Thinking of Buying a New MacBook Pro? Read This First.
I'm a fan of Apple, so I was very excited for the introduction of the new Macbook Pro. It's been a few years since Apple came out with any kind of major design update, and I was ready to see some cool innovation. That much I got, but not all of it was cool. While the new MacBook Pro boasts some interesting new developments, some of them seem very anti-consumer to this tech editor.
Let's start at the heart of the issue, which for me, is Apple's abandonment of all external ports except for USB-C.
USB-C may be a superior connection in terms of speed and form factor, but it's also a connection that still has yet to gain industry-wide adoption. Of course, this is common practice for Apple, the company that boldly pioneered the phase-out of CD/DVD drives in previous generations of MacBooks, and eliminated the Ethernet port that most PC laptops are still sporting. But those cuts made sense to me, because at the time they were made, the everyday use of those technologies was on its way out the door and better, built-in alternatives were already in wide use. For example, the availability of WiFi replaced the need for Ethernet, and web-based file downloads, streaming services and USB drives replaced the need for optical media. When I bought my current MacBook Pro in late 2013, I didn't really miss either of those features.
But the loss of my ports is another matter. I still often use the traditional USB ports for flash drives or other devices, I often have need of the built-in HDMI port, and the SD card reader is very handy for viewing images and videos from different cameras. All of that is gone from the new MacBook, and the only way to connect these devices now is by using an adapter for each one, which can get pretty costly.
The lowest price we could find for an HDMI to USB-C adapter was $12.99, and we can't be sure about its reliability, as it's a brand we've never heard of. Adapters can be tricky -- you can find them for cheap, but depending on the brand, they might not work correctly. Sure, you can find multi-port adapters, like this one from Monoprice, but even that will run you $29.99 and it STILL doesn't include everything you might need. And let's not forget that carting all these adapters around is bulky and awkward. I love the versatility of my current MacBook, and if I bought a new one right now, that would all go out the window. The least Apple could have done was include a USB to USB-C adapter as an olive branch to users, but they didn't.
Apple says using USB-C only allows them to make the new MacBook thinner and lighter. While this is objectively true, it's a very small difference. The old 13" MacBook Pro was 18mm in height and weighed 3.48 lbs. The new version measures 14.9mm in height and weighs 3 lbs. Honestly, it's pretty easy to make up or exceed the weight difference with the number of adapters you'll need to keep in your laptop bag. Where's the win there?
Ports aside, let's look at the storage specs.
While, at $1,299, the starting price on a new MacBook is the same as previous entry-level models were, the RAM and storage space at this price are also around the same as the old models, at 8GB of RAM and a 128GB solid state drive. While this is typical of Apple, I am not impressed. Frankly, that drive size is way too small for most users in this day and age. In my opinion, a laptop in the $1,200 price range should offer a starting drive of at least 256GB. Oh, and don't forget that the entry level model only has two USB-C ports, one of which also serves as the power port. This means users effectively have one port to work with while they're charing their laptops.
The 'Touch Bar' seems cool, though.
The one feature that is very unique and forward thinking is the Touch Bar, the new interactive strip that adapts its controls based on the application you are using. Next to that is a fingerprint reader, which is very useful for security. Some call the Touch Bar a gimmick, while others say it is smarter innovation than a laptop with a touchscreen. One this is for sure: It's only available in the models priced at $1,799 and above, so if you want it, you'll be paying a premium price for it.
My advice? Buy the 2015 model.
I know, it seems weird to recommend last year's model, but here's my thinking: the MacBook Pro line is superior to many other laptop lines because of reliability and longevity. I bought the late 2013 model (a 13" with 8GB RAM and a 256GB drive) when it was introduced and it still works great today. Even after constant OS updates (I always download and install the latest version), it's just as fast as the day I bought it and the unibody metal construction makes it the most durable laptop I have ever owned. I love it and I think I'll get at least another two years out of it before I get the upgrade itch. By that time, perhaps USB-C will have caught on enough that being relegated to just one type of port will be more bearable.
Apple isn't selling the older models anymore, but plenty of other retailers still have the them for sale. B&H Photo, for example, is selling the 2015 13" version with 8GB of RAM and a 256GB drive for $1,349. That is $150 less than the new version, and you get all the ports the new MacBook doesn't offer. Of course there are a few differences: the older model runs on a 5th generation Intel i5 processor, rather than a 6th generation version, and it has an older graphics chip set, but neither of these shortcomings make the 2015 model inferior -- it's still a great laptop that will last several years!