With so many tech “reviews” out there in all forms - text, video, audio etc., I’ve decided that instead of writing a review of the 2016 MacBook Pro, I’ll write a blog post focusing on a unique perspective that I can provide - how this MacBook Pro compares after upgrading from a 2012 non-Retina model, while also highlighting how some of the controversial changes will affect my workflow.
I’m a fan of the name I believe was coined by Marco Arment for this machine, the “MacBook Escape.” For clarification, I’m talking about the late-2016 13” MacBook Pro without a Touch Bar. The Apple ‘official’ name is “MacBook Pro (13-inch, Late 2016, Two Thunderbolt 3 ports)” but that’s quite a mouthful. The name is fitting as it’s the only 2016 model MacBook Pro with an escape key on the keyboard, although for me the name could also relate to the world I’m “escaping” - the world of non-Retina screens. After reading many reviews and comparisons, I decided the non-Touch Bar model was for me. It performs well enough, and has superior battery life to the Touch Bar models (or at least that’s what the reviews would have you believe). One of the main reasons my old MacBook Pro just wasn’t good enough anymore was because of the battery life that machine was getting. 3-4 hours just isn’t enough on a machine that needs to be carried around and used for a full day at University. At this stage, the Touch Bar seems gimmicky. That’s not to say it isn’t useful, but it seems as though both Apple and developers are still figuring out appropriate use cases for it and it might be a while before we realise what it’s truly useful for. On the other hand, having Touch ID on a Mac would’ve been great - but for now, Auto Unlock with the Apple Watch will have to suffice. I must say I’m pleasantly surprised with the speed of Auto Unlock. Auto Unlock has proven to unlock my Mac faster than I can by typing in a long, randomly generated password.
2012 MacBook Pro (non-Retina)
Upgrading from a 2012 non-Retina MacBook Pro was a long time coming. I was hoping to buy a new laptop earlier in the year, but seeing as though the MacBook Pro laptops weren’t updated I wasn’t so keen on purchasing one that was already a year old. As can be expected, I was rather hyped for this recent announcement. That old, clunky machine was quite the workhorse, however. Its i7 processor almost never failed to handle what was thrown at it, and since having upgraded the internal storage to an SSD a couple of years ago, I had no complaints about the snappiness of the machine. Although that machine, and the work completed on it, will always be fondly remembered, there are certain things that will not be missed, including the 1280-by-800 pixel display, its 2.41cm thick body, and its 2.06kg weight. I won’t be surprised if I one day look back on this shiny new MacBook Escape and scoff at its display, its 1.49cm thin body, and the 1.37kg it adds to a bag. Yes, I’m aware that I didn’t get the thinnest and lightest possible machine available in 2012, and the upgrade is less significant for those coming from any rMBP model, but this has been my upgrade experience.
So it’s 2016 and I’m all caught up in this Retina business. Yes, sure, most have been using laptops with high-resolution displays for years now but now it’s my time to look at this thing and say, “Wow!” What a difference the clearer screen makes. Text is sharper and more comfortable to read, images look fantastic, and now whenever I look at the screen of my old computer my eyes feel like they’re bleeding! These new MacBook Pros are also the first Apple laptops to incorporate a new fancy wide gamut display (DCI-P3) which is supposed to make colours look more realistic. My iPhone 7 also has this new colour display, but honestly, I don’t notice the difference. If you’re a photographer or designer I’m sure you’ll love it, but I don’t really notice a change. In this section of, “things Zach has missed out on for the last four years,” I’d like to also mention how great the macOS “Power Nap” feature is. I believe it’s sort of supposed to be background refresh for the Mac, whereby emails, messages, and notifications are downloaded while the computer is ‘sleeping’ and ready for you upon wake. Unfortunately my old MacBook Pro, even after the upgrade to an SSD, never supported this feature. Over the last few days, I’ve realised it really is quite handy to wake up your Mac and have everything ready to go. It’s another thing that contributes to the feeling of overall increased speed in newer machines.
