Thomas Bandt

Back To Sender: Some Thoughts On The MacBook Pro 13" 2016

There has been written a lot about the new 2016 MacBook Pro models. Albeit those reviews often include fundamental criticism, I made the decision to not cancel my order and give it a try anyway. But the experiment didn't last long.

Published on Monday, December 5, 2016

Some Background First

I startet using Mac OS when its version number was at 8 or 9, and I bought my first own Mac back in 2006 when the MacBooks were released. Since 2010 I am a regular Mac user, currently even both at home and professionally with the high-end 15" MacBook Pro as my daily workhorse. Using also iOS on a daily basis, I would not call me biased here (and if so, rather in the opposite direction).

The Good

Design

The dark finish looks gorgeous, without question. And that's all to say here – same great quality as always.

Size And Weight

What bothers me most about my 15" MBP from 2015 is it's heaviness and size. I am really happy with the screen estate when using it on a desk, but on my lap it often feels just uncomfortable. This definetely addresses the 13" model, even with the lower weight and the new compact measures. I really like that.

Touch Bar

The Touch Bar is a really nice feature, personally I don't miss the function keys. When integrated right by the software in use, it can offer some additional stuff, that has not been possible before. And even rather trivial things like having Emojis at my fingertips is nice to have.

Touch ID

That's definetely some kind of killer feature for me, as it is on iOS. I am a happy user of 1Password, which is already supporting it on macOS, too.

Touch ID

Surprisingly Good Performance

I read a lot of tests in the last couple of weeks, all stating the 13" model can be expected to be much slower than the 15". And the new 15" not being much faster than the old one.

But what does this really mean? What eventually led to my decision to not cancel my order, was my will to compare it to my 15" model on a real-world project I am actively working on. This is what matters to me, more than some synthetic tests.

This project is a relatively large iOS app, built with Xamarin and therefore Xcode under the hood. I made some tests, comparing different operations on both the 13" and the 15" model.

The Competitors

MacBook Pro 2016 13" (dual-core processor)

MacBook Pro 2016

MacBook Pro 2015 15" (quad-core processor)

MacBook Pro 2015

The Results

Performance

Quite surprising – my assumption was a much higher loss of performance for the 13" compared to the 15" model. But talking about 10-20% doesn't seem to be a big deal in practice, considering you get a much lighter and smaller and therefore more portable device.

The Not So Good

The Touch Bar

Six years of Retina, and Apple releases a display that doesn't withstand its own standards. This thing is blurry, which is beyond my understanding.

Haptic

Holding it in my hands for the very first time I immediately recognize some sharp edges both on the left and on the right. Turns out Apple added two new (at least compared to last year's 15" model) venting slots. Nothing too important, but also not very comfortable, because I always think my fingers get caught in it.

Update: I just got told the old 15" model has those two slots, too. And that's right. But they're not so sharp I would have noticed before ...

Power Adapter

  1. It's no longer magnetically attached, as USB Type-C is now being used. Having kids? Good luck.
  2. With MagSafe gone, there's also no more LED that indicates if it is fully loaded or not (red/green). Which I find very useful to see at a glance.
  3. Rolling up the cable with those nice foldout things? No more.

This power adapter feels no different to the one I got recently with my Xiaomi MI Air, which did cost 1/6.

Keyboard

I needed some time to get used to it, but after that I have to admit that I like it so far. At least in terms of "feeling" the keys and hitting the right ones.

What really annoys me is the sound level. I know of sound designers working at BMW and Audi (and probabably all other premium manufacturers), optimizing the sound of car doors.

What the hell is going on at Apple that they are shipping a keyboard that, being used, is so loud? Really difficult to swallow.

Battery

Being a MacBook Air user for many years, it was hard for me to get used to the MacBook Pro 15" in terms of its short battery life. But I eventually made peace with it, because of all the power it provides.

This one is a bit different. Yes, it's very powerful, too. But it is not in the same class as its big brother and has some serious other issues, too.

That makes it inacceptable to me to see the battery drain that fast while I am doing nothing but writing this text.

I have no objective measurements, but the battery feels to be as almost as weak as the one of the 15" model. 10 hours of browsing and writing? I don't think so. 4-6 hours sound more realistic, depending on what is going on exactly on the machine during this time, of course.

From my point of view this isn't acceptable. Considering all those other compromises, I want at least a device I can carry around for a workday without worrying about running out of power.

Display Resolution

The native resolution didn't change, it's still 2560x1600. But what has changed is the new default scaling - which is now 1440x900.

I don't get that. Really. I don't get it.

What makes Retina a fantastic experience is the simple approach to take the native resolution and divide it by 2. So you end up with 4 "hardware pixels" representing 1 "software pixel" (read more on Retina here).

What they're now doing is: (2560 / 1440 = 1,777777777777778) x (1600 / 900 = 1,777777777777778). But here's the thing: There is no odd pixel on a screen. It is as simple as 1 or 0.

And that leads to a slightly blurred result, which simply isn't what I expect to get from a Retina display – at least not by default (scaling on less sharp modes was always possible on Macs with Retina displays since they were introcuded back in 2012).

At least there is an option to scale down to 1280x800, which gives you less screen estate but the best Retina experience ((2560 / 1280 = 2) x (1600 / 800 = 2)).

Periphery

Nothing new here, just remembering the disaster. There's no way to connect an iPad or an iPhone without an adapter. And I am not sure if it would be possible to operate other 5K displays than the LG model officially supported by Apple. Technically it should be okay, but I would not bet too much on it.

Conclusion

It's a bit harsh, but I think this one is the worst MacBook Pro I have seen – especially in the details, that always mattered to Apple before.

Its design is lovely without doubt. But especially the weak battery prevents it to become a real option for me.

Some final words to the Touch Bar: Yes, I like it. But is this concept better than full touch support, the way that Microsoft has chosen? I am not sure about that. Yes, laptops are here to stay and tablets won't take over, but why not supporting both on a single device? I think the Surface Book is the best proof of concept.

What do you think? Drop me a line and let me know!