Sturdy, sleek aluminum build. Beautiful display. Four USB-C ports with Thunderbolt 3. Excellent Category-leading 15-hour battery life.
Pricey. Competitors offer a 4K screen for less. Only USB-C ports, making adapters for legacy peripherals a requirement. Shallow keyboard.
- Bottom Line
This year's MacBook Pro is similar to last year's model, adding slight improvements in speed and major battery life improvements to the iconic design. If you're willing to pay the premium, it's the best large-screen Apple laptop yet.
The theme for 2017 at Apple seems to be evolution. There haven't been any revolutionary changes to the company's product lines this year so far, but this isn't necessarily a bad thing, since the good just keeps getting better. (See the iMacs we reviewed last month.) With its latest 15-inch MacBook Pro (starts at $2,399; $2,799 as tested), Apple opts for new processors—Intel's latest Kaby Lake generation—as the main focus of the upgrades bringing more speed and category-leading battery life to an already excellent, well-designed laptop with a big, beautiful display. This is the best 15-inch MacBook Pro yet. If you're a Mac user firmly set in the Apple ecosystem, looking to spend for a worthy upgrade, this top-of-the line laptop will not disappoint. That said, the MacBook Pro doesn't unseat the 2017 Dell XPS 15 Touch,which isjust as well built and delivers a higher-resolution 4K touch screen and better performance for almost $800 less, so it remains our top pick for premium desktop-replacement laptops.
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As Sleek As Ever
The 2017 MacBook Pro looks the same as last year's model, and the beloved aluminum build is as sleek and premium as ever. Our test unit is a sharp Space Gray (the laptop is also available in silver), measures 0.61 by 13.75 by 9.48 inches (HWD), and weighs 4.02 pounds. It's quite portable for a fast, high-end machine, a product area that Apple originally engineered with this very line. The size is nearly identical to the 2016 model (which has the same dimensions and is a few tenths of a pound heavier). The 2017 Dell XPS 15 Touch, which is aluminum with a carbon fiber keyboard deck, is just a little heavier and thicker, but in the same ballpark at 0.66 by 14.06 by 9.27 inches and 4.44 pounds. The Asus Zenbook Pro UX501VW-DS71T more closely mimics the look of the MacBook Pro than the XPS does, but is bigger than both at 0.8 by 15.1 by 10 inches and 5 pounds.
One of the first things you may notice on the new MacBooks is the huge trackpad, which measures 7.25 inches diagonally. You'll never feel cramped as you pan or use the gesture commands built into macOS, and the trackpad offers good palm rejection, which is important with all that surface area. It tracks smoothly and the various Force Touch presses, which allow you to click and hold down on the trackpad to take advantage of additional features work well, but I wish it was more sensitive to light taps for selecting files and folders without pushing enough for a click. This laptop wasn't running MacOS High Sierra during my testing, but you should be able to breeze through the new file system and updated applications with this touchpad when the new OS launches in the fall. On the other hand, the keyboard is very shallow. With so little key travel, there's no feedback to your key presses, so it feels like you're typing on a hard, flat surface. The keyboard is responsive, but I don't enjoy using it.
A Touch of Touch
This MacBook Pro includes the Touch Bar, which is the long, thin touch-enabled screen along the top of the keyboard that debuted on 2016 MacBooks. It's about 10 inches across, and both replaces the function keys and offers a wide assortment of software-specific buttons and shortcuts. It also has an integrated Touch ID sensor for security and login. The basic general functions include buttons that bring up a brightness slider, mute or alter volume, and let you access the escape function, which is in the bar's top left corner in lieu of a physical key. During more specific tasks like viewing pictures in Photos, it brings up editing buttons for functions like cropping and rotating, though I find these less convenient than well-known keyboard shortcuts, since you have to look away from the screen and peer over the Touch Bar to find the button you want. While viewing videos in Quicktime, you can scrub through the timeline by dragging your finger across the bar, which is one of the cooler features. You can view photos in a similar fashion.
There are some smart context-based commands in the Touch Bar based on your previous actions, as well, like showing options for text you've selected with the trackpad. Pressing and holding the Function button on the physical keyboard will display function keys on the Touch Bar. There are more contextual commands built into the bar, and overall it's a novel, if not essential, addition. It also makes me want Apple to make the jump to full-touch displays, which it still keeps strictly reserved for its phones and tablets, as it views macOS and iOS as discrete platforms. I've used plenty of Windows touch screen systems, and there were several times during testing when I wanted to transition from the Touch Bar (which forced me to look away from the display) to the screen with the my finger because it felt natural and intuitive, only to remember I couldn't. Touch screens aren't everyone's preference, but I think it's a nice option to have when you feel like poking at the screen for simple tasks instead of using the trackpad. You're paying a premium price for this notebook, and part of that extra cash is going toward the Touch Bar, which you can't opt of on the 15-inch model. Those who want their MacBook without the Touch Bar will have to go for one of the 13-inch screens, which start at $1,299. We'll have reviews of the smaller MacBook Pros soon.
