Apple MacBook Pro 15-Inch (2018) Review

PROS
  • Strong performance
  • Very fast SSD
  • True Tone display
  • Quieter Keyboard
  • Great audio
  • Long battery life
CONS
  • Very expensive
  • Port selection still stinks
VERDICT

The 15-inch MacBook Pro delivers strong performance, fast storage and long battery life. But it’s as expensive as ever, particularly if you want a roomy SSD. And we’d like more ports.

Design

Another year, the same design. The MacBook Pro’s aesthetic hasn’t evolved year over year, but it’s still an attractive machine. Our Space Gray review unit served as a reminder that Apple’s build quality still trumps other laptop manufacturers. The solid block of aluminum is plainly adorned with a reflective Apple logo on the lid. While the overall design is due for a refresh, it’s still serviceable and minimalist.

The bezels around the 15.4-inch IPS display are  thicker than some competitors, like Dell’s XPS line, and could use some slimming down. The aluminum deck features a massive touchpad and speaker grilles on both sides of the keyboard. The function row is replaced with Apple’s OLED Touch Bar. Love it or hate it.

The port situation will be an issue for some professionals that use lots of external hard drives and other peripherals. There are four Thunderbolt 3 ports, two on each side of the machine. In my testing, I often used a dongle for USB Type-A, and you’ll probably need at least such adapter for a while. Still, the Thunderbolt 3 peripheral ecosystem is growing, and other laptop makers have started to jump onto the all-Thunderbolt train with premium machines.

Specifications

Display
15.6-inch, 2880 x 1800 IPS retina display with True Tone
CPU Intel Core i7-8850H
Graphics Radeon Graphics 560X (4GB GDDR5) / Intel UHD Graphics 630
Memory 32GB 2400MHz DDR4
SSD 512GB SSD
Optical
Networking 802.11ac, Bluetooth 5.0
Ports (4) Thunderbolt 3
Audio Stereo speakers, Headphone/microphone combo jack
Camera 720p FaceTime webcam
Battery 83.6 Wh
Power Adapter 87W
Operating System macOS High Sierra (10.13.x)
Dimensions (WxDxH) 13.8 x 9.5 x 0.6 inches
Weight 4 pounds
Other Touch Bar with Touch ID Sensor, T2 chip
Price (as configured) $399

Performance

With a 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-8850H CPU, Radeon Pro 560X GPU, 512GB of SSD storage and 32GB of DDR4 RAM, our review configuration is a very capable machine, with far more power than I need for my day-to-day life as a writer. With 30 tabs open in Chrome, including one streaming a 1080p clip from The Late Late Show with James Corden, it hadn’t even begun to sweat.

Keyboard, Touchpad and Touch Bar

If you haven’t liked Apple’s butterfly keyboard for the last few years, the one on the MacBook Pro isn’t going to change your mind. If you’re like me, you’ve found that after a bit of practice, it’s business as usual. The one difference is that Apple claims the switches are quieter, and that was true to my ears during typing. iFixIt’s teardown of the laptop showed silicone membranes beneath the switches, and while Apple isn’t saying anything official, it’s possible that those could protect the keyboards from dust and debris.

With just 0.6 millimeters of travel and 71 grams of force required to press the keys, I was still able to blaze through the 10fastfingers.com typing test. In fact, I had one of my best runs ever, typing at 119 words per minute (I usually top out at 117 wpm) with a 1 percent error rate (cut in half from my usual).

The 6.1 x 3.9-inch touchpad is massive and, as usual, responsive. Whether I used five fingers to clear my windows and show the desktop or used three finger swipes to switch between full-screen apps, I never had to perform a gesture twice.

The OLED Touch Bar, though, is less useful. Look, it works. I can use it to change the volume and adjust the brightness. I can summon Siri. But I still prefer the function row, and I wish Apple provided options for either. The Touch Bar is something I accept, but without wider developer support, it still doesn’t feel essential.

T2 Chip

Alongside the 13-inch MacBook Pro, the 15-inch laptop is one of Apple’s first notebooks with its T2 chip. This takes on functionality that would usually be handled by the CPU. Most notably, it lets the MacBook Pro listen for the “Hey Siri” command to bring up Apple’s assistant. I personally don’t use Siri very heavily on my Mac, but now you can use it the same way on as you do with an iPad and iPhone. Additionally, the T2 chip serves as the SSD controller and uses Apple’s secure enclave for encryption and secure booting.

