MacBook Pro (retina): 2016 vs 2015—which to buy?

Recently I decided to mothball my iMac as part of downsizing my life. I started writing a novel this year, and I’m finding Scrivener on my iPad is great for editing but not for pounding out chapter after chapter. I need to buy a portable and I’ve settled on either a 13" 2015 MacBook Pro (retina) or one of the new MacBook Pro retina machines (late 2016 build). There has been a lot of controversy over the new machines— inadequate battery life, viability of the new TouchBar interface, high price tag—but I’m hoping to get some feedback from fellow Scriveners here who own either last year’s model or already have one of the new models. Any kind of feedback would be great—on either the 2015 machines or the new 2016 rMBPs.

What’s the battery life like (for mainly using Scrivener, with an occasional bit of web surfing)?
What’s the keyboard like for doing a lot of typing?
If you carry your MBP with you all the time, can you say something about weight, portability, etc.?

I’ve been a power user for many years (a career in IT), so that’s influencing some of my concerns. Money is not an issue, really…but battery life is, and dependability as well.

Thanks in advance for anything you can share.

The 2015 MBP retina which is currently sold alongside the new one with touchbar is basically the same MBP 13" retina that I bought early 2013. Closing down everything else, dimming the screen a bit and turning off keyboard lights gives me at least 6-7 hours on battery. I have never really tried to extend it as much as possible as I seldom am away from charging possibilities more than 3-4 hours. As for portability, well my 12" Macbook only weighs a kilo whereas the MBP weighs about 1.5. For travelling I prefer the lighter 12" MB, but for serious writing I prefer the MBP. If I had to skip one I’d keep the MBP. It’s a fantastic piece of machinery. Memory is not a problem for Scrivener so even with only 8 Gb the MBP is still super fast if I run only Scriv. The 12" MB is perfect for writing in bed because it doesn’t get as warm and is even more silent as it doesn’t have an internal fan.

I have no intention of changing to a newer model for quite a while because my MBP is still very fast. I prefer the older keyboard, without the new butterfly mechanism, and find the extra ports very handy (HDMI, flash card, USB). Try to get a hands on test of the new keyboard before you make the decision.

So far (8 days or so in) my battery life on 2016 touch bar MacBook pro is way below after advertised. Like 3-5 hours total. I’m hoping this has been from over zealous use of Hazel and have disabled it to see what happens… But not thrilled with battery so far.

I just checked my battery status (using the Battery Health app).

I have been working on it for about 1.5 hours now, using mainly Mail and Safari, and it’s down to 85% of battery level now. The app estiates that I have 5-5.5 hours of work left in the batteries. Screen light is just over half the possible.

I got the 2015 MBP shortly after it came out when Best Buy had one of those super sales. I haven’t seen it offered new for a lower price since then, which maybe tells you how well they’re selling. Battery life was initially 10 hours, sometimes longer, using Scrivener, Safari, Mail and streaming audio constantly. A year and a half later, it’s down to 7 or so, I’d estimate. I don’t really know because the MBP sorta became my desktop Mac (plugged into a 2009 Apple Cinema Display) after I got my 9.7" iPad pro, which is what I now take with me when I’m not working at home. It pretty much lasts all day – I’ve never yet run the battery down.

The weight and bulk difference are significant, so much so that I just got a thin light briefcase because my old one now seems too big and bulky, since I’m only carrying the ipad and a thin logitech keys to go keyboard along with my non tech stuff. I really appreciate not having to tote so much around, and I can even slip the briefcase under my rain jacket now! I know, we’re only talking a pound or two of difference (when you include the charger, which I don’t need with the ipad) but it’s still noticeable.

For Scrivening, the MBP is overkill, and the new one would be more so. What I wanted was a retina screen, and that has made a real difference over my old Macbook Air. The ipad pro screen is even better, and I prefer using it to the Mac. I haven’t seen the new MBP screen but if that’s as important to you as it is to me, it’d be worth checking the screens out side by side at the store before you make your decision. It was the single most important reason for buying both the MPB and the iPP, because I stare at that screen all day, and my power needs are minimal (SCrivening, browsing, email mostly).

