.4 GHz i7 30 3:54:00 0:07:52
2015 Retina - 3.1 GHz i7 24 3:30:00 0:06:02

But your spreadsheet seems to show 24/30/49 in those three tests (not 49/30/24).

Sorry about that; I updated the table as I had accidentally switched the count and battery life for the Touch Bar and 2015 models!

Great write up!

Here's a question for you. Had Apple not made the Fn key model, would you swap MBP for a Dell XPS or HP Spectre with Linux?

I have been waiting for the 2016 rMBP, but when it got released and I noticed the €600,- price difference, I just picked up the 2015-model. Posts like yours make me feel even more confident about my purchase. The only thing I wish this model had was the large trackpad and a Type-C connector. Oh well.

I am also a software developers. I was using the MacBook Pro 2012 (the first generation with Retina and SSD), 4.5 year old.
I think I could get used to the touchbar (and the lack of a physical ESC key when using vi is not as big an issue as I feared). However, I am very disappointed by the general performance. Individually, all components are much better (the new CPU is the 2.9Ghz processor, the RAM is 16Gb of 2133Mhz, and the SSD are indeed way faster). Despite all this, compiling my application now takes exactly the same amount of time as it did before (12.50s roughly). We are running 8 or 10 compiler processes in parallel, although the Ada compiler itself is mono-threaded.
I haven't found any reason for not seeing *any* speed improvement here, this is very disappointing.

At this stage, MacOS Sierra is also very unstable on this MacBook Pro 2016 lineup. My colleague and I both have the same laptop, and have seen 4 or 5 crashes/freezes of the machine, in various circumstances, in the last week only. Hopefully, this will be solved by a software update, but to me this shows lack of testing by Apple here.

Looks like performance gave way to form factor. Like you I held off buying 2016 models and still relies on a first gen 2012 '15. The Touchbar is sufficient reason alone to avoid the 2016 lineups. Now with your story of performance delta seeming negligible, I have another reason.

I received my new Macbook Pro one week ago and I'm also thinking of returning it to apple and buy the one with the physical FN Keys. :(

No, the touchbar is nothing for the Macbook 12". Don't even think about that.

What me worries most is the poor battery performance. On my Macbook it's relatively bad when on Wifi. I wouldn't buy a 'Pro' model in 2017 with the poor battery performance, you describe.

An honest question: if you're returning the Touch Bar, why not get the latest version of the "old" Retina MacBook Pro, if battery life and performance are better for your needs?

Portability is an equal priority for me. Moving up from my svelte 11" Air to the 2015 Retina would've been too much. The 2016 models, trim as they are, still feel rather large to me.

I wouldn't even consider the new MBP after having used the Macbook 12"–50% heavier and way bulkier, no way. I'm never going back to that! Granted, I have no peripherals except for my headphones (I really need to get my hands on those AirPods), and portability is by far my number one priority. Also, after having done long distance hiking I don't flinch at spending hundreds of dollars for oz savings...

Yeah, it's been tough holding off upgrading to the 12" MacBook. The CPU is the only sticking point for me, really. I can live with just one port.

Great post. I wonder if the new MacOS beta that fixed the Consumer Reports bug will affect the battery life much in your usage case?

More to the point of your comment, I recently purchased a refurbished 2016 MacBook 12 inch with the Core m5 processor. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by this processor. I was doing some simple editing with Final Cut Pro and it worked quit well, and I was even able to play StarCraft 2 reasonably well (albeit with most of the graphics options at low or medium).

I also agree re: the ports. The one USB-C is just fine for me 95% of the time, and I picked up a HooToo Shuttle USB-C hub with HDMI, SD card, and several USB-A connectors for fairly cheap on Amazon. A couple of days ago I used it for a Keynote presentation and it worked very well. I’ve been quite happy. Hopefully Apple is able to quickly sort out the issues with the new MBPro…

Thanks for this article, Jeff!

@Tim_Cook. Please look here, before it's too late. Apple users want you to succeed. You just have to listen closely and execute.

Let's be honest, they have a long time before "It's too late". Most Mac users really are wedded to the software and ecosystem. The vast majority will keep upgrading even if the hardware isn't market leading any more. I think it would take several generations of truly bad products.

You forget that they obsolete the older machines at an increased rate. You don't get that many more generations before the older machines can't be updated to the newest OS X anymore - and let's face it, when that happens you do want to switch fast these days.

I've got the 2013 rMBP15 and I was looking to go for the 2016. If I don't see something to upgrade to latest at Q1/2018 I will have to look elsewhere. I've never before had a 3-year old mac yet as my primary work machine.

