Apple has rolled out a top-of-the-line upgrade to its MacBook Pro line.
It's no secret we weren't huge fans of the 2016 MacBook Pro. Barely faster at some tasks than our 2013 model, slower at others, with a loud keyboard, only USB-C ports, and no more volume keys, it failed to offer a compelling reason to upgrade. A mild 2017 refresh didn't help, but now with the 2018 refresh, we get a few key things that we have been waiting for from Apple for a while. If nothing else, seeing a real spec bump that will have noticeable benefits is major enough. That it seems to be happening on a regular cycle (something that isn't happening with the full sized pro, for instance), is huge.
This release ups the top-of-the line specs all around, with a 4GB VRAM Graphics Card, a 6-core processor from the latest generation of Intel CPU's that has been testing very well in the PC units that have hit the streets, and the option of upgrading to 32GB of RAM. It's not cheap, but if you make your living with these machines as many of us do, the power will be appreciated. Honestly, the 13" is even starting to seem appealing.
Apple's timing is even pretty good, since a lot of back-to-school shopping happens in August, and while they are pricey, you do sometimes see families splurge on a Macbook Pro as a "going to college" purchase, especially for the creative set. The 2016 upgrade started shipping in November, making them ill-timed with the academic year but woefully out-of-date by the time the next September rolled around. November is a time for Christmas rollouts, and the Macbook Pro is a bit steep for a Christmas splurge.
What still bothers us? We probably still hate the touchbar (we haven't used the 2018 one yet, but even if the bar is faster and better integrated it still seems worse than useless). Direct volume control is something we used constantly all day every day and giving that up for a touch menu just seems crazy. We're open to the idea that someone has created an app that makes a shortcut (Command +/- & delete?) for direct volume control. If not, someone, please do so right away. We hear some grumblings that the keys still aren't going to be dustproof, but since so many of us now use KB Covers or Logic Keyboard Covers, dust doesn't worry us too much. Beyond having a handy view of commonly used shortcuts, keyboard covers offer some (but not total) protection from spills, so we've gotten in the habit of just leaving ours on full time. Apple is claiming the keys are much quieter than the 2016 generation, which is a good sign, and we also heard that those keys got quieter over the lifecycle of the laptop as they were broken in.
One specification that some filmmakers will be annoyed by—but we are wholeheartedly in support of—is True Tone. Rolling over from the iPad, True Tone is the Apple technology for using sensors to automatically detect the ambient lighting conditions of brightness and color balance and adjust your screen display accordingly. As a filmmaker, this will be frustrating since it can lead to your image looking differently at different times of day, and it will especially drive you nuts if you get client emails at 2 am that they watched your review link and it looked darker than it did in the afternoon on their laptop with True Tone enabled. The technology is supposed to be so good that you don't notice it, but we aren't sure if is there yet. We don't hate it, actually, since we always encourage filmmakers and clients to find a way to watch the image on a properly calibrated monitor. The computer screen is a great way to watch edits for timing and framing, but not a great place to see color and brightness accurately. Thus, we aren't obsessed with the accuracy of the computer display itself and appreciate what True Tone is trying to do in terms of paying attention to how ambient light affects perception. We just hope it doesn't use the webcam camera, since we keep ours covered up. If it does, maybe someone will make a frosted sticker that still allows brightness and color to get through but its too diffused to invade your privacy.
We aren't going to get a multi-port Macbook Pro no matter how much we dream of life without dongles. And it seems like the Touchbar is here to stay at least another generation. Maybe it'll prove itself useful. In the meantime, the spec upgrades are so robust that it might be worth learning to live with those frustrations. If you don't need the latest and greatest horsepower, Apple is selling off the last of its 2015 inventory of Macbook Pro units with all the ports except Thunderbolt 3, and hardware volume buttons, with the top unit going for $2199, and Applecare+ available, giving you a powerful unit that would be under warranty until 2021. But without Thunderbolt 3 it won't work with things like the fancy new Blackmagic Resolve EGPU expander (officially, anyway; we're eager to see if someone figures out a workaround).
If you do go new, and it seems like the 2018 might be the revision worth the upgrade, 32GB of RAM is $400. While that is pricey for a 16GB of RAM upgrade, it ought to be well worth it as video files get bigger and bigger. Buy it now at Apple.
- Radeon Pro 560X with 4GB of GDDR5 memory and automatic graphics switching
- Intel UHD Graphics 630
- 15.4-inch (diagonal) LED-backlit display with IPS technology; 2880-by-1800 native resolution at 220 pixels per inch with support for millions of colors
- 500 Nits Brightness
- True Tone
- Configurable to 2.9GHz 6-core Intel Core i9, Turbo Boost up to 4.8GHz, with 12MB shared L3 cache
- Up to 4TB SSD
- 16GB of 2400MHz DDR4 standard, configurable to 32GB
- 4x USB-C Thunderbolt 3 ports