MacBook Pro Touch Bar vs MacBook Pro

When it comes to deciding which MacBook Pro to buy there are lots of things to factor in: Do you need a quad-core processor or will a dual-core do? Should you choose a MacBook Pro with a discrete graphics card? Will the screen on the 13-inch model be too small for your needs? But perhaps most significant choice of all, on the basis that the models with it cost the most, is whether to opt for a MacBook Pro with a Touch Bar, or not.

Apple first introduced the Touch Bar option on the MacBook Pro in October 2016, and it replicated it on the 2017 models, available here.

You will find a Touch Bar on these 2017 MacBook Pro models:

  • 13-inch, 3.1GHz dual-core 7th generation ‘Kaby Lake’ processor, 256GB Storage, £1,749
  • 13-inch, 3.1GHz dual-core 7th generation ‘Kaby Lake’ processor, 512GB Storage, £1,949
  • 15-inch, 2.8GHz quad-core 7th generation ‘Kaby Lake’ processor, Radeon Pro graphics, 256GB Storage, £2,349
  • 15-inch, 2.9GHz quad-core 7th generation ‘Kaby Lake’ processor, Radeon Pro graphics, 512GB Storage, £2,699

There is no Touch Bar on these 2017 MacBook Pro models:

  • 13-inch, 2.3GHz dual-core 7th generation ‘Kaby Lake’ processor, integrated graphics, 128GB Storage, £1,249
  • 13-inch, 2.3GHz dual-core 7th generation ‘Kaby Lake’ processor, integrated graphics, 256GB Storage, £1,449
  • 15-inch, 2.2GHz quad-core 5th generation ‘Broadwell’ processor, integrated graphics, 256GB Storage, £1,899

Note: The 15in model without a Touch Bar is actually the model launched back in 2015 and features the older Broadwell processor. Apple has retained this model as it offers the older USB standard along with various other ports (Display Port, SDXD, HDMI), while the other MacBook Pro offer only USB Type-C ports. So if you are looking for a Mac laptop that you will be able to plug all your old peripherals into, is might be a good option.

With that in mind the only decision in terms of the 15in model is whether your desire for older ports is superior to your need for the Touch Bar – and obviously your need for a faster, newer processor and better graphics.

On that basis, this article compares the standard 13in model with the more expensive 13in Touch Bar version.

Besides the inclusion of the new Touch Bar on two of the 13in models, there are a fair few other differences that end up affecting the price and, ultimately, your buying decision. Below we will compare the specs of the various models and look at the value for money. But first up, the key difference: Is it even worth getting a Mac with a Touch Bar?

Touch Bar and Touch ID

The crucial question here is how useful is the Touch Bar? Will it transform the way you work: speeding up simple tasks, bringing extra functionality, and making everything much more fun? We’ve used a MacBook Pro with a Touch Bar for a little while and we have to say… not really. 

We like the fact that when we are typing we see auto complete suggestions of words we might be typing, or corrections of words we have spelled incorrectly.

  • We like that we can unlock the MacBook Pro with a fingerprint.
  • We like being able to use Apple Pay on the Mac (although it has to be said that there aren’t that many sites that have implemented it).
  • We like the fact that we can swipe through emoji to pick one to add to an email or iMessage.
  • We love being able to tap on thumbnails of the websites we have open.
  • Scrubbing through video and music, or scrolling quickly through photos is also useful.
  • And speaking of Photos, it’s certainly handy to have editing tools right on the keyboard.

But the one problem we have with the Touch Bar is the fact that all those commands are on the Touch Bar. When we use it we inevitably find ourselves reaching up to the screen expecting it to respond to our touch too. And so many of the Touch Bar features require us to mouse to a certain place on the screen to select something. It feels really disjointed.

That said, the Touch Bar could be great. One thing we noticed when we used it was how much more precise you can be if you are tapping on a particular part of the Touch Bar, compared to scrolling with the mouse or track pad. With this in mind, we’d love to see our Dock replicated on the Touch Bar so that we could tap on the app we want to open – which would certainly speed things up. Our hand-eye coordination is much more accurate than our mouse/track padding.