This Touch Bar has the potential to due serious damage to the platform. I got a Touch bar model but am regretting it. The Touch Bar is so bad, I will have to seriously consider my loyalty to this platform if they foist this on us all.

Combined with the flat keys and loss of ability to hit the arrow keys without looking (the inverted T is now a block, as they have increased the size of the left and right arrows), my productivity has fallen noticeably. A faster CPU and SSD are not worth the loss in productivity from having a software escape key among other well used keys.

I totally agree for the arrow keys, the feeling is completely different and I keep hitting the shift key instead of the up arrow while working.
This new Macbook Pro is a real nightmare :(

I did the exact same thing. I returned my Touch Bar Mac for Fn-Key one. After a few weeks of use, I realized I hated Touch Bar so much. Just lowering the brightness or volume on my Mac was becoming an annoyance. And how many times, my fingers touched the virtual Escape key by mistake... I would love to have Touch ID though.

Did you get the $300 upgrade?

Yes. Maxed out configuration for the Fn-Key model.

So which model did you buy? The "new" one without touchbar and upgrade to 2.4 GHz or the older model?
I bought the new MacBook Pro without the touch bar, and have had issues with slower speed and now with the space bar not working correctly. When I type, press the spacebar on the right, it doesn't create a space. Over and over.... Thanks! I have had Apple laptops for years, and this recent experience with Apple computers has been disappointing, to say the least.

I bought the 3.1 GHz Touch Bar model first, then found I disliked it and now have the 2.4 GHz i7 Function Key model. I haven't had any issues with the spacebar, and I usually hit with left thumb off center. I'd set up an appointment at the Genius Bar, as it sounds like maybe your keyboard has an issue!

I LOVED my 2013 MBA. It was my first Mac and I was not looking back. I just upgraded to the 2016 MBP without the touch bar and I had to return my first unit because the spacebar did not work on the far right side. Now my second unit (a week old) is also having that problem. It is driving me nuts. Im beginning to worry Mac has failed us. I love the screen on this 2016 and dont want to downgrade to the 2015 but this spacebar issue is unacceptable. And battery life is quite poor but I may just have been spoiled by my MBA. I really dont want to have to return another unit and pick a replacement that wont satisfy all my wants. Frustrated!

I picked up the Fcn Key base model (2.0GHz i5, 8GB RAM) because Best Buy was having a 10% off promotion. I was pretty confident already that I wanted to get the MBP, and since price is always a huge consideration when it comes to Apple, the 10% discount helped me close the deal. However, I've been speaking to a handful of my friends, a handful of which told me I would be much better off with 16GB of RAM (and maybe a processor upgrade as well). I was wondering if you had any thoughts on that. I don't do intensive video editing or things like that. I primarily use it for schoolwork, Netflix, email, etc but I do tend to have Chrome open with 3-4 tabs at any given moment which instantly adds load onto whatever else I'm doing. I don't know much about MBPs since this is the first one I've ever owned so I'm wondering -- would the 16GB be a good investment since I, like many others, hope to have this laptop for the next 4-5 years?

8GB is enough for 95% of people I know (developers included). For myself, I often have two to four VMs running different projects (each using 2-4 GB of RAM), a dozen or two Docker containers that I build and rebuild often, as well as three chat apps, two or three browsers, iTunes, Mail, Sublime Text, Terminal (with 5+ tabs at any given moment) and maybe even Photoshop and Illustrator for kicks.

So for me, 16GB is a necessity, and more is always better. But for anyone who doesn't have more than 8 or 10 apps open all the time, 8GB should be fine for now. I would recommend using Safari instead of Chrome if you can—it seems to use only 60-70% of the RAM Chrome uses in my recent testing (I just switched back to Safari after using Chrome for about 7 years).

Great! Thanks for your input! I was also advised to keep an eye on Swap data (Activity Monitor) to see whether 8GB is truly sufficient. I see the value but I have no idea what value I should be seeing. The highest value I've seen is 100MB of "Swap used". 'Memory Used' fluctuates between 3.8-5.2GB no matter what I'm doing which tends to worry me a little. I feel like that's a little high seeing as my cap is 8GB, and 2.5-3GB is always reserved for 'Cached files'. Anyway I guess this isn't really a question but I was hoping for your professional opinion on this for someone in my position who is juggling this idea of 8gb vs 16gb (and to a lesser extent, 2.0GHz vs 2.4GHz). Also, sorry in advance if this is not something you can comment on. I am NOT a computer/tech guy at all (career-wise) so I have a poor sense of what kind of person can answer which type of questions!

