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15" MacBook Pro (Late 2016, Touch Bar)

Editor's rating (1-5): rating starrating starrating starrating star

What's Hot: Even thinner and lighter, very attractive and well made. Fantastic display, excellent OS.

What's Not: Low travel keyboard, oddly huge trackpad, not much of a performance improvement over older models.


Reviewed November 26, 2016 by , Editor in Chief (twitter: @lisagade)

2016 15" MacBook Pro

Well, things certainly aren't boring. The new MacBook Pro has a keyboard that you'll either love or hate, Apple has gotten rid of all currently popular ports except the headphone jack and the trackpad is big enough to swallow a baby rabbit. The good news is that the display is stunning-- it's insanely bright by laptop standards and it has the wider gamut DCI-P3 color standard. The processor has finally moved up two generations and the AMD dedicated graphics are now standard for the 15" MacBook Pro. Oh hey, the speakers are excellent by laptop standards too, and surpass even the excellent speakers on the outgoing model. Those currently annoying USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports make this Mac future-proof (at least in terms of ports), even if it means expensive dongle hell today...and likely next year too. Apple's definitely ahead of their time here, since USB-C and Thunderbolt 3 are still in their infancy and there are quality and compatibility issues with USB-C products currently on the market. Some folks believe this will drive peripheral makers to adopt USB-C in droves, but given that Apple has just 7.5% of PC (yes, a Mac is a PC too) marketshare, and that two years of the 12" MacBook haven't made the selection blossom, I have my doubts. Apple is a huge player in the phone market, not in the PC market.

15" MacBook Pro

We've already reviewed the 13" MacBook Pro base model for late 2016 (the one with Fn keys rather than the OLED Touch Bar). Many of the same themes will continue here, including qualms with the astronomical price tags, even by Apple's standards, and the fact that this is more the MacBook Chic than Pro. At the same time, it's hard to deny that these are elegant, extremely well put together aluminum unibody laptops that are thinner and lighter than much of the 15" competition. There are tradeoffs to make a 15.4" quad core laptop with a high-resolution display that weighs just 4 lbs. and is 15.5mm thin--the keyboard is a compromise with uniquely low key travel and battery capacity has gone down. The GPU is meek compared to the somewhat thicker and heavier competition.

The Mac is available in traditional silver and Space Gray, which is a mid to dark gray. Be warned: the Space Gray shows fingerprints, unlike silver. The Apple logo on the lid no longer lights up; it's replaced with the same mirror polished metal Apple logo found on the 12" MacBook and iPads. When you open the lid, the Mac turns on automatically, and the storied Mac startup chime is gone. You can change the lid power-on feature and bring back the startup sound using terminal commands.



Previous generation (2012-2015) 15" Retina MacBook Pro models could get quite loud when exporting video and even when playing Flash video (which Apple does its best to disable in Safari in OS X Sierra). The new model is decidedly quieter without raising CPU and GPU temperatures internally--those newer and more power efficient parts do help here. Surface temperatures are similar to the outgoing models, and the temps we show directly below are when running Unigine Heaven 4.0, a graphics benchmark. Surface temperatures rarely get that high in normal use.

15" MacBook Pro surface temperatures

Touch Bar

The OLED Touch Bar replaces the function key row, and dynamically displays different icons/controls depending on the program you're using. Developers have access to the Touch Bar, and we expect that more programs will support it in the future (MS Office and Adobe Photoshop will be on board in 2017). Apple's own apps do support it, and Final Cut Pro gets a scrubber and clip trim and split tools. Pages suggests words while you're typing, which I find distracting more than helpful, though honestly as a touch typist, I rarely look at the keyboard when typing. And that leads to the usability issues with Apple's stand-in for a touch screen: the OLED bar is the farthest row and the one you must lean down and forward to see (not ergonomic). It requires that your arm reach almost to the screen (wait, I though Apple believed you should never extend your arm as far as the screen) and that you look down rather than at your usual focus of attention (the screen). Once you've reached out to touch this thin strip of iPad-ness, it's hard not to also attempt to touch the display since your hand is now adjacent to the display and your brain has shifted to a touch paradigm.

On the bright side, it's a nice and colorful looking strip and it's fun to look and see what you can do with it in each application. You can customize it under keyboard settings too, but those customizations are mild. After two weeks using this new Mac, I've come to mostly ignore the Touch Bar. On the downside, muscle memory is real and I've often reached to raise or lower brightness or volume, expecting the old hardware keys to meet my fingertips. You can do that on the Touch Bar, but these controls are often abbreviated and require more strokes than the old hardware buttons.

Touch ID works brilliantly, just as it does on the iPhone and iPad. Biometric security isn't new to PCs, but it's new to Apple and I vastly prefer it to passwords. That said, there are times when you still must type in your password: from a cold boot, randomly when installing non-App Store apps and a few other places. It seems that Apple wants to resort to occasional password checks for added security.

