MacBook Pro (15-inch, mid-2018) review

By admin -

OUR VERDICT

The MacBook Pro 2018 15-inch is a powerful pro notebook with a fantastic design. However, in its bid to appeal to the mass market, it might turn off some professionals.

FOR+

Fantastic design
True Tone works well when you want it
Touch Bar is improving
Very good performance

AGAINST-

Expensive
Lack of ports
Keyboard still feels a little flat

Apple has a knack for launching new versions of its devices with a lot of fanfare, but when it released the Macbook Pro 2018, it did it so under the radar. In fact, the 2018 MacBook Pro experienced such a low-key launch, despite having much more powerful hardware and an improved keyboard. And, just like the previous generation, the 15-inch MacBook Pro arrives alongside its 13-inch counterpart. 

Despite its quiet release, we know that Apple still loves the MacBook Pro. And that quiet release might just be due to that fact that while the iPhone XS and iPad, along with the 12-inch MacBook, are aimed at mass consumers, the MacBook Pro has always been aimed at the creative and professional audience.

This new MacBook Pro brings a level of performance (and price) that’s significantly higher than its more consumer-oriented devices, so that it meets the growing demands of its target users.

However, that also doesn’t mean that Apple does want mainstream users to buy into the MacBook Pro. If you want the most powerful MacBook to date, the new MacBook Pro might be for you as well. Just keep in mind that, while the keyboard has been updated, there are still reliability issues. Although that’s hardly a deal-breaker to diehard Mac fans.

Between the two sizes, there’s enough of a difference in performance to warrant two separate reviews. In this one, we’re looking at how the flagship 15-inch MacBook Pro performs in 2019, even on the heels of the release of the 15-inch MacBook Pro 2019.

If you already have the device and are having issues with it, check out our guide on how to reset a MacBook Pro. Bear in mind also that both models have been recently refreshed. The 13-inch entry level model received an improved display and keyboard, not to mention a cheaper price, in July 2019. On the other hand, 15-inch model got the 8-core Intel Core i9 chips back in May 2019.

Price and availability

As with past MacBook Pro models, the new 15-inch comes in several configurations. The base model comes with a 2.6GHz 6-core 9th-generation Intel Core i7 processor, Radeon Pro 555X GPU, 16GB of DDR4 memory and a 256GB SSD for $2,399 (£2,349, AU$3,499).

Again, there’s more than just the base model – you can configure it different components to tailor to your needs (and budget), at least to an extent. If you’re doing a lot of video editing, for instance, you can upgrade the processor to a 9th‑generation Intel Core i9, while saving cash by sticking to a smaller SSD and utilizing an external hard drive, preferably with a Thunderbolt port, instead.

The MacBook Pro 2018, which again has been refreshed mid-2019, can be configured to a 2.4GHz 8‑core 9th‑generation Intel Core i9 processor for $300 (£310, AU$440) more, 32GB of RAM for $400 (£360, AU$640) more and an upgrade to the AMD Radeon Pro 560X for an additional $100 (£90, AU$160).

Apple also has the Radeon Pro Vega graphics on offer. This will set you back $250 (£225, AU$400) for the Radeon Pro Vega 16, and $350 (£315, AU$560) for the Radeon Pro Vega 20. However, you’ll have to opt for at least a 512GB SSD if you want this graphics option.

As far as storage, you can upgrade to a 512GB SSD for $200 (£180, AU$320), 1TB SSD for $600 (£540, AU$960), 2TB SSD for $1,400 (£1,260, AU$2,240) and a 4TB SSD for $3,400 (£3,060, AU$5,440). Though again, it’s worth noting that you’re better off with an external SSD drive, as you’ll find many with more storage capacity at more than half the price.

The MacBook Pro 15-inch is certainly expensive, but the price of entry is worth it to many potential users. Plus, it’s great that the MacBook Pro doesn’t raise the base price over the 2017 model. You can get a notable upgrade in specs, without spending significantly more.

If you’re looking for a MacBook Pro alternative running on Windows 10, the new Dell XPS 15 2018 offers comparable spec options – with up to an Intel Core i9-8950HK, Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050Ti graphics, 32GB of RAM and a 2TB PCIe NVMe SSD for $3,199 (about £2,520, AU$4,616). 

While this is a high asking price, it’s still cheaper than a similarly specced Macbook Pro with Radeon Pro VEGA 20 graphics, which will set you back $4,549 (£4,274, AU$6,899). That’s enough price difference to seriously consider the Dell laptop. Unless, of course, you’re wedded to macOS or want to utilize the new features that comes with macOS Catalina, which is rolling out in Fall 2019.

Design

The MacBook Pro has made a name for itself for having a beautiful, thin and light chassis that fits powerful components. And, Apple has taken an ‘if it’s not broke, don’t fix it’ approach with the 2018 model.

