While we wait for the so-called real MacBook Pro to arrive, we wanted to take some time to explore the entry level 13-inch model that’s already available in stores. Despite its lack of Apple’s flagship Touch Bar and Touch ID features, there’s a whole lot that’s changed with the Late 2016 MacBook Pro refresh.
Have a look at our hands-on video walkthrough as we step you through many of the changes and features, and tell you who might be wise to consider this machine.
iMac Pro: The most powerful Mac ever
New Space Gray color
For the very first time, the MacBook Pro is offered in a color other than silver. Sure, Space Gray seems to be a thing of the past as far as iPhones are concerned, but at this point I’m just happy to have another color option available in the Pro line.
It’s worth mentioning that the anodized color on the original Space Gray 12-inch MacBook had a tendency to wear with usage, which reveals the natural silver aluminum color that resides underneath. If you tend to be hard on your gear, and such a phenomenon concerns you, then it might be best to stick to the silver model, although it’s possible that Apple could have remedied this issue by now.
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The most striking difference between the previous 13-inch MacBook Pro and the Late 2016 model is the styling and build. The updated MacBook Pro is like a mesh between the 12-inch Retina MacBook and the previous MacBook Pro.
Although it avoids going the tapered route, the device’s chassis is smaller than its predecessor in all facets. It’s thinner, and takes up less horizontal and vertical real estate. It’s also half a pound lighter than the last generation model.
The bezels surrounding the screen and the keyboard are now smaller as well, which allows the notebook to have a smaller form factor while retaining the same screen size and full-sized keyboard.
Another big difference has to do with the hinge that supports the screen. You’ll no longer find a plastic mesh point on the rear of the hinge, as it’s now aluminum just like the 12-inch MacBook. This ultimately affords a much more premium look and feel when the lid is closed.
Bye bye, MagSafe
The most conspicuous difference between this year’s MacBook Pro charger and the previous generation charger is the lack of MagSafe — the handy magnetic connector that helped prevent accidental tripping hazards.
How do you charge a MacBook Pro when it has no MagSafe connector? The answer: USB-C. Along with providing connections to peripherals, the USB-C ports can also be used to power and recharge the MacBook Pro’s battery.
Apple includes a 61 Watt USB-C power adapter with its entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro. The power adapter features a USB-C port for connecting the included 2-meter USB-C cable. Like the power adapter supplied with other MacBooks, it features a detachable plug for adding a Power Adapter Extension Cable. Unfortunately, the extension cable is no longer bundled in the box, which means you’ll need to buy it separately, if needed.
USB-C is capable of delivering power up to 100 Watts, which is more than enough for the 61 Watt adapter included with the 13-inch MacBook Pro. USB-C is also bidirectional, meaning that it can both send and receive power over the same port, and you can use either of the machine’s two USB-C ports to charge your MacBook Pro.
But there are some downsides associated with eliminating the dedicated MagSafe connector. The most obvious downside is that tripping over your MacBook’s charging cable is now a much more concerning matter, as the cable will no longer easily detach like it does with MagSafe. MagSafe also provided users with a nice little LED indicator to let you know if the MacBook was charging or when it was fully charged. With USB-C charging cables, you lose those benefits.
Apple is promising 10 hours of battery life for wireless web browsing and for iTunes movie watching. This is made possible by the 54.5-watt-hour battery contained within, which is actually slightly larger than battery contained inside the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar. This should, in theory, mean that the low-end 13-inch MacBook Pro gets slightly better battery life than the high-end version. During my tests I was able to get close to 13 hours of battery life on a single charge as long as I kept the workload to a minimum.
Auto-boot and startup chime
When you open the MacBook Pro’s lid while it’s powered off, the machine will now automatically boot. The same thing happens if you connect it to a power adapter while the lid is open or while the lid is closed but connected to an external display. It is possible to disable the MacBook Pro’s auto-boot feature via handy terminal flags.
As a result of the auto-boot feature, the startup chime has been disabled. If you miss this iconic sound, which used to occur upon booting your Mac, you can re-enable the MacBook Pro’s startup chime.
“MacBook Pro” text makes a comeback
Some people might not like this change, but like it or not, the “MacBook Pro” text is back on the bottom of the display bezel. This text, which was moved to the bottom of the notebook during the 2012-2015 years, is back in full form on the Late 2016 models.
