Skip to main content

Why I skipped the Touch Bar on my new MacBook Pro

MacBook Pro with a cup of coffee and iPhone
MacBook Pro with a cup of coffee and iPhone (Image credit: iMore)

I'm typing this to you on a new MacBook Pro, the first Mac I've purchased since a refurbished 11-inch MacBook Air in mid 2011. While it's true I haven't bought my own new Mac since then, it's also a little misleading: I had a 2013 MacBook Air issued to me by my previous employer, plus I got loaner Macs from Apple to review, and I used a 2016 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar for months.

Now I'm my own boss, and Apple's loaners have all been returned. When I went shopping for a new Mac, I felt like I had an edge, since I'd used them all extensively before. Still, I found myself hemming and hawing over so many specs, like RAM and storage. But one thing fell into place pretty quickly in my decision-making process: No Touch Bar for me, thanks.

The Touch Bar is expensive

Unless someone else is paying, price is a big deal. Apple's website lets you configure your Mac with a faster processor and extra RAM and storage, but you'll see that price increase with every click. But before you even get to that build-to-order screen, you have to pick the base model, and if you're looking at a 13-inch MacBook Pro, the difference is striking: The model without a Touch Bar starts at $1299, the same price as an entry-level 12-inch MacBook. To get a Touch Bar, I'd be out at least $1799.

Since I choose the MacBook Pro without the Touch Bar (let's call it the MacBook Pro Escape for simplicity, and because it has an Escape key), I could spend the extra $500 upgrading the specs that I think really matter: It's $200 to go from the stock 8 GB of RAM to the max of 16 GB. Another $400 got me from the stock 128 GB of storage to 512 GB. That's $1899, which is plenty, but if I'd gotten a Touch Bar model with that much RAM and storage, it would be $2199. Breaking the $2000 mark on a 13-inch machine is tough for me.

Forgoing the Touch Bar also saves money for USB-C cables and docks, by the way, like a Lightning cable to plug in an iPhone or iPad (opens in new tab) or a USB-C hub to connect to a monitor or other USB Type A devices.

I don't need the ports

The Touch Bar isn't the only thing missing from the MacBook Pro Escape. It's also limited to two Thunderbolt 3 ports, while the Touch Bar models all have four. But I don't really notice. Two ports is enough for me because all I really plug in to this Mac is the charger.

Two ports, that would be enough

I have a small USB-C dock (opens in new tab) for when I need to connect something, but that doesn't happen very often. I need it to plug in my iPhone on the rare occasion I need to transfer a photo and AirDrop isn't working, and I connect my USB Type A podcasting mic once or twice a week at most.

One caveat: I don't use an external monitor, largely because this Retina screen blows away any monitor I own right now, and I'm not in the market to buy a 4K or 5K display right now, especially since I just dropped so much on this computer. Plenty of docks support an external monitor (mine has HDMI — I've just never used it) and if you get one with passthrough charging, you can charge your MacBook Pro and connect the display through the same Thunderbolt 3 port.

Look, I get it. Removing all the ports from the MacBook Pro in one fell swoop was a dramatic move on Apple's part, and users like you and me could be forgiven for assuming we need as many of these new Thunderbolt 3 ports as possible to replace everything we've lost. I've been pleasantly surprised to see that I really don't need that many ports. The two on this MacBook Pro Escape are just right.

I miss Touch ID, but not Touch Bar

Rene says he can tell when a new feature, like the Touch Bar, is compelling if he misses it when using an earlier device that didn't have it. After going from a tricked-out MacBook Pro with Touch Bar to this MacBook Pro Escape, I've found I really only miss Touch ID.

Touch ID is more useful than Touch Bar

Touch ID on the MacBook Pro (Image credit: iMore)

The Touch Bar is admittedly cool. It's a much better way to pick out emoji than pressing Command-Control-Space and clicking through menus. Still, for a $500 surcharge, it better do more than speed up my emoji workflow. I use plenty of Apple and third-party apps that put commands on the Touch Bar, like Pixelmator, Pages, Byword, and Excel. I just never found myself using the Touch Bar buttons, in favor of more familiar interfaces like the keyboard and trackpad.