Butterfly Keyboard, Take 2, aka ClackBook Pro

The 13 and 15 inch MacBook Pro models now sport the same ultra-low travel butterfly keyboard with domed switches as the polarizing 12" MacBook keyboard. Though I never did come to like the 12" MacBook keyboard (I tried for months because I really wanted to use it as my travel computer), it was an understandable concession necessary to make a crazy slim, 2 lb. 12" laptop. Pro laptops shouldn't fall prey to fashion and thinness compromises to the same extent as one of the smallest laptops on the planet. If you get along with the 12" MacBook keyboard, you'll be fine with this keyboard. If you're not loving that 0.5mm of key travel (the outgoing MBP models have 1.6mm) and the hard feel when the keys bottom out, you probably won't love the new Pro keyboards. I find it jarring on the finger tips and joints.

2016 15" MacBook Pro keyboard

Apple did improve the dome switches' clicky feel so the click is more pronounced and tactile. I've used the 15" MacBook Pro to type several reviews, and I did better with it than the 13" model (I'm not sure why because the keyboards are the same size). Though I found it loud and uncomfortable, within a half hour I could type as accurately as on the old MacBook Pro keyboard, something I never managed with the 12" MacBook.

The keys are very evenly backlit in white, and each key has its own LED. The letters light up, but not the edges of each key, which is a nicer and less distracting look compared to the outgoing model's light pouring out from around each key. There are as ever quite a few gradations in brightness. The keys have excellent contrast and a nice matte feel.

15" MacBook Pro keyboard and trackpad

Still a Quad Core Powerhouse with Dedicated Graphics, But Not Much Faster

I own the previous generation $2,500 15" MacBook Pro with AMD Radeon R9 M370X graphics and a 2.5 GHz Intel Core i7-4870HQ processor, which is what Apple sold in 2015-2016 until the launch of this redesigned machine. In terms of design and essentials like display, keyboard and architecture, my 2015 model is largely the same as the 2012 model that heralded Apple's new 2012 design. From 2012 to 2015 the 15" MacBook Pro got CPU bumps when Intel launched new processors and a switch from NVIDIA to AMD graphics--a move that disappointed gamers and Adobe CC users where NVIDIA offers better performance. It got faster SSDs and eventually 16 gigs of RAM became standard. It was a slow and modest performance evolution (my 2015 model wasn't screamingly faster than my old 2012 model). So, Mac owners got antsy and wanted something new and fresh. Given Apple's obsession with thinness and lightness, we got a style boost more than a performance jump. We have the base $2,400 model in house for review, and it shows modest performance improvements over our last gen model for graphics and no CPU performance increase. The performance gap of course could widen if you opted for the $2,800 model with a faster CPU and the next step up in AMD graphics. If you're willing to spend $3,100, you can get it with the fastest GPU Apple offers, the AMD Radeon 460 and the fastest Intel CPU.

The base CPU is the 2.6 GHz Intel Core i7-6700HQ quad core processor, which is the same CPU used in the Dell XPS 15 and various gaming laptops. The next step up is the 2.7 GHz Intel Core i7-6820HQ, more commonly used in gaming notebooks in the Windows world, though is isn't the overclockable HK version of that CPU popular with gamers. There's a 2.9 GHz Core i7-6920HQ option too for $300 additional on top of the base model's price. These are Intel 6th generation Skylake CPUs, and that's the latest generation available from Intel in the 45 watt, quad core CPU lineup (Kaby Lake is currently only shipping in 15 watt, dual core CPUs).

The machine has 16 gigs of LPDDR3 RAM soldered on board, and you can't get it with less or more. Some users who run multiple VMs, edit 4K video with Motion effects and those who run simulations that are heavy on RAM lament that Apple still caps it at 16 gigs (32 and even 64 gigs is the max in competing Windows workstation and quad core laptops, and those are upgradable/replaceable via standard SODIMM RAM slots). Apple couldn't go with more than 16 gigs because they used DDR3LP RAM for its energy savings vs. the DDR4 RAM used in those Windows laptops. DDR3LP is slower and caps at 16 gigs with Intel Skylake chipsets (DDR4 obviously isn't capped at 16 gigs). Skylake doesn't support DDR4LP (the LP stands for Low Power), and given the significant reduction in battery capacity in the late 2016 MacBook Pro, Apple avoided the faster and higher capacity option.

