6 months using Office and a MacBook Pro with Touch Bar

A compelling productivity solution

Apple, Mac, MacBook Pro, Microsoft, Office, Office for Mac, Touch Bar
Roman Loyola

Apple introduced the first iteration of its MacBook Pro with Touch Bar a few months ago. Microsoft soon put Touch Bar support in Office for Mac apps. I’ve used both for several months and with a new Touch Bar Mac now available and Microsoft’s implementation clearly past beta, I thought it might be useful to discuss my experience using both together.

The MacBook Pro w. Touch Bar

With the exception of one weird, now discredited, Laptop story, Apple’s new computer received overwhelmingly positive reviews when introduced.

[Also read: 10+ Apple MacBook Pro Touchbar tips.]

It’s certainly not the cheapest laptop you can buy, but in the months I’ve used one I’ve been consistently impressed by its stability, performance, and superb high-resolution display. I never really bought into ‘dongle-gate’, I’ve rarely had to worry about this at all, beyond storage. Thunderbolt 3’s ability to handle both input and output, as well as power supply, mean this is a much more flexible interconnect than what it replaces. Battery life has also been stable, though I have seen conflicting reports on this.

So, who is it for? Pro users, of course! When it comes to productivity this notebook can handle almost anything: imaging, video, and (of course) writing. It is also a great Mac for multitasking, quite capable of handling multiple demanding apps at once.

You’ll see even greater performance gains when Apple ships High Sierra later this year, particularly if you invest $599 in an Apple External Graphics Development Kit, which lets you run an even more powerful external graphics processor for graphics-intensive tasks.

The Touch Bar

Apart from its much larger trackpad the pride and joy of these new Macs is the Touch Bar. While I like the Touch Bar a lot, for me this really comes into its own when working in pro apps like Final Cut, Logic, or even Office. This is because I found that I only really took the time to learn how to use the Touch Bar when I was working within applications I use most often. I guess that may be a habitual thing: I’ve become accustomed to working in a certain way on my Mac, and acquiring new habits takes time. However, I’ve also found that once I become used to using Touch Bar in an app I find use becomes increasingly seamless, and I rely on it more and more. As I acquire finger memory the ability to get to the settings/controls I need to use kicks in, and I found myself empowered to get things done without needing to shuffle through Menu items to find the feature I needed.

It’s also quite easy to customize the available tools your Mac provides on a per-App basis, using the ‘Customize Touch Bar in [app name]’ tool you may find in the View Menu item within an app. (Though not every app has this).

Office productivity

I’ve become very used to using Touch Bar in Office apps (most particularly, Word and Excel). These apps have been around a very long time, and they are utterly stacked with settings, controls and other features.

The positive side of this feature-creep is that most enterprise users know they can get almost anything they need to get done inside of Microsoft’s Office environment, while the negative side is that sometimes the tools you need to use most are hard to find.

Touch Bar shines in this situation because it changes in response to what you are doing. This  makes it possible to get things done in a click or two that may have taken multiple clicks to find and run within the standard Mac user interface – no mouse required. If I have a reservation it’s that Microsoft hasn’t yet provided customizable touch bar settings within its Office apps, though you can change these on a system wide basis.

In Word, some of the controls you can access using the Touch Bar include: Lists, Bold, italics, underline, change font colors, copy and paste and more. The available tools also change depending which Office mode you are in, so the options you see when doing text entry will be different than those you see when refining the appearance of the document.

Each Office app has a slightly different set of tools, for example:

  • In Excel, Touch Bar will display different cell functions to make it easier to edit that cell.
  • When you are creating an Outlook mail, Touch Bar will display a list of recent documents.

I’ve been participating in the Office Insider Fast program to test Touch Bar support. Any Mac user can join this by tapping Help>Check for Updates and choosing it (or Office Insider Slow) as an option there. You need to be aware that the software you use then becomes beta software so you may suffer some instability and/or unexpected application crashes. I have experienced a couple of these while on the scheme, but these don’t usually last very long as Microsoft responds to these problems pretty fast.

Conclusion

The MacBook Pro with Touch Bar is a professional machine and if all you plan to do with it is surf Facebook and place emojii on posts there then I’d argue you don’t need this much power.

However, when you use the system with professional apps, including Microsoft’s productivity apps, you’ll soon become used to using the Touch Bar as it saves precious seconds and reduces the need to move your hand to the trackpad or eyes to the Menu bar. One day you should be able to get everything you need to get done done without using on-screen menus at all, though that day isn't with us yet.

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