Since developers can't count on everyone having a Touch Bar, any button that's in the Touch Bar is simply moved from the main interface — those apps don't have extra abilities, just a different layout. I'd rather set up a keyboard shortcut for a menu option I use constantly than have to redirect my eyes and my hands to hit that button on the Touch Bar.

Touch ID, however, has no analogue on this MacBook Pro Escape. To unlock my Mac, I have to type in my passcode or use my Apple Watch. If I want to use Apple Pay in Safari, again I need my iPhone or Apple Watch to authenticate the payment. But the thing I miss most about Touch ID on a Mac is using it to unlock my 1Password vault. I'm sure someday Touch ID will be on every Mac, and I'll probably continue to be jealous until I have it again. (I just didn't want to pay for it.)

Touch Bar or no?

What do you think? Did I make a smart decision, or do the MacBook Pro with Touch Bar's extra ports and better graphics chip make it worth the extra money? Toss in your two cents in the comments, or visit the forums to talk through your own buying decision.

Susie is a tech-obsessed writer and mom, and former Executive Editor of Macworld and Mac|Life. Follow her on Twitter @sfsooz.

84 Comments
  • Short of Touch ID I don’t use the touch bar unless I `think about it. Yet I’m also using my iPad Pro most of the time nowadays and with iOS 11 and my financial program that only runs on a computer soon coming to iPad, I might just sell my laptop and reduce my debt even more (my goal for end of year is to only buy tech I can pay for) so you did good.
  • May I ask why you didn't opt for the 12" MacBook? For 16GB RAM and 512GB SSD you'd have paid $1799 instead of $1899 and gotten a lighter machine to boot. Do you need Thunderbolt 3? I've found the 15W processors aren't that much faster than the 5W processors.
  • Her choice is a faster machine with a larger display
  • I try to future proof my purchases as much as I can since I buy Macs so infrequently. (I'm really pretty cheap by nature.) So Thunderbolt 3 was a selling point, although I don't really need it, ditto the extra RAM. Most of my work is very light but I'm getting more into audio and video editing, albeit still light! At the end of the day the MacBook is nice, I like the fanless design, but I think for a machine I want to last five-plus years, the extra hundred is worth going Pro.
  • My concern would have been the processor in the model without touch bar. My understanding was that they're using the lower power versions. Though one could be forgiven for assuming that they're just as powerful given how little information Apple gives about the differences on their website. Either way I'd have bumped the processor up to the fastest available at the time.
  • Depends what you're using it for. For simple browsing and home office stuff you can probably get away with it. And if you're doing processor intensive tasks such as video editing you'll need to pay upwards of 3k to get a machine with a gpu up to task, the base models of all the MacBook variants are pretty lethargic.
  • I have the touch bar and I didn't really think much about it at first, just used the TouchID really. But as more programs have started to use, I've come to love it. I really find it useful with Word. The only thing I missed was the physical escape key since I spend a lot of time in vi, but remapping caps lock worked out better for me since it is easier to reach. I like that remapping so much, that I've done it on all my systems.
  • It is nice as a kind of autocomplete in word-processing apps, if you aren't sure how something's spelled, you can give it a try and hope the correct spelling pops up in the QuickType offerings. Most of the time when I'm tying, it can't keep up. Remapping the Escape key on all your systems is super smart!
  • I regret getting a MacBook Pro with the Touch Bar. I have almost never used what's supposed to be advanced about it, and it's inconvenient when having to tap more times to change the volume or brightness. The 4 USB C ports was also a terrible design. It's a nice idea but using those ports for power charging is awful. The MagSafe is no longer used so if you bump the power cord the whole laptop will be pulled to the floor. I would think that Apple would be testing their product's safety before selling them... but apparently not.
  • You know what's cool about the brightness and volume? you can tap and slide. just don't pick your finger up. I think Belkin made a charging cable that breaks away a la MagSafe, but I haven't tried it myself yet.
  • Yeah there's not really extra taps for the volume, if anything it's more taps on the non-TouchBar versions, since you have to keep pressing it to go up or down
  • There is a Griffin charging cable that has a breakaway design. I'm surprised Apple hasn't released one yet using their MagSafe patents.
  • I opted for the non touchbar MBP to. Yes TouchID would be useful but the touchbar in general looks gimmicky to me. Reminds me of CoverFlow. Looks cool in a demo but not all that useful