After reading your reply it would seem that management of your work environment is whats making you think you need 16GB ram. Just an opinion not being rude or anything.

If you haven't already, check out the chrome extension The Great Suspender for the RAM issues. I'm using it right now on my ancient 2008 MacBook (4GB of RAM) with 75 tabs open (mostly suspended) and it's not even struggling.

disagree with you on the KB. the older KB are way better than the butterfly switches. I like more travel on it.

The keyboard is definitely the most subjective thing on the new Pros—some people love it, some people hate it, others are indifferent.

My reaction while reading this was that this dude was an isheep.

Too right haha, what a jerk

Just curious, did the touchbar model fire the fans more often than the fn key one? I switched from the old 2012 retina to the fn key and 90% of the time is completely silent, but i noticed how the touchbar model seems to have two fans instead of one.

I almost never heard the fans over the background noise at my house, surprisingly. On my 11" 2013 Air, I would hear the single fan constantly during a test like the one I was doing. On both the Touch Bar and Function Key models, the fans are fairly quiet even when going full blast.

For all those who miss a hard escape key - it's the equivalent of ^]

Hi, I share some feelings with you about the product.
However, the fact that you could choose to buy a FN key model is kind of a luxury / rarity.
In Europe you have to be lucky to find a refurbished model. IF you do, you are limited by few weird configurations and high prices (considering the hardware inside).

Yikes! I know I'm lucky to get access to these devices quickly, since I'm in the U.S. I wish Apple could do a better job of international price parity and rollout.

I don't know where in Europe you're located but in Germany you can just walk into a store and buy the 2016 Fn Key model.
Are you sure you're not confusing it with the 2015 model?

Thank you for this thorough writeup. I've been thinking similar things since this new model came out. We're a development shop (primarily Java with some fun "legacy" IBM bits) that has slowly transitioned to Macs over the past 6+ years. Personally, I've always loved Macs, but generally didn't buy them for myself, outside of a few wonderful exceptions (G4 Cube!)

Over the past month we've been struggling with the future that Apple is presenting. The high-end 15" retail model (16GB/512SSD) has been our go-to machine since the Early 2013 model, and now the price of it has gone way up with little to show for it.

The Touch Bar is extra useless for us, as we still lean on "real" function keys for the previously mentioned IBM bits. Yes, I can turn them on for certain applications, but there are two serious flaws. First and most obvious, touch typing function keys is basically impossible. Second, and much worse, is that you have to flip the Touch Bar out of the mixed 'app controls + system controls' mode for function keys to show up at all the apps you choose as dedicated. By turning on dedicated function keys you have to turn volume/brightness control OFF in ALL other apps! I struggle to see how this made it past Apple's relatively good usability standards.

At the 13" Fn keys end, Apple has decided that a 15W, two core/two thread model is good enough for a Pro laptop, showing a serious lack of perspective as to what development shops that use Macs need. We are now buying as few 13" Fn models with an i7 bump as possible, hoping that Apple gets their act together with the next refresh of the model line.

Also, it was really nice to get a real HDMI port on the previous Retina line. We had terrible reliability experiences with third party MiniDisplayPort -> HDMI dongles, and having a connector on the laptop that was "boardroom friendly" really solved that vs. the 2009-2011 machines. Hopefully the days of third party dongles causing problems is over, but I'm really doubting it.

Maybe now you'll all realise how stupid you've been and how extra stupid you've been buying this weak and feeble so called computer of the times...... Lol serves you kids right. Listen to the majority and rid your fruits

There's another tool for checking disk speed, AJA's system test. https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/aja-system-test-lite/id1092006274

I was in the same situation as you. I had a 11" Macbook Air (2011) and was waiting for the Retina version that never arrived.

The Touch Bar did not intrigue me, the price increase was disappointing and the two ports in the Fn-Key versions were not enough.

It was either getting a 2015 model or the Dell XPS 13.
I ended up with the Dell XPS 13 9350 with i7-6500, 16GB RAM and 512GB SSD for 1440€ - around 1000€ less than a Macbook Pro 13" (2016) with the same RAM and SSD size.
I'm super happy with it. I mostly use Linux but I have set it up as dual boot. The original plan was to make it a Hackintosh (triple boot), there are some good guides for the XPS 13 9350, but I haven't missed macOS all that much.

