Stuart Breckenridge

MacBook Pro (13-inch, Late 2016, Two Thunderbolt 3 Ports) Review

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I watched Apple’s recent hello again event and, on reflection, found it to be disappointing: after a four year wait for a redesign, I was expecting a powerhouse update. That didn’t happen. Apple’s determination to have ~10 hour battery life along with reduced weight and size, restricted them from including more powerful features (DDR4 RAM, GPU). MacDaddy has a detailed article outlining the technical limitations Apple has to contend with.

The event ended with me ordering a 15-inch model which I subsequently cancelled. I am typing this article on the MacBook Pro (13-inch, Late 2016, Two Thunderbolt 3 Ports) Space Grey model.

Keyboard: Butterfly, 2nd Generation

Apple claim that this 2nd generation keyboard provides up-to 4x more stability over the previous generation. My point of reference to verify this claim is the 2016 MacBook and the difference is imperceptible. There is very little travel in each keypress and while I am fan of this design, it’s not to everyone’s taste. Your mileage here will vary. Like previous generations of MacBook Pro, the keyboard is backlit.

Butterfly Keyboard, 2nd Generation

This keyboard does not come with the new Touch Bar or Touch ID and I don’t feel as though I am missing out. Useful these features may become, but I don’t see either as being critical to my workflow.

Audio

Sitting either side of the keyboard are some much appreciated speakers. They are markedly improved over the speakers included in the previous 13-inch MacBook Pros: louder, and with more bass, they produce much better sound to my non-audiophile ears.

Force Touch Trackpad

The Force Touch Trackpad is huge! You can get more done in a single swipe than you’ve ever been able to get done in a single swipe before! Other than the size difference there are no other technical changes to the trackpad. However, I did find that the noise emitted when clicking the trackpad is strange — it sounds like you’re lightly tapping an empty tin. It’s not a bad thing, but it’s definitely noticeable.

Ports

Moving on to the sides of the chassis, we have two Thunderbolt 3/USB-C ports on the left and one headphone jack on the right. That’s it.

I am a big fan of Thunderbolt 3/USB-C — it’s such a capable connector. While there will be a migration period where everyone will need a dongle, I firmly believe that USB-C is the future and the quicker we all move to it the better. That said, these MacBooks are aimed at creatives and the ports that have been removed will be hugely inconvenient to them. For example, photographers relying on the SD card slot are out of luck.1

Display

Retina Display

This Retina display is, by far, the best display I’ve ever used on a MacBook. It’s got the same resolution as before (2560 x 1600) but now comes with wide-colour support and a brighter backlight. Indeed, when turned to full brightness I actually found the display too bright.2

On the subject of wide-colour support, there is a discernible difference between this screen and that of my iMac3. Colours are definitely more vivid.

Software Performance

The main apps I use are Xcode, Coda 2, and BBEdit. Of those, Xcode is obviously the most demanding and given that none of the apps I have developed are that taxing, I don’t see degraded performance over my iMac.

I would still recommend a 15-inch MacBook Pro for development of larger applications and media creation.

Other Notes

Like the 2015/2016 MacBook, the MacBook Pro no longer has an Apple logo that lights up. Do I miss it? Not really. I don’t spend time looking at the back of my MacBook’s screen (or, for that matter, anyone else’s screen).

Performance wise, results are beginning to appear on Geekbench. Based on commentary from MacRumors, this MacBook Pro is roughly 7% faster than the 2015 base MacBook Pro. I can’t say I’ve noticed a huge difference.

Final Thoughts

I am happy with this MacBook Pro, not delighted. It provides a spec bump that is in-line with the limitations Apple is working within. The main reason I downsized is that I expect this MacBook Pro, with its reduced cost compared to the 15-inch models, will last me around two years. Within that timeframe, I expect Apple will launch MacBook Pros with their own CPUs, more RAM, and perhaps an nVidia GPU.

  1. The current migration period is best summarised as follows: out of the box you cannot connect your iPhone to your MacBook Pro without a converter. I expect that will change and that Apple will drop Lightning for Thunderbolt 3/USB-C in the next iPhone. ↩︎

  2. The background used in this image is available via Interfacelift ↩︎

  3. Late 2013, non-Retina. ↩︎


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