Hands-on with the new MacBook Pros, their keyboard, and the Touch Bar

Andrew Cunningham


The biggest questions around Apple's new MacBook Pro design were about how the company was going to balance its own design priorities—making things thinner and lighter and removing ports wherever possible—with the features its "pro" users regularly request and use—more performance, good input devices, and more connectivity.
I was able to spend about 15 minutes looking at and touching the new Pros. We'll be examining performance thoroughly in our full review, so in my hands-on session I focused primarily on trying out the new keyboard, the new trackpad, and the Touch Bar that Apple spent so much time on today.
First, a note on look and feel: the systems are half a pound lighter and noticeably smaller, but when you lift them up the feel is still a lot like the previous-generation Retina models. They're a uniform thickness throughout, and the aluminum unibody chassis is rock-solid, but if the 15-inch model used to be too large and heavy for you, it'll probably continue to be too large and too heavy. It's a definite improvement, but they still feel like like 13- and 15-inch laptops (as opposed to the MacBook, which uses a 12-inch screen but is actually considerably smaller and lighter than the old 11-inch Air).

Keyboard and trackpad

The keyboard uses a "second-generation" version of the butterfly switch mechanism that Apple first used in the 12-inch MacBook, and for the 13-inch Pro without the Touch Bar the layout is exactly identical. For those worried about key travel and how the keyboard might feel, there's both good and bad news. The good news is that key travel is noticeably improved, and the best thing about the MacBook keyboard—very firm keycaps that make it difficult to mistype—is still fully present here. If you've used the MacBook keyboard and gotten used to it or grown to like it (as several people in the Ars Slack channel have), you'll love the changes.
The bad news is that if you hate the slim MacBook keyboard, this second-generation version has much more in common with the MacBook keyboard than with the old MacBook Pro keyboard. It has been a few months since I've used one of the desktop Magic Keyboards, but going from memory I'd say that the MacBook Pro's keyboard travel falls somewhere in between the Magic Keyboard and the one on the original MacBook. I don't mind it, and I suspect most people will be able to get used to it, but I also think it will continue to be divisive.
Similarly, the new Force Touch trackpad feels pretty much like a larger version of the old one. The solid slab does a better job than you might think of replicating a regular "clicky" trackpad, and the larger surface area is great for the trackpad gestures in macOS. But it's still not quite a replacement for a physical trackpad, which is still capable of more satisfying feedback.
The biggest potential problem for the giant trackpad could be palm rejection, since there's no easy way to rest your hands on the keyboard in normal typing position without also resting them on either side of the trackpad. The 15-inch model I tried behaved well, but I was also able to type all of two or three sentences on it—it's something we'll definitely dedicate more time to in our full review.

Touch Bar and Touch ID

When the Touch Bar was just a rumor and a mocked-up screenshot, I was skeptical that I would care much about the feature, but as Apple continued to demonstrate new uses for it I became more enthusiastic. It looks like a way to bring some of the good things about typing in iOS to the Mac, and things like the quick typing suggestions are in fact lifted pretty much directly from iOS. As Apple demonstrated, some parts of the Touch Bar change dynamically as you change from app to app, and in these cases the bar's buttons change quickly as you change focus in your apps. In other cases, you can press persistent buttons onscreen to access certain controls, including system-level controls like those for volume and screen brightness.
The Touch Bar's animations were smooth and responsive, and it reacted to touch instantly and without lag. This will be important going forward—in five years you don't want to be using a computer that still feels fine but has a Touch Bar that has started to feel laggy. It's not clear whether the T1 chip that handles the Touch ID Secure Enclave is also doing Touch Bar processing or if it's being powered by the system's main CPU and GPU, but we'll try to clear that up in the full review.
Under the bright showroom lights, it did look like the maximum brightness of the Touch Bar is lower than the brightness of the laptop's display—it was just a little faded out. It's not clear whether the brightness of the Touch Bar can be adjusted at all, either manually or automatically along with the main LCD's brightness or the brightness of the keyboard backlight, but it's yet another thing we'll be able to figure out once we have some more time with the system.
The Touch ID button on the right of the Touch Bar is a physical button with a separate piece of glass, and, while it will usually blend in with the Touch Bar under bright light, it's pretty clearly visible. It works mostly like Touch ID does in iOS. You register fingerprints in the System Preferences, and you decide which things you'd like to be able to use your fingerprint for (unlocking, Apple Pay, and App Store purchases).
Update: We were originally told that the Touch ID button would support up to five fingerprints per user; this is incorrect. The MacBook Pro's Touch ID button supports a maximum of five fingerprints which can be used to log in to up to three different user accounts. This gives us a small preview at what multi-user switching in iOS might look like if it ever becomes generally available for the iPad.
Our full review of these systems will post in the coming weeks when we have more time to spend with the systems. In-depth benchmarks and technical information will have to wait until then, too.
Hands-on with the new MacBook Pros, their keyboard, and the Touch Bar Reviewed by Bizpodia on 21:21 Rating: 5

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