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Apple’s 2018 MacBook Pro changes everything except the things you want – ANITH
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Apple’s 2018 MacBook Pro changes everything except the things you want

Apple’s 2018 MacBook Pro changes everything except the things you want

Apple just unveiled a new MacBook Pro. And I’ve got some good news and some bad news.

Bad news first: Apple has done practically nothing to address the major concerns about the current MacBook Pro design that debuted in October 2016. There’s still a questionably practical Touch Bar in place of the function row. The laptop still relies solely on four USB-C ports and a headphone jack for connectivity. And the butterfly keyboard — which many consider a step down from the previous “chiclet” design and can often be notoriously inconvenient to repair — is still there (although Apple made it slightly quieter).

The good news is this isn’t just a spec bump, like the 2017 refresh was. The 2018 MacBook Pro, which goes on sale Thursday, is a serious upgrade over the previous generation, bringing new features, hardware, and integrations to what was already a powerful machine. Where the specs go up, they go up a lot, and in doing so address some of the biggest requests from creatives — Apple’s primary customers for the MBP.

Apple made sure to remind us of its target demo in an extended briefing on the new MacBook Pro that included several sessions with with various “pros,” including photographers, developers, engineers, and musicians. They even showed off the new Pro playing Fortnite at maximum resolution (it looked great and lag-free, of course).

Carlos Perez (right) directed the video for “Despacito,” which was edited on a MacBook Pro.

Image: Brooks Kraft/Apple

From Carlos Perez, the director who shot and edited the video for “Despacito” in an incredibly short time, to John Ciocca, an 18-year-old developer who created a speaking app to help his Down syndrome-afflicted brother Christian communicate, the message was clear: a new-and-improved MacBook Pro lets them do more in less time. Yes, Apple has now fully co-opted Microsoft’s productivity promise.

Keyboard, True Tone display, and ‘Hey, Siri’

So first things first: the new(-ish) keyboard. The 2018 MacBook Pros sport the third generation of the butterfly keyboard (the first came with the original skinny MacBook in 2015, and the second came in the 2016 Pros).

Apple says it didn’t make any major changes to the design of the keyboard, which I’m sure will disappoint anyone who’s encountered the “spec of dust” problem that’s even starting to trouble the “F” key on the loaner MacBook Pro I got just a few weeks ago to try out the beta of macOS Mojave.  However, it did make a few unspecified tweaks to make it slightly quieter.

Aaron Axelrod, an LA-based multi-medium artist, used the new MacBook Pro to quickly create Photoshop artwork out of high-res photos of bubbles, including this image of Apu from The Simpsons.

Aaron Axelrod, an LA-based multi-medium artist, used the new MacBook Pro to quickly create Photoshop artwork out of high-res photos of bubbles, including this image of Apu from The Simpsons.

Image: Brooks Kraft/Apple

How much quieter? I really couldn’t tell during the total of about two minutes I had to actually use it. However, it certainly wasn’t louder, and, as I hammered out some jumping activities of a certain quick brown fox, I felt the typing experience was a bit closer to the chiclet-style keyboard on my 13-inch 2015 MacBook Pro, which remains the best typing experience of any laptop ever.

Another feature in the new MacBook Pros that will affect every user is the True Tone display. Already a feature on the iPad Pro, True Tone adjusts the color temperature of the screen so it matches the ambient light. It can be a subtle effect, but fans of Night Shift will agree it makes a difference — especially if you’re a “pro” who generally has their head down on projects for hours and hours at a time.

Photographer Lucas Gilman uses the new MacBook Pro to help him create "gigapixel" images created from several high-res RAW images stitched together. The resulting files can be as large as 80GB, and the Pro's 4TB of storage make them more manageable without using external drives.

Photographer Lucas Gilman uses the new MacBook Pro to help him create “gigapixel” images created from several high-res RAW images stitched together. The resulting files can be as large as 80GB, and the Pro’s 4TB of storage make them more manageable without using external drives.

Image: Brooks Kraft/Apple

The 2018 MacBook Pros are also the first Apple laptops to get the T2 chip, first seen in the iMac Pro. A little background: The “T” chip, first introduced in the previous Pros, is a lower-power processor that controls a bunch secondary functions like the Touch ID fingerprint sensor, the Touch Bar, and more.