Graphics are AMD Polaris cards, with the Radeon 450, 455 and 460 available. These are low power dedicated GPUs and they generate less heat and consume less power than higher performance cards like the NVIDIA GTX 1060. We suspect that's why Apple chose AMD since thin and light were more important for this redesign than performance improvements. Also, these AMD cards support 5K monitors, and Apple sees that as an important marketing point vs. PCs that typically stop at 4K resolution. In fact, the 15" MacBook Pro can drive two 5K monitors. The 450 and 455 have 2GB VRAM and the 460 has 4GB. Our AMD 450 outperformed the AMD R9 M370X in our last generation Mac, though not by a wide margin. It's enough of a bump to net you 5-8 fps more in games like Tomb Raider (though Apple doesn't market the 15" MacBook Pro as a gaming laptop and it's not a gaming laptop since the prolonged heat involved in 3D gaming has been anathema for various iterations of the 15" MacBook Pro over the years). The Radeon 450 performs almost as well as the last generation NVIDIA GTX 960M used in the Dell XPS 15. The higher end AMD cards will do even better, though the AMD 460 still falls well short of the old GTX 970M and even farther behind NVIDIA's current generation 10 Series cards for laptops. What does this mean in actual use? Final Cut Pro is a little bit faster and Adobe CC programs like Premiere Pro and Photoshop run at the same clip as the old model since they are better optimized for NVIDIA rather than AMD graphics. The Mac has switchable graphics, and will use Intel HD 530 graphics when there are no graphically demanding tasks or high resolution monitors connected (you can override this to always use dedicated graphics if you like).

Apple, as ever, has the fastest laptop SSDs on the planet by a large margin. If you do lots of file transfers daily, or run programs that generate lots of cache files, this will make things feel a little quicker. Unfortunately, the SSDs are now soldered onto the motherboard and are not upgradable. If you need to replace the SSD, you'll need a new motherboard.




Late 2016 15" MacBook Pro Video Review


Windows 10 on the 15" MacBook Pro (2016)


2016 15" MacBook Pro vs. Microsoft Surface Book Performance Base Comparison



Benchmarks (OS X)

- Cinebench R15:  66.83 fps OpenGL. CPU: 668 (last generation scored 65.77, CPU: 619)

- Unigine Heaven 4.0: 23.8 fps, high 1680 x 1050, no tessellation. Score 600. GPU temp. 76C.


Geekbench 4 Comparison, Last Gen & Current Gen 15" MacBook Pro

2016 15" MacBook Pro Geekbench 4 scores



Benchmark Comparison, Windows 10 Laptops

benchmark comparison 15" MacBook Pro 2016


The 15.4" display size and 2880 x 1800 resolution remain the same as the 2012-2015 models. That doesn't mean it's the same display; Apple is using a new panel with much higher brightness (500 nits claimed, our unit measured 451 nits) and higher DCI-P3 color gamut. The difference is noticeable, and the new display looks more luminous and colorful than the outgoing model. Since the last gen had one of the better displays on the market, this is an accomplishment. The high color gamut (91% of Adobe RGB vs. 75% for the outgoing model) looks natural with no hint of oversaturation as we've noted on the few OLED laptop displays on the market. Color calibration used to be close to perfect on Macs, but the new 13 and 15 inch MacBook Pro models we received for review were too blue-green, which was remedied with calibration using our Spyder4 Pro colorimeter.

Black levels are good at 0.37, contrast is excellent at 1180:1, and gamma is perfect at 2.2. The 7200K white point is too high, but calibration removes the too cool tint resulting from that high white point. The Mac now ships with a scaled resolution of 1680 x 1050, which is the setting I prefer over the old standard 1440 x 900 (you can change this if you wish). The glossy display is less reflective than you might expect--Apple does a good job of reducing reflections without resorting to a grainy matte overlay.

2016 15" MacBook Pro

Battery Life

Apple had a clear advantage over the Windows competition in years past, with battery life that was truly impressive. Their claimed battery life was accurate, while most Windows laptop makers' claims were seriously overly optimistic. With the new 13" MacBook Pro and 15" MacBook Pro Touch Bar models, battery capacity is greatly reduced yet runtimes aren't horrendously lower. The new model has a 76 WHr battery while the old model had a 99.5 WHr battery. Skylake's power efficiency and the more power frugal display help greatly, and that big capacity drop isn't as much of a problem as you might expect. Still, Apple claims 10 hours of battery life for this new laptop, which isn't a jump from the previous models. That's a shame since Windows laptops have been solidly improving runtimes. For the first time, we couldn't meet or exceed Apple's claimed runtime. Our base model averaged 6 to 7 hours with brightness set to 33% and light use (MS Word, Safari, streaming an hour Netflix episode, editing a few RAW files in Photoshop). That's less than my 2015 15" Retina MacBook Pro with dGPU that could hit 8 to 8.5 hours. With moderate use, we got 5-5.5 hours (about 1.5 hours less than the outgoing model). When streaming video using the Silverlight plugin (required to watch Amazon Video using Safari), we got only 5 hours with brightness set to 40%. Clearly Silverlight and Adobe Flash Player are more processor intensive than HTML5 video. If you opt for the more powerful model with the Intel 6820HQ CPU and AMD Radeon 460, I'd expect slightly shorter runtimes.