For now though, we are too set in our ways to change and we inevitably find ourselves doing things the old fashioned way. It’s a shame.

MacBook Pro

It doesn’t have a Touch Bar or Touch ID. Instead, you’ve got the tried and tested row of function keys, including shortcuts to Mission Control and LaunchPad, volume and brightness controls, as you would on any previous MacBook Pro.

MacBook Pro with Touch Bar

When it launched in 2016 the MacBook Pro was first ever Mac to feature the Touch Bar – an OLED strip that replaces the function keys. More than a year on and no other Mac has adopted the Touch Bar, despite rumours that Apple might add a Touch Bar to the Magic Keyboard.

Apple might not have pushed the Touch Bar onto other Macs, but some third party developers have been adding Touch Bar functionality to their programs, as Apple has itself been doing.

Find out more about the way that the Touch Bar can be used in different apps here: How to use the Touch Bar on the MacBook Pro. We also have a best Touch Bar apps article.

At the far right end there is also a Touch ID sensor to help with security and purchases like on the iPhone and iPad. Read about how to use Apple Pay on the Mac here.

Buying advice

It depends what you’re going to be able to work with. The Touch Bar is a fun addition, but if you’re buying for work then you might want to stick to function keys, especially if you use the function row a lot for your important software.

Then again, the Touch Bar is a new way to interact with a powerful computer. Over time we expect that developers will bring new functionality to apps and software, and it’s as close to a touchscreen MacBook as you will get. Touch ID also means added security and more tying into the Apple way of shopping.

Ultimately, the Touch Bar is likely to gain more and more support and functionality as time goes on, so and we’d err on the side of spending extra. If you have the cash. If. 

Design, dimensions and weight

All of the 13-inch MacBook Pro models, including those with the Touch Bar, are the same dimensions – exactly. The 13in models are 1.49cm thick and weigh 1.37kg. The overall dimensions of both models are 1.49 x 21.24 x 30.41cm.

Buying advice

Nothing to call here – they are the same. If your decision was based on which model of MacBook Pro is more compact, then you’ll have to read on. If you’re after a slimmer MacBook, try the 12in MacBook. 

Specs

MacBook Pro

The base MacBook Pro has a 2.3GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor. It has 8GB 2133MHz memory (the 2016 model had 1866MHz memory) and comes with 128GB SSD storage. On top of that there’s Intel Iris Graphics 640 and two Thunderbolt 3 ports.

The other non-Touch Bar model has an almost identical spec, the only difference being that it has more storage – 256GB rather than the 128GB offered by the entry-level model.

You can customise your purchase with Apple by adding more SSD storage space; add an i7 processor, 16GB memory and software like Final Cut Pro X. Of course all of this comes at a cost.

MacBook Pro with Touch Bar

The base 13in Touch Bar MacBook Pro sports a 3.1GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 too, the 2016 model offered 8GB 2133MHz memory, and so does this one (so it’s the non-Retina that have been bumped up in this respect). You’ll find a 256GB SSD and a slight bump up to Intel Iris Graphics 650. You also get four Thunderbolt 3 ports compared to the base model’s two.

As with the non-Touch Bar models, there is little difference between the two 13-inch Touch Bar models here. The more expensive model offers 512GB of storage, double that of its cheaper sibling.

At point of sale on Apple’s website you can customise by upgrading the processor, memory or by adding preinstalled software. Again, this is at a reasonably high cost.

Buying advice

So the Touch Bar isn’t the only difference between the MacBook Pro models. You’ll find a faster processor, slightly better graphics, the two extra Thunderbolt 3 ports.

If you need to be able to plug more in (even if you need adapters) then the Touch Bar model is the way to go.

If you are looking for a more powerful Mac then the entry level MacBook Pro might not meet your needs – but in that case the Touch Bar equipped 13-inch model might not meet them either. There is a world of difference between the 13-inch and 15-inch MacBook Pro models as you can see if you read this: 13-inch MacBook Pro vs 15-inch MacBook Pro.