In other words, the new MacBook Pro has an almost the same chassis design as last year, right down to its dimensions and weight. It weighs just 1.83kg (4.02 pounds), and when closed, it’s only 1.55cm (0.61 inches) thick.

Anyone who loves the design of older MacBook Pro laptops will appreciate this, especially because the weight and those dimensions are incredible for a 15-inch laptop this powerful. It’s even slightly thinner than the Dell XPS 15, and a bit lighter than Microsoft’s Surface Book 2. These are arguably the MacBook Pro’s biggest Windows-based competitors, and the fact that the MacBook Pro 2018 easily beats them on power, while being thinner and lighter, is a huge win for Apple.

All 15-inch models of the MacBook Pro 2018 feature the Touch Bar, a thin glass touchscreen that runs along the top of the keyboard, displaying context-sensitive buttons on its 2,170 x 60 resolution screen. These buttons change depending on the application or task that you’re performing, and are designed to give you quick shortcuts for a more seamless workflow.

When the Touch Bar first made an appearance on the MacBook Pro 2016, not everyone was sold on the idea, though we ourselves were quite enamored with it. The good news is that over the years, Touch Bar compatibility has grown, encompassing every Apple app, as well as many popular third party apps like Adobe Photoshop and Google Chrome. This feature more useful than ever before, and once you get used to the new Touch Bar buttons, they really can help speed up your workflow, making it more seamless. 

Not that there aren’t any drawbacks. These buttons are context-sensitive and change depending on what app you’re using. This basically means you’ll never really be able to use them without checking where they are – unlike physical buttons whose locations you can quickly memorize. It’s a small criticism, but one that might make sticking to keyboard shortcuts for your most-used tasks a better option.

Next to the Touch Bar is a fingerprint scanner for quickly and securely logging unto the computer as well as authorizing payments. It's fast and easy to set up, and accurately reads your fingerprint and logs you in without fuss - something that many fingerprint readers on laptops fail to do.

Not everything is exactly the same, however. The keyboard just got an update, for example, which might be great news for many people, but not be good enough for others. The keyboards of previous MacBook Pros with the ‘butterfly’ switch have been criticized for having higher than usual failure rates, and suffering from issues such as ‘sticky keys.’ So much so that Apple was even forced to admit that some of its keyboards break too easily.

While Apple has bragged that the MacBook Pro 2018 comes with an improved keyboard, it didn’t exactly specify that the revisions were aimed at fixing these issues. Instead, it focused on the fact that it is quieter to type on. If you’re a fast typer who likes to hammer keys while working, this improvement will at least be welcome (to you and your co-workers).

While we do find the new MacBook Pro keyboard to be less noisy in practice, the shallow key travel remains, which means that the keys don’t feel quite as tactile or responsive while typing. Users who like shallower keyboards may actually prefer this design, however.

A new silicone membrane not only helps keep the noise of the keyboard under control, but also stops dust from getting in and messing up the switch – a complaint many people have had with previous MacBook Pro models.

Lastly, the screen also gets a number of improvements. While it still keeps its 2,880 x 1,800 resolution and 220 ppi of pixel density, it now also boasts Apple’s True Tone display tech, which debuted on the iPad Pro and is featured in the new iPhone XS, XS Max and XR. This technology senses ambient lighting in the environment you’re working in and adjusts the display so that you get a bright and vibrant image, no matter where you are.

You can toggle this mode on and off in the Display section of System Preferences in macOS, and the difference is quite striking, giving the screen a warmer feel. This is a nice feature to have when you mainly work with word processing, spreadsheets or coding applications.

While it’s a welcome extra however, it’s one that is aimed more at consumers rather than creative professionals. If your job involves work where color accuracy is essential, such as photo and video editing, then you might want to turn this feature off.

How thin is too thin? 

Undoubtedly, the MacBook Pro 2018 15-inch’s thin and light form factor makes for a very stunning design. However, we also have to remember that Apple is marketing the MacBook Pro 2018 for creatives and professionals first and foremost. It’s here that we have to wonder if this thinness may be a hindrance.

After all, professional devices need to put workflow above all else – that includes aesthetics. Because of its thin design, the MacBook Pro 2018 comes with just four USB-C ports, and one headphone jack port.

To be fair, these are all Thunderbolt 3, which means data transfer is extremely fast as long as you have compatible devices, including that external SSD you’re currently saving money on. But, if you’re going to use legacy hardware with the MacBook Pro – like anything that requires a standard USB-A port – you’ll need to use an adapter, which you’ll have to buy separately, adding to your cost.

If you want to connect to an Ethernet cable, you’ll also need an adapter. If you’re a photographer who needs to transfer photos from a memory card, you’ll need a memory card reader as well. That is, if you don't already have one.

Some people will say that the lack of ports is a small price to pay for the thin and light design. That is, unless you’re a creative who requires a device with everything you need on offer and very minimal fuss. If so, you’ll soon get frustrated with the MacBook Pro’s ports limitation. That’s not exactly good news, considering that the laptop is designed for users just like you.

If you look at other laptops designed for professionals, like Lenovo’s ThinkPad, they put usability above svelte design. They have a workman-like appearance, sure, and can be big, bulky and inconvenient to carry around. But, you’ll also be able to plug your hardware in quickly and easily. If compatibility and ease of use is your top priority, you may want to choose legacy hardware support over svelte design, which means the MacBook Pro might not be your most ideal option.

To be fair, the stunningly-thin design of the MacBook Pro means it’s a creative’s notebook that also appeals to consumers. If you’re invested in the Apple ecosystem and want the most powerful MacBook ever made, then the MacBook Pro 2018 15-inch is going to be incredibly tempting.

Just bear in mind that this unending pursuit of thinness by Apple also has other implications for the MacBook Pro. There’s some very powerful hardware crammed into the MacBook Pro’s tiny body, and the more powerful the hardware, the hotter it runs. Due to its thin and light chassis, there needs to be a very good cooling solution to keep it from overheating.

And, while the MacBook Pro 2018’s cooling system does work – there’s not much annoying fan noise whirring up when performing intensive tasks like some other laptops – we’ve also seen some worrying reports that the MacBook Pro 2018 throttles the processor when it gets hot, limiting the performance of the processor to keep it from overheating. 

While this does happen with other laptops, the worrying thing here is how quickly the MacBook Pro 2018 seems to throttle the processor. It means that a cheaper MacBook Pro, with a core i7 processor, rather than a core i9 chip, can potentially perform better when handling processor-intensive tasks. On the upside, Apple has rolled out a macOS update to address this, which we will discuss later in this review.

If you’re considering the MacBook Pro 2018 as your next laptop investment, you may want to think carefully about whether having a thin and light laptop is more important to you, or if having a more seamless workflow in your professional work is still top priority.

While the outside of the MacBook Pro 2018 15-inch is pretty similar to last year’s model, internally, things have been improved dramatically.

The MacBook Pro 2018 comes with a choice of Intel 8th-generation Core processors, with the 15-inch model offering a 6-core Intel core i7 with a 2.2GHz base clock and Turbo Boost speed of up to 4.1 GHz, or a Core i9 CPU with a base clock of 2.9GHz, that can turbo up to 4.8GHz, as your options. Note that these were the current specs at the time of this review. We updated the Price and availability section to reflect the mid-2019 refresh specs and prices.

These 8th-generation of Intel processors boast up to 70% faster performance over the MacBook Pro 2017, according to Apple. Intel has also been packing the performance benefits of the new generation, which also promises better power efficiency for longer battery life.

​In our tests, along with day-to-day use, we found the MacBook Pro to be a solid performer, with the new processor making the whole device feel faster and more responsive overall. Apple sent us the highest configuration of the MacBook Pro 15-inch for testing, so the more affordable configurations will not quite hit the performance highs we saw.

Looking at the benchmark results, our MacBook Pro 2018 15-inch configuration scored substantially higher than last year’s 13-inch MacBook Pro, which came with a seventh generation, dual core 3.1GHz Intel Core i5-7267U processor.

Where the 2017 model scored 383 points in the Cinebench CPU benchmark, the 2018 15-inch model scored 1,057 points, which shows how the increase in core count has positively impacted the performance.

The Geekbench 4 benchmark also highlighted the performance difference with a single core score of 4,383 for the 2017 model, and 5,542 with the 2018 15-inch model. When it came to multi-core scores, the difference was even more stark, thanks to the 2018 model’s six cores, compared to the two cores of the 2017 model – scoring 9,313 and 23,431, respectively.

The performance of the MacBook Pro 2018 15-inch versus the 13-inch 2018 model was closer, with the Cinebench CPU benchmark returning 621 points for the 13-incher, and the Geekbench 4 scores of 5,320 single-core and 18,135 multi-core.

Still, if you want the absolute best CPU performance, the 15-inch MacBook Pro is your best bet.

If you’re looking to utilize the MacBook Pro for graphic-intensive tasks, such as video and image editing, or 3D rendering, then you’ll be more than satisfied with the discrete graphics cards that come with the 15-inch model. You get the choice of either the AMD Radeon Pro 555X or the Radeon Pro 560X, both of which come with 4GB of GDDR5 memory. Both are formidable professional graphics cards that do an excellent job of handling intensive programs when processing high-resolution images, such as Photoshop.

As you can see from the Cinebench graphics test, it’s a powerful GPU that skillfully beats the Surface Book 2, which has an Nvidia GTX 1060 graphics card, and managed 94fps (frames per second) to the MacBook Pro’s 102.28 fps.

Apple has also addressed complaints about the MacBook Pro 2017 only supporting up to 16GB of RAM, with the MacBook Pro 2018 15-inch now supporting up to 32GB of DDR4 memory. This is excellent news, as the boost in RAM makes this an ideal notebook for multitasking, not to mention, a bit of gaming. But again, remember that you’ll be paying a hefty sum for that upgrade.

Using the MacBook Pro 2018, we can have numerous apps open (including Handbrake) while transcoding video files, and the device remains fast and responsive. Most consumers may find 16GB of RAM to be more than enough, but the option to add up to 32GB is welcome for more intensive users.

Addressing the Throttling issue

As with the 13-inch MacBook Pro 2018, we also transcoded a 57-minute, 1080p video to HEVC using HandBrake’s Apple 1080p30 Surround preset, with the video encoder switch to ‘H.265 (x265)’. 

This is where things got interesting, considering the accusations of extreme throttling for the MacBook Pro. The video transcode is a very CPU-intensive task, and we watched the clock speeds during this test. While almost 100% of the CPU was being used, the clock speeds of the processor started at around 2.82GHz, then dropped to 2.34GHz on average, sometimes going as low as 1.94GHz.

This is a long way off the 2.90GHz base clock and 4.8GHz boost clock advertised. Meanwhile, CPU temperatures hit a maximum of 97C (206F). That’s incredibly hot, and it’s clear that’s why the clock speeds were lowered.

However, Apple has since explained that there was “a missing digital key in the firmware that impacts the thermal management system and could drive clock speeds down under heavy thermal loads on the new MacBook Pro. A bug fix is included in […] macOS High Sierra 10.13.6 Supplemental Update and is recommended.”

We downloaded and installed the update, and ran the tests again. It completed in 1 hour, 13 minutes. This time, clock speeds were much more stable at around 2.99GHz, dropping to 2.50GHz at the lowest.

This is faster than the 13-inch MacBook Pro, which finished the same test in 1 hour 33 minutes with the new patch installed.

Meanwhile, the 15-inch MacBook Pro from late 2016, with an older 2.7GHz, quad-core i7 CPU, took 1 hour 40 minutes. That new, powerful Core i9 chip in the 15-inch 2018 MacBook Pro, therefore, really makes a difference to performance. It also shows that it's well worth your time to install the latest macOS update to maximize the performance potential of the MacBook Pro 2018.

Battery life

Apple maintains that the MacBook Pro 2018 boasts up to 10 hours of battery life. But that, of course, depends on the tasks you’re running. Apple’s battery life tests may not be as rigorous as ours, which is why we found the MacBook Pro 2018 to come quite a bit under its advertised figure during our battery tests, which involve looping 1080p video at 50% brightness and volume – with all backlighting and radios (but Wi-Fi) disabled – until it dies.

The MacBook Pro 15-inch lasted 9 hours and 58 minutes before it shut down, which isn’t bad compared to the competition, and obviously only two minutes less than Apple’s promised 10 hours after its tests at 75% screen brightness. However, if you’re working on something more intensive, like video rendering, you might want to carry the MacBook Pro’s charger around, as you’ll get significantly reduced battery life.

Verdict 

In our review of the MacBook Pro 2018 13-inch, we lamented the fact that this year’s model of the smaller MacBook Pro was a more iterative upgrade, rather than a dramatic leap forward. That wasn’t the case with MacBook Pro 2018 15-inch.

The MacBook Pro 2018 15-inch was already a more impressive upgrade over last year's model even before its May 2019 refresh, with a much better processor and increased RAM making a big difference in performance. If you’re a professional looking for a portable Apple device, then the MacBook Pro 2018 15-inch will be very tempting.

However, this still doesn’t feel like a machine designed to tempt Windows users, who will likely be frustrated by some of Apple’s quirks (and high price tag). Limiting the number of ports to a handful of USB-C connections isn’t a big deal, if you’re a mainstream user. However, for professionals who require legacy connections, having to use an adapter or a hub (which isn’t included despite the high price) is an inconvenience many won’t put up with.

While we do appreciate the thin and light design of the MacBook Pro 2018, we are concerned that it’s too much at the expense of power users and professionals – the very people that Apple is supposed to be targeting with the MacBook Pro.

Without a doubt, the MacBook Pro 2018 15-inch is a powerful and appealing notebook with a stunning design that’s pretty much peerless when it comes to workstations. If you’re an Apple fan and have the budget, you’ll love this device. However, as a purely professional notebook, we still feel that Apple has slightly lost sight of what pro users really want and need.