I'll start off with the good news. If you splurged on one of Apple's very expensive high-end 15-inch MacBook Pro laptops when its big redesign was launched in the fall of 2016, you're not going to feel especially put out by this modest mid-2017 update.
The aluminum outer body remains the same, as does the port selection, the excellent Retina-resolution display, the new keyboard, bigger touchpad and even the second-screen Touch Bar.
What is new is a move to current 7th-generation Intel Core i-series CPUs, sometimes referred to by the codename "Kaby Lake." The MacBook Pro models that we reviewed late last year had older 6th-gen Intel chips (although they were certainly fast enough for almost any tasks as-is). Of course, Intel is already starting to talk about 8th-gen Core chips now, so it's best not to obsess too much on the exact CPU model in any laptop you buy -- there's always something new coming.
The 2017 Pro also gets an updated set of graphics hardware options. The integrated graphics chip goes from the Intel HD 530 to the HD 630 (part of that jump to the Kaby Lake platform), and the discrete graphics go from AMD Radeon Pro 450 and 455 parts to -- you guessed it -- Radeon Pro 555 and 560 options. Every 15-inch MacBook Pro laptop includes an AMD GPU, while the 13-inch models make do with Intel's built-in graphics.
If that's the good news, then the bad news may be that if one or more of the features of the new MacBook Pro design kept you away, (the super-flat keyboard, the Touch Bar, USB-C ports, etc.) then this set of 2017 revisions isn't going to do anything much to change your mind.
On the other hand, if you've been thinking about stepping up to a MacBook Pro, or upgrading from a much older model, the jump to newer Intel CPUs and faster AMD graphics cards keeps the MacBook competitive. This is still Apple's largest, most powerful laptop (and has been since the 17-inch MacBook Pro was discontinued in 2012) It remains a top choice for professionals, creative and otherwise, who want desktop-like power in a reasonably portable package.
Apple MacBook Pro with Touch Bar (15-inch, 2017)
|Price as reviewed||$2,799.00|
|Display size/resolution||15-inch 2,880x1,800-pixel Retina display|
|PC CPU||2.9GHz Intel Core i7-7820HQ|
|PC Memory||16GB DDR3 SDRAM 2,133MHz|
|Graphics||1,536MB Intel HD Graphics 630 / 4GB Radeon Pro 560|
|Storage||Apple 512GB SSD|
|Networking||802.11ac Wi-Fi wireless; Bluetooth 4.2|
|Operating system||macOS 10.12.5 Sierra|
The 15-inch MacBook Pro has two default configurations. The Core i7/16GB RAM/256GB SSD/AMD Radeon Pro 555 model starts at $2,399 (£2,349 or AU$3,499). The step-up version, which is what we tested, offers a Core i7 CPU, 16GB RAM, a 512GB SSD and the AMD Radeon Pro 560 for graphics at $2,799 (£2,600 or AU$4,099).
If you noticed that even the high-end configuration tops out at 16GB of RAM, you're not alone. It's one of the most common complaints about the current Pro. The iMac all-in-one desktop line, interestingly, has just doubled the RAM options in its 21.5-inch and 27-inch models (now up to 32GB or 64GB).
Touch and go
Both the 13-inch and 15-inch MacBook Pro laptops still have the OLED Touch Bar that extends across the top of the keyboard, replacing the old function key row. It allows for fingerprint login, instant access to volume and brightness controls, the MacOS version of Siri and special touch features in different software apps. It's the same size in both the 13-inch and 15-inch models, measuring 2,170 pixels across and 60 pixels high.
The Touch Bar is a feature some people love and other people barely use. I fall right in the middle of the spectrum, using the Touch ID fingerprint reader (similar to the one on the iPhone) frequently as well as the touch controls for volume and screen brightness. In Safari, I often use the Touch Bar to jump between tabs, where each open browser tab gets a tiny Touch Bar thumbnail. Those tasks probably take up 90 percent of my Touch Bar use.
At the Touch Bar's late-2016 launch, support was limited to Apple apps built into MacOS, and a handful of third-party apps. Now, it offers touch tools for popular apps such as Spotify, where controls are fairly basic, to Photoshop, which offers controls for brushes, layers and other photo tools.
A much more in-depth exploration of the Touch Bar is available in our review of the 2016 13-inch MacBook Pro.
The other touch
While the Touch Bar may be the most eye-grabbing feature on the MacBook Pro, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the giant touchpad (Apple calls it a trackpad), another key addition introduced in late 2016 that carries over here. Its surface area is larger than an iPhone screen, and it has Apple's typically amazing responsiveness and multi-finger control, which is one area where Windows laptops have yet to catch up.