I used to work at Apple from 1985-1994. I have owned tons of gear just like the writer of this article, and I agree with him. So I instead bought a MacBook Pro 13" Retina i7/16GB/512GB brand new for $2050 the other day, and I have great battery life, tons of useful ports, great display, and I hope it lasts me until Apple wakes up and fixes the flawed MacBook 12", iPhone 7, and MacBook Amateur Track Bar introductions of 2016. What horrible products! Pay more for less: pay extra for long A/C cords, pay for flawed headphones, pay, pay, pay. Apple's thirst for profit is obscene.

The iPhone 7—besides the annoying exclusion of the headphone jack—is one of the highlights of Apple's 2017, IMO. If the AirPods were available same-day, I think it would've been a much more potent product release, because the AirPods and the iPhone 7 are the kind of uniquely brilliant hardware-software combo Apple can pull off.

Yeah. That Apple didn't do exactly that is one more worrying sign it has lost its mojo.

The point of a computer is to look at the monitor, why would you build something that forces you to look at the keyboard?

Returning mine as well (15" pro with touchbar). Not a significant upgrade relative to my 2015 for a lot of added cost and some significant downsides. Apple has list thier way.

I agree it's not a significant upgrade over the 2015 (besides the form factor)—it's more of a sidestep, I think. Which would be great if the price were the same and not $100 more.

But I would argue Apple hasn't lost their way. At least not yet. I think if they leave the Mac Pro and mini out on the vine to die and don't spec bump the current MBP lineup later this year, I'll be a lot more nervous.

Thanks for such a great read! I almost entirely agree, but I do feel perhaps you could have mentioned what an abomination the Touch Bar is a bit more. :-)

I guess I'm like you - fond memories of older models... ah the IIcx, the PB100....

Unlike you though, I'm sadly clinging to my 11-inch MacBook Air ( Mid 2011 1.8 GHz Intel Core i7 ) as my main machine. What's really irritating is that any Schadenfreude I might have got from watching people fat-finger their new MacBook's Touch Bar, is entirely missing: I bought my wife the last 11-inch Air in November, and though I *was* tempted too, loss of the Magsafe decided me against it. And now I feel I probably could have put up with the new connector... instead, I'm going to have to wait the statutory 18 months that Apple usually takes to ditch their mistakes.

I have the strong feelting that the Touch Bar "innovation" was definitely one born in the Marketing department.

The surprising conclusion is that the macbook pro touchbar is not good for someone that hates the touchbar.

hello Jeff I have never bought an Apple product I would like you to recommend which computer Apple computer I should purchase? Thank you

Is the touchbar that bad to use or is it just the escape button that is a hassle?

I have the early 2015 Macbook Air that I love and I'm considering holding out on the Pro since it's battery life def will not be comparable to the MBA. I don't see myself using the escape key that much but if its the position and placement of the touchbar then I won't buy it. Even without the touchbar I can't see me needing to buy this model.

It is really obnoxious to use - you have to essentially open a volume menu or a brightness menu to change either, it's just an extra step.

A couple quick notes, however—you can tap and hold, and slide to change both volume and brightness. In that sense, the volume/brightness sliders are actually an improvement over the function key approach, since you can quickly go way up or down. But that's one of the only use cases I found improved.

You have to physically look at the keyboard to adjust the volume or brightness. It's really bad.

Great to read your article. I just boxed up my 15" Macbook Pro with Touch Bar about 15 minutes ago, then found your article on Hacker News. We have pretty similar histories: My first mac was a Mac Plus, then the Mac IIci, etc. all the way to today. I did not mind the touch bar but did not love it either, found myself hitting the touch bar keys a lot during development. But it was the poor battery life that did it for me. Amazing that they would let this happen. Thanks for all your detailed info on battery life - makes me feel like I made the right decision.

Note that the testing CR is doing is a lot different than the tests I'm running. I try to hit the laptop hard, with all settings turned up to the max (brightness, CPU, WiFi, etc.), while CR tries to test a more real-world use case (browsing, listening to music, etc.).

My benchmarks have been pretty consistent, so I don't think I'm hitting any bugs.

How is that a fair test at all? The new ones are significantly brighter and use a lot more power at that higher brightness, look at your energy meter. That is a completely un-objective and ridiculous comparison. CR at least was using a brightness meter to set them to the same brightness.

I am or should I say I was a first time mac buyer. I returned my 2016 MacBook Pro just after 2 weeks. It just couldn't justify the price tag for the awful ~3 hour battery life it offered. Also i noticed it's buggy it froze often and I had to hard reset.

To be fair, it only gets ~3 hours in the worst of conditions. In light use (browsing Reddit, writing, and listening to some tunes), I could get 8+ hours no problem.

O boy whole apple fan boy article. I've owned all the mac books and all the macs and all the iPhone and I don't know about any other technology and a touch bar was too much technology argggggg Bang!

