2017 MacBook Pro review: Lightning-quick with a killer display and looks to die for, it's still the one to beat

 
Steve Dinneen
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2017 MacBook Pro with TouchBar
5.0

In the new Netflix movie Okja, which is about a giant pig trying to escape from an evil mega-corporation, a besuited salary-man visits a remote South Korean mountain. He sits down next to a young farmer’s daughter and pulls out his MacBook Pro.

The girl’s eyes widen: “Retina display!” she gasps. It’s a bizarre piece of product placement that seems to suggest that even a girl who lives a reclusive existence atop a far-away mountain, whose only friend is a pig, is totally clued up about the razor-sharp display on Apple’s top-of-the-line laptop.

In fairness, it’s a spectacular display: super-bright, with incredible detail and depth of colour. But perhaps the strangest thing about this strange event in an altogether strange film, is that the girl wasn’t more interested in the Touch Bar. It’s this feature, after all, that has dominated headlines since it was first announced last year.

In a world of hybrid laptops with touch-sensitive screens, the rumour-mill was in overdrive about how Apple would respond. The answer was a tiny, touch-sensitive colour screen squeezed in where the F-keys once lived (RIP F-keys). This display changes depending on the app you’re using. If you’re editing video you can scroll through your timeline, in Calendar you can flick through months, in Safari you can see your bookmarks (a feature that’s lured me away from Chrome for the first time in years), and in Messages it suggests using the poop emoji. It also has a finger-print scanner so you can log in without typing your password, and pay for stuff using Apple Pay. I’m disappointed the Korean mountain girl didn’t get to give it a whirl; it would have blown her mind.

The problem with the 2016 Macbook Pro was that it pre-dated the latest Intel Kaby Lake processor, meaning early adopters missed out on the performance boost bestowed by the superior chipset, which is better able to stream 4K media and handle graphically intensive tasks like playing top-tier games or editing 4K video. Enter the 2017 Macbook Pro.

I reviewed the highest-spec 13.3-inch model, which comes with the Touch Bar, 3.1 GHz dual core Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM (configurable to 16GB of memory), 512GB SSD storage, four Thunderbolt 3 ports, and the Intel Iris Plus Graphics 650 graphics card. All of that will set you back £1,949. I don’t know how long a farmer on a remote mountain who only owns a single pig – albeit a monstrously large one – would have to save to afford this laptop, but I’m guessing quite a while. If you’re happy to sacrifice storage, you can drop down to 256GB and save £200, while the cheapest non-Touch Bar version is a more price-conscious £1,249.

At the top spec, it’s lightning fast. I booted up Total War: Warhammer, a real-time strategy game that finally made its way over to Mac in April. It’s hugely graphics intensive, with rank upon rank of fully-animated goblins and vampires and dragons, all marching across gigantic landscapes as flaming cannonballs whizz overhead. It looks glorious, the battles raging with nary a dropped frame. That Retina display really shines, with amazing detail discernible even on the 13.3-inch screen, and the sound from the internal speakers has real weight, too (although you’re obviously better-off with headphones).

The rest is pretty much the same as last year’s model: the same chassis carved from a single block of aluminium, the same 10-plus hours of battery life, the same lack of USB ports, meaning you’ll need to buy a dongle to juice your phone (I also miss the old magnetic charger: this one draws power direct from one of the Thunderbolt ports). It looks mean and sleek in Space Grey, just about pipping the HP Spectre and Microsoft Surface Book in the beauty pageant. The multi-touch trackpad is still the best in the business. The second-generation “butterfly” keyboard design also remains, which has been slightly contentious: to accommodate the amount of stuff inside without sacrificing size, the keys are necessarily shallow, but they’re also exceptionally springy. If anything my typing speed has marginally improved.

As ever with iterative releases, if you’re already the proud owner of a 2016 Macbook Pro, or even a generation or two before that, you don’t need to upgrade. But if you’re in the market for a laptop that combines power, portability and incredible good looks, you won’t find one better than this.

Read more: The six most important things about Apple's new MacBook Pro