The 12-inch MacBook has always had the “MacBook” text below its screen, which should have been a sign that the text was ripe for a comeback. But there is a noticeable difference between the font on the 12-inch MacBook and the new MacBook Pro — the font used is now San Fransisco Regular instead of Myriad Light.
No glowing Apple logo
12-inch MacBook users will already be accustomed to this change, but those of you who grew fond of the glowing Apple logo on previous-generation MacBook Pros will be sad to see that it is no more.
The glow was made possible by the backlight of the display, but since Apple’s latest MacBook displays are so thin, the glowing Apple logo had to be scrapped for a color-matched inset logo — in this case Space Gray.
The base 13-inch MacBook Pro with function keys includes a 2.0GHz Intel Core i5 with 8GB of RAM. All 13-inch models of the MacBook Pro lack discrete graphics, but the low-end model sports an Intel Iris 540 integrated GPU, and features a power-sipping 15W TDP. In other words, don’t expect this machine, whose dual core processor can turbo up to 3.1GHz, to run at high speeds for an extended amount of time.
Geekbench 4 (Higher = Better)
Users do have the option of upgrading from the base model to an i7 Processor, 16GB of RAM (max across all SKUs), and larger flash storage capacities. Max upgrades can easily push the machine’s entry-level $1,499.00 asking price up to $2,599.00.
GFXBench Metal GPU (Offline) (Higher = Better)
The high-end Touch Bar-enabled model, with its 28W TDP and Intel Iris 550 iGPU, will be able to sustain higher speeds for a longer amount of time. This is something to definitely consider if you’re doing 4K video publishing, or for anything that can tax the system for extended periods of time.
QuickBench SSD Test (Higher = Better)
All new MacBook Pros feature significantly faster PCIe SSDs with Apple-designed custom controllers. We were so impressed by the speed increase that we already made a dedicated post about the SSD. We’re talking read speeds that top out at an insane 3.1GB/s, and write speeds approaching 2.1GB/s. The SSDs in the 15-inch MacBook Pro are slightly faster, but not by all that much.
5K Final Cut Pro X Export (Smaller = Better)
Ports go bye bye!
The new MacBook Pro features a drastic change as far as I/O ports are concerned. Here’s a list of every port that’s been axed on the new MacBook Pro:
- SD Card reader
- USB-A (legacy) ports
- Thunderbolt 2/mini DisplayPort
That’s a lot of ports to kill off in one revision. If Apple would have killed just the HDMI port, or just the SD Card reader, then the customer criticism that it’s received wouldn’t be nearly as vocal. But the fact that Apple removed multiple ports significantly ups the chance that someone’s workflow will be affected in a negative way, at least in the short-term.
At the very least, the company should have included some sort of multi function adapter to help bridge the transition from old legacy devices to Thunderbolt 3, but the price reduction of USB-C adapters is a nice gesture. It’s the classic chicken and egg scenario, where customers don’t own USB-C peripherals, and manufacturers don’t make that many. This will undoubtedly change, but it took Apple forcing everyone’s hand to accelerate this change.
The transition will be painful at the outset. Customers will have to spend more money on dongles and companies will have to produce reliable accessories that actually work.
But Apple’s decision to nix every single port on the MacBook outside of Thunderbolt 3 and the 3.5mm headphone jack — and yes, I see the irony in that — means that it fully believes in the power and potential of Thunderbolt 3. And rightfully so; Thunderbolt 3 is a do-all I/O interface that rolls almost everything, including power delivery, into a single port.
Two Thunderbolt 3 ports
Apple removed a lot of ports, but the good news is the ports that it added are super-powerful, extremely flexible, and can be daisy-chained. This cannot be understated. Thunderbolt 3 = a new era of computing. It will take some time, but in the end, this technology has the potential to greatly simplify our desktop work area while providing flexibility that we didn’t have in the past.
Unlike the flagship MacBook Pro with Touch Bar, the entry level 13-inch model features just two Thunderbolt 3 ports instead of four. The good news is that both ports are wired to Intel’s Alpine Ridge Thunderbolt 3 controller. This means that both ports offer full PCIe 3.0 bandwidth.
But having two ports is still a marked improvement over the single USB-C port found on the 12-inch MacBook, and keep in mind that Thunderbolt 3 is a lot more powerful than the USB 3.1 gen 1 port found on that same machine.
Thunderbolt 3 on the 13-inch MacBook Pro means that you connect up to two 4K displays at 60Hz or a single 5K display at 60Hz. It also means that you get considerably more throughput potential, up to 40Gbps worth when using Thunderbolt 3 peripherals, or up to 10Gbps when using USB 3.1 gen 2 peripherals.
