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Apple MacBook Pro with Touch Bar (15-inch, 2017) review: No longer the king of high-end laptops, but still royalty

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The Good The 15-inch MacBook Pro may be a bit old, but its performance and battery life still fare well compared with newcomers. The giant touchpad is a pleasure to use and the display is excellent.

The Bad Having only USB-C ports can be a hassle, and the keyboard is at best an acquired taste -- and at worst possibly defective. A lot of people may think it's not worth paying a premium for the Touch Bar.

The Bottom Line For creative work, it's still top-notch, but the 15-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar is no longer a no-brainer buy.

8.0 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Performance 8
  • Battery 8

Update: Summer 2018

The MacBook Pro received minimal updates between 2016 and the 2017 model reviewed here; in the year since, it's received zero, not even a basic update to the latest 8th-generation Intel Core processors. If it wasn't broken, the don't-fix-it maxim would make sense, but the keyboard that we called "an acquired taste" has been the subject of class-action lawsuits, with Apple finally agreeing to fix all the MacBook Butterfly keyboard models. And the Touch Bar really turned out to be more of a curse than a blessing for some people. Plus, in a year of 4K options, its formerly "high resolution" Retina display no longer stands out, although it maintains its reputation for good color. Because of all these, we've dropped the design rating from a 9 to an 8.

Plus, the competitive landscape has really changed over the past couple of years, as tons of innovation by manufacturers for Windows models have since become mainstream: The MacBook Pro is up against more flexible models with detachable keyboards and 360-degree displays that flip around for both clamshell and tablet operation, all of which have touchscreens and stylus support. Plus there are quite a few comparable clamshell models at the same or better prices, such as the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga and the Dell XPS 15 2-in-1.

On the other hand, the MacBook Pro's performance has stood the test of time. While it's not the speediest in its class, it's still solid on multicore processor tests and its battery life is still one of the best of the 15-inch laptops we've subsequently tested. 

We hope to see revamps to the MacBook line in October 2018 as part of Apple's annual hardware follow-up to its WWDC software announcements. So, unless you're in a hurry to upgrade, you may want to hold off buying this model until we find out what its future is.

The best 15-inch laptops

The full review of the 15-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar, originally posted July 2, 2017, and updated May 11, 2018, follows. 


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.

apple-macbook-pro-15-inch-2017

The 15-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar for 2017 keeps the same design as last year.

Sarah Tew/CNET

What is new is a move to current 7th-generation Intel Core i-series CPUs, sometimes referred to by the code name 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 superflat keyboard, the Touch Bar, USB-C ports) then this set of 2017 revisions isn't going to do anything much to change your mind.

apple-macbook-pro-15-inch-2017

It's still Apple's most powerful laptop.

Sarah Tew/CNET

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 desktoplike power in a reasonably portable package. 

Apple MacBook Pro with Touch Bar (15-inch, 2017)

Price as reviewed $2,799
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 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.

apple-macbook-pro-15-inch-2017

The Touch Bar includes a Touch ID fingerprint sensor and Siri button. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

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.

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