You said, " I'd likely be fine with a tank of a laptop like the T4xx line", but have you checked out the T4xxs" (note the "s" at the end) models? I recently switched my daily driver from a 2015 MacBook Pro (13" with the 2560x1440 screen) to a Lenovo Thinkpad T460s, and have been mostly happy. The screen is the same resolution, and an inch larger diagonally, although it's also not quite as bright as the MacBook (which is only noticeable outside or in direct sunlight). It's a shade ligher, at 3 lbs even, and I actually like the keyboard more. On the other hand, the trackpad - while quite decent - isn't as nice as the Mac's, and palm-detection not as accurate. But, and key (for me), the SSD and RAM are both upgradable. I intentionally bought the 128 GB model for low price, and I'm going to swap it out for a new Samsung 960 PRO 512 GB (the NVMe version, blazingly fast). Overall, I like both machines, with sheer rigidity and battery life going to the Mac, and keyboard, weight, and ability to upgrade going to the Thinkpad.

There's an even thinner lighter model, the ThinkPad X1 Carbon, which has gotten very good reviews, but the RAM is soldered on for that model.

If I went non-Apple, I'd likely go Lenovo. I've always liked the Thinkpad line, even though it's often a little more tank-like. But for now I'm sticking with macOS, and don't want to deal with keeping a hackintosh working.

Was it just the USB-C and Touchpad that kept you from buying the 2015 model?

It was almost exclusively the size. I have a 2015 model from work, and it's a beastly giant machine. Remember I'm coming from an 11" Air for personal use :)

Is the TouchBar thing any good?

I'm not really a Mac guy, but I try to keep up with the product line so I can speak somewhat intelligibly when comparing to other devices. Just wanted to point out the Lenovo t420 is pretty old (released in 2011 I believe). To compare 6 year old asthetics to 6 month old ones can be construed as underhanded. I get it, it was a fugly brick, but a lot has changed in the past 6 years in the PC realm. Anyways, enjoy the new MacBook pro!

@Andrew - Point taken; but the general styling is similar, and besides slim versions (which cost close to the same as a MBP), the current gen ThinkPads are still a little stockier than their Apple brethren.

Great article!

I love the idea of being able to charge via USB-C, however, I hate that the new MacBook Pros only allow charging via USB-C. USB drive-by attacks are pretty common already (where malware is installed when an infected USB Flash Drive is plugged into a computer), and it's not hard to imagine a scenario where a "USB-C" charging bank is provided that installs malware on a Mac User's machine. (Well, it's not hard for me to imagine), and by only including USB-C charging, Apple is encouraging this behavior.

Hi Jeff,

Curious about the other GUI apps that you use 5% of the time. And what web languages do you use?

Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, Final Cut Pro X, RadarScope Pro, Byword, and Sequel Pro (among others that are more replaceable).

And I program mostly in PHP, JavaScript, Python, Ruby, and occasionally Swift/Obj-C, bash, Java, and a smattering of other languages when the need arises. 90% it's PHP or Python, though.

Great article Jeff. You can't imagine how useful is this article for me. I already ordered a 15 inches model. I still haven't tasted the TouchBar but it seems so mimic for me. I'm doomed because I need a dedicated graphic card and I live abroad also. I'm trying to be prepared for what's coming (sigh).Could you provide some advice to try to deal with that stupid little demon screen? This question might be lame, due to the fact you couldn't tolerate that Touch666 device. But if had to live with it, what your advice would be?
Thanks in advance

Get BetterTouchTool, and spend some time configuring the shortcuts so you can use just the ones you need.

+1

Hyperdrive has a Kickstarter for a new dual port USB-c hub specifically for the MacBook pro (it's already funded and the product actually exists and works). It ships in May this year and has high praise from MKBHD. I think they still have something like 20 single unit sales left.
Here's the page:
https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/hypershop/hyperdrivetm-compact-thun...

This might ease your 2-port pain a bit since it's got basically everything you need on it and supports USB pass-through so you can still charge your MacBook and connect other thunderbolt devices while you have it on.

My sentiments pretty much match yours. I have a haswell based 13in rMPB with 16GB of Ram. Right now i don't feel the need to upgrade by I'm am concerned with the direction apple is going. Hopefully apple realizes the big mistake they made and fixes it next year but if they don't what can we do? Some of the software we use will probably never come to linux (Adobe CC for example). If they don't fix it i'll probably go the direction i've already went with my desktop; run linux & run windows VMS for whatever software i need to run. There is no way i will run windows full time anymore.

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