Last October, Apple revealed an updated MacBook Pro with keen innovations and an overhauled design. But it was pricey enough for many customers to complain and saw gentle price adjustments and special offers on accessories to tempt buyers.
What’s more, the Apple Mac range lacked the latest seventh-generation processors from Intel, called Kaby Lake, which were not available last October but are now becoming more commonplace on rival PCs, and threatened to leave Apple behind.
So of upgrades across the entire Apple computer range, including improved processors for the entry-level Apple MacBook Air which is especially popular with students for instance, weren’t entirely surprising.
I’ve spent the last 24 hours locked in a room with the new and the latest, top-of-the-range to see if the new configurations are worth the wait.
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The computers look the same as before on the outside: think of this change as being like the way the iPhone 6S follows the iPhone 6, where the upgrades are down to internal upticks to the Macs’ brains and so on.
Let’s get the specs out of the way: the new Macs have plenty of on-paper enhancements, including an iMac screen that’s 43 per cent brighter than before and with improved dithering (not the indecisive behaviour of which I’m regularly accused but pixel adjustments that mean more perceptible colours so that you see less banding on photographs, for instance).
Memory has been upgraded to DDR4 across the iMac range, which is higher-quality and faster than some rivals, with higher clock speeds and lower voltage operations than earlier DDR3 memory options. Storage on all 27-inch iMacs is now on what Apple calls its Fusion drives – these are clever hybrid storage options which combine traditional hard drive and fast solid-state flash drive and have previously resulted in reliably fast performance at a lower price than opting for solid-state only.
John Ternus, Vice President, Mac and iPad Hardware Engineering speaks under a graphic of price points for the Macbook laptop family during Apple’s annual world wide developer conference (WWDC) in San Jose, California, U.S. June 5, 2017 (REUTERS/Stephen Lam)
The updated MacBook Pro laptops (and the MacBook range) all now have the faster Kaby Lake processors and the solid-state flash memory is now faster in all the MacBook Pro models. Oh, and the MacBook now has an improved keyboard using Apple’s second-generation version with a butterfly mechanism, for improved comfort as you type. The MacBook Pro has this already.
There have been increases in graphics hardware across the Pros too, with heftier discrete (ie separate) graphics power.
Prices have dropped in some models, including the MacBook Pro at the bottom end of the range which is £250 less than the lowest price before. Seeing as that MacBook Pro was the previous design model, to have an entry-level machine with the latest design for much less than before is something of a bargain.
And it now means every MacBook Pro is available both in a silver finish and Apple’s super-cool space grey colour. It starts at £1,249 while the next MacBook Pro up, the one with the super-cool touch-sensitive Touch Bar instead of the function keys row, now starts at £1,749, £50 less than before. The desktop range with its 4K screen now begins at £1,249, a £200 price drop.
What are they like to use?
There’s a cool little thing when you first unpack your Apple computer. When you take the laptop out of its box, as you open the lid it comes to life. You don’t even need to press the power button. With the iMac, attaching the power cable wakes the machine, again with no button press required.
It’s a tiny feature but it makes it feel like the computer is coming to life of its own accord.
Setup is as simple and straightforward as ever, and before you know it, you’re using your new computer.
The MacBook Pro 15-inch is the model I’m familiar with, and the comparisons with the model which went on sale last October is striking. And, let’s be clear, that was no slouch.
But now it really flies. The processor improvement is from 2.6GHz Intel Core i7 to 2.9GHz Intel Core i7 and combined with the faster graphics card, there’s a definite speed bump here.
Craig Federighi, Senior Vice President Software Engineering speaks under a projection image of an iMac computer during the company’s annual world wide developer conference (WWDC) in San Jose, California, U.S. June 5, 2017 (REUTERS/Stephen Lam)
I’m not a fan of benchmark processing programs like Geekbench, useful though they are, because it seems to me that real-world results are more persuasive if they chime with user experience, but certainly the raw figures are different here, too. Where last year’s model managed a certainly-respectable single-core score of 3,861 and multi-core score of 13,609, these are respectively 4,690 and 15,915. Since higher is better in these things, these figures represent solid leaps forward. For the iMac, the single-core figure is 5,732 and multi-core 19,646. I don’t have exact comparisons to make with previous versions, though.
But both these machines feel extremely fast and responsive, with video playback for instance looking great. Especially on the 27-inch iMac with its 5K, suddenly much brighter screen (though this is not a machine designed to deliver 4K HDR content, it handles regular 4K well).
Battery life on the MacBook Pro is very strong. It was good last time and I’ve been testing a brand new machine, of course, but in the short amount of time I’ve had with it, my notes tell me it has lasted a little longer than the equivalent MacBook Pro did last October.
The new iMac has better connectivity than the previous model, with two Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) connectors provided. The MacBook Pro range has either two or four Thunderbolt 3 USB-C sockets, as before.
Oh, and there’s one super-cool extra for the desktop machine: you can now opt for an extended keyboard. The iMac comes with a wireless Magic Keyboard. Now you can choose a Magic Keyboard with Numeric Keypad instead. I’ve tried it and it’s tremendous.
These are early days for the new Apple machines and I’ll be reviewing them in more depth later. But they are faster and offer significantly improved specifications, for sure.
The iMac screen is gorgeous and the speed of performance is impressive throughout.
For the MacBook Pro, prices have dropped noticeably since the latest design was launched and represent significantly improved value. The new lower-end machine is a very strong price for so much power and the Touch Bar models, though hardly cheap, are better than before and remain extremely enjoyable to use.