  • Definitely not needed, but I'd say it's useful for me. I do light to medium video editing. Scrolling thru clips and having shortcut keys pulled up automatically in Final Cut Pro really helps my workflow. Ironically, touch ID is less useful for me than touch bar. Mainly bc I tend to completely shut off my laptop vs putting it to sleep, which renders touch ID useless.
  • Any particular reason you shut down your Mac? Sleeping is quicker and it barely uses any power when sleeping
  • I use CoverFlow when going through a folder with many images or PDFs, it's incredibly useful for these purposes, it's not just a visual toy
  • you made the right decision. when the touch bar came out last year, i thought it was a gimmick. 9 months later and... i still think it's a gimmick. it's an unnecessary, expensive, complex piece of hardware taking up space that's better used by a discrete graphics chip. please convince your readers to demand macbook pros without the touch bar. maybe that'll get apple to dump it. i'm still waiting for a 15" without the touch bar before i upgrade.
  • You know, sales figures are what will convince them. So in a large part of the Mac market, if it sells poorly, then they'll do something new and proclaim it the "new best thing ever."
  • Do you have a Mac with the TouchBar? The majority that are using them find the TouchBar really useful, I can't see it going anywhere anytime soon
  • IMO, the TouchBar is a flawed design that's a "workaround" for the lack of true screen touch. You can type and mouse without taking your eyes off the screen. Likewise with a true touch screen in Windows 10. But you can't really use the TouchBar without looking at it. However, my opinion is only marginally informed, given that I don't own a laptop that has one. But my co-worker has one that I've played with, and really didn't like the experience. He's had his for some time now, and he simply doesn't use it. JMO.
  • I don't personally think Apple would implement something that's a workaround, I think Apple are making it pretty clear that they don't want to go down the touchscreen route for their Macs, and there's a lot of strong points in favor for not going that way. The iPad shows they can develop a touch-friendly interface, so if they wanted to put a touchscreen on the Mac I'm sure they would
  • No I don't, but I see the logic behind Apple's decisions, whereas you just go on a kneejerk reaction and say "Microsuft dun it, y not Appel?" without evaluating why they haven't done it and the disadvantages of doing it
  • It's to emulate your stupid responses, and how I think you sound whilst you're being a keyboard warrior behind your computer
  • Apple are realists, because real people use their products every day and love them
  • Windows devices have always slaughtered Macs, solely because of price
  • I'm assuming this article is talking about the 2017 models? I bought a 2016 touch bar model earlier this month only bc it was on sale for $1499. The non touch bar model was still
    at $1299, so I figure $200 for 2.9 ghz vs 2.0 ghz chip +some convenient but definitely unnecessary features was worth it. However, if Apple had offered a faster chip sans touch bar, I definitely would've opted for that model.
  • Is that a cup of tomato soup?
  • I am also bought the one without touchbar
    - on 13 inches /w tb , two extra ports on the right run only in half speed
    due to an internal hardware architecture design reason.
    - Kaby Lake on w/o tb already has a great performance
    and powerful enough for all task that I do , no need to pay big amount
    of money for slightly more powerful CPU on tb model.
    - w/o tb get better battery life
    - I save up the money for upgraded RAM to 16GB just like you , 8GB will
    not last so long.
    - I stay with 256 GB , Apple storage is so expensive I am sure that
    there must be Chinese company working on this and we will see it
    soon on Aliexpress. On w/o tb you can upgrade your storage later but
    /w tb it is soldered on logic board.SSD has a life span , in tb model you
    will have an only choice which is buy a new one and also for a data recovery reason , In case that Macbook Pro is broken you can swap it to
    other machine.
    - Not only when you buy , also a repair cost for tb is expensive !
  • Why people would trust their personal data to an Aliexpress company is beyond me. http://www.theregister.co.uk/2016/11/15/android_phoning_home_to_china/
  • I went without the TB as well. Got 16 gigs and 1 TB of storage, love my MB escape.
  • I'd like to ask, how many of the Touch Bar shunners use the function keys except when you can't avoid it? I really hate the old function keys, and stay away from them as much as possible. I'd like the Touch Bars, I'm pretty sure, except for the money angle. But then, to be honest, I've never owned a portable Mac. Always had the Mac SE/30, iMac, G4 tower, G5 tower, and now the 27" iMac Retina, then iPhones and iPads galore. This makes me a minority, I suppose.
