MacBook Pro Reviews: Apple’s Best Is Not Good Enough

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If there’s one running theme through all the reviews of Apple’s AAPL +0.40% latest MacBook Pro hardware, it’s that Apple has made a mis-step. Be it the standardised ports of USB-C, the lack of a magsafe power connector, or the relatively weak specifications, everyone is sure there is something wrong with the MacBook.

With that scene now set, lets look at the first reviews for the MacBook Pro. Apple has passed out review units of the lower-end thirteen-inch MacBook Pro with the function keys and two USB-C ports (the Touch Bar edition will be arriving in the near future). What stands out in the reviews? There’s a lot of questioning about Apple’s decisions, but there’s still a solid computer in the chassis, even if it is not the computer that many were expecting or hoping for.

Understanding this MacBook Pro is understanding what market this laptop is targeted at. It might have a ‘pro’ designation but what laptop is it a ‘pro’ version of? Vlad Savov argues on The Verge that this is the evolution not of previous MacBook Pros, but of the MacBook Air.

Logical though it may be for Apple, this MacBook Pro presents a dichotomy. Professional video editors and photographers have been waiting for a new Pro laptop — but this midrange MacBook Pro probably isn’t that. Instead, the world’s coffee shops are filled with nomadic professionals seeking an Apple computer to replace the much more ubiquitous, but now dated, MacBook Air. So while Apple has been busy crafting the Pro MacBook, the way it will be received by most people is the way that I’m addressing it today: as a Pro MacBook Air.

Specifications wise the MacBook Pro is in the middle of the pack thanks to the use of the older Skylake architecture. Andrew Cunningham talks about those chips, and the reasoning behind the 16 GB limit for RAM, over on Ars Technica.

The $1,499 MacBook Pros include 15W dual-core processors based on Intel’s INTC +0.01% Skylake architecture—the base model we’ve reviewed uses a 2.0GHz (3.1GHz Turbo) Core i5-6360U, but a 2.4GHz (3.4GHz Turbo) Core i7-6660U is available as an upgrade option. Both CPUs include integrated Intel Iris 540 GPUs. The Pros can be configured with either 8GB or 16GB of LPDDR3, and the starting SSD capacity of 256GB can be increased to either 512GB or 1TB. When fully tricked-out, the $1,499 MacBook Pro can cost as much as $2,599.

Many have highlighted the lack of a 32 GB option for RAM, even as a configurable option. This decision is partly down to the rest of the architecture of the MacBook Pro, and trade-offs made by Apple over battery life against the sort of user who really needs all that memory. Cunningham once more:

One sticking point for particularly demanding users is the 16GB RAM limit, which is the same ceiling that the Pros have had for years. The problem, allegedly, is battery life—Apple opted to continue using LPDDR3 RAM instead of DDR4 because of concerns about power usage and battery life, and Skylake doesn’t support the LPDDR4 RAM that could ameliorate those concerns (the iPhone 7, on the other hand, does use LPDDR4).

Apple continues to push a new vision of connectivity. In the case of the iPhone that meant dropping the 3.5mm headphone jack. For the MacBook Pro the headphone jack gets to stay, but everything else, including the power port, goes though USB-C. The base thirteen inch model has two of these ports. Laptop’s Mark Spoonauer is satisfied with the vision, but wishes that at least one traditional port remained for compatibility:

The good news is that the Thunderbolt 3 ports, which have a USB-C connector, enable power and data over a single connection. They offer blazing fast transfer speeds (up to 40 Gbps) and will let you connect two 4K monitors. You must charge the laptop using either one of the two ports, as Apple has retired its MagSafe connection.

That’s perhaps understandable on this lower specced laptop, but it is true of all of the new MacBook Pro machines. Spoonauer picks up this issue as well

…Unfortunately, Apple got rid of the SD card slot, which means you’ll need to use a USB-C card reader or connect your camera directly to the laptop using a dongle. The similarly-thin HP Spectre x360 and Yoga 910 also ditch the SD card but manage to include one full-size USB port. The thicker XPS 13 includes two USB 3 ports, an SD Card reader and one Thunderbolt 3/USB-C port.

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