2016 MacBook Pro with Touch Bar

My Favorite Mac in a Decade - The 13" MacBook Pro with Touch Bar

I've been a lifetime Mac user and a professional web developer for over 10 years and the new 2016 MacBook Pros are, hands down, my favorite Macs in a decade. The only laptop I have loved as much or more in my life was the 12" PowerBook G4. So much has been made about whether these machines are truly "pro" that I wanted to share my thoughts from a web developer's point of view.

Form Factor / Build Quality

The form factor is nearly perfect. This size hits the sweet spot between convenience, weight and performance. I've had to hop back on my previous 15" MBP for a file here or there in the last month and it now feels comically huge and cumbersome, not to mention feeling downright flimsy in terms of structural integrity. The new MBP feels, even more than previous models, like it’s been carved from a single piece of aluminum. The new space grey anodization is a welcome alternative to the traditional Apple silver.

Keyboard

The keyboard took me all of a day to get used to. The larger keys and shorter key travel have me typing more efficiently and more accurately than on my 2013 15" Retina MBP, or any other keyboard for that matter. I had recently purchased the latest Apple Magic Keyboard and was loving that until this new MacBook Pro showed up at my door. Others have mentioned this keyboard being on the clicky side of things (read: loud) but this really doesn't bug me. If this same keyboard could be produced and be less clicky, I'm sure I'd love that too but it's not something that I really notice.

Battery Life

Much has been made of the battery life on these new MacBook Pros. Consumer Reports, after originally not recommending these machines due to concerns over battery, has now reversed their stance following a recent software update from Apple. Anecdotally, I have found my machine to have impressive battery life. I can spend hours at my local coffee shop, doing all of the normal things I do to run Chromatic, and have well over 50-60% battery life by the time I make it back home. I suspect that my daily routine is a pretty good barometer for web professionals:

  • Slack open and in use throughout.
  • Chrome open with a dozen or so tabs open throughout.
  • Harvest open throughout.
  • Fantastical open throughout.
  • TweetBot open throughout.
  • Terminal running, multiple SSH sessions.
  • Sublime Text running with multiple file tabs.
  • Spotify streaming music most of the time.
  • Zoom for video calls running for a good portion of the time.
  • Photoshop, Sketch open here and there.

Given all the fuss that others are raising, I do wonder if there are some lemons out there or if Apple still has some software tuning to do. Suffice it to say, this machine certainly does not seem to be a step backwards in battery life over my previous 15" MacBook Pro.

Note: It is fair to argue that other web developers might have different requirements than the routine I listed above. My friend Jeff Geerling would probably fall into that camp. He has a completely different opinion of these machines.

The Touch Bar

When the Touch Bar was announced, I had some serious doubts about this new input device. I remember saying to fellow colleagues during the live keynote that I didn't think it would be something I would ever use or remotely find helpful. I was wrong. My thought was that since I almost never look at the keyboard, that I would hardly notice the Touch Bar. Turns out that it is actually quite useful. Here are some of my favorite ways to use the Touch Bar:

  • Play/Pause Music in iTunes/Spotify.
  • Scrubbing music, audio files.
  • Adjusting Volume.
  • Quickly enabling "Do Not Disturb".
  • Scrubbing through months/weeks/days in Fantastical.

Touch ID

Ever since Touch ID debuted on the iPhone, I've been pining for it to come to the Mac. Now that it has, I could never go back. My only wish is that Apple treated this not as a "Pro" feature, but as a one all Macs deserved right away. I'm sure it will slowly trickle down to the other Macs, but the sooner the better. The sensor works as advertised. It's not quite as fast as that on the iPhone 6S/7, but it certainly isn't slow. 1Password + Touch ID is a game changer.

Retina Display

Best display I've seen/used on a Mac laptop. Crisp edges, good balance and very bright. No real complaints here.

Escape Key

The lack of a physical escape key was another area of real concern for me before these machines shipped. Surprisingly, I haven't really missed it as much as I expected. The hit area on the Touch Bar that is reserved for the persistent esc key is much larger than the button itself, so my muscle memory hasn't been greatly impacted. The biggest gripe I have is that the visual button is not flush left with the rest of the keyboard. I get that Jony Ive wants symmetry in all things, but this is one design decision that really irks me even after a month of heavy use.

USB-C

USB-C is definitely the future and I'm happy to see Apple using an industry standard instead of some proprietary port, but I wish they'd kept at least one USB-A port. Dongles suck. They're ugly, expensive and so inelegant and decidedly un-Apple, it hurts. The fact that I literally cannot connect my brand new iPhone 7 to this machine out of the box looks really bad. Apple has clearly chosen to take all of this pain and bad press at once, but I do think it's too much too soon. Even for a Mac loyalist like myself.

Trackpad

The larger trackpad is a very welcome addition. I think the best indicator of how good the new trackpad is how little I have noticed it. Like the previous generation MBPs, these trackpads have no moving parts (they don't physically move/click). This was my first trackpad like this, but it really only took me about an hour to forget that the taptic engine was tricking me into thinking the button was clicking. After that, I've barely had to think about it. I've had zero problems with palm rejection or lack thereof.

Speakers

Huge upgrade as far as my ears are concerned. Loud and punchy with pretty damn good range, even if the speaker grilles are simply for aesthetics...

Verdict

This has been the Apple laptop that I've been waiting for: good battery life, great form factor, retina display and integrated Touch ID. If this was all this machine had to offer, I would've been overjoyed, but it actually comes with so much more. If you're a web developer on the fence, this one has my stamp of approval.

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Chris splits his time between helping Mark and Dave run Chromatic and providing technical consulting to our largest clients.