Review ~ 2017 15-inch MacBook Pro


First thoughts — when I first took it out of the box and opened it up, my heart skipped a beat since it looked so much like the 2012 I was replacing – then I realised that of course the Touch Bar (the single biggest difference, visually) wasn’t lit since I hadn’t turned it on. Unlit, it’s easy to miss. And then I noticed the huge trackpad and flatter, even more buttony keys; in fact, they’re so flat they could almost be a decal.
Another decision I’d made had related to this visual trick: I ordered a silver model rather than the rather more sophisticated Space Gray [sic] since I reasoned that everyone would want the grey and if I ordered silver, I might get it quicker. Maybe I was right – it was scheduled for a 20th June delivery and it arrived on the 17th, so maybe this was wise. Also, I had reasoned, it’s not so instantly stealable since at a glance people might assume it’s the older model. So hey, feel free for this advice … you’re welcome.
But hey, good on you, Apple, for the clever cardboard packaging – no polystyrene chips at all. Yet it came all the way from Shanghai in fine condition.

Updates were immediately available — iTunes, GarageBand and the iWork apps – and I installed those and a few other things I’d previously bought. This is a simple matter of opening the Mac App Store and clicking the Purchased tab, and anything you have downloaded before is available free to re-download; I like this feature a lot.
Typing these notes, I realised quickly that I was to be a lover of the new keyboard rather than the opposite. And wow, the touch bar! Stop typing and add a full stop, and ‘The’ comes up as a suggestion. One tap instead of three. Once you get used to a few of these, imagine the little micro-speedups you’re going to get adding tip over your day, and another thing, I’ve never been. Touch typist, so my eyes tend to be on the keypad anyway, making it still handier for me.
I needed dongles almost immediately! Jeeze, only four ports. I mean, they might be daisy-chainable and all that, but I regularly have three other hard drives plugged in, a USB extended keyboard, another monitor, a mouse, Ethernet, an audio interface, another set of speakers (additional to the ones plugged into the audio interface).
Somehow I managed to cope thanks to a Dell monitor that had a USB hub (three connections) in the back, although running that meant two ports gone: one via a dongle to the monitor and another to power the USB hub, but still, that let me plug in another 4-port USB hub that let me plug in almost everything else. The only thing I’m really missing is an ethernet dongle, but I have a couple of Docks coming up to test and both (a Belkin and a Kensington) have that, so I’ll wait. Wifi just isn’t fast enough for me, even hitched to Gigabit fibre.

The Touch Bar — This has been widely criticised. Criticised mostly by people who don’t have MacBook Pros, I suspect, because it’s actually pretty good. I see this as a very smart compromise between the facility of a touch screen, a la iPad/iPhone, and the traditional Mac keyboard. You get touch controls without having to poke at your screen. I totally get this because the last thing I want to do is get smeary fingerprints all over my beautiful, wide-spectrum, colour-balanced Retina Display. Reaching towards the screen, there it is, right at your fingertips. Touch Bar support got added to many Apple apps in October 2016 and third party apps – even Microsoft Office – have been following suit. The right side of the Touch Bar is reserved for the usual brightness, volume etc controls you used to get as actual F-keys (which are still available – just hold down the ‘fn’ key at lower left).
In something like GarageBand or Logic, the Touch Bar is genuinely useful, with one slight qualification. For example, tap the Compression button (for that effect) on the Touch Bar and you get a slider, but dragging the slider does nothing. You have to tap the track either side of the virtual knob on the slider to move it to there. That said, once you get used to it, this is fine, and still a lot more satisfying, somehow, than tying to twirl virtual knobs on screen via a mouse or trackpad.

Touch Bar is pretty nifty in Final Cut Pro X (above), although iMovie’s take on it is disappointingly minimal, with only the basic play/pause/rewind controls and a Split Clip button. This really seems odd considering how fulsome the Touch Bar is for minor apps like Contacts and Calculator. Here’s a post by 9 to 5 Mac showing what apps are supported, with screenshots, and even Nisus Writer Pro has support, with word suggestions coming up.

