Introduction, Design, Features
A Tumi briefcase. An Omega watch. A Moleskine journal. Some products are simply among the elite, examples of design and craftsmanship that set the pace in their categories. Such a product is the MacBook Pro 15, Apple’s flagship laptop for content creation and productivity. Its sheer excellence deserves our Editors’ Choice award…which doesn’t necessarily mean it deserves your dollars, with formidable competition from Windows-based notebooks and mobile workstations.
It’s all about the numbers. Our test unit is the top-of-the-line model, with a 2.9GHz Intel Core i7 quad-core CPU, 16GB of memory, a 512GB PCIe solid-state drive, AMD Radeon Pro 560 graphics, and a 2,880×1,800 Retina non-touch display. It costs $2,799.
A comparably equipped Dell XPS 15, with a trivially slower processor but a higher-resolution 4K (3,840×2,160) touch screen, is $2,149—and if you’d like to close that $650 gap, you can order the Dell with 32GB of RAM, a performance booster for demanding apps such as Adobe Photoshop. The Apple peaks at 16GB.
Speaking of Photoshop, the XPS 15 and MacBook Pro are tied in our image editing benchmark, but the HP ZBook 15 G4 workstation blows both away. Indeed, except for truly outstanding battery life, the Apple is a contender but not a winner in our performance tests.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with choosing a computer that takes three seconds longer to do a given job, especially when it’s one of the slimmest, sleekest, most elegant ever made. We see a lot of laptops at Shopper, and most of them (even many gaming rigs) are neutral, just OK, workaday tools. The MacBook Pro is something different—a positive pleasure to use (except when you’re using your USB 3.0 flash drives; more on that in a minute). It may not win the battle for your wallet, but it should be on your short list.
the 2016 edition: that Apple is the ace of aluminum unibody construction. Though impressively light at 4.02 pounds, the laptop feels supremely, seamlessly solid, with only the slightest flex when you grasp the thin screen corners and none in the keyboard deck.
Its thickness of 0.61 inch is actually a hair less than the once miraculous MacBook Air’s, while its footprint of 13.8 by 9.5 inches is on the small side for a 15-inch notebook, helped by svelte screen bezels and the lack of a numeric keypad. Tossing it into a briefcase or backpack is effortless. Carrying it bare-handed is easy, too, although the aluminum finish doesn’t give you much of a texture to grip and the underside has four traditionally small feet instead of the two full-width strips of the XPS 15.
Design-wise, the Pro is a slender slab with a small niche front and center for you to get a few fingernails under and lift the lid. You’ve almost certainly heard how Apple achieved such a slim profile: by getting rid of USB 3.0, HDMI, and Ethernet ports and the SD card slot. Instead, the system has two Thunderbolt 3/USB-C ports on each side, plus an audio jack on the right. Except for 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, that’s the sum total of the MacBook Pro’s connectivity.
You can use any of the USB-C ports with the supplied AC adapter to charge the system, and use ports with other adapters or dongles, such as Apple’s dongle for USB Type-A flash or hard drives or other peripherals ($19) or HDMI and VGA mini docks ($69 each, with a charging pass-through and USB-A port in addition to the video output). And four Thunderbolt 3 ports is a luxury even by workstation standards, letting you simultaneously connect the AC adapter, a couple of high-res monitors, and a RAID storage array for heavy-duty video editing, say.
Still, we could wish for a legacy port or two. Carrying around (or losing) dongles and card readers gets old.
The Pro flaunts its multimedia credentials with two large speaker grilles flanking the keyboard. They easily produce enough sound to fill a room—even when keeping the volume level below 75 percent, as things get ragged or harsh when cranked all the way up—with clear highs and punchy lows. We’ve heard better bass from gaming laptops with subwoofers, but the Apple’s audio is excellent for such a slim system. The FaceTime camera is also above average, capturing well-lit and detailed images.
MacBook, it abandoned its battle with Lenovo to make the world’s best laptop keyboards: While there’s good tactile feedback, and a surprisingly loud clicky noise, there’s almost no vertical travel. The result feels more like a tablet’s keyboard cover than a desktop keyboard. You can cruise at a good speed on it, but it definitely takes some getting used to.
By contrast, Apple does make the world’s best—and largest—laptop touch pads. The Pro’s enormous (7.3-inch diagonal) pad combines good palm rejection with Teflon-smooth sensitivity to movements, taps, and multi-finger gestures, plus the Force Touch feature that (in some apps) performs different functions with different levels of pressure. We sometimes stumble over Force Touch, particularly since we usually activate tap to click, but it’s still a worthy extra.
So is the MacBook Pro’s now-famous Touch Bar, the colorful OLED strip above the keyboard that does everything from replacing the function keys to offering sliders for screen brightness and audio volume to presenting Safari browsing shortcuts or Messages emojis. It also guides you through some system functions such as using the Touch ID fingerprint reader at its far right (a boon for Apple Pay, iTunes, and system logins) and even offers smartphone-style guesses at word completion or next-word prediction in apps such as Pages.
If you’re not into emojis, or moving your fingers from the home row to the Touch Bar during word processing, you probably won’t use the gadget much. But it’s a helpful reminder of things like formatting choices for highlighted text, and makes many apps a tiny bit friendlier.
The glossy 15.4-inch screen is wonderfully bright (Apple rates it at 500 nits), with extra-wide viewing angles. Contrast is brilliant, with deep blacks and washday whites, and colors pop as long as you’re in the top quarter of the brightness slider.
The 2,880×1,800 resolution makes fine details crystal clear, though as we mentioned, high-end Windows laptop owners will brag about having 3,840×2,160 resolution and the ability to view native 4K content—an advantage, obviously, for 4K video editing, though we can’t imagine the Pro yielding to any rival when it comes to top-quality still image editing. A System Preferences dialog lets you choose among default, Adobe RGB, P3, and sRGB color profiles.