Granted, at this early stage in the game, there is still a lot of confusion about Thunderbolt 3, and not every peripheral that supports Thunderbolt 3 will work with the new MacBook. There will be some significant growing pains at the outset, as third-party accessory makers get their ducks in a row, and Apple provides more clarification as to what the MacBook Pro will actually support.
3.5mm headphone port
The only other I/O port found on the 13-inch MacBook is the 3.5 mm headphone port. Apple made changes here as well, scrapping the port’s ability to handle optical audio, but at least you’ll be able to connect traditional audio equipment featuring legacy 3.5mm headphone jacks. The real head-scratcher is that you can’t connect the Lightning EarPods that ship with the new iPhone 7 to the MacBook Pro.
Brighter P3 wide color display
Slowly but surely, Apple is beginning to roll out wide color displays across its product line. The wide color display was first introduced on the 5K iMac, and has since been introduced to other products in Apple’s lineup.
The 2016 MacBook Pro is the first Apple laptop to feature a wide color display. The difference is a 25% increase in available colors. This make images that support wide color pop on-screen, with more vibrant greens and reds for images that Apple says are truer-to-life.
And thanks to a brighter 500-nit LED backlight, the MacBook Pro’s display is also the brightest display that Apple has ever shipped in a Mac notebook.
Contrast ratio has improved as well, it’s now 67% higher than the previous generation, which will help deliver much brighter whites and deeper blacks. Not only is that helpful when consuming media content, but it’ll also prove useful for creative tasks like photo and video editing.
720p FaceTime HD camera
720p is certainly an upgrade over the 12-inch MacBook’s sad 480p FaceTime camera, but I feel like we deserve a 1080p FaceTime camera on the MacBook Pro. The iPhone 7 features a 1080p selfie camera, so why shouldn’t the MacBook Pro enjoy the same resolution?
Bluetooth 4.2 wireless technology
One thing that the new MacBook Pro does have in common with the iPhone is its inclusion of Bluetooth 4.2. The MacBook Pro is the first Mac to feature Bluetooth 4.2, which features faster speeds, greater data capacity, and improved power efficiency.
When I saw Phil Schiller describe the MacBook Pro’s keyboard on stage at its recent event in Cupertino, I have to admit that I was a little worried. The keyboard started to sound an awful lot like the 12-inch MacBook’s keyboard, which is polarizing to say the least.
The problem with the keyboard on the 12-inch MacBook is its lack of key travel, and while the new MacBook Pro does indeed feature similar key travel, I can confirm that the keyboard is much-improved.
The new MacBook Pro features the same wider key design with the new butterfly switches first pioneered in Apple’s smaller notebook, but the switches are second generation varieties that lend a significantly better typing feel. The new keyboard provides slightly higher raised keys, more key stability, and a more satisfying sense of spring force when the key is returning to its position after being pressed.
If there’s not technically more key travel on the new MacBook Pro’s keyboard, it certainly feels like there is. The keyboard on the 12-inch machine feels like you immediately bottom out with each key press, whereas the MacBook Pro’s keyboard feels more like a mix of the Magic Keyboard and the 12-inch MacBook keyboard.
If there’s any additional key travel on the new MacBook Pro when compared to the 12-inch MacBook, it’s minimal. The difference is that the keys sit higher, which means that they don’t sit nearly as flush to the machine’s chassis. This, coupled with the improved response of the keys, makes touch typing noticeably better.
That’s not to say that the keyboard won’t take some getting used to for those who are completely new to the butterfly key switches, but I think most people will enjoy typing on the MacBook Pro once they’ve gotten used to it.
The new 13-inch MacBook Pro features a considerably larger trackpad when compared to the previous iteration of the machine. As it’s been for several years now, the trackpad on the MacBook Pro is Force Touch-enabled, which means it’s no longer a mechanical button that clicks, but it’s a force sensitive area that utilizes haptics and sound to simulate clicks.
If you’re coming from a MacBook that already featured Force Touch, then, outside of the more generous surface area, you’ll know exactly what to expect here. However, if it’s been a while since you’ve upgraded your MacBook, and you’re coming from a mechanical trackpad, it may take some time to get used to the new feel.
The wonderful thing about the Force Touch trackpad is that it allows you to click anywhere on its surface to register clicks. Since the entire surface is pressure sensitive, clicks will feel the same no matter where you press.
