Apple’s other new MacBook Pro

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The entry-level MacBook Pro is a strange sort of beast. It’s at once aspirational and transitional, a lowest financial rung into the company’s top tier of devices that carriers the form factor and many of the hardware improvements of this latest generation, while leaving behind its most eagerly anticipated feature. And really, the device didn’t get much more than a passing mention during yesterday’s event, tossed into the bit at the end where Tim Cook announced pricing and availability.

This is the $1,499 version, a price that places it significantly higher than entry points of both the Air ($999) and MacBook ($1,299) – though, with a couple of clicks on Apple’s site, it’s easy to push the latter up to $1,749.

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For the company, the product hits the perceived sweet spot for customers who have been eyeing an Air, but are looking for something with a bit more muscle under the hood, coupled with the Retina Display they’ve long been dreaming of. Though the company is quick to add that the Air isn’t going anywhere for the time being, at least, and certainly there’s a lot to be said for keeping at least one of its laptops (just slightly) under the $1,000 price point.

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Let’s address the elephant in the room here. The Touch Bar is a no-go on this base-level unit. So, for those out there for whom the secondary display was a major selling point, move up a tier to the $1,799 version, pass go, this one’s not for you. The $300 price difference also includes a throttling of some internal specs and the loss of two of those four Thunderbolt 3 ports.

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Yes, you’re going to have to invest in some adapters here (you get one two-meter USB-C charge cable in the box along with the standard sized Pro charging brick) – unless, of course, you’d rather invest in new hardware. How many and how much of a hassle that ends up being is entirely dependent on your work setup. On the upside, both ports can be used to charge the system and a lot more power is passed through a single cord, so you can run power and display through a single cable. I do wish, however, that the company would have placed the two ports on opposite sides, giving the user a little more leeway with where to plug it.

img_2509What you do get, however, is a fairly significant bump up from the Air. It’s maybe not apparent at first glance, but side-by side, the different is clear. In the four years since the last time the company offered a significant upgrade to its Pro line, the company has clearly refined its manufacturing process a significant amount.

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Unlike the Air, the Pros don’t taper, maintaining a uniform width of 0.59-inches, which means they’re thinner than the Air’s thickest point (0.68-inches). As Apple also points out, the system’s overall footprint is smaller than Air’s – and three pounds, it weighs about the same.

The MacBook’s lid is now constructed of one single piece of metal, doing away with the black plastic hinge that’s marked previous metal MacBooks. The glowing Apple logo, meanwhile, has been replaced with the flush mirrored version you find on the standard MacBook. It’s a slick and svelte design, and undoubtedly one of the nicest and most solidly constructed laptops out there. The Space Gray version (the darker of the two options) is particularly striking, though it did pick up smudges like crazy.

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Open the laptop and you’ll likely be struck first by the size of the trackpad. It’s huge – 46 percent larger than the last model. That’s a lot of additional real estate for multi-finger gestures. The Force Touch technology has been ported over from the 2015 refresh, replacing moving parts with haptic feedback, offering up more pressure sensitivity in the process.

The new Pros are the first Macs to use the second generation of the company’s butterfly mechanism, which replaced the original scissor model, promising more stability in the process. I’ll be honest, I wasn’t a huge fan of typing on the last generation MacBook.

The new technology certainly marks a step in the right direction. The process feels more natural, and the keys have better give. I still prefer the tactile feel of older keyboards, but a lot of that may just have to do with familiarity. After all, the device was only announced yesterday.

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The Retina Display is notably improved. The difference between the Air and the new Pro is night and day. And there’s a pretty big jump over the last version, with a 67 percent increase in brightness to 500 nits, coupled with a jump in contrast, a quarter more available colors and color management built directly into the latest version of Mac OS. It really is a stunner and easier to see in a variety of lighting conditions.

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And as with the new iPhones, the company has given some extra love to the long-neglected speakers, two thin strips on opposite sides of the keyboard. The sound is richer than before, and the things get loud. Really, really loud. They’re good for casual listening and maybe an episode or two of a TV show. Anything longer than that, I would go with a pair of headphones or Bluetooth speaker. Also things start to deteriorate when things hit top volume.

Inside, you’ll start off with 256GB solid state storage (configurable up to a full terabyte on this model), 8GB of RAM (configurable to 16GB) and a 2.0GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor, all improvements over the comparable Air. The rated battery life is 10 hours – solid for a laptop, but two hours under the stated life of the Air.

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The entry-level MacBook is an unquestionable step up from the Air (though the loss of standard USB ports may be a pain point for some) and a definite upgrade for those still clinging to a 2012 unit. It’s a decent way to get into the Pro camp without spending an arm and a leg – for kicks, I configured a 15-inch with all the top specs and came out well north of $4,000. A hundred extra will get you the Touch Bar/Touch ID, a better processor, improved graphics and two extra ports, just to name a few. But, well, not everyone has a few hundred extra bucks to toss around. And hey, it has the added bonus of shipping today.