The way you customise the Touch Bar is via System preferences>Keyboard. This brings up an almost magical interface of available buttons – drag them downwards towards the Touch Bar and they pop into that, from one screen to another, as it were.

Sound — Shockingly good. I mean, still not the kind of bass you can get from external speakers, but clear, sound and well defined, and a definite step up from from the pre-2016 iteration of MacBook Pro.

Speeds — This is one groovy little laptop. It’s faster than the 2016 version, but not much. It will shine more in heavy video editing but for most uses, it’s just a quick laptop and in general computing aspects, little different to the 2016 model. In the version I’m testing, the 4GB video card option certainly makes games beautiful, and speeds up any graphics-intensive operations.
It’s a bit hard for me to quantify against the last 15-inch i7 Apple laptop because I haven’t tested one – the closest that’s been through my hands is the 2016 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar. Below, at a glance, the blue is this 2017, the green is the 2016 13-inch MacBook pro with Touch Bar. I didn’t bother showing the Single Core scores as they’re virtually identical, so the left-most group of three shows Multi Core scores from GeekBench – note how both i7s are considerably better than the i5 in the 2016 13-inch.  Surprisingly, the built-in 2016 13-inch graphics look superior to the 2017’s Intel HD. But look at the right-most group – the video card with 4GB RAM really aces the 2012’s, which had 1GB (it didn’t have discrete graphics, which is why the right-most three-group is missing a green) and the yellow is my old 2012 i7.

The other big speedup is the new SSD technology. SSD was so much faster than traditional hard drives already. Five years on, it’s much faster still. The Black Magic disk test shows the evolution, with write-speed figures of 374 for the 2012 SSD, 1288 for the 13-inch and 2018 for the 2017, or in other words, the 2016 is 244% faster than the 2012, and the 2017 is nearly 57% faster than that, or 440% faster than the 2012. Incremental increases in SPU speed don’t really achieve all that much in the real world – the biggest difference in the last six years is the introduction of SSD, meaning an SSD Mac boots up in seconds instead of minutes and loading up apps like Photoshop can happen in under 5 seconds. Video editors will again be happiest, with speedy real-time renders even with big projects.
Other sites have had far more access to models of MacBook Pro to compare, so from MacRumours, from WCCCF Tech, and from the horse’s mouth, so to speak, the whole Mac line-up plus, also from the Primate Labs Geekbench site, the MacBook pro lineup.

Click the image above to enlarge this picture and read the figures properly.

Conclusion — I’ll be a happy man with a new Apple laptop, and to be fair, there was nothing really wrong with my outgoing model except it was five years old. But this is lighter, faster and has Touch Bar.

What’s Great — It has Kaby Lake, it’s lighter and slimmer than the pre-2016 model, and when USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 comes into its own, the outlook is rosier still. The built-in speakers are surprisingly good – I honestly didn’t think that was possible in this form factor.
What’s Not — The massive Trackpad. Why, exactly? To draw on with a stylus. Perhaps? Sure … I’m a fan of the new keyboard, but some people are not.
Needs — A good Dock and/or some adapter dongles, which adds to the already high price point.

What — 2017 MacBook Pro 15-inch in Silver or Space Gray, NZ$5189 as configured – see under System, below. (This range starts at NZ$3999 for the 2.8GHz with 256GB internal storage and 16GB RAM; NZ$4699 for the 2.9GHz with 512GB internal SSD).
Here’s a little tip: if you change out that ‘nz’ between forward slashes in this web address to ‘us’, you will get US prices, to ‘uk’ British, and ‘au’ Australian and so forth.

System — 7th Generation (Kaby Lake) 2.8GHz Intel i7 CPU, 4GB (4096MB) Radeon Pro 560 discrete video/Intel HD Graphics 6030 with 1.5GB RAM for lower-power running on battery, 16GB RAM, 1TB internal SSD.

Available from — Authorised Apple Resellers like iStore in Takapuna, Ubertech in Parnell and the big chains, and from Apple online (which I like as you can trial the configurations and see the price change to reflect. I’m a firm believer in as much RAM as you can afford being better, and more affordable, than a .1 per cent increase in CPU speed, but these all come with a great dollop or RAM anyway.)

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