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Apple MacBook Pro with Touch Bar (13-inch, 2017) review: Faster but still expensive

Written by Cliff Joseph, Contributor on
macbook-13-2017-header.jpg
8.0/10

Apple MacBook Pro with Touch Bar (13-inch, 2017)

Excellent
Pros
  • Ultraportable, slimline design
  • Weighs 1.37kg
  • Bright, colourful Retina Display
  • Kaby Lake processor update
Cons
  • Very expensive
  • No discrete GPU
  • USB-C connectivity only
  • Editors' Review
  • Specs

It's barely six months since Apple revamped the entire MacBook Pro range, introducing the eye-catching Touch Bar on several models -- along with eye-watering price rises, courtesy of Brexit. So the new models introduced at Apple's World Wide Developer Conference this month merely provide what Apple terms 'a refresh'. There was a new 'entry-level' version of the MacBook Pro - a 13-inch model without a Touch Bar that now starts at a still hefty £1,249 (inc. VAT). The high end of the range gets a boost with improved GPUs on the 15-inch models, reflecting Apple's belated discovery of virtual reality. However, the mid-range 13-inch MacBook Pro reviewed here merely gets a bit of a speed-bump, courtesy of Intel's 7th generation Kaby Lake processors.

There are two 13-inch Touch Bar models, as before, both of which retain the impressive slimline design of their predecessors. At just 14.9mm thick, 304mm wide, and 212.4mm deep, the MacBook Pro is quite a bit smaller than my ageing 13-inch MacBook Air, and only fractionally heavier, at 1.37kg. Prices start at £1,749 (inc. VAT, £1,457.50 ex. VAT, or $1799) with a dual-core Core i5-7267U processor running at 3.1GHz -- compared to the 2.9GHz of the 2016 edition -- along with 8GB of RAM and a 256GB solid-state drive.

macbook-13-2017-main.jpg

There are two Touch Bar-equipped 13-inch MacBook Pro models. Both have a Core i5 CPU, 8GB of RAM and four USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports. Storage is either a 256GB or a 512GB SSD.

Image: Apple

We tested the second configuration, which simply doubles the solid-state drive to 512GB, and costs £1,949 inc. VAT, £1,624.17 ex. VAT, or $1,999). Apple's build-to-order options are always pricey, but the lack of upgradeability means that it's wise to purchase the highest specification you can afford. Options available here include 3.3GHz or 3.5GHz processors for an extra £90 ($100) and £270 ($300) respectively; you can also double the memory to 16GB for a further £180 inc. VAT, £150 ex. VAT, or $200).

The attractive 13.3-inch Retina Display remains unchanged, with 2,560-by-1,600-pixel resolution (227dpi), although it still relies on Intel's integrated Iris Plus 650 for graphics work. That's our main criticism of the 13-inch MacBook Pro models, since a laptop costing well over £1,700 really ought to have a discrete GPU -- especially if Apple genuinely wants to be taken seriously by VR developers. And if you're going to charge a premium for a professional-quality display that supports features such as the DCI-P3 colour-space, then you need to provide professional-level graphics performance to match.

That said, Intel's integrated GPU acquits itself well, managing a respectable 41.6 frames per second when running the Cinebench R15 graphics benchmark. The Kaby Lake update for the main CPU is no slouch either, producing single- and multi-core Geekbench 4 scores of 4409 and 9255 respectively, compared to 3797 and 7540 for its Skylake predecessor -- an increase of almost 23 percent for multi-core performance.

Battery life is respectable, but not outstanding, and Apple's claim of 10 hours seems a little optimistic. The 500-nits Retina Display is so bright and clear that we were able to lower the brightness to 50 percent during our battery tests, which allowed the MacBook Pro to last for seven hours and fifteen minutes when streaming video off BBC iPlayer. If you're not online all day long then you should certainly get a full day's work out of the laptop, although the 10-plus hours that I get from my MacBook Air is still hard to beat.

macbook-13-2017-keyboard.jpg

The Touch Bar includes an integrated Touch ID sensor, and the 65-key keyboard is backlit.

Image: Apple

Conclusions

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The Kaby Lake update provides a welcome speed-bump for the various MacBook Pro models, and this 13-inch model is impressively slim and light for a laptop that packs a heavy-duty processor and a high-quality Retina Display. However, it remains extremely expensive, and we can't help thinking that many users would happily swap the Touch Bar's eye-candy for a discrete GPU that would turn the 13-inch MacBook Pro into a truly portable graphics workstation.

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