One of the newest and very much critiqued aspect of the new MacBook Pro is the keyboard. It is the second-generation of the butterfly keyboard Apple introduced with the MacBook in 2015. While I have been using an external keyboard for quite some time, I’ve been impressed with the keyboard on the 2016 MacBook Pro.
I have actually found myself using the keyboard on the new 15-inch device more than my previous 13-inch, 2011 MacBook Pro. While the keypresses seem a little louder when typing, it feels crisp, which is not necessarily how I would have described a keyboard before. In this case, the actual sound of the keys provides for a greater sense of confidence that I am typing what I meant to type. I find myself looking down at the keyboard much less even though some of the keys are a little different from the Bluetooth Apple keyboard I’ve been using for quite some time.
Speaking of different, the Touch Bar is great if you are using the built-in keyboard on the 2016 MacBook Pro. My use of the function keys was not very frequent before, so I do not miss the physical keys. One of the biggest wins so far has been Touch ID. I can walk away from my desk, come back and place my finger on the Touch ID to unlock it. Or, better yet, if I am wearing my Apple Watch, I just have to get close for the watch to unlock it. Speaking of unlocking, with the update to 1Password, the Touch ID works to unlock your vault. Given how long my password can be just to open 1Password, this touch and go makes things go a little smoother.
Back to the Touch Bar…there are times that it seems a little odd and I have tapped the bar when I meant to touch a number, but having Siri available at a finger notice is great. Venturing over t Settings and Keyboard, you can choose if you prefer the App Controls with Control Strip (default), the Extended Control Strip (this displays what was on the physical keys previously), or App Controls (this leaves just the ESC key unless the app has app controls). You can change what happens when you press the Fn key (bring up the “F” keys or the Extended Control Strip).
One of the coolest things is Customizing the Control Strip. While the smaller Control Strip only houses 4 icons, dragging an alternate icon onto the control bar from the screen is like moving a window from one screen to the next. Having used other simulated screens, it would be an artificial move. With this customization, it is like the mouse actually moves down to the Touch Bar. For me, adding the icon for a screenshot was much more important that keeping the brightness icon there, especially since it is set to adjust automatically.
Using many of the shortcuts in Safari and Mail have been a pleasant experience. I didn’t think I would use it as much. However, with Safari, I find myself looking at the Touch Bar to see what is on each tab and scroll through them. With Mail, I like the ability to move messages to folder with just a tap. This is similar to iOS where is you move a message to a particular folder frequently, the system picks up on that and suggests it when you go to move it. I’ve also started a few emails from the Touch Bar.
With Pixelmator, I’ve only just begun to play with all of the options. However, it makes editing photos and graphics a bit easier since I don’t have to try to find the toolbox that got hidden under another toolbox. I can just tap on the Touch Bar icon and retouch, crop, etc. This option is even more flexible than using Pixelmator on an iPad. Once you start editing the graphic, additional options appear on the Touch Bar. With these additional options, you can rotate an image, transform it, or even flip it. Even though there are many key combinations that do similar things, it is a nice alternative to remembering all those keyboard shortcuts. As other developers bring their Touch Bar additions to the MacBook Pro, they should turn to Pixelmator as a best practice.
All in all, I prefer this keyboard to the previous keyboards. While I am still using an external Apple Bluetooth keyboard when sitting for longer hours at a desk, I do not feel that I will need to carry an external keyboard with me with traveling as I have done in the past. It does take a little adjustment if I try to switch between the two different types of keyboards. The tactile feel is just different enough to slow down typing for a short time for either keyboard.
If you were in doubt about this keyboard or the functionality of the Touch Bar, try it out for yourself. It is better to see how you would use it in your work stream rather than relying on others who are just writing for a review. Give it time and think consistencies with iOS without the annoying overlays of predictive text or spell check.
As mentioned in other articles, I was a bit taken by surprise at the price increase of the 2016 MacBook Pro. With so many other changes on this new device, why would Apple increase the price by $200 for the 13-inch model and $400 for the 15-inch model? Could it be that the Touch Bar and Touch ID really cost that much for each of these models? The reality is, I am not sure why Apple decided to increase costs. However, I decided to take a look at the details of what you would get for that price.
To start out, when the Retina MacBook Pro 15-inch debuted in 2012, it had a i7, quad-core, 2.3 GHz processor, 8GB RAM, and 256 GB of SSD storage for $2199. When the MacBook Pro 13-inch Retina debuted in 2012, it had an i5 Dual Core 2.6 GHz processor, only 8GB of RAM, and 128 GB of SSD storage for $1699. Those prices are $100 and $200 different from the prices we see on the new 2016 MacBook Pro with Touch Bar with faster processors, the same (13-inch) or more (15-inch – 16GB) memory. In late 2013, Apple dropped prices by $400 for each model as it moved to mostly Retina displays. This aligned to the pre-Retina costs for each model in 2011.
