When it comes to deciding which MacBook Pro to buy there are lots of things to factor in: Do you need a quad-core or more-core processor or will a dual-core do? Should you choose a MacBook Pro with a discrete graphics card? Will the screen on the 13in 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. Since 2017 though Apple has not updated the non-Touch Bar MacBook Pro, which is still available here. In the meantime Apple has updated the Touch Bar version of the MacBook Pro not just once but twice!

You will find a Touch Bar on these 2019 MacBook Pro models:

  • 13in, 2.4GHz quad-core 8th generation ‘Coffee Lake’ processor, integrated graphics, 256GB Storage, £1,749/$1799
  • 13in, 2.4GHz quad-core 8th generation ‘Coffee Lake’ processor, integrated graphics, 512GB Storage, £1,949/$1,999
  • 15in, 2.6GHz 6-core 9th generation ‘Coffee Lake refresh’ processor, Radeon Pro graphics, 256GB Storage, £2,349/$2,399
  • 15in, 2.9GHz 8-core 9th generation ‘Coffee Lake refresh’ processor, Radeon Pro graphics, 512GB Storage, £2,699/$2,799

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

  • 13in, 2.3GHz dual-core 7th generation ‘Kaby Lake’ processor, integrated graphics, 128GB Storage, £1,249/$1,299
  • 13in, 2.3GHz dual-core 7th generation ‘Kaby Lake’ processor, integrated graphics, 256GB Storage, £1,449/$1,499

The last time Apple offered a non-Touch Bar version of the 15in MacBook Pro was in 2017. But that older 15in model without a Touch Bar was a model first launched back in 2015 and it featured an older Broadwell processor, so if you are considering buying that (maybe it’s available somewhere secondhand) we’d suggest that it might not be as good a deal as you think.

This article compares the standard 13in model without Touch Bar with the more expensive 13in Touch Bar MacBook Pro.

Besides the inclusion of the Touch Bar on two of the 13in models, there are a lot of 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 most obvious difference: Is it even worth getting a Mac with a Touch Bar?

Touch Bar vs no Touch Bar

MacBook Pro Touch Bar

The Touch Bar is an OLED strip positioned above the keyboard on the MacBook Pro. It replaces the function keys and adjusts depending on the app you are currently using. So, along with escape, brightness and volume settings, you might find controls for editing videos or photos, or copy and paste, or various tabs. Apple and third party developers have been adding Touch Bar functionality to their programs, so you will find Touch Bar shortcuts in Adobe and Microsoft apps, for example.

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.

The MacBook Pro was first ever Mac to feature the Touch Bar when it launched in 2016, and no other Mac has adopted the Touch Bar since, other than the addition of the Touch ID sensor on the MacBook Air (for Apple Pay and security features). This is despite rumours that Apple might add a Touch Bar to the Magic Keyboard.

The lack of Touch Bar on other Macs could be seen as a benefit of the MacBook Pro, or an indication that the feature has not been popular.

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

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The crucial question here though 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 before and we have to say… not really. 

There are a few things we did like about the Touch Bar though:

  • 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.

The main 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.

Buying advice

If the question of which MacBook Pro to buy was based purely on the Touch Bar, we’d say that the Touch Bar is a non essential gimmick. Even three years on from it’s introduction we don’t think that it’s revolutionised the MacBook Pro, in fact we’d say it can be more of a hindrance.

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.

However, as we have indicated already, there is a lot more on offer from the Touch Bar MacBook Pro than the Touch Bar, as you will see if you read on.

Price

The extra £300 you spend (if upgrading from the £1,449 model to the £1,749 model – it’s an extra £500 if you are considering the entry-level £1,249 model), brings a lot more with it than a Touch Bar. It also gives you a much more powerful machine with a quad-core processor for starters. But it’s quite a price hike, so we’ll look in more detail at what you get for your money next.

MacBook Pro 13in

MacBook Pro

Some context – until October 2016 the cheapest MacBook Pro cost £999. Since October 2016, the entry MacBook Pro model has started at £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.

To remind you, this is what’s on offer:

  • 13in, 2.3GHz dual-core 7th generation ‘Kaby Lake’ processor, integrated graphics, 128GB Storage, £1,249/$1,299
  • 13in, 2.3GHz dual-core 7th generation ‘Kaby Lake’ processor, integrated graphics, 256GB Storage, £1,449/$1,499

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.