  • The only time I've ever used the function keys is for video games, that's it. Nothing else uses them, at least for my purposes. Those purposes include developing applications, photo editing, and general tasks such as browsing the internet, checking emails, general app usage
  • Ha!
    Your arguments sound like the ones I make when I talk about why I bought the 13" MacBook Pro (mid-2012), the last one with the built-in Superdrive, the last one with a non-Retina display, the last one with all those ports along the left side, the last one that can be easily upgraded by simply removing about a dozen miniature Phillips-head screws.
    The real reason I got it in mid-2013 was that was the only one offered by the catalog company that would give me credit at the time and I wanted something (ANYTHING!) that would run the recently Mavericks OS (who says dynamic RAM compression and low-level power use reduction aren't sexy?). I just upgraded the RAM in this to 16 GB and I hope to replace the 500 GB spinning hard drive with a 2 TB SSD soon.
    I look forward to replacing its battery when that becomes necessary. But I do have my eye on these new MacBook Pros. I see that MacBook Pro "Escape" as filling the place THIS machine held for so long until they finally discontinued it only last year.
  • I’m always surprised at how stultified so many computer users are. While I haven’t bought a new notebook in a while, because I do so much on my iPads, particularly my iPad Pro 12.9”, I’ve used the new Macbook Pro with the Touch Bar. If you’re willing to change your built in habits, it’s really good. It does make many thing easier. It allows things that are a hassle to be more easily done. But you have to use the software where it’s useful. If you don’t use that software, it won’t make much of a difference. I’m looking forward to where we’ll see all keys as remappable. But I suppose there will be those to whom that will be frightening too. As far as the price goes, yes it does seem to be a bit expensive. But, you know what, if you’re a real professional, and this being bought for business, your accountant will be able to depreciate this over three years, as is done with all other expenditures in business hardware (and sometimes, software). So the cost won’t be as much as you think. Of course, if you’re not really a professional, but you like to think you are, that’s different.
  • The TouchBar is definitely one of those where if you take the time to use it, and use applications that use it, it will really benefit you.
  • It's a reasonable choice to save money and skip the Touch Bar. My current most common uses of the Touch Bar are the sliders for volume and brightness (somewhat preferred over the old button) and highlighting text in Preview in PDF documents, including picking the color. I'm hopeful app developers will make the Touch Bar more useful in the future. With the addition of touchID, extra ports, and slightly faster graphics card (helpful for connecting to 5k display), the additional $300 cost made sense for me.
  • Touch bar is the best thing to happen to the MacBook Pro. If you haven't got the money then don't buy but why try and justify your purchase Susie.
  • +1, agreed
  • You agree with paying a ridiculous premium price for a niche feature? As often as you talk about Samsungs "gimmicks", it's surprising you're so on board for this Touch Bar. It's probably safe to say that anyone who jumped on the touch bar bandwagon probably wasted their money and they'll realize it when the prices for these models drop in the near future.
  • The difference between the Touch Bar and the Samsung's "Edge" display, is that the Touch Bar actually offers a productivity benefit. The "Edge" gives you, what, a quick menu which could still be implemented on a flat screen? And it also gives you a distorted display at the edge
  • I use the Edge screen to quickly check my calendar without leaving an app, fast calling contacts, and using tools such as compass. These are all incredibly useful and increase my productivity considerably.
  • I own the S8....there is no distortion. You're reaching.
  • That's fine, plenty of people are enjoying their Macs without the touchscreen, they know that a touchscreen would only hamper their productivity
  • That's fine, plenty of people are enjoying their Macs without the touchscreen, they know that a touchscreen would only hamper their productivity
  • I have a feeling if Apple implemented a touchscreen you'd find a reason to change your tune on this.
  • Only if they implemented it in a way that worked well, I'm just struggling to see that at the moment
  • These tasks require an interface which presents a bunch of tools, that of which you'll have seen if you've used video/music/photo editing software. To place all of these tools on a touchscreen, they require larger buttons to accommodate for a comfortable touch-area, which means there isn't enough space anymore to fit all the tools. This means that tools have to be hidden behind menus or moved around into unintuitive places, and this is how it hampers editing
