Apple's latest MacBook Pros ditch the F keys

Hot on the heels of Microsoft's hardware event yesterday, Apple took the wraps off a new lineup of MacBook Pro hardware this afternoon. The company has trimmed off the usual millimeters, shaved some pounds, and trimmed some legacy ports from its these machines, but we've come to expect as much from new Macs. The headline feature of these notebooks is a multifunction touch strip that Apple calls Touch Bar. This display can adapt to the needs of the in-focus application and give users quick access to commonly-used tools and settings. The Touch Bar also incorporates a Touch ID sensor-cum-power-button that brings Apple Pay and improved security to the machines.

Apple demonstrated the Touch Bar with Photoshop, Final Cut Pro, a DJ app, and Microsoft Office, among others. The Touch Bar works in tandem with a huge multi-touch trackpad featuring Apple's Taptic Engine haptic feedback system to allow users a wide range of input options.

The new MacBook Pros come in the same 13" and 15" form factors as before, but Apple incorporated some of the tricks it learned from designing the MacBook into its latest machines. The LCD panel in both notebooks is now thinner than ever, and it's brighter, contrastier, and more colorful than the last generation of MacBook Pros. Apple didn't say what color gamuts the new panel supports, but we're betting it's the usual DCI P3 standard that Apple uses when it talks "wide-gamut." Another MacBook carry-over is a refined version of the slim, short-travel keyboard in that wafer-thin machine.

We predicted Kaby Lake wouldn't be coming to any MacBook Pro refresh because of the projected first-quarter 2017 release of higher-TDP seventh-gen Core chips, and Apple bore that guess out with a round of Skylake CPU upgrades for its top-end notebooks. The 13" MacBook Pro gets an unspecified dual-core Core i5 CPU with 2.9 GHz base and 3.3 GHz Turbo speeds. That chip comes with Intel's Iris Graphics 550 IGP. Two faster CPU options are available for speed demons.

The 15" model gets a range of Skylake quad-core parts starting with 2.6 GHz base and 3.5GHz Turbo speeds. 13" machines get 8GB of DDR4-2133 RAM to start with, and 16GB is available as an upgrade. 15" machines are stuck with 16GB no matter what, though—somewhat concerning for a pro-grade machine. Solid-state storage options range from 256GB up to 1TB in 13" machines, and from 256GB to 2TB in the 15" systems.

AMD scored a major design win with the latest MacBook Pros. The 15" model comes with the Radeon Pro 450 chip paired with 2GB of memory. No specs for this part are online yet, but it seems to be a Polaris chip at the very least. A Radeon Pro 455 powers the higher-end base configuration of the 15" model, and a Radeon Pro 460 chip with 4GB of RAM is available as an upgrade option for all 15" machines.

Apple ditched the range of single-purpose ports ringing the MacBook Pros of the past for four Thunderbolt 3 ports . Each of these ports can move up to 40 Gbps in Thunderbolt 3 mode, and they also support a wide range of display and data connections like USB 3.1 and DisplayPort 1.2. Owners can plug a charger into any one of those ports as needed, as well, although that move heralds the end of the life-saving MagSafe quick-disconnect power plug.

Those hoping for a MacBook Air upgrade announcement can likely write a eulogy for that machine. For those customers, Apple has a stripped-down version of the new MacBook Pro 13" with a 2 GHz Core i5 CPU that can Turbo up to 3.1 GHz, 8GB of memory (upgradable to 16GB), solid-state storage options ranging from 256GB to 1TB, and a fixed row of standard function keys. This machine will go for $1499 and up. Prices for the Touch Bar-equipped MacBook Pros start at $1799 for the 13" model and $2499 for the 15" machine. A wide range of upgrade options can take those prices up by a thousand bucks or more. The machines are all available for pre-order on Apple's site now, and the company says shipments will begin in two to three weeks.

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