Audio

These speakers are surprisingly strong for such a thin machine. They easily filled a mid-sized conference room with sound when I listened to Bruno Mars’ “Runaway Baby.” The vocals were clear, the guitars were balanced, the drums had a nice thump and I could even make out the bass, which is often a weak point on laptops (especially ultraportables).

Upgradeability

Apple has not designed the MacBook Pro to be user upgradable, so no need to pull out the six pentalobe screws on the bottom of the case. Not only is the CPU and GPU not upgradable (which isn’t unusual), but so the RAM and SSD storage are permanently attached to the motherboard as well. Your best bet is to buy the best version you can afford because you’re not going to be upgrading. You can always add some external storage when you run out of room for files, but if you think you’ll need 32GB of RAM, get it when you make the purchase.

Battery Life

The MacBook Pro will last you a full workday and then some on a charge. On our battery test, which continuously browses the web, runs graphics benchmarks and streams videos at 150 nits, it endured for an impressive 11 hours and 57 minutes. That’s far beyond the premium laptop average of 8:25. While that’s easily better than the Spectre (5:20), both the XPS 15 and Surface Book 2 lasted also closed in on 12 hours on the test.

Heat

The MacBook Pro won’t run uncomfortably hot during light tasks. After streaming 15 minutes of HD video from YouTube, the bottom of the laptop measured 88 degrees Fahrenheit, as did the center of the keyboard between the G and H keys. The touchpad was a cooler 81 degrees.

Webcam

The 720p webcam on the MacBook Pro is vivid and sharp. In a picture I took at my desk, the camera accurately caught the exact shade of red on my shirt, and I could make out individual hairs on my head. The photo was a bit on the warm side for my taste, but I would find the camera to be usable in both personal and professional situations.

macOS, Software and Warranty

One of the biggest draws to the MacBook Pro is macOS. If you prefer Apple’s ecosystem and its rich developer support, there’s nowhere else to go. The MacBook Pro comes running macOS High Sierra (11.13) and will be eligible for an upgrade to macOS Mojave (11.14) in the fall.

Unlike Windows, there’s nothing on macOS I’d classify as bloatware. Pages, Numbers and Keynote are a decent set of productivity tools, and iMovie is good enough for some entry-level video editing. Garageband is a good entry point for music editing, and, of course, there’s Messages, which lets you sync your iMessages with your iPad and iPhone (and send texts, of course). And all of these can sync with iCloud so that your files are accessible on your iPhone or iPad.

Apple sells the 15-inch MacBook Pro with a one-year warranty and 90 days of complimentary tech support. An additional purchase of AppleCare+ costs $379 and gives you three years of coverage and support.

Configurations

The 15-inch MacBook Pro we reviewed costs $499 with a 2.6GHz Intel Core i7-8850H CPU, 32GB of DDR4 RAM, 512GB of SSD storage and Radeon 560X graphics with 4GB of VRAM.

The base model is $439 with a 2.2GHz Core i7 processor, Radeon Pro 555X graphics, 256GB SSD storage and 16GB of RAM.

Of course, there’s also a 2.9GHz Intel Core i9 option, and storage goes up to 4TB of solid-state goodness. A completely maxed out system with the 560X GPU, 32GB of RAM, the most powerful processor and most storage is $699, although slightly less than a third of that is due to the SSD. In short, you really need the extra storage space to splurge on the 4TB option.

Bottom Line

Apple’s refreshed 15-inch MacBook Pro is a portable powerhouse with plenty of speed and power that pros need. The 8th Gen Core processor provides a much-needed speed boost, and, when paired with the Radeon graphics, they make a very powerful laptop. The 15-inch model has a long-lasting battery that should let you work all day, and the audio is nothing short of impressive. But, with a starting price of $399.

If you’re not married to macOS, there are a growing number of impressive Windows systems to consider. The latest Dell XPS 15 is similarly portable and powerful, with a better port selection and similar battery life and performance numbers. If you want to be able to use your laptop as a tablet and draw on the screen with a pen, Microsoft’s Surface Book 2, with its powerful GTX 1060 GPU, is a serious contender–though similarly expensive.

Though it faces increasingly stiff competition from competing premium and powerful Windows portables, Apple’s machine is making a comeback from last year. Now that it offers 32GB of RAM, it has specs that pros with intensive workloads can use. Pair that performance with great battery life, and fans of macOS with big budgets will flock to this thing.If only we could get a few more ports.

Apple 13.3" MacBook Pro MPXY2LL/A with Touch Bar
$366
3.1 GHz Intel Core i5 Dual-Core
8GB of 2133 MHz RAM | 512GB SSD

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