  • You can't just magically "use" the touchscreen and it'll do what you want. The interface needs to be designed specifically for it. Have a look at some design apps on the iPad, and you'll see that the design is different to how it would be on desktop
  • Absolutely, I saw it being used for Photos and Photoshop (I'm a daily Photoshop user since 1992) and knew instantly that I wanted it. This is another one of those future-looking features Apple creates, and everybody (supposedly) hates, until others show them how it's actually used. Then they're going to regret they didn't get it when all the apps are using it in a year or two, but they're not buying another laptop for at least six years. I see this article's premise as partially short-sighted. Sure, save $500. That's not an insignificant sum, even for a Mac. What I want is a keyboard with a Touch bar for my Mac Pro, but I won't be paying $650 for it! Some people just assume that amount of money isn't justified, when in fact, the TouchBar and TouchID are basically being controlled by an Apple watch inside.
  • Except Apple didn't create it. Microsoft had a keyboard that did all this 7 years ago, and Razer a couple of years later.
  • Microsoft had tablets before the iPad existed, but who really made tablets take off?
  • Great article. I did buy a touch-bar 13" MacBook Pro, with a 2.9GHz i5, 16GB Ram and 1TB SSD. To be honest, the touch bar is a gimmick. I am slowly getting used to using it, mainly for font colours when I am editing documents, but also for other stuff. I don't see it ever being a major part of my workflow, but perhaps it will be useful for photo and video work later.
    I had a simple requirement, I can only buy a machine every 3-5 years - and like any major purchase it has to be planned into the family finances. This means I try and get a future proofed machine to some extent. Hopefully what I have will be a daily drive for a long time.
    I am kinda bugged by the immediate processor upgrade that was dropped in recently, but that tech moves so quickly it was inevitable.
  • TouchBar will become really useful when all the big applications support it. It really shows its benefit in applications such as Photoshop and Final Cut Pro
  • Yes, I was sure I wouldn't get a TouchBar machine until well after WWDC when developers would learn how to use it. The big apps already support it, but a lot of the little apps need to as well to make the TouchBar really useful.
  • I just got the 2017 MBP non touch bar model as well. It wasn't a complicated thought process though.. I don't like the touchbar having tried it out. I don't want to get used to it. I think Apple should idea do a proper touchscreen or don't do anything. The touch bar is a weird compromise. That said, my new MBP is a very nice computer. PS: Love the keyboard everyone seems to hate.
  • Susie, couldn’t agree more. It's the old Apple game of wanting you to buy features you don't
    want to get a feature you want. When faced with the same dilemma, I opted for a refurb 15" Retina 2015
  • Indeed TouchID is a big missing piece, but you don't feel it when you got an Apple Watch!
  • That is a great point. After I gave my daughter my MacBook and took her 2012 MacBook Pro so she could have a better Mac, and I could justify a new MacBook Pro this fall, I find I miss unlocking with Apple Watch a significant thing I miss.
  • "Why I skipped the Touch Bar on my new MacBook Pro" Wish it was possible to skip that enormous trackpad. The one on the MacBook is more appropriately sized.
  • Not knocking it, I'm sure it'll come in handy for many, and perhaps even for me in the future. But in the present I have no real use for it.
  • As an aside: funny how some will drop hundreds of dollars every year or two (or three) for a new phone, or even spend that much on accessories (cases, smart watches, etc.) alone per year, but the idea of spending $1.8K on a laptop that will be most likely used for 5+ years seems like lunacy. I've been using Macs since 1998, and have only paid full price for two of them (a G4 PowerMac the year before the G5's came out, and a 2013 MacBook Pro that I paid close to $1.7K after taxes and all. I used that particular G4 up until 2010--nearly 8 years-- and am still using the 2013 MBP--don't plan on upgrading for another two years or so.) My first Mac, a beige G3 was giving to me by my girlfriend at the time and I had purchased a used G3 and earlier model G4 off eBay prior to that late model G4. I also owned a 2007 MacBook I got from a friend. Anyways, considering that smartphones and tablets will never match the raw computing power of a laptop or desktop, dropping near $2K on a laptop is way more worth the investment and bang-for-buck than a smartphone or tablet any day of the week assuming you need that power. I for one, do. However, I get it if you don't need the Touch Bar. If buying today, I'd likely not go for it, either.