Unlike previous MacBooks with Force Touch trackpads, you can no longer disable the audible click via macOS’ System Preferences. I’m used to keeping my 12-inch MacBook’s trackpad click sound disabled, so I must admit that such a decision is perplexing.
One last tidbit that is worth mentioning has to do with the trackpad’s three-finger drag gesture. This gesture, which is now relegated to macOS’ accessibility preferences, doesn’t seem to work reliably on my machine. It seems like a software issue, but I can’t say for sure. Here’s hoping that a macOS update is pushed to address this problem if it turns out to be more than just a one-off with my machine.
One of the biggest changes to the new MacBook Pro has to do speaker output. The new speakers provide a noticeable increase in volume, dynamic range, and bass.
Apple says its speakers are connected directly to system power, which enables more peak power when required.
These aren’t just bullet points that sound good on paper, as you’ll hear a marked difference in sound quality over the previous generation MacBook Pro. The MacBook’s speakers will never replace headphones or dedicated speakers, but If you’re someone involved in creative audio editing, or if you use your MacBook Pro to regularly consume media, then you’ll appreciate the stark improvement in speaker quality.
All new MacBooks ship with macOS Sierra preinstalled. Headlined by the ability to use Siri for the first time on a Mac, macOS Sierra adds many new features to the table. Be sure to read and watch our full macOS Sierra video walkthrough for more details on this release.
Who should consider buying this machine?
The most obvious buyers that comes to mind are those who may have been considering an upgraded 12-inch MacBook. As you can see from some of the benchmarks above, the new MacBook Pro runs circles around my $1599 m5-equipped MacBook. If you are considering the 12-inch MacBook for any other reason besides form factor or its fan-less architecture, then you’d be much better off with the 13-inch MacBook Pro. The base entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro is cheaper than an upgraded 12-inch MacBook, and offers a better processor, screen, keyboard, trackpad, and dual Thunderbolt 3 ports.
Another potential audience for this MacBook Pro may be those who, for whatever reason, want absolutely nothing to do with Apple’s new Touch Bar. With the 13-inch entry-level MacBook Pro, you get access to the newest hardware without having to sacrifice the traditional function keys.
MacBook Air owners who are looking to upgrade to a new Mac laptop have an obvious choice with the entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro, but the $1499 price might scare those buyers away. MacBook Air owners looking for a better screen and a machine with a bit more power might consider the last-generation 13-inch MacBook Pro, which Apple is still selling for $1299.
If you can swing the $1499 asking price, I think you’d be better off saving for a little bit longer to get a MacBook Pro with Touch Bar. Not only do you get to experience Apple’s latest hardware innovation, but it’ll also deliver faster speeds over a significantly longer amount of time due to its 28W TDP.
All of that said, this machine seems to be between a rock and a hard place. It’s too expensive for MacBook Air owners to upgrade with no questions asked, and it lacks the Touch Bar and the power to make it worth it for those willing to depart with the additional cash. It’s certainly not a bad laptop by any stretch of the imagination, it’s just a little…boring, and more expensive than I think is justified.
But, this machine, for all of its shortcomings, give us an intimate look at what’s next for Apple laptops. The changes to the screen and chassis are significant, and paint a picture as to what we’ll likely see from Apple for the next few generations of MacBook Pro hardware.
- The form factor is amazing, it lacks a tapered design, but isn’t that much more imposing than a 12-inch MacBook
- All MacBook Pros get the same wide color display, and it looks incredible
- Speakers are a boisterous and noticeable improvement over previous MacBook Pros
- Battery life is great when doing non-intensive tasks, easily eclipsing Apple’s 10 hour estimate
- Major disk I/O improvements
- The keyboard is polarizing, but it’s much better than the keyboard on the 12-inch MacBook
- Battery life is good, but will drop significantly when doing intensive tasks, such as encoding or video exporting
- We’ll miss MagSafe, but Thunderbolt 3 presents awesome opportunities
- It’s nice to have a 3.5mm headphone jack, but I can’t connect my Lightning EarPods
- Not an ideal Final Cut Pro X workstation, but significantly better than the 12-inch MacBook
- High price
- No Touch Bar or Touch ID
- Pedestrian processor with limited burst speed potential
- Thunderbolt 3 peripherals are scarce, it’ll take a while before the technology spreads
- Graphics ability on par with a 12.9-inch iPad Pro released in 2015