For this year’s 13-inch Touch Bar model, Apple has gone back to align more with the 2012 pricing models with a faster, newer processor (2.9 GHz dual-core), 8GB of RAM (though this memory is faster), and 256 GB of very fast SSD storage. So, there is more storage and a faster processor, more USB, flexible ports, plus the Touch Bar with this 2016 version. These additions are $100 more than the cost of the entry-level unit in 2013 and $500 over the cost of the entry-level 2015 models. Given the price reduction after the initial Retina models, consumer expectations seemed to change in regards to price even though there seems to be a high-level entry model.
For this year’s 15-inch Touch Bar model, Apple is around $200 higher than that first Retina model in 2012. With a faster, quad core processor (2.6 GHz), more memory (16 GB), the same, but faster SSD Storage (256GB), better discrete graphics, and more powerful USB ports. The cost was only around $200 more than the 2012, entry-level model, but $400 more than 2015, entry-level model. The 2012 model could be upgraded by the end-user with more RAM and a bigger hard drive. The 2016 models are not user-upgradable.
So, while it seems that Apple has reverted to some of their older pricing models for these new models, if history holds true, it looks like we might see a price drop in another year or so. If you don’t think the cost aligns with your budget, it might be best to pursue either the Apple Refurbished Store, or choose one of the older models that are still available and configurable in both the 13-inch and 15-inch models. If you feel that the prices are just higher without enough improvement, consider the history of the new models and wait it out. While the prices may not go down to exactly what they were, it is feasible they will go down. And, just like previous updates, Apple has keep other models around as a consumer choice. So, choose wisely and enjoy the technology.
As I contemplated which version of the new MacBook Pro to purchase, the ports were a big complaint that I heard from those online looking for something miraculous from the device. So, I went back to look at some of the stats from previous models to help me decide how much of an impact this had on my situation and the need more a newer machine.
As I read the reviews and listened to the event, I was not very happy that I would need to purchase an additional dongle to run my HDMI monitors and have additional adapters for most of the USB devices I own. Then, I looked at my 2011 MacBook Pro, and realized there was a dongle there too. That machine had a Thunderbolt port, not an HDMI or a VGA port. So, I either needed to use a Display Port/Thunderbolt to HDMI cable or one of the adapters that Apple sold. Could I have purchased a Thunderbolt monitor, sure. However, those were not the ones on sale when I needed a new monitor. When I travel, I have to use the Display Port to VGA adapter to connect with older projectors and monitors. Guess what…another dongle from an older machine.
The 2011 MacBook Pro has a SD card reader and the 2016 MacBook Pro does not. However, I did notice that I started using microSD cards more since they were more adaptable to other devices. The additional phones and Android devices we own all take the microSD cards, not the full-size SD cards. During one of the many trips to our local electronic store, I purchased a microSD card with multiple adapters, one of which was where the microSD fit into a USB-A adapter. It was the same price as the others and works quite well. In order to get this device to work, I purchased two USB-C to USB 3.0 adapters on Amazon for $7.99. Or, just use the USB port on the same adapter as the HDMI out adapter. Yes, another adapter, but really not too bad from a price perspective.
One of the things I like about the new, Touch bar MacBook is there are four ports. My 2011 MacBook had 2 USB ports that were very close together. The only way I was able to successfully connect more than one USB device is…you guessed it…a dongle. I had to either use an extender or a USB hub if I wanted to connect a USB flashdrive and a USB microphone. For the new MacBooks, you lose the additional Thunderbolt ports, but the USB-C ports can be used with another adapter if you used the two additional ports. With these four ports, I get to choose how to use them, including on what side the device charges.
Speaking of charging, while it is different from the MagSafe Power Adapter, I really do like the flexibility of being able to choose the location of the charger. Sometimes, the power source is not on the left side of the device. And, yes, there is no extension cable included. However, most of the extension cables I used where when I traveled. Since Apple did not change the socket, if you have an older extension cable, you can still use it.
Now, I know that those with more recent MacBooks (2013-2015), you had an HDMI port. So, this may be a bit of a challenge in accepting the backward nature of where the ports went. However, you would still need a dongle to connect to those older VGA projectors. For those that wish the SD card reader had not vanished, this one is a little tougher change if you use it frequently. And, while it is probably no consolation, I have found that new adapters do better at reading a variety of cards rather than just one type.
Overall, it looks like an adoption of four consistent ports seem to not be as annoying or expensive as first thought. If you are on the fence, take a good look into your usage of the ports you have now. If the challenge is buying a dongle/adapter, look to the dongles/adapters you have now. Stop into you local Apple Store or Best Buy to see if the layout works for you. In fact, it may turn out to be a better choice for some needs and provide for greater flexibility rather than limitations.
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