For the new Pros, however, the T2 gets new trick: enabling the “Hey, Siri” command — the first time it’s been on a Mac. Now, without pressing or clicking on anything on your Mac, you’ll be able to ask Siri to play a song, tell you the weather, or lower the shades. I expect most folks won’t get that excited by this since their iPhone has been doing this for years, but there it is.

Specs and upgrades

Design-wise, both the 15- and 13-inch 2018 MacBook Pro models look exactly the same as before. They’re still space gray, the trackpad is the same size, and the Retina displays have the same resolution (2,880 x 1,800 for 15 inches; 2,560 x 1,600 for 13) as before. The battery life also remains the same at 10 hours of active use. Pricing doesn’t change either: It starts at $1,799 for the 13 and $2,399 for the 15. (Yes, there’s still a $1,299 13-inch model with no Touch Bar, but it doesn’t get any of the upgrades.)

Beneath the chassis, though, the upgrades are considerable. All models now pack Intel 8th-generation processors, and the 15-inch can be configured with six-core chips, either a Core i7 or, if you want absolutely monstrous performance, a Core i9. That will boost your Mac’s turbo boost score to an unheard-of 4.8GHz, according to Apple. Apple also says it’s up to 70% faster than the previous 15-inch Pro.

Apple has also upgraded the 15-inch Pro to support DDR4 SDRAM chips so you can configure it with up to 32GB of RAM, addressing one of the main disadvantages the MacBook Pro had when stacked against its top Windows competitors like the Surface Book. The new RAM makes the machine more power hungry, though, so Apple increased the size of the battery to maintain the same spec. Overall weight (4.02 pounds) remains the same.

The 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar packs an Intel 8th-gen Core i5 or i7 (up to quad-core). RAM only goes to 16GB. Again, weight and battery life are the same as the previous generation. Apple says the new 13-inch up to twice as fast as the previous gen.

For graphics, the 15-inch uses a discrete AMD Radeon Pro chip with 4GB of video memory, and the 13-inch has Intel Iris Plus integrated graphics 655 with 128MB of eDRAM. With macOS High Sierra, Apple introduced official support for external GPUs for seriously graphics-intensive applications, and the new MacBook Pros take that idea even further.

Apple worked with Blackmagic Design to create an eGPU specific to the new MacBook Pros. The coffee maker-size machine costs $699 and packs AMD Radeon Pro 580 graphics, 8GB of GDDR5 RAM, a whole mess of ports (two Thunderbolt 3, four USB 3.0, one HDMI), and 85 watts of power delivery, which lets it charge your MacBook Pro at the same time it’s providing graphics. Nice.

Apple has also doubled the maximum storage on both models — up to 4TB on the 15-inch and 2TB on the 13-inch.

The new MacBook Pros get leather sleeves.

The new MacBook Pros get leather sleeves.

With the launch of the new Pros, Apple is also offering leather sleeves. These are based on the MacBook’s leather sleeve, and they come in Saddle Brown, Midnight Blue, and a new color, Black. They’re $179 for the 13-inch and $199 for the 15-inch.

New Pros… same as the old Pros

For many, it won’t matter how many tricks Apple’s stuffed into the new MacBook Pro — with no new ports and the same keyboard design, complete with Touch Bar, the new models will disappoint.

Leah Culver, CTO of Breaker, says the new MacBook Pro has improved productivity in building new versions of the company's podcast app.

Leah Culver, CTO of Breaker, says the new MacBook Pro has improved productivity in building new versions of the company’s podcast app.

Image: Brooks Kraft/Apple

To be fair, Apple recently introduced a new keyboard service program to address the maintenance issue, although the program main relieves the cost and doesn’t do much about how long it sometimes takes to repair. Apple claims the problem affects only an “extremely small” percentage of users, but surveys suggest a different story. And the issues with USB-C are now so myriad that it’s still far from the “universal” standard it was supposed to be.

However, after seeing how so many creative and scientific professionals use the MacBook Pro as their daily driver, it’s hard to make the case that Apple hasn’t given them exactly what they wanted — more power, and more flexibility (like external GPUs and truly massive storage) to use that power. Keyboards, ports… they’ll adapt. What matters most is doing computation-heavy tasks as quickly as possible.

The new MacBook Pros certainly do that. But they also show Apple is firmly committed to the vision of mobile computing it laid down in 2016. One has to wonder, though: Is this another act of “courage,” or is the company just being stubborn?

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Anith Gopal
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