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by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

Apple updates the MacBook Pro in big and small ways

Note: This story has not been updated for several years.

The current generation of MacBook Pro models has been controversial since it was introduced in late 2016. The Touch Bar, the abandonment of MagSafe, a 16GB RAM limit, a reduction in ports, the move to USB-C (requiring dongles to connect old devices), and the low-travel keyboard from the MacBook… people were frustrated by a lot of Apple’s choices on these computers.

Another frustration pro Mac users have been having recently is that the product cycle has seemed to keep stretching, with Apple taking increasingly long between product updates. With its recommitment to pro users at a special media event in the spring of 2017, it seemed like Apple had gotten the message, but it would need to walk the walk. A quick MacBook Pro update last spring suggested the company was recommitting to relatively quick product updates; the grumbling began again when the year anniversary of that update passed with no sign of a 2018 revision.

On Thursday that revision arrived. And while it’s not a wholesale reinvention of this generation of MacBook Pro—Apple stuck with the previous body design for four years—it does address a few of the top complaints of MacBook Pro users. The 2018 MacBook Pros support up to 32GB of RAM, and they’re running Intel eighth-generation Core processors. It took Apple 13 months between updates this time, but it seems clear now that Apple is committed to an annual update cycle for the MacBook Pro that takes into account the latest high-performance laptop chips from Intel.

As you might expect from a mid-generation spec bump update, most of the changes on these models are modest. The MacBook Pro now contains the same Apple-designed T2 processor as the iMac Pro, replacing the T1 processor in previous models that drove the Touch Bar. The T2 does a lot more, most notably providing on-the-fly storage encryption and providing a secure boot process.

For the first time, a Mac gains a True Tone display, previously seen only on iOS devices. True Tone is a nice feature that matches the color temperature of your display to the color temperature of your surroundings, thanks to an embedded light sensor. Of course, a lot of the professional users who will be buying the MacBook Pro will demand color output fidelity from their new laptop display, and will therefore need to turn this feature off some or all of the time.

The low-travel butterfly keyboard has apparently also been tweaked, making this the third generation model (after the one in the original MacBook and the updated version that shipped on the 2016 MacBook Pros and every successive MacBook). The second revision of the keyboard was meant to add more tactile feel, but also really increased the volume of noise—I always describe those keyboards as sounding “crunchy.” According to Apple, this new generation of keyboard is quieter, but presumably the company didn’t just revert to the first-generation design and has retained some of the added feel that makes you forget you’re typing on keys with extremely short travel.

It’s also unclear if the new keyboard design will prove less prone to failure than the previous models. Apple continues to insist that only a very small percentage of keyboards fail due to small bits of grit and dust getting stuck in keys (though it made a repair warranty extension program all the same), and I know many people who have run into just this problem with their keyboards. Apple is never going to declare that its old keyboard design was terrible; we’re just going to have to wait and see if perhaps this new design turns out to be more resilient.

In the end, if you’re a MacBook Pro user who wanted access to the latest generation of Intel processors (including a six-core model!) and 32GB of RAM, this update will be welcome. If, on the other hand, you’re someone who thinks Apple made some poor choices in its design of this generation of MacBook Pro… this is still fundamentally the 2016 MacBook Pro design. A redesign will undoubtedly come along eventually—they always do. But this update isn’t that.

For hands-on looks at these new models (based on a media event held in New York City on Wednesday), check out Laptop Mag, The Verge, Macworld, and iMore.

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