Welcome to Mossberg, a weekly commentary and reviews column on The Verge and Recode by veteran tech journalist Walt Mossberg, executive editor at The Verge and editor at large of Recode.
Apple is realigning its familiar laptop line, dramatically reshaping and in some ways merging the favorite options for both heavy-duty "pro" users and everyday customers. And the poster child for this more muddled future is the pricey new MacBook Pro, which appears in stores this week.
Apple wants you to focus on the new Pro's boldest feature, called the Touch Bar. It's a touch-operated strip of buttons and sliders displayed on a thin screen at the top of the keyboard that changes functions depending on what you're doing. It injects a bit of iPhone and iPad feel into the Mac. And it's well worth noting.
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But, the bigger story here to me is that the Pro, once mainly aimed straight at people who do especially taxing work like professional video editing or serious design, is now being stretched to suit a much larger audience. That's especially true of the 13-inch model (there's also a 15-inch variety). It's thinner and lighter, and is the only modern, easily portable Mac laptop with both a high-res Retina display and a relatively recent, first-class processor (the sixth generation Core i5 or i7).
So, I've been testing the 13-inch Touch Bar-equipped Pro for about 10 days, looking at it from the point of view of mainstream users, not pros.
Mainstream Mac lovers must assess whether the Pro, now much thinner and lighter, is a good replacement for the brilliant MacBook Air, which Apple will still sell (starting at $999) but which has apparently been consigned to Cupertino's special purgatory for products it can't quite kill yet, but won't upgrade.
The Air was the best laptop ever built, in my opinion, but it was never given a high-res Retina display and has fallen behind in processor technology. And Apple's other Mac laptop, the much newer 12-inch MacBook, while beautiful and portable, has a weak processor, a small screen, a single port and a high base price of $1299.
The new Pro definitely trounces my three-year-old MacBook Air in power and screen quality. Running the normal set of apps and browser tabs I use every day, my old Air blasts its fans a lot to keep up. The Touch Bar Pro barely notices.
But, I have reservations, and you should too. Many pro users are already vocally complaining about issues particular to them. But, even for mainstream Mac users, there are questions about price, ports, the Touch Bar feature, the keyboard and — surprisingly, for a Mac — battery life.