Why A MacBook Pro?

Okay, so after talking about how I wasn’t sure about a new MacBook Pro, I decided to pull the trigger and get one. While the decision was based somewhat on logic, some of it was certainly based on impulse. I won’t pretend it was an entirely rational decision.

What I Got & Why

I decided to go for portability over power and got a 13″ MacBook Pro with TouchBar. I max’d out the storage and CPU power. It is unfortunate that it doesn’t include discrete graphics, and that you can’t get the 2TB disk like its bigger sibling. I got it in Space Gray, as it is the closest colour you can get to the original PowerBook (a name, BTW, that I infinitely prefer over “MacBook”, which sounds lame in my mind).

So why? Some of it was curiosity. I wanted to try this TouchBar thing out for myself, and see if it was useful or not. Part of it was a desire for something a little more portable than my previous-generation 15″ MacBook Pro (which is now more desktop than laptop, since it’s festooned with cables for dual monitors, mechanical keyboard, etc). And some of it was simply deciding I wanted a new toy and could afford it.

What I Like So Far

The new generation of keyboard is really, really good. I don’t get the “it’s too loud” complaints, because while it is certainly clickier than the keyboards from the previous MacBook Pro (and MacBook Air), it doesn’t seem that loud. It’s almost like a mechanical keyboard. At work, I use a Corsair K65 keyboard, which is a compact gaming keyboard that uses Cherry MX Red switches, so it has a nice clicky feel (and a retro one as well). The new Butterfly II keys aren’t exactly the same, but they are somewhat reminiscent.

An important difference is with the 12″ MacBook with Retina. I used one for a while, and while the keyboard on it was “okay”, it seems that the key space is a bit tighter, making it different (and forcing me to crowd my hands and fingers more). The MacBook Pro key spacing is about the same as the previous generation, and I find it easier to type on this new keyboard.

The screen is what you would expect from a Retina display: clear, bright, sharp and crisp. Given that I don’t exactly push the limits of the graphics, I can’t comment on speed or responsiveness. For me, it works as you would expect. I have run Illustrator on this new machine with no performance issues, but again, I’m not really pushing the limits.

The battery life, now that the software has been fixed, is also what you would expect, and in line with the official estimates from Apple. I tend to run my screen a bit brighter than some, so I get about 8 hours out of a charge. I could get more if I would tone down the backlight a bit.

The TouchID bit can be handy, particularly during setup and installation. Instead of having to type the administrator password, you just touch your finger to the sensor.  The same goes for logging in: just touch the sensor. Sure, it’s not like typing passwords is incredibly onerous. But it’s a small thing that makes the experience a little nicer.

Overall, it’s been what I would expect from a MacBook. Performance is good, the keyboard feels really nice, the TrackPad does what it is supposed to, and I have been able to use it as I would any other MacBook Pro.

What Dongle Issue?

I decided that, as part of buying the machine, that I would get a full complement of the cables I would need to work with the Thunderbolt 3/USB-C connectors on the machine. Yes, it cost a few bucks. But it isn’t like I was buying bars of platinum here. The entire inventory of cables I got might have come to about $150 at most. Considering that the machine itself was around $3000, that’s not a big deal.

So far, I’ve used a USB-C/HDMI cable to connect it to a TV to watch movies (no problems at all). I have a small USB-3 hub that is also a gigabit Ethernet adapter, and that has worked like a charm. I have a USB-C/USB-3 cable for my backup disk, and that has presented no problems. In short, I’m not sure what the fuss about dongles and such is. I have about as many cables and adapters as I always carry with my old machine. The benefit is that I can plug anything in on either side (including power), making things a bit more flexible.

What About The TouchBar?

I suspect this is the question on everyone’s mind: what about that TouchBar? Is it the amazing, magical and genius invention Apple tried to claim it was in the release? Or is it an unmitigated disaster that will sink the company? I can sum it up in a single word: meh. It’s amusing, on rare occasion it’s almost useful, but if it wasn’t there, I probably wouldn’t notice. In some contexts it is actually quite useless.

Take, for example, browsing in Safari. The TouchBar presents a number of miniatures representing the view in each tab of the browser’s currently active window. But it’s only a thin slice, meaning that the TouchBar looks like a bunch of rounded rectangles with random noise in each. Open enough tabs, and all you get are the first few, and you have to scroll to see the rest. I haven’t experimented to see if I could pin something else there (like the Favourites bar, which would probably be more useful, but only appears when you open a new tab or window). But the TouchBar in its default configuration for Safari is essentially useless.

Using the predictive text in some contexts is amusing, but frankly, it’s a lot slower than just typing. I touch-type, and I have since 1982. I don’t have to look at the keyboard as I type, and I can type with a high degree of accuracy, nearly at the speed it takes me to think about the words. While it’s entertaining to use their predictive text, it actually slows me down. Why? Because first I have to read each selection, and then decide which one I want. In some instances, I could have typed several words in the time it took for me to select one. On an iPhone or iPad, I find the predictive text very useful, since the keyboard isn’t exactly ideal. On the MacBook Pro, not so much.

Otherwise, the TouchBar is “okay” but not as brilliant or transformative as it was made out to be. Having to expand some things (like to change the volume or screen brightness) can be a slight annoyance. But, again, if it wasn’t there, I probably wouldn’t even notice.

Worth The Money?

So, is the MacBook Pro worth the money? Keep in mind that a comparable machine from Razor or HP would cost about as much, so in the context of “very small and powerful”, the MacBook Pro isn’t outrageously priced. People who insist on comparing it to $500 HP specials from Costco, or to coffee-table sized monsters with 17″+ screens are clearly trolling. But again, is it worth it? It depends on what you want.

If you want a machine that is about the size of a 13″ MacBook Air (still an excellent machine for casual use), but with a lot more power and a Retina screen, then it is probably worth the money. If you don’t need the power, still need the portability and can’t swing the budget, then the 13″ MacBook Air might be the best value, and the 13″ MacBook Pro without the TouchBar would be a more powerful alternative. I can’t comment on the new 15″ MacBook Pro here, since it occupies this weird space between ultraportable and full-on portable workstation. The 12″ MacBook with Retina is very, very small, but it doesn’t offer very good performance for the money and is hobbled by a single USB-C port.

Overall, I’d say I’m happy with the new MacBook Pro. The TouchBar isn’t nearly as “magical” or useful as Apple makes it out to be. But the rest of the machine is what I have come to expect from MacBook Pros. It isn’t a “drop everything and get one right now” product. But if you are in the market for a new MacBook, the latest MacBook Pro is a reasonable choice.