You knew this was coming. The most up-to-date piece of technology in my personal arsenal just had to get reviewed. It’s not all sunshine and apple pies however. There are some serious issues that Apple HQ needs to address.
To start with, I have to admit that this is a very well built machine. Not only does it feel like it could take a little bit of a beating, but it looks the part as well. Moving to the all aluminum, one piece construction was a good move for Apple. There isn’t that “seam” along the from of the laptop that had the history of cracking. Resting my hands on either side of the trackpad, I don’t feel that I could in any way “hurt” the laptop. It’s not going to crack or get weak, and pressing on those areas, it doesn’t bend or move and feels very solid. The keyboard also feels solid. The keys are raised enough to give a nice and responsive snap when you type on them. The layout itself is a bit off, but I think that’s more of an issue with me not having used a laptop a great deal before now. For example, the caps-lock key gets hit nearly every time I try and type an “A”. Like I said, that’s just me.
The screen, well, that falls into both the good and the bad categories. Sticking with the good, it’s bright, the colors are wonderful, the resolution is fantastic and it has a great contrast with really rich blacks. I’m very pleased with it’s display qualities.
Hardware wise, the specs are current and have plenty of zip. The processor clocks in with a 2.53Ghz Intel Core 2 Duo and my particular laptop was upgraded to the 4GB of DDR3. It’s also packing the nVidia Geforce 9600GT for graphics. All that under the hood and it still runs cool. I haven’t had any “lap scorching” moments yet. Like I said, it’s got more than enough under the hood for doing daily activities and even a little super-light gaming. I don’t plan on playing any games on it, but at lower resolutions I probably could.
Design-wise, it’s really a beautiful machine. Everything fits well, there are not loose bits or things that look out of place. The magnetic cover system is great and eliminates that horrible “clasp” that secures most laptop screens. The power button is a nice recessed brushed aluminum as is the battery power indicator on the side. The ports are all located on the left side of the base now, and not along the back at all. The CD slot is now on the right and not in the front. Both are improvements but with the power plug on the left side, if you don’t also have a wall outlet on your left, the power cord has to wrap around the back in an odd manor. The speakers are a nicely hidden series of microdots to either side of the keyboard and don’t sound bad for their size or placement. The iSight camera and ambient light meter are practically invisible in the top of the screen bezel, which is a nice touch.
The mouse/track pad is nice and responsive, even for it’s lack of individual buttons. It’s takes some getting used to to “press” the entire pad, or at least the lower portion of it, instead of a pre-defined button, but after using the laptop for a week or more, you get the hang of it. It is however, slightly inconsistent as to the location of those non-existent buttons. The idea is that they are simply below the pad, and that you “click the pad”. The most responsive areas of the pad are the two bottom corners. That’s where I would define the buttons as being. You can however, press just about anywhere and, with enough force, “click” the button. This becomes a problem with accidental clicking. Instead of accidentally swiping you finger across it and moving the mouse cursor, you now have the added pressure of potentially clicking the button as well. Moving the mouse is one thing, but for those of us with “heavy thumbs”, I have to make a point of holding my thumbs in the air while I’m typing to avoid accident clicks. If I spread my hands out further, so that my thumbs would miss the pad entirely, I run into the laptop keyboard dilemma of hitting Tab, Caps and Shift every two seconds. All that is a minor inconvenience however, 99% of the time, the pad has performed admirably, even with my heavy hands. I almost forgot to mention the multi-finger clicking, rotating and scrolling, a feature that I’m actually enjoying very much. Since the pad is “multi-touch” sensitive, you can use it with one, two and multiple fingers. Clicking with one finger gets you a “left click”, while clicking with two gets a “right click” response. Moving two fingers vertically causes the window to scroll and moving multiple fingers across lets you switch applications. There’s also pulling, pinching, rotating, etc. It’s a fairly intuitive system that I think works well.
Those are the primary positive talking points about the new line of MacBook Pro’s. My experience so far has been a positive one as well. I considered detailing some of my ups and downs with OS X as well, but I refrained since this is a review of the laptop itself and not a jaunt into the depths of the OS. Needless to say, I’m enjoying the laptop very much. There are however, a few issues that need addressing.
First and foremost is the screen. While it is bright and beautiful with rich colors, the fact that they went with a hyper-glossy finish just boggles my mind. In any sort of back-lit situation, it’s almost unusable. If you’re facing a window, you’re golden, everything looks fine. If you have your back to the window, you might as well get up and move because it’s simply impossible to see anything other than the glare. It really is that bad. I decided to get an anti-glare film at some point to put over it, but haven’t found the right one yet. I will though, because it is nearly a necessity, which is a shame because it ruins an otherwise brilliant display.
Also a minor annoyance is the delete key. It’s not a delete key. It’s a backspace key. There is a difference. I don’t want to regurgitate Typing 101 to you, but there is a key to go back one space and a key to delete characters in place. Those are two different things. Even on the larger desktop apple keyboards, like the one on the other side of my desk, it has the key’s labeled “Delete” and “Delete [X]”. What the hell is that? I don’t mind it being a “Backspace” key, I use it more than “Delete” anyway, but I wish it had both. Having to change something in the middle of a sentence means I have to stop, most the mouse to in front of where I need to delete, deleting, then click back and the end of my line and continuing. Like I said, that’s minor, but annoying. Maybe it’s an Apple thing, or maybe IBM has a patent on “Backspace” or something, or both.
Second on my hit list, and I believe I’ve mentioned this before, is the mini-display adapter port. I’m sure the decision was made to cut down on the port space on the side of the laptops, and that’s complete ok. I get that. What I don’t get is that you can ONLY use it if you buy a $30 adapter at the Apple store. That’s it. Otherwise it’s a completely useless port. There were no adapters in the box that came with the laptop, no instructions or warnings that you might need an adapter, it just happened. When you’re used to being able to plug laptops into larger screens via DVI or into projectors via S-Video, this comes as a huge shock. Just the other day my group was going to give a presentation to some managers and we were going to use my laptop. Just before we went we realized that we couldn’t because we didn’t have an adapter to go to the projector, and we ended up using someone’s Dell. That’s really sad Apple.
Now, I realize that this port is what Apple is moving towards with all of it’s products. The new displays will have it, as will the new desktops, and that’s awesome, but they needed to realize ahead of time that you’re not always going to be using this laptop with only the latest and greatest Apple gear. Some times you’re going to be on the road, on a business trip or visiting another office. How am I supposed to hook up this laptop and give a presentation if they have nothing but PCs and projectors from HP? I can’t. Not without an adapter. Something so basic, so vital to the idea that this laptop will be used “on the road”, most definitely should have been included in the box. Period. End of story.
Lastly, the ugly. I don’t know how this got as little press as it did, but it’s absolutely mind blowing. It almost should be a deal breaker for someone like the “international businessman”. The battery. Oh my goodness, does the battery suck. It really does. It’s horrible. Let me give you an example. Sunday afternoon, right at 11:30am, I turned on my laptop to pay a bill or two. I paid them, started reading digg a little, then did a little light web surfing. I also had a movie on in the background and was paying more attention to it than my surfing. By the time the movie was over, a mere two hours later, at approximately 2:00pm, the battery indicator