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MacBook Pro 15-inch (2016) Laptop – Review

MacBook PRo 15 The ultimate media creation laptop?

PROS

  • Stunning screen
  • Top-notch processor
  • Classy design
  • Excellent connectivity
  • MacOS continues to be brilliant

CONS

  • Inconsistent battery life
  • Fairly weak graphics performance
  • KEY FEATURES

    • Quad-core 2.6-3.5GHz Intel Core i7 processor (upgradeable to 2.9-3.8GHz)
    • 16GB memory
    • 4x ThunderBolt 3/USB-C connectors
    • AMD Radeon Pro 450 (upgradable to 460)
    • 256GB PCIe SSD (up to 2TB)
    • Weight: 1.83kg
    • 2880 x 1800-pixel screen
    • Touch Bar
    • Manufacturer: Apple
    • Review Price: £2,349.00

    WHAT IS THE 15-INCH MACBOOK PRO?

    Apple’s MacBook Pro line is traditionally topped out with an ultra-powered multimedia machine with the best laptop components you can find. The latest model is no different, and, like the two 13-inch models Apple introduced in 2016, it’s benefited from a complete design overhaul along with a huge specifications boost.

    It’s the most powerful laptop in Apple’s lineup, with the excellent MacOS on-board along with some as-yet unbeaten specifications. It has some exceptionally strong yet cheaper Windows-powered rivals, including gaming laptops such as the Razer Blade and premium laptops such as the Dell XPS 15.

    The 15-inch MacBook Pro is a unique proposition, and it’s one of the most technically impressive laptops I’ve ever used. It won’t be for all – very few, in fact – but those who need it will love it.

    Apple is expected to update the specs of is MacBook Pro line-up in June, so it might pay to wait and see whether you can get better specs for the same money or a little discount on a 2016 model.

    15-INCH MACBOOK PRO – DESIGN, BUILD AND FEATURES

    It’s easy to wax lyrical about how impressive the MacBook Pro is in terms of design. The chassis is made from a single piece of machined aluminium, meaning there are no gaps or screws on the top or sides of the device.

    Smooth corners, sharp edges and acres of aluminium give the Pro a premium feel. Despite its all-metal design, it actually weighs a little less than the Dell XPS 15, at just 1.83kg. This isn’t slight by any stretch, but it’s a full 200g lighter than the XPS 15 (with the recommended 97Wh battery) and has the added advantage of coming with a lightweight USB-C power brick.

     Around the edges of the laptop are four USB-C/ThunderBolt 3 connectors. All of them run at the maximum speed the ThunderBolt 3 standard can muster, which is up to 40Gbps. This, for me, is the first place where the Pro moniker can really be seen. There’s no other laptop on the market that offers this level of connectivity, and while the absolute maximum performance here will surely only be used by those working in creative environments – such as audio and video studios – these ports are future-proof.

    But, as is now customary to mention, Apple doesn’t ship any adapters in the box to let you hook up your legacy equipment – including Ethernet and old-fashioned USB Type-A. Apple-approved accessories are relatively expensive – £20 for a USB-C to A and £69 for a HDMI, USB and USB-C adapter – although in the context of a £2300+ laptop, these costs do pale into insignificance somewhat.

    15-INCH MACBOOK PRO – KEYBOARD, TOUCHPAD AND TOUCH BAR

    The keyboard on the 15-inch MacBook Pro is superb, although it won’t be suitable for everybody. It uses Apple’s so-called Butterfly technology, which prioritises tactile feedback over how far the keys actually travel when you press them. For fast typists it’s excellent; although it’s fairly easy to pick up pace anyway thanks to the quick action. It takes some getting used to, though, so I’d recommend popping to your local Apple reseller and trying one out.

    MacBook Pro 15

    Above the keyboard is the fabled Touch Bar. I wrote about this feature at length in the 13-inch MacBook Pro review, and it’s the same setup here. The OLED panel above the keyboard effectively adds another row of customisable and contextual keys. The more I use it, the less I like it, because it adds a layer of complexity to everyday apps that I don’t really need.

    In apps such as Photoshop, it does have some use, adding buttons and options to within a finger’s reach of the keyboard. But it takes a huge amount of getting used to, and since the huge touchpad on the 15-inch MacBook Pro is so utterly excellent, it almost always feels easier to use that instead.

    More often than not, I have found myself simply keeping the classic list of actions open on the Touch Bar, so I can easily adjust brightness, volume and music tracks without having to think about it.

    I do love the fingerprint scanner that’s integrated into the power button, though. You can simply tap the button, wake up the laptop and log in without any faff.

    MacBook Pro 15

    As mentioned above, the touchpad is the best in the business. Not only is it huge, it’s sensitive, accurate and provides access to all manner of easy gestures, such as swiping between virtual desktops, scrolling, Mission Control and your basic clicking and dragging. There’s nothing not to like here. Windows touchpads have come a long way, but Apple is still way ahead of the game here.