But if it’s just top end MacBook specs you need and you would prefer the standard row of function keys, you can still go for the regular MacBook Pro 13in, but add the following build to order options, bringing the cost to £1,919 (compared to £1,949 for the top of the range 13-inch MaBook Pro, which has a less powerful i5 processor).

  • 2.5GHz dual-core i7 processor (+£270)
  • 512GB storage (+£200)

You could also upgrade the memory to 16GB for another £180.

Neither MacBook is upgradable after purchase, soldered as the components are to each other, so what you buy is what you get till the thing dies. So pick wisely.

Read next: MacBook Pro 2016 not working: How to fix MacBook Pro hardware problems

Display

There is no need to split this section down – both have the exact same display. Both sport a 13.3in diagonal LED Retina display with 2560 x 1600 pixels and 500 nits brightness. It is one of the best displays on any personal computer ever. So, pretty good.

Buying advice

As far as displays go on your MacBook Pro buying decision, you can’t split them. They are the same! Looks elsewhere for your final decision.

Battery life

MacBook Pro

The regular Pro has a 54.5-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery that Apple claims gives you 10 hours of wireless web use, or 10 hours of iTunes film playback. MacBook Pro devices always have absolutely brilliant battery life, but the 2015 model has a reported better span. It’s actually still available right here. 

MacBook Pro with Touch Bar

The Touch Bar model has exactly the same reported 10 hours of battery life, however its battery has a slightly smaller volume capacity at 49.2-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery. That means, technically, the battery life won’t be quite as good. However, all of this depends on your use and the difference will be tiny.

Buying advice

It’s always very hard to recommend products with such similar specs on their battery life. For all intents and purposes there is no difference between these models but on pure specs alone, the regular MacBook Pro has a bigger battery, so if you’re trying to eke out every last drop of juice, go for that one.

Audio

This such a small difference that it is likely to slip under the radar, but there are three microphones in the Touch Bar model, while the non Touch Bar model has only two. It’s hard to know how much of a difference this will make in practical terms.

MacBook Pro

Two microphones

MacBook Pro with Touch Bar

Three microphones

Everything else

Everything else these laptops have is, again, the same. They have the same 802.11ac Wi-Fi capabilities, same Bluetooth 4.2, same keyboard and same Force Touch trackpad that this year is an excellently large size with palm-rejection technology. There’s also a 720p FaceTime camera on both.

Both also come with the full suite of macOS High Sierra software; Photos, iMovie, GarageBand, Pages, Numbers, Keynote.

Buying advice

There’s nothing to call here. Apple has packed these two laptops with all the bells and whistles, meaning your choice comes down to the Touch Bar question and the price, with a consideration for specs for power users. Read on.

Price

MacBook Pro

Some context – until October 2016 the 2015 MacBook Pro cost £999 at its cheapest. As of 2016, the entry MacBook Pro model costs £1,249.

There is also a non-Touch Bar model available for £1,449 that offers more storage, but the specs are the same in every other regard.

MacBook Pro with Touch Bar

The cheapest Touch Bar MacBook Pro retails for £1,749, that’s £300 more than the best non-Touch Bar version. As above, the price hasn’t changed since 2016.

Apple is essentially charging £300 extra for a faster processor, slightly faster graphics, the Touch Bar, Touch ID and two extra Thunderbolt 3 ports.

Buying advice

Based on price, for some it’ll be hard to justify the extra spend on the Touch Bar version. £300 could buy you the faster i7 processor (£270), 16GB RAM (££180) or more storage (£200 for 512GB) on the £1,449 model. As we said above, you might want to jack up the specs of the non-Touch ID model and make it the best it can be.

Of course, if you have the money you can also do that to the Touch Bar edition. If you’re already spending £1,449, it’s only £300 more to have the best MacBook Pro ever. It’s a high price to pay though.