MacBook Pro 13″ 2017 Review

I think the picture really says it all.  The 13″ MacBook Pro is now my primary computer.  The 15″ MacBook Pro, and my Mac Pro are now sitting in storage, and will only come out for random tasks.

To be frank I’m surprised by this outcome.  I was looking for a laptop I could travel with, and that would have enough power to be able to encode 4K video in a pinch.  My main priority was a 512GB drive for storage so that I could offload files from my camera without worrying about filling the drive while on the road.  I had looked at the 12″ MacBook, but once you pay for the upgraded drive it just seemed like a better bet to go with the 13″ Pro.

I purchased the $1999 version with a 3.1Ghz dual core processor, 8GB of RAM and 512GB drive. I was really on the fence about dropping another $200 to boost the MacBook to 16GB of RAM.  I just instinctually felt like 8GB was far too low.  What got me to buy the 8GB version was that you have to special order the 16GB one.  I thought about it and figured since Apple has a 14 day return policy that I would get the 8GB version, play with, see where it failed, do a video bitching about it failing, and then buy the 16GB one.  To my surprise the 8GB really does seem to be enough!  Even when encoding 4K video there seems to be RAM to spare, and the system out performs my old 15″ MacBook Pro in general usage.

So to be clear… the 13″ MacBook Pro with 8GB of RAM does fine even with 4K video editing in Final Cut!

When you get to using the MacBook Pro it really is basically just another Mac.  The OS is the one you’re used to.  The Retina display is as beautiful as they always are. The keyboard is the same physical size as my 15″ one, and the Apple Bluetooth Keyboard.  The trackpad is bigger than the old laptop trackpads, but is smaller than the standalone Apple trackpad that I’ve been using for a couple of years.

As to the Touch Bar… I can say that in fact it exists! Yup… it’s right there… It provides you with additional information, such as as I type it offers auto complete options, but that information isn’t in my general line of site.  I can kind of see the bar changing out of my lower peripheral vision, but unless I focus I don’t know what it’s telling me. The only value I’ve found in it is the slider options.  For volume and brightness it’s nice to slide the setting to the best position, but that’s about it.  It shows things like open tabs when you’re in a web browser, allows you to see a YouTube video timeline, etc that looks good on paper, but is harder to use than simply pointing and clicking.

The Touch ID works darn well.  Having an iPhone I can say that the MacBook’s Touch ID doesn’t fail like the iPhones does.  Put my finger on and I’m in.  I haven’t used Apple Pay with it, but can’t imagine there will be an issue there.  The Touch ID is one of those things that I’m a bit pissy that I had to spend money on, but now that I have it would be hard to go back.

The Trackpad is as good and accurate as all Apple trackpads I’ve used have been.  It feels smoother to use, but at the end of the day is just another trackpad.  Some people complain about the size.  As said before this is actually smaller than the one I’ve been using for years.  I can’t really say if size matters that much.  I was happy with my 15″ and Air trackpads, and I was happy with my bluetooth one.  As to palm rejection.  Personally when I type I just don’t touch the trackpad. The edges of my palms rest on either side of the pad, and then the inside of my palms hover over it.  So I can say I haven’t had typing issues with the trackpad, but take that with a grain of salt.

The Keyboard feels good to use and is the standard size.  I’m not a picky typist so this is another aspect I don’t overly care about.  The one thing I dislike is how loud the keyboard is.  As someone who actually used a manual typewriter when I was a kid I can say this things sounds like one of those old beasts.  When you’re alone I guess it’s fine, but Spaghetti Monster help people working in open floor plans.  Seriously… this keyboard is the geek version of modifying the exhaust on a motorcycle.

As to the Ports… you get 4 USB C/ Thunderbolt 3 ports… That’s either OK with you or it isn’t. “Dongle Life” is real.  The one nifty thing I hadn’t though of is that now I can plug my laptop in on either side. So when I changed my desk setup today the cord wasn’t long enough to route to the left side, so I plugged it in on the right.  I’m sad the maglock is gone, but personally I’ve never killed a power plug on a laptop before so again am not overly worried.

The screen… is yet another Retina Screen.  However many more nits the thing has doesn’t really make a difference to me.