    15-INCH MACBOOK PRO – SCREEN

    The second pro-level feature on the MacBook Pro is its screen. It’s simply unmatched by anything else I’ve seen. It displays incredibly deep blacks, blindingly bright whites and pitch-perfect colour accuracy.

    To put that numerically, we’re looking at a screen that can nudge the better part of 500 nits of brightness; by comparison, even the brightest of laptops won’t go much over 350 nits. Colour coverage is immense, with 100% of the sRGB colour gamut and 99% of the cinema standard DCI-P3 gamut covered.

    It’s a 15.4-inch panel with a resolution of 2880 x 1800 pixels, which equates to 220 pixels per inch. Images are packed with detail, and macOS does a great job of scaling programs to make everything legible, while ensuring high-resolution pictures and video can be seen in their full glory.

    15-INCH MACBOOK PRO – PERFORMANCE

    This is the only MacBook that comes equipped with a quad-core CPU, significantly increasing your options when it comes to multimedia work. The dual-core 13-inch Pros are hardly slouches and can manage photo editing and Full HD video editing just fine, but the extra cores here make a significant difference.

    The chip is the Intel Core i7-6700HQ, which clocks all the way up to 3.5GHz. More powerful options are available if you customise your order on Apple’s website, all the way up to a model that tops out at 3.8GHz.

    The i7-6700HQ is a year behind the 7700HQ in the Dell XPS 15, but it still puts in a great performance, not least due to the ridiculously fast NVMe SSD that comes as standard.

    MacBook PRo 15

    TrustedReviews only uses one cross-platform benchmark in its suite, but it’s easy to compare the Dell XPS 15 with the MacBook Pro in Geekbench 4: the MacBook Pro managed single- and multi-core scores of 4168 and 12,400, while the XPS 15 managed 4327 and 13,259. They’re minor differences, but that multi-core score will make a difference in video rendering tasks. Elsewhere, the differences are minor, and I’d even go as far as to say the butter-smooth macOS will help the Pro feel faster in non-intensive use.

    Graphics power comes in the form of AMD’s Radeon Pro 450, which is accompanied by 2GB of memory. It’s a handy chip for accelerating workloads in 3D applications and special effects in video editing software. However, its benefit in AAA games will be somewhat limited; even trying the ageing Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor benchmark at medium resulted in a choppy 27fps at just under Full HD resolution. eSports titles such as Counter-Strike will be just fine.

    It is possible to upgrade your GPU to a Radeon Pro 455 or 460, with the latter shipping with 4GB of memory. The desktop RX 460 is, again, a decent chip for eSports but will struggle to play the latest games at maximum resolution.

    MacBook Pro 15

    If gaming is something you really want to do, consider the Dell XPS 15 and its much more powerful Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050.

    15-INCH MACBOOK PRO – BATTERY LIFE

    Battery life is the one area of this device to have caused controversy over the past few months. This has mostly been down to the high expectations of owners of older MacBook Pro models, who have been forced to downgrade battery life in favour of the lower weight, but also due to software issues that appear to have been mostly fixed. In comparison to older models, the six or so hours you can get of non-stop online work isn’t a big problem, although the big-battery Dell XPS 15 will go a bit longer if you’re careful.

    In our cross-platform Netflix benchmark, playing an hour of Netflix consumed 20% of the battery, pointing to around five hours of playback at about half brightness.

    MacBook Pro 15

    I can see why owners of older models might be upset, but the trade-offs – for what is a desktop replacement, in my opinion – are worth it.

    SHOULD I BUY THE 15-INCH MACBOOK PRO?

    The 15-inch MacBook Pro is the most technologically advanced of all of Apple’s devices, and the most up-to-date as well. You pay a huge amount for its unique talents: the screen, the ThunderBolt ports, the keyboard, the build quality and the software to name but a few. And compared to the Dell XPS 15, the top-spec model of which barely touches the bottom-spec 15-inch MacBook Pro, it doesn’t look like great value in terms of performance.

    But it still can’t really touch it in most other areas. If you – or your business – are willing to pay for it, this is the ultimate pro laptop. If not, there are plenty of options on the Windows side for you to try: the oft-mentioned Dell XPS 15, the Razer Blade and the Gigabyte Aero 14 and 15 are all great alternatives offering heaps of power.

    Also consider the outlandish Microsoft Surface Book for portability and graphics performance, although you’ll sacrifice a couple of CPU cores for your troubles.

    Apple is expected to unveil an updated MacBook Pro line-up in June, so if you can wait, you should as you’ll likely get better specs for the same money, or get the 2016 model on a slight discount.

    VERDICT

    Amazing design for which you pay a huge premium.

    Laptops

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