Apple MacBook Pro Review: A Growing Responsibility
I bought the new MacBook Pro when it came out partly as an experiment. The specs weren’t so different that it would spark an upgrade cycle at BP3, but the price went up and I wanted to personally experience whether the differences would drive faster adoption or “steady as she goes”. My first read on the announcement and the write-up on the MacBook Pro was basically how everyone else felt: I wanted 32Gb or 64Gb as an option for RAM, and Apple wasn’t giving it to me. And while battery life and chip statistics were quoted, and faster SSD drives as well, the proof is in the experience with improvements like that. The touch bar didn’t seem like reason enough to buy one. But, let’s give it a try and see how it goes.
After using my MacBook Pro for more than a month now, I have a few thoughts.
Touch Bar. The Touch Bar is better than I expected. I don’t miss the function key bar, and I like having contextual options on the touch bar rather than the function key bar. Suggested typing corrections, rather than showing up on my screen and obscuring what I’m looking at, can alternatively be shown on the Touch Bar. When I’m reading email, common actions that I perform, like filing processed emails to particular folders show up on the Touch Bar, speeding up the process considerably. Browsers show the tabs you could select. Calendars show the weeks you can select. Keynote shows useful shortcuts. It is clear that is is superior to the old function key bar…
Even the escape key is easy to find and press. I’m a touch typist, and I still hit the escape key without looking. You just have to get used to no key press when you do it.
Bigger Trackpad. The bigger track pad offers a better surface for gestures. In all respects it is an upgrade to the old trackpad save one: It is easier to incidentally tap it with your palm or a stray thumb or finger. It takes a while (days, weeks) to unlearn careless positioning of your hands on your laptop. Otherwise, the sensitivity, ability to use it to move things around, even being able to do a mouse press-and-drag, and switch fingers to continue the drag, works like a charm. It is still far and away the best track pad on the market, which is kind of amazing when you think about it.
Screen. The screen is, in a word, awesome. I have no complaints. I’m not a designer, so I can’t comment on color spectrum other than to say “I like it.” It drives a normal display or a 4K display equally well, I haven’t yet had the chance to get a 5k display that will really show off the capabilities. The LG 4K display I purchased is fantastic, but smaller than what I’d like for that level of resolution. It “feels” like a retina display as I sit at my desk (and I have the vision to warrant that statement).
Speed. I didn’t run any benchmarks. It is fast enough for daily use. I expect it will still be fast enough for most developers who are, as we are, running their most computational tasks on remote machines in the cloud.
Memory. I’ve had 16GB on my machine for a long time now. I still do. I’m not happy about it, because I believe the only times my MacBook Pro (and previous generation of the same) fail to live up to my expectations is when it runs out of memory. And it does this quite often. Most of the applications I use are in tabs in browsers these days, and browsers are notorious memory hogs. And OS X itself can use quite a bit of RAM at times. As I write this, 12GB are allocated. If I were doing development as well, I’d be hitting swap space. I think Apple could do better by offering a higher tier of memory for power users – and in all other respects the machine could stay the same.
USB-C and Ports. There’s always a lot of brouhaha about Apple and ports. I’ll remind everyone that USB-C is not an Apple standard. They don’t control licensing for it. It is starting to appear literally everywhere. It is a superior standard to thunderbolt and to USB-A ports. I can drive power, video, and data over it. With four ports, I can charge my laptop and via USB-C ports, 3 other devices without any other chaining of power. Because it is a standard port, I can also buy my own power supplies from other suppliers besides Apple. Perhaps I miss mag-safe? There’s an option for a power supply that has the same functionality from Belkin. Perhaps I want to charge my laptop from the same portable power charger as my phone? No problem, now. I just use the right USB-A to USB-C cable. Soon, I’ll probably buy a portable charger that has USB-C ports natively. Just waiting for the refresh from the battery suppliers. Monoprice is your friend.
USB-C was the biggest “surprise” in that I really didn’t expect to like it, but I actually do. In the long run, Apple has done us a service getting us off of a proprietary power standard, and moving the rest of the industry with them.
Overall. So overall, I think Apple has it almost right, but they need to do one of two things to really resolve the complaints:
First option: lower the price to the previous price point. Yes, I’m getting something more interesting in terms of the build quality, chipsets, and Touch Bar. But, without the option to add more memory, the machine isn’t “doing more jobs” for me than it was last generation.
Second option: Add a higher priced option with 32GB or 64GB as an option – and allow me, as a consumer of your products, to decide to take the resulting tradeoff in battery life. Apple doesn’t want us to make this tradeoff, but for some of us it is necessary.
I love that Apple challenges conventions: screens, touch bar, memory, size, battery. ports. Everyone appreciates that about Apple. But Apple is now squarely a top-5 producer of laptops in the world. They have a large install base of not just consumers but software developers and technoscenti who not only love the simplicity of the system, but also love it as a workstation that “works” at the high end of software development and software consulting jobs. And with that size and install base comes responsibility. That responsibility is to make sure that the jobs those installed base performs with your products are still being served well by your newest products. MacBook Pro feels like it isn’t serving the needs to many software developers that work on MacBook Pro variants, who literally for just one reason – RAM – may have to find a different computing platform to work on. That seems unreasonable over something as simple as more memory.
One thing that is interesting about the linked article about replacements – they almost all of soldered memory and stop at 16GB. It’s almost enough to make you cry, because on Windows that just isn’t enough memory anymore. Perhaps Apple was just being honest when they cited limitations in the chip set.