Battery life seems fine.  Actually using a system for all the things I use it for makes it hard to determine what the useful battery life will be.  I can say that I feel comfortable editing videos on battery, and doing normal tasks.  Once you go to encoding you start to burn the battery fast.

As for power one the nice things about them going to USB C is that you can pick up power banks with up to 14 hours of extra battery power.  As long as I planned appropriately, and had the budget, I could definitely see being able to fully edit and encode video on the road with a battery pack or two.

The overall fit and finish of the MacBook Pro again is as good as these things usually are.  It’s all aluminum.  Feels sturdy, and definitely isn’t flimsy.

One aspect of most reviews I’m a bit lost on is folks waxing lyrically about the speakers.  There are speakers to either side of the keyboard and they are… fine… just… fine… I’m am not an audiophile by any means, but can tell they just are not that impressive.  They may be better than most laptop speakers, but that’s not saying much. (The one thing I left on my desk when I cleaned off the old equipment was my Bose speaker bar.  Even a tone deaf geek like me has standards for audio!)

The final thing to say is that the MacBook Pro is silent all the way up until it’s not. Doing basic work such as typing this post doesn’t get the CPU fan working,  but going to YouTube an watching a few vids does.  Honestly it kinda sucks.  The cooling system is loud.  Having to turn up the volume on a video when the fan kicks on takes a bit of the awe out of the experience.  This is as it is.  The MacBook Pro gets really hot, especially when encoding, and there’s just very little room for airflow in the case.  For me this is an annoyance.  For anyone living is hot climates I would caution this might be a deal killer.  My thought is if it sounds like it’s straining in 75 degree weather, what would happen if you used it in 90 degrees?

Overall I’m happy with it.  I would have preferred not having a Touch Bar, and saving a few bucks, but that’s not an option.  The USB C connectors are a bit of a pain, but they also bring some unexpected benefits such as the power blocks.  The CPU fan is loud, but you can encode 4K video on a system the size and thickness of a spiral notebook that weighs 3  pounds.  You gotta pick your requirements.

For me a small, light, reliable, system that can encode 4K video is what I need.  This fits those needs very well, and as a professional the $2K cost is not exorbitant.  My MacBook Pro 15″ has lasted me nearly 4 years, and from a technical aspect is actually still more than good enough. If this lasts me even 2 years I can just wrap it up as the cost of doing business.

One caveat… I am entrenched in the Apple ecosystem.  I use Final Cut, Motion, Compressor, an iPhone, and apps I’ve purchased off of the App Store. As an overall system things work phenomenally well. (iCloud is even starting to impress me).  TO BE CLEAR: If you use Adobe products I’d probable stay away from this system.  FINAL CUT encodes 4K video well enough on 8GB of RAM.  I’m not sure 8GB is enough to even start Premiere.  In the whole Apple vs Windows debate I’d say the answer comes down far more on to what software you use for your workflow. If Apple apps work for you then this system is great, if you need other types of software Dell will probably do you better.

2 Comments

  1. thanks for your review, having purchased both the late 15″ MacBook Pro and 13″ I was interested in your thoughts. I was hoping for a video.. I guess this is now out of the question? I will be continuing my subscription with you as for the most part I enjoy your content. I did read today that Intel have now created a quad core CPU that should be suitable for the 13″ MacBook Pro! Look forward to updating in the next couple of years. Best wishes for your future endeavours!

  2. This is kind of a cheesy thing to talk about, but I do just fine with a google chrome book. The great thing that I have noticed about chrome books is that they are impervious to online threats. I totally keep a chrome book for web browsing at all times. You don’t have to keep antivirus up to date, you can go anywhere on the internet and the thing just doesn’t become laden with viruses like my Windows computer does. I will always keep a chrome book for casual browsing the internet as the worst virus threat I have gotten has merely forced me to shut the computer off and reboot. I browse anonymously as a guest and don’t worry if I stumble upon illicit content. The chrome book has lasted where a Windows computer would require constant re-installations of Windows and wiping the hard drive. So I keep a chrome book as my best malware defense against online threats. I do 90% of my internet exploration using a google chrome book which I don’t use for any other purpose. Does that seem weird?

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