This brings us to this screen, which is excellent. The 15.4-inch (2,880 by 1,800) IPS Retina Display is crisp, vibrant, and bright (500 nits, same as last year). It supports wide color (P3), and there are several scaled resolutions (from 1,024 by 640 to 1,920 by 1,080) to choose from if you'd like UI and text to appear larger. The color accuracy and gamut coverage will be important for photo editors, one of the creative types of users this sort of machine hopes to attract, though the screen is a bit prone to glare. The XPS 15 boasts a higher-resolution 4K touch display with 100 percent Adobe RGB coverage (an industry standard that includes a P3 setting). It's also a fantastic display in terms of clarity and vibrancy, and has the capability to view native 4K content, which the MacBook Pro's sub-4K screen does not. The speakers, located on either side of the keyboard, are clear and get loud enough to fill a smaller room, even if they lack the bass of more serious sound systems.
All of the ports come in the form of USB-C with Thunderbolt 3 (four in total, with two on either side). They offer support for charging and DisplayPort, with data-transfer rates up to 40Gbps thanks to Thunderbolt 3. The only other connection is a headset jack on the right side. Because there are no standard USB ports, you'll have to keep USB-C adapters on hand for connecting to HDMI monitors or traditional peripherals such as mice and external drives. Having only USB-C ports keeps the laptop slim, but it would be nice to have just one USB 3.0 (Type-A) port for something as simple as using a USB mouse. The XPS 15 and other 15-inch laptops like the HP Spectre x360 15 keep the chassis slim while including USB 3.0 and other ports—I'd trade the negligible difference in thickness for the added convenience of additional ports without much hesitation. The adapters also add up in cost, like the $9 USB-C-to-USB adapter, a $19 USB-C-to-Lightning cable for iPhones, and a $29 Thunderbolt 3-to-Thunderbolt 2 adapter. USB-C ports are the future of PC connectivity, but standard USB peripherals aren't dead yet.
For storage, our test unit comes with a speedy 512GB SSD, while the base $2,399 15-inch MacBook Pro comes with 256GB. Both can be configured up to a 2TB SSD, but solid-state storage is pricey, so maxing it out would drive the price up by a hefty $1,200. Other features include a 720p front-facing camera, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth 4.2. Apple covers the MacBook Pro with a one-year warranty and 90 days of technical support.
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Long-Lasting and Speedy
With a 2.9GHz Intel Core i7 processor and 16GB of memory, it should come as no surprise that this high-end laptop is fast. While I can't run our suite of Windows-based tests on the system, its speed is clear from the multimedia tests, which include timed video encoding and Photoshop filter runs. Its scores are better than those of most premium general-use laptops (outside of workstations and the most powerful gaming notebooks), in line with fast gaming systems like the Razer Blade (Early 2017) and the HP Omen 17. The XPS 15 slightly edged it on Handbrake and Photoshop, while the Pro has the better Cinebench score. Compared with last year's 15-inch MacBook Pro, the new model is slightly faster on average.
For 3D tasks and gaming, my 2017 MacBook Pro is equipped with a 4GB Radeon Pro 560, a modest discrete card that offers better-than-integrated performance. Neither this system nor the XPS 15 are gaming-centric, but the Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050 in Dell's less-expensive laptop is a more-capable graphics card. Both can be used for 3D applications, but the XPS has more power, and can play games smoothly in HD (neither can run titles at their native resolutions), albeit not at high settings. The MacBook Pro can do some side gaming, but expect to have to lower a fair amount of graphics options for smooth frame rates.
There's no contest in battery life, however: The MacBook Pro lasted for 15 hours and 9 minutes in our rundown test, beating all comers. Last year's model lasted for 11:19, while the Spectre x360 15 ran for 10:17 and the XPS 15 (and its power-hungry 4K screen) managed just 6:05. Smaller portable systems like the Razer Blade (10:36) more frequently have batteries that last for more than 10 hours, but it's less common in desktop-replacement laptops, and the 2017 MacBook Pro leads the charge.
The Best MacBook Pro Yet
Ultimately, the changes to the 2017 MacBook Pro are minor, with the battery life improvement best among them. It is slightly faster thanks to the Kaby Lake processor, but is otherwise similar in size and features. It you bought a MacBook Pro in 2016, there's no compelling reason to upgrade. If you're inexorably tied to macOS, or strongly prefer it to Windows, this is the best big-screen MacBook experience, and if you're willing to pay, it makes an excellent replacement for a generations-old Apple laptop. Mac users who don't want or need to drop the extra cash for this premium model can opt for one of the 13-inch MacBooks, which start at a much less wallet-draining $1,299.
If you're not an Apple adherent, the 2017 Dell XPS 15 Touch is pretty slick in its own right, and is simply faster and more fully featured, only lacking in battery life comparatively. It costs significantly less as tested, and on top of that, delivers a superior graphics card, display, and port selection, and thus remains our Editors' Choice for high-end desktop-replacement laptops.
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Matthew Buzzi is a junior analyst on the Hardware team at PCMag. Matthew graduated from Iona College with a degree in Mass Communications/Journalism. He interned for a college semester at Kotaku, writing about gaming. He has written about technology and video game news, as well as hardware and gaming reviews. In his free time, he likes to go out with friends, watch and discuss sports, play video games, read too much Twitter, and obsessively manage any fantasy sports leagues he's involved in. More »
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