There isn’t too much to say about the overall design of the machine, other than it feels great. As someone for whom the 12” MacBook is just a tad too small, this machine feels like an appropriate tradeoff between thinness/lightness and a comfortable amount of screen real estate. The weight, in particular, is an advantage, as this machine will come with me to and from uni for the next few years, and when taking 10000+ steps a day with a laptop in your bag, lighter is definitely better. As a part of cutting down on the weight of the machine, the bezels both around the keyboard and screen are noticeably smaller on this laptop than my old one. The screen is the same size, but it feels smaller overall, and that’s an improvement.
As alluded to earlier, battery life was a critical feature when deciding what model MacBook Pro to buy. The MacBook Escape is really more of a MacBook Air replacement than a Pro, and I’m perfectly okay with that. The lower power 15-watt CPU combined with a 10% larger battery seemed to make the most sense as far as battery life concerns go, and I must say it hasn’t disappointed yet. It’s only been in use for a few days, but I’m getting between 8-10 hours of usage on an average load with rather high screen brightness. When it comes to more processor-intensive work such as working with Xcode’s simulator, the battery takes a noticeable hit but this would be the case with any machine. At this point, anything above the 3-4 hours I could get with my old laptop feels incredible. Not having to worry about bringing a power cord when I take this MacBook Escape out of the house sure is a nice change!
USB-C and Thunderbolt
The MacBook Escape comes with two USB Type-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports, while all other 2016 MacBook Pro models come with four. This has been a controversial decision, as although the ports are versatile, there aren’t many compatible accessories. This should change in the coming months led by Apple’s decision to including nothing but these ports on the new MacBook Pros. Personally, I don’t find it to be a huge hassle. The only accessory I needed to buy was a single USB-C to USB-A adapter so as I can still continue to plug in my external Time Machine backup hard drive. I might occasionally use it to plug in and charge my iPhone while on the go, but I haven’t had to use it for that yet. It would've been nice if Apple had included this adapter in the box with the laptop, as I'm sure a majority of buyers will find a need for such a product. Other than that, I seldom need to get data off of a USB thumb drive that it doesn’t bother me. The only other port I used on my old machine was the Thunderbolt 2 port to plug into an external monitor, but once the external 4K LG display I’ve ordered arrives, I’ll be able to connect it directly to a Thunderbolt 3 port and that won’t be an issue.
MagSafe was fantastic. I can’t possibly mention it here without singing its praises. There’s nothing wrong with a USB-C connector per se, but it does feel like a step back from MagSafe which was a virtually indestructible means of charging your Mac. Pro tip: Try not to trip over the USB-C charging cable, I don’t imagine the results will be pretty. For what it’s worth, the MacBook Escape seems to charge impressively fast. I’m not sure if it relates to the USB-C connection, something to do with the battery, or whether it’s just my imagination, but it feels fast when charging.
Apple Watch unlock
There is one feature I like so much about this new laptop and that is the Auto Unlock with Apple Watch. This is a new feature in macOS Sierra + watchOS 3, and I’m pleasantly surprised as to how well it works. Having bought the MacBook Escape, this means no Touch ID, so Auto Unlock is the next fastest way to unlock this Mac. I’ve heard of mixed results with this feature on Twitter, but in my experience over the last few days it's worked all but once (and I believe the failure was because my phone was too far away - presuming the wireless communication goes from Mac —> Phone —> Watch, but don’t quote me!) It’s definitely a faster way to unlock the MacBook Escape than typing in my password would be.
It’s been only a few days, but I love using the MacBook Escape already. The design improvements are significant, the machine has all of the performance I require, and the newer MacBook Pro hardware features such as the Retina screen is a nice touch that improves the overall experience of using this laptop. If all goes to plan, this will be the laptop I continue to use throughout my remaining three years of University, and it would appear as though it's more than capable of fulfilling that plan. The new MacBook Pro lineup has been a long time coming, and I know many of us were getting impatient towards the end of the wait. This computer won’t be a radical upgrade for most but it is an improvement in enough small areas that it’s a worthwhile upgrade for many - especially those who feel as though their current Mac laptop has seen better days.