It took a few weeks.
My testing process is not exactly fluid these days. I don't follow a rigid plan. In fact, I tend to use a new product for several days in a row for real work, then set it aside and wait to find out what I'm really missing. After testing thousands of products in the last 16 years as a journalist, it has become more about asking certain questions: Does this really change how I work? Am I more productive? Can I get by just fine without this product? Are the new features really worth an upgrade? Would I buy this?
I started out with the Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch for $1,799, the smaller twin of the 15-inch model that costs $2,399. After so many years, I'm happy to say that Apple is one of those companies that is willing to work with me on reviews. It's partly an exercise in taking the time required, and it's partly a matter of doing comparisons to other products.
This time, I hit a wall. As someone who is the size of a football player with big hands, I had some trouble using the 13-inch model, which measures 11.97-inches wide. I knew there was something amiss, because I was loving the new Touch Bar secondary display... but my fingers weren't. I know, after testing countless laptops, that the new display is novel. In Microsoft Word, I found I could easily tap options to add bold or italics to text and change font size. In Adobe Photoshop, I could drag sliders to make adjustments for tone and exposure. When texting with one of my kids (yes, you can do that from a Mac), I was even tempted to use emojis in the iMessage app. (Claim to fame: I have never actually used emojis.) I tested Logic X for music and Final Cut Pro X for movies.
It was a head-scratcher until I realized it was me. I was the problem.
Apple was kind enough to send me the 15-inch model as a replacement, and something changed. The keyboard is not that much bigger--in fact, it's roughly the same width. But there's more room to stretch out. There's more ergonomic real-estate. My hands had more room to type and more room to quickly press the Touch Bar, often with simple gestures like adjusting the volume and changing the screen brightness.
Now for the fun part: The Touch Bar will open the door to even more radical design changes, both from Apple and other companies like Lenovo and HP.
How will that work? For starters, I'm expecting laptops to blend with tablets soon. It's going to be a wild ride. We will slowly adapt to the idea of a virtual keyboard, one that likely has a bit of a tactile feel--e.g., the slight buzzing sensation on a smartphone screen (known as haptics). The keyboard could adapt, using machine learning, to our typing style and help us type faster. We'll customize where the buttons are situated and even create palettes for apps and other areas where we swipe. It will feel exactly like a laptop and exactly like a tablet. We don't even have a name for this type of device yet.
For now, I've become a big fan of the MacBook Pro with the Touch Bar. I will say this. It's a powerful laptop with keys that feel about right. The base version of the 13-inch model has a 2.9GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, three high-speed USB-C ports, and a 256GB SSD drive. Unless you have big hands, it's a smart machine.
The base model 15-inch has 16GB of RAM and an Intel Core i7 processor for more speed, especially for movie editing. The 15-inch is a meaty machine, but if you are mostly looking for the Touch Bar, the 13-inch works fine and will make a big impact on your workflow with apps like Word and Photoshop. The 13-inch weighs three pounds; the 15-inch weighs four pounds. Apple also improved graphics processing on both units.
It made me think: Why am I still using a clunky old Chromebook? Times have changed.
Now, they are going to change even more.