That extra £300 gets you a faster, newer, quad-core processor, faster graphics, two extra Thunderbolt 3 ports and the Touch Bar and Touch ID.

Again, this is what’s on offer:

  • 13in, 2.4GHz quad-core 8th generation ‘Coffee Lake’ processor, integrated graphics, 256GB Storage, £1,749/$1799
  • 13in, 2.4GHz quad-core 8th generation ‘Coffee Lake’ processor, integrated graphics, 512GB Storage, £1,949/$1,999

Buying advice

We think the addition of the quad-core processor in the Touch Bar model justifies the higher price and is much more of a draw than the Touch Bar. Despite that, for some it’ll be hard to justify the extra spend on the Touch Bar version. For those, we’d suggest that if you are looking for a Mac laptop that costs less than £1,749/$1,799 then the MacBook Air would be a much better solution, or perhaps you could find an older version of the Touch Bar MacBook Pro on the Apple Refurbished Store here or in our MacBook Pro deals round up here.

For now we just don’t think the two year old non-Touch Bar models can be considered a bargain at their current price.

Design, dimensions and weight

All of the 13in 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 2018 13in MacBook Air or the 12in MacBook

Specs

MacBook Pro

The base MacBook Pro – unchanged since 2017 – has a 2.3GHz dual-core 7th generation Intel Core i5 processor. It has 8GB 2133MHz memory (the 2016 model had 1866MHz memory) and comes with 128GB SSD storage. In addition to 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; 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 2.4GHz quad-core 8th generation Intel Core i5 processor, like the non-Touch Bar model it offers 8GB 2133MHz memory as standard. You’ll find a 256GB SSD and Intel Iris Plus Graphics 655. 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 quad-core rather than a dual-core processor – that’s four rather than two processors – plus better graphics and 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 13in model might not meet them either. While the gap closed slightly in 2018 with the arrival of quad-core processors, there is still a world of difference between the 13in and 15in MacBook Pro models as you can see if you read this: 13in MacBook Pro vs 15in MacBook Pro.

And, as we’ve said before, if the Touch Bar MacBook Pro is overkill for you, you might find that the 2018 MacBook Air suits your needs. Read more about how the MacBook Pro compares to the MacBook Air here.

Display

Both sport a 13.3in diagonal LED Retina display with 2,560 x 1,600 pixels and 500 nits brightness. It is one of the best displays on any personal computer ever. So, pretty good.

The Touch Bar version goes one step further with True Tone technology that means the screen will adjust depending on the ambient lighting. So the colours you see will be more natural and your eyes less strained.

Buying advice

True Tone is a feature that first arrived on the iPad Pro and it’s a good feature to have, ideal if you are using the device in lots of different settings. This is a feature that the MacBook Air lacks, so if you want vivid and faithfully reproduced colours, regardless of the lighting conditions, then that might be a good reason to buy a Touch Bar MacBook Pro.

Battery life

One of the biggest benefits of a laptop is the fact that you can work wherever you want, and that means that battery life is important. So, how do our two MacBook Pros compare?

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 with Touch Bar

The Touch Bar model has exactly the same reported 10 hours of battery life, however its battery has a slightly larger volume capacity at 58.0-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery.

Buying advice

Apple claims the battery life is the same, but theoretically the bigger battery in the Touch Bar model might manage a little more – except that maybe the Touch Bar itself will be drawing on that power.

If you want the best battery life on a Mac laptop then the MacBook Air should give you up to 12 hours, so that’s an extra two hours compared to the the MacBook Pro and another reason to consider the Air.

Everything else

Both laptops have the same keyboard (bar the bar) and same Force Touch trackpad with palm-rejection technology. There’s also a 720p FaceTime camera on both.

Both also come with the full suite of the latest macOS software, including Photos, iMovie, GarageBand, Pages, Numbers, and Keynote.

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.

Both laptops have the same 802.11ac Wi-Fi capabilities, but there is a difference when it comes to Bluetooth, with Bluetooth 4.2 on the non-Touch Bar version and Bluetooth 5.0 on the Touch Bar model.





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