  • You want to talk about gimmicks, well what about my idea of replacing the touchpad with a screen that you can use an Apple Pencil on to edit photos/videos etc? It's my idea for adding more touch to the Mac without overhauling MacOS to make everything touch-enabled.
  • Once again, Macworld loses their best n' brightest and iMore is there to scoop them up!
  • This site has become such a horrid clusterfuck that it's almost impossible to navigate it and find the most recent post. Especially because they change one word in a 2 year old article and call it new. This is honestly the worst mobile news site, both android and ios that I've ever had the displeasure of viewing. Maybe enough people will stop coming here and go to a real site and it will make the dummies that run this site realize they are doing it wrong because I'm surely never going to visit it again and it's a shame because I actually used to like this site before they junked it up with more ads than I can count and a layout that someone that wears a helmet on the short bus came up with.
  • Bye, Felicia.
  • I have to agree. Its completely more difficult to navigate.
  • So when is the TouchBar coming to the iMac? THAT'S when I'll know Apple is serious about this new innovation.
  • I'd like to know this too 🖥
  • In my case it would be "How I skipped the new MacBook Pro". I was due to upgrade mu 2010 13" MBP 8 GB RAM - which is still running fine thank you - but got the previous generation MBP 15". I like the updated technology but was not willing to pay $1,000 more for features which are nice to have but can really live without them for now (and hopefully a long time), have a non-upgradeable laptop, and get dongles for connectivity while the USB-C finally settles all over. Besides, I do need the ports and the capability of upgrading the SSD as they get more affordable. Will wait for future versions and will see...
  • If it had touch ID I would have also give for the non touch bar version. But instead had to buy the useless touch bar version. Grr
  • Mimimimi.. and your useless rant has what to do with the topic?
  • I really like touch bar and got used to it very quickly. Now when I switch to my iMac I really miss it, especially Touch ID and emoticons... 👌🏻☺️
    I wouldn't buy another laptop without touch bar.
  • Same, I love it, find it really useful
  • Not sold on the touch bar either. I'm hoping they drop it in future releases but I guess it will depend on sales.
    I voted with my dollars and bought the non touch bar model.
  • You hope they drop the Touch Bar despite having never used it? That seems a bit silly
  • I've used a touchscreen, believe it or not I have something called a smartphone, which has a touchscreen
  • I've tried it in stores, tapping small buttons on apps that haven't been updated for touch is a bad experience, and there's still many apps on Windows 10 that haven't been updated for touch
  • Touch Bar supported apps are increasing at a much quicker rate than touchscreen optimized apps for Windows
  • I wonder about the Touch Bar, I was half counting on it being on the new iMac keyboards. A function row with static labels but dynamic functions has always irked me, and now we can do better! Or can we? I want to find out for myself. At least it looks really cool.
  • I need and use all the ports on my current 15" MacBook Pro Retina. When I told the Apple Store sales guy that I prefer a MacBook with a full compliment of ports, without using dongles, he informed me that the new MacBook is the where the market is going. I told him, "I'm the only 'market' that I care about." The new iMac got it right, USB and USB-C. Any "pro" machine should have both...plus a SD card slot.
    As far as the TouchBar goes, if every Mac keyboard does not have it, how can you get used to it? I work on both iMacs and MacBooks all the time. Looking up and down to use it makes no sense.
  • Another thought: Reading the comments that justify Apple removing ports by saying "I don't need it," must be consumer music to Apple's ears. Power users and pros need more in a laptop, but Apple has gone away from all that.
  • Touch ID I liked, Touch Bar not a fan. Maybe if I used it more and with more intensive apps it may be found to be useful but for my use not worth the price.
  • I actually don't want the Touch Bar, so that limits me to a 13" (or at least some of the features of the 15" I would like, such as quad-core or more ports). Given Apple's current offerings, it might push me back to a desktop and MacBook instead of a MacBook Pro... just when the MacBook Pro has almost gained the ability to be a desktop replacement. Kind of a shame, IMO.
  • I could take or leave the touchbar bar but that is not the only thing you lose when you go to the cheaper macbook pro. If not I would be more than happy to take that over the touch bar one