As a Mac user since the mid-80's, and a previous generation 15" Retina MacBook Pro owner, this isn't the long-awaited Pro refresh I was hoping for. When Apple released the 2012 version, it had (at the time) impressive NVIDIA graphics, an amazingly thin and light design and one of the first very high resolution laptop displays. I was hoping for some useful real world firsts this time around too. OK, I'd settle for a touch screen or Apple Pencil support rather than a Touch Bar in the innovation department, even if I fantasized that Apple would come up with other brilliant things us mere mortals could never have imagined (sorry, I think the Touch Bar isn't wildly useful, though it is sometimes fun).

15" MacBook Pro 2016

Particularly, the 15" Pro needed a graphics boost since Apple backtracked from the performance promise of the 2012 model and instead followed up by offering the 15" Mac with watered down AMD GPUs in the interest of making their most expensive and powerful Pro laptop skinny rather than faster. It isn't that this Mac isn't swifter than Apple's smaller laptop models, it's just not meaningfully faster than the 2012-2015 15" models it replaces, yet the price is significantly higher. We can blame Intel for the lack of breathtaking CPU improvements since they've spent the last three years making their processors more power efficient and less hot, but Apple could have dared to offer it with industry standard, faster DDR4 RAM and left a little more battery capacity intact to power that faster memory. Then they could've offered a 32 gigs of RAM option, handy for software developers and others who run concurrent VMs. Meanwhile, wide gamut high resolution displays, faster GPUs, excellent keyboards and even innovative detachable designs with pens (a la Microsoft Surface Book) are biting at the Mac's heels.

The "you get more with Windows PCs" argument is an old one when it comes to Macs. The Mac tax was worth it for the design, leagues ahead displays, stable and enjoyable OS X and wonderful keyboards and trackpads. I do wonder if Apple has finally pushed it too far by further raising prices while giving us so little of what many of us asked for in their Pro line (a better GPU, a touch screen option, even longer battery life, more RAM). Instead, we get a ClackBook Pro keyboard (imagine a classroom filled with those, or your spouse's angry face when you drown out soft TV dialogs), an oddly huge trackpad big enough to swallow two iPhones, and expensive and fiddly dongle hell.

That said, if you're still nursing a 2011 MacBook/MacBook Pro, or are moving up from a 12 or 13 inch Mac, there's certainly stuff to enjoy here: dedicated graphics, faster performance with double the CPU cores, a roomier display and a relatively portable package. If you're upgrading from a previous generation 13" MacBook Pro, the 15" MacBook Pro will be heavenly in all but footprint and weight (though miraculously, it's only a half pound heavier than the last gen 13" Pro). The display is brighter and more colorful than ever, and the design and looks are beyond reproach. As ever, OS X is stable and intuitive and Apple's support on the phone and at the Genius Bar is better than most Windows PC makers' support.


Price: Starting at $2,399 for base model, $2,799 for mid-tier model, higher for top spec models


Related Reviews:

Late 2016 13" MacBook Pro Review

2015 Apple 15" Retina MacBook Pro Review

13" MacBook Pro with Retina Display vs. 15" Retina MacBook Pro (2015) Comparison

12" MacBook Review (2016)

Razer Blade Review (2016)

Dell XPS 15 Review (late 2015 with Infinity display)

Asus ZenBook Pro UX501 Review

Microsoft Surface Book Review

Microsoft Surface Pro 4 Review

Alienware 15 R3 Review


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Display: 15.4", 2880 x 1800 IPS "Retina" display. Intel HD 530 integrated graphics and AMD Radeon 450 2GB DDR5 dedicated graphics (also available with AMD 455 and 460).

Battery: 76 Whr Lithium Ion Polymer rechargeable, sealed inside. 87 watt USB-C charger (extension cable not included, USB-C cable is included).

Performance: Intel Skylake 6th generation 45 watt quad core i7 CPUs available (Core i7-6700HQ and Coire i7-6820HQ). 16 gigs RAM (soldered on, not upgradable) and 256 gig, 512 gig and 1 TB PCIe SSD options (custom design, soldered on, not upgradable).

Size: 13.75 x 9.48 x .61 inches. Weight: 4.02 pounds (1.83 kg).

Security: Touch ID fingerprint scanner.

Camera: 720MP FaceTime HD webcam.

Audio: Built-in stereo speakers, mic and 3.5mm standard stereo headphone jack.

Networking: Integrated dual band WiFi 802.11b/g/n/ac and Bluetooth 4.2.

Software: Mac OS X Sierra plus Apple apps including Garage Band, iMovie, Photos, and iWork office suite.

Expansion and Ports: 4 USB-C Gen. 2/Thunderbolt 3 ports (one, any you like, used for charging), 3.5mm audio jack.



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