We review the Touch Bar on the new Macbook Pro, to see if this fresh new feature really does revolutionise the way you control your laptop. Is it worth spending a bit of extra cash for a Touch Bar model of Macbook Pro? Here’s everything you need to know.
What is the Macbook Pro Touch Bar?
Apple’s latest Macbook Pro, launched at the end of 2016, comes in a few different flavours depending on your personal needs and the size of your wallet. As well as 13 and 15-inch models, you can choose from a selection of processors and even upgrade to discrete graphics if you’re a demanding creative user.
One of the most major optional features is the fresh new Touch Bar, found on everything but the most affordable Macbook Pro devices. This dynamic touch-sensitive strip sits just above your keyboard and offers relevant shortcuts and tools, depending on your current activities.
We’ve been playing with the Touch Bar quite extensively and this is our in-depth review. And if you want to see what we think of the laptop after over three months of use, check out our long-term Macbook Pro review.
What are the Macbook Pro Touch Bar specs?
Apple’s Touch Bar is approximately 10.5-inches long and 0.5-inches wide, and boasts a pleasingly crisp 2170×60 resolution.
That means the Touch Bar packs roughly 200 pixels into every inch, making it less sharp than the main display but still more than crisp enough to clearly display icons, words and graphics. You’ll have to look pretty close to see individual pixels.
It’s a full colour screen too, so you get some snazzy visuals in certain apps.
What is the Macbook Pro’s Touch Bar used for?
Apple’s Touch Bar gives you two separate sets of controls at any one time.
The Control Strip, which by default is shrunken into the right side of the bar, offers plenty of really helpful general settings. For example, you can change the brightness level of the screen and the keyboard keys, call up Siri, change the Macbook’s volume and so on. Some of the most-used buttons are always available and by tapping the arrow on the left of the Control Strip, you can extend it out and reveal the full set of controls.
To the left of the Control Strip you’ll find app-specific controls, which pop up when you’re working with specific apps that support the Touch Bar. For example, on PhotoShop you can get shortcuts to add and edit layers, edit the current colour palette, skip through your previous changes and so on. Any apps that involve typing will usually pop up word suggestions, as well as emoji of course.
And if you’re using an app that doesn’t support the Touch Bar, then this section will simply appear blank.
Can I customise the Touch Bar?
One of the biggest wonders of the Touch Bar is that it can be tweaked, to fit your personal needs.
The part of it which can be personalised is the Control Strip, which is permanently present (unless you choose to axe it, of course). You can rearrange the button layout, remove any buttons that you don’t want and add new ones in.
Check out our Macbook Pro Touch Bar tips and tricks guide for full instructions on how to customise the bar.
Is it worth upgrading my Macbook for the Touch Bar?
Because the Touch Bar offers such a different method of control compared with previous Macbooks and even touch screen devices, it takes some getting used to. At first you might have to force yourself to even look at it, to see what shortcuts and tools are on offer. You might otherwise forget that it’s even there, until you try stabbing a non-existent function key.
However, once you jump aboard the Touch Bar train, you begin to realise its potential. Especially if you struggle to remember the many, many keyboard shortcuts packed into Mac OS.
The Control Strip is a solid introduction to the Touch Bar’s capabilities, proving better than the old function keys. This is a much more fluid and satisfying way of toggling the likes of volume and brightness levels, especially with the sliders for quickly maximising or minimising the output. And the fact that you can reorder and change up the layout, something never before possible, is the killer feature.
However, that’s just the beginning.
Creative users will love the new app-specific controls in the likes of Photoshop, Logic Pro and GarageBand. For instance, Apple’s music making apps now deliver a comprehensive set of editing tools at your fingertips. Tweaking levels and the rest has never been easier, while you can actually use the Touch Bar to compose a piece of music – playing around with a synthesiser or tapping out a ditty on a virtual keyboard.
Manipulating a timeline on the Touch Bar makes more sense than using a touchscreen or trackpad too. You can see your current position at any given time, even when zoomed right in, and also slide back and forth without blocking your view.
Read next: Best Macbook Pro Touch Bar games and apps
Most of Apple’s own apps use the Touch Bar in clever ways. For instance, when browsing photos you can see all of your other photos, displayed as thumbnails on the bar. This makes them quick and easy to browse. We also love how your open browser windows are displayed in a row on the bar when using Safari, making it easy to skip between them.
Of course, not everything in the Touch Bar seems to make sense. For example, the predictive text element when you’re typing out an email or essay will only really be useful if you’re very slow, or hate autocorrect. Glancing up at the Touch Bar while smashing out a sentence in case your required word is present will slow down anyone who can type at a respectable rate. However, this could be a handy feature if you’re unsure of the exact spelling of a word.
All things considered, we’d say the Touch Bar is an invaluable tool for creative users who’ll be mixing samples or editing complex video on the fly. For everyone else, it’s a nice-to-have feature but not essential.