Is Apple's 2016 MacBook Pro worth the upgrade? Find out!

Ritchie Ritchie Rene Ritchie has been covering Apple and the personal technology industry for almost a decade. Editorial director for Mobile Nations, analyst for iMore, video and podcast host, you can follow him on Snapchat, Instagram, or Twitter @reneritchie.

After a long 18-month wait, Apple has unveiled the all-new MacBook Pro (late 2016) and with it a bevy of new features … but not all the ones everyone was hoping for. If you've been waiting to upgrade from a MacBook, MacBook Air, or previous generation MacBook Pro, is now the time to do it? Let's take a look!

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Smaller and lighter

Almost every Apple product is the thinnest and lightest ever. There are two main reasons for that. First, thinner and lighter products are easier to pack up and carry around. Second, transportation regulations only allow for batteries to get so big, so as everything else shrinks or reaches its technological limits, the casing naturally gets smaller around them.

In other words, some of us might want thicker MacBooks Pro with bigger batteries, but Apple couldn't ship 'em to us and we couldn't fly with them, so that all goes into desktops and we get ultralights.

This year, that means a 13-inch that's 17% thinner and 23% smaller than last year's. It's also 12% thinner than the MacBook Air and the same weight!

  • If the size and weight of your previous MacBook or notebook was too much for you, you might want to upgrade.

Wide color display

The MacBook Pro has had high density Retina display for years now, but new this year is wide color. It's DCI-P3, the same digital cinema gamut introduced with the 5K iMac last year and the 9.7-inch iPad Pro and iPhone 7 this year.

Since iPhone 7 can also capture photos in DCI-P3, and macOS can manage profiles across devices, it means you can shoot in wide gamut on your phone and edit it on your MacBook Pro, and those reds and greens will stay looking bright and crips.

MacBook Pro also has the most advanced display Apple's ever made on a notebook, passing even the 12-inch MacBook. It uses many of the same technologies, including TFT, variable refresh, brighter LED with larger pixel apertures, UV photo alignment for deeper blacks, and a higher contrast ratio.

Once you see this display, you can never go back.

  • If quality of the display is important to you, and you want wide gamut, you might want to upgrade.

Bigger trackpad

A couple of years ago, Apple ditched the mechanical trackpad and went Force Touch. It let them remove the physical hinges, the buttons, and the previously powered clicks. It also made it possible for Apple to make the entire surface "clickable".

Now, with the 2016 MacBook Pro, they're using those advantages to scale up and fill almost the entire front with a Force Touch trackpad. 46% more than last year.

For gestures, it gives you a much broader canvas to work on. You can swipe, scroll, pinch, and zoom taller and wider than before. You can also Force Click across a much bigger surface.

It's not transformative by any means, but it's luxurious by trackpad standards.

  • If you enjoy yourself some trackpad, this is Apple's biggest MacBook Pro trackpad to date.

Keyboard

Back in 2015, Apple introduced the new 12-inch MacBook and a new dome and butterfly mechanism keyboard to go with it. Ever since, opinions have been hotly divided. Some like it, some hate it, and others don't like it as much as the previous, scissor switch version, but it's not a deal-breaker for them.

The 2016 MacBook Pro uses the second generation of those dome and butterfly mechanisms for a keyboard with roughly the same travel as the first. Apple says it's more responsive and more comfortable, though.

  • If you love the 12-inch MacBook keyboard, you'll love the MacBook Pro 2016 keyboard.
  • If you hate the 12-inch MacBook keyboard, well, you might want to avoid this one too.

Speakers

Apple has seriously upped their speaker game with the MacBook Pro 2016. They're back on the sides, even on the 13-inch model, and they sound great — both louder and clearer.

  • If you want great sound on your MacBook Pro, you want these speakers.

Performance

Both 13-inch and 15-inch MacBooks Pro use Intel Sky Lake processors. That's a one generation jump for the 13-inch and a two-generation jump for the 15-inch.

Why not next-generation Kabey Lake? It's not a real thing yet. It's just started shipping in a few configurations, but it takes months for Intel and Apple to integrate them into shippable products that sleep and wake properly, maintain power efficiency properly, and do all the other things we expect MacBooks to do.

RAM is still capped at 16 GB, because Skylake doesn't support more in low power configurations. Maybe next year in Coffee Lake or the year after in Cannon Lake. (So. Many. Lakes. Taking. So. Long.)

The 13-inch MacBook Pro has Intel Iris graphics, the 15-inch has AMD Radeon Polaris graphics. They're still no enough to drive VR, but they're an improvement over the previous generation.

Storage performance — how fast Apple reads and writes to the SSDs inside the new MacBooks Pro — continues to impress, with sequential reaching up to 3.1 GBps. You can also get up to 2 TB of SSD now, though at an incredibly steep price.

All this with all models hitting 10 hours of battery life.

  • If you want Skylake performance, you might want to upgrade.
  • If you want AMD Radeon Polaris graphics, you might want to upgrade to a 15-inch model.
  • If you want a system with more RAM and more powerful graphics, you might have to wait for the next iMac or look at something that runs Windows.
  • If you want 10 hours of battery life on a MacBook Pro, you might want to upgrade.

Ports

Real talk: You're losing USB-A, Thunderbolt 2, HDMI, and SDHC. You're gaining 2x or 4x Thunderbolt 3 / USB-C. And, yeah, you're keeping the 3.5 mm headphone jack.

If you have a lot of legacy displays, drives, and other peripherals, and are used to plugging your iPhone or iPad in with the cable that came in the box, you're not going to be happy with all the adapters you'll need to buy.

If you've been eying all new displays, drives, and other peripherals, and are okay buying a few new cables, then you'll be in heaven.

You can throw away dongles when you no longer need them. You can't transform a legacy USB-A or Thunderbolt 2 port to a modern USB-C or Thunderbolt 3 port when you want more of them.

The low-end 13-inch gets 2x TB3/USB-C. The high-end 13-inch gets 4x TB3/USB-C but only 2 of them are full-speed. The 15-inch gets 4x TB3/USB-C and all of them are full-speed.

And, oh yeah, that means the 15-inch can drive up to two 5K displays.

  • If you have a lot of legacy gear and hate dongles, you might want to wait a while.
  • If you've been waiting for the speed Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C bring, you might want to upgrade.
  • If you want four full-speed TB3 ports, you want the 15-inch MacBook Pro.

Touch Bar

The higher end 13-inch and every 15-inch MacBook Pro 2016 includes the new Touch Bar.

Apple still doesn't think hasn't evolved macOS to be touch-friendly and still doesn't believe multitouch belongs at a distance, and vertically, on a laptop screen. So, instead, we get a second screen where the function keys used to be.

OLED with a matte finish that matches the feel of the keyboard keys, it can display Esc and function keys, and system and media controls, just like the old function row. But it can also display curated, context sensitive shortcuts for whatever app you're working in at the time. That includes volume sliders, content scrubbers, color selectors, and anything else a developer can dream up.

If Apple's done it right, the power and productivity of keyboard shortcuts will be unlocked and accelerated for everyone. If Apple's done it right.

  • If you want a traditional function key row, Apple has a lower-end 13-inch MacBook Pro 2016 for you.
  • If you want the new Touch Bar, you want a new MacBook Pro 2016.

Touch ID

To the right of the new Touch Bar is Touch ID. Once exclusive to iPhone and iPad, now you can have it on the Mac. It works off an Apple T1 chip, which is like a tiny, integrated iOS device embedded right in the MacBook Pro. It handles the secure enclave and secure presentation of Apple Pay information, but that fusion is hidden away.

All you see is the sensor. Place your registered finger on it and you're authenticated! You can even use it for fast account switching.

  • If you've always wanted Touch ID on your Mac, you want to upgrade.

Who shouldn't upgrade?

If you need more than 16 GB of RAM, graphics capable of running VR or high-end gaming, or have tons of legacy cables to plug in and you hate, hate, hate dongles, you might want to wait a while or look elsewhere.

Who should upgrade to the 13-inch MacBook Pro 2016 without Touch Bar?

If you want a new MacBook Pro, like the 13-inch size, but have no interest in the Touch Bar, or you've always wanted a MacBook Air with Retina Display but don't want anything more, than the 2-port, function key-festooned version is for you.

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Who should upgrade to the 13-inch MacBook Pro 2016 with Touch Bar?

If you want all the latest technology — at least as much as can be packed into a device with 10-hours of battery life — but you want to keep it as portable as possible, and that Touch Bar and Touch ID are compelling, you want the new 13-inch MacBook Pro 2016.

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Who should upgrade to the 15-inch MacBook Pro 2016

If you want the most muscle Apple can currently cram into a MacBook Pro, with dedicated graphics, four full-speed Thunderbolt 3 / USB-C ports, Touch Bar, and Touch ID, then you want the 15-inch MacBook Pro 2016.

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