I love the keyboard on the MBP on the rare occasion that I use it, since it’s mostly plugged into a display and I use an Apple wireless keyboard with it. I might have liked the MBA keyboard a bit better, but really, it makes no difference to me in use. I’m not really a keyboard fanatic; I seem to be able to adjust to whatever I’m typing on just fine, but I totally understand how it could matter a lot more to other writers. Ive heard the new MBP keyboard is noisier and flatter, like the MacBook’s, so again, if that’s important to you, I’d try them both out in person. I haven’t used Apple’s new MacBook keyboards, but I was at a conference this summer where one of my colleagues was pounding away on a new MacBook, and man was it loud! She hadn’t really seemed to adjust her typing style to the new reality, so I bet her hands were sore after a day of typing!

One more thing you might want to consider: the port situation. The MBP is USB-c only, which I actually think was a good move for Apple to make. But for me, it would have meant dealing with adapters for my display, audio, etc., and the cost of those plus the higher cost and underpowered chip (last year) of the MacBook compared to the MBP is what made me buy the Pro instead of the MacBook last year. With the 2015 pro, I just had to plug everything in as I had done with the Air. Not so with the MacBook or the 2016 Pro, but your mileage may vary.

I hope this helps. Really, last year’s MBP is a perfectly good travel and writing machine and if I had to go back to using it on the road, it wouldn’t bother me. It’s only slightly heavier and bulkier than my old 13" Air, and the difference is negligible, especially for those of who remember the old PowerBook days! If I were traveling all the time, I might go for a MacBook or grab a cheap MBA 11’ before they’re all gone. But really, for me, the little iPad pro is now the perfect travel computer, and as soon as I can make it my only computer, I probably will. That would mean using it with an external monitor, and iOS evolving a little more so I wouldn’t need a MacBook, or even a Mac. I expect my 2015 MacBook Pro will be my last Mac, and if so, it was a good one to go out on!

Good luck with your decision, and please let us know what you decide, or if I can provide more info.

My battery life is up to closer to seven hours per charge. Not as promised but a big improvement from initial results.

I have the earliest MBP 13" Retina and a MB 12". I still think the 13" is a great machine even if it is 4 years old, but I love the portability of the 12". I don’t have the new MBP with touchbar, but I looked at it in an Apple Store and picked it up. It’s so much lighter than my MBP! I’d definitely go for the new model.

Battery life is heavily dependent on how you use your machine. I like to use mine, running multiple things in parallel. Best case scenario I reach five hours of battery life with my machines, but writing is only one part of what I do.

For what it’s worth, users are reporting improved battery life on the 2016 MBP after installing macOS Sierra update 10.12.2 Beta (16C60b). Public release should be soon.

Here’s a comparison: … cbook-pro/

One thing I forgot to consider : if Scrivener someday offers Touch Bar support (I wonder what functions would go there?), that might provide another reason to go with one of the new TB equipped models. Please let us know what you decide.

The advice to try the keyboard is excellent. It’s fast to type on but definitely quite loud compared to my MBP.

I visited my sister who has one of the new 15" touch bar MacBook Pro models. I have a 15" 2015 MBP (and a 2014 iMac). Her one complaint is the noisy keyboard. She’s learning to type with a lighter touch, but compared to mine, hers is like a drum set. She likes everything about it except for the C connectors and the keyboard. Her battery life is less than mine, but I can’t say how much less. Battery Health App says my battery is still at 97% of original capacity. Her battery life (and mine?) might change with 12.2.


I got the 15" touch bar, with discrete graphics. Yup, my wallet was in tears.

But here’s my advice: it’s a portable computer that’s a lot better at not being portable. Mine essentially sits to the side, and is attached to 2 monitors, one of them 4k (which it drives very well). The only reason why I bought a MacBook pro, was because they hadn’t updated the Mac Pro desktop in 3 years (nor the mac mini in like 2), and it didn’t look like they were going to anytime soon. I needed a computer, as my last one was 7 years old. I can’t stand windows or linux and love the scrivener MacOS port, so essentially that left me with nought but the MacBook pro. That being said, my computer serves its purpose. It’s fast, and very quiet, and does what I want it to do. Watch 4k film/tv, play the occasional game, read novels, do my homework, honestly, I couldn’t ask for a better gift.

I don’t type on it, as I use the magic keyboard, and I use a mouse, not the trackpad. So essentially I use the computer purely for the processor. As for my portable needs, I use an iPad with a Logitech keyboard.

As to the complainers about battery life, consumer reports recently recanted their initially beef with Apple, now, with a bug fix (apparently out in the next few weeks) stating that it’s performs well on battery tests and thus recommendable. Not saying this will be gold for everyone, but hey, at least the company is doing something…

As for keyboard click sounds, one resolution is to a get a silicone cover for the keyboard. You can find them on amazon. They muffle the sound to some extent.

I’ve been using mine (13" MBP 2016 TB) five or six hours a day regularly and today (when I hadn’t charged it overnight) is the first time I’ve had the battery run out. i.e. the battery life is good enough that it hasn’t been a problem - typically prediction (with FruitJuice) is around 7 hours and that seems pretty accurate.

I love the feel of the keyboard, but it is a bit noisy.

The TouchBar is coming into it’s own for me. The app that really showed it off for me was MindNode (cough cough Scapple cough cough) – which incidentally is the first app I’ve started using since getting the machine (i.e. I didn’t already know all the keyboard shortcuts). Maybe it’s the visual nature of mind-mapping … anyway the TouchBar just seems perfectly suited for it. I also love it for easy multi-color highlighting in Preview.

Another vote for the MBP with Touchbar. I’ve had mine a month or so now and it is fine.The touchbar has yet to wow me, but the machine itself is very solid, wonderful screen, and it is the first laptop keyboard in a long time that is really excellent. Noisy tho, as everyone else reports. Battery life more or less what I had had on my previous (c. 2013) MBP.

The dongles ARE a pain, and a bit expensive, but I just leave them on the devices and it’s ok. Bought an extra screen dongle for the monitor at the office. If I were to travel with it, I’d get a USB dongle to carry since so often people pass things with thumb drives, which of course won’t fit. When the world is all USB-C, it will be great however: everything the same, no wrong-side-up, cables the same at either end. But I think Apple was inconsiderate when it went all at once to ONLY this format. It was a typical Apple F-YOU. But, that said, it is a fine (if a bit overpriced) workhorse computer.

I’d add that my battery life has improved further, to 8-9 hours.

lunk, brett, derick, brett, Fitch, marcoiac, EvPowers, yosimiti, kevinR…

Thanks for all the feedback, reviews, information, and helpful responses. Appreciate everyone’s time on this.

It’s five months later now, and I am I typing this on a full-loaded 2015 15” MBPr. I wanted a cheaper, simpler, reportedly more dependable machine with a quieter keyboard, and that’s why I ended up going with the 2015 model. Oddly enough, I love the TouchBar, especially the volume and brightness controls on it, but the lack of an Esc key, endless threads on quirky problems with the new machines, price, and a number of other things made me made me go with the 2015 model. I’m glad I did.

Although I’ve had a few problems breaking in the machine, I am extremely pleased with it. The keyboard, although somewhat “chicklet”-like, is a keyboard I love; possibly the best Mac keyboard I’ve ever used. And finally I have a backlit keyboard again, something I haven’t had since I was forced to retire my 2007 MBP 15” years go. (I had a MacBook Air for a time, but it was one of the early ones without a backlit keyboard.) Battery time is nearly ten hours when writing in Notepad or Scrivener or doing lightweight web surfing.

It is obvious that the screen and speakers on the newer TouchBar screens are far superior to the 2015 models; and yet, I think the screen and sound from this 2015 I bought are absolutely amazing.

brett, really appreciate the long review you wrote (hey, there, Portlander…I went to Reed and stayed in your lovely city a few years afterward and had a great time). I suppose the MBP is overkill for Scrivener, but I can’t stand any kind of latency or underpowered nonsense on any computer, so this machine gets me close to a basic comfort level I demand in terms of speed. Three weeks in, Apple is still “processing” my 40,000 photos, but that will be completed eventually.

I was actually much more in love with the 13” model, but I’m glad I went with the 15”. I won’t be going mobile with it much—and thanks to our L&L friends, that’s not an issue, since I can edit my manuscripts on the run with my iPhone and iPad. One of the main reasons to get a big MBP was to have a keyboard, wrist rest, and track pad that would provide just the right typing platform to pound out my target 300,000 words; and in this respect, I think the 2015 15” MBPr is possibly the best machine on the planet for writing an epic novel. I only hope that it will last me the 3–5 years required to write the entire thing!

Thanks again, all. Coming back and reading this topic five months later, I’m impressed and comforted by the helpful advice everyone gave me back then. Much appreciated.

Thanks for the update, and so glad you wound up with a tool that’s right for you, and a good value to boot. I bet that 15" screen is glorious. It seems that the 2015 MBPs have really retained their value, not least I imagine because of all the legacy hardware, like my old 24" Apple Cinema Display, that requires USB and other old ports.

I really agonized over my choice for quite awhile even after pulling the trigger during that terrific sale (and in fact I’ve still not seen the price of a new 13" MBP go below what I paid for mine), because the 2015 MBP was neither new, sleek, nor sexy. But when the 2016 MBPs finally emerged over a year later, I knew I’d made the right choice. As much as I’d love to have Apple’s new toys, or even a sentimental favorite like the old 11" Air, for my actual use, the old model MPB was ideal. It was and is by far the cheapest Retina option available. It provides all the screen resolution my external display can handle and more, and all the ports and power I need, along with the ability to tote it on the increasingly rare occasions that my iPad Pro won’t do the trick.

But that happens so seldom that the extra weight isn’t really an issue, as I’ve found the 9.7" iPad to be the ideal travel computer, even when that travel is only over to the couch, where I’m writing this now. With Scrivener available on iOS and other evolutions of my other iOS apps and iOS itself (with more to come soon), I’m more sure than ever that, unless the nature of my work changes dramatically, the 2015 MacBook pro will be my last Mac. I hope yours serves you well for a good many Scrivenings!

Glad you’re happy with the decision.

FWIW it’s worth here are a few more thoughts on the 13" 2016 TouchBar:

  1. BetterTouchTool is really useful - it lets you add custom TouchBar configurations on a per app basis, including apps that don’t have native TouchBar support. I’ve used it to add colored highlight buttons (as natively found in Preview) to Skim, among other things.

  2. I replaced the Siri button in the default TouchBar with a Spotlight button. I never used Siri and it seems to me that I now use Spotlight quite a bit more.

  3. Duet works wonderfully with this machine (unlike with the 2010 MBA that I replaced). With my iPad it gives me a super-portable 13"/9.7" dual monitor combo. (I haven’t tried Duet’s implementation of the TouchBar).

You can trigger Spotlight with Command-Space, which is likely faster, as you don’t have to look down to the keyboard. :slight_smile:

I use command-space for Alfred and had remapped ctrl-command space for Spotlight. The TouchBar uses one finger instead of 3 & feels like less work (very subjective, I know). And though this isn’t true of all TouchBar buttons, the Spotlight key can easily be hit without looking b/c of where it’s located (i.e. in the former Siri spot, all the way to the right).

Just another plug for text expanders (I’m not promoting the one I use - they’re all good). If you type a lot they can save you lots. Here’s the stats from my latest version:

Screen Shot 2017-05-13 at 12.38.23.png

And as I’ve used different versions of it since 1995, the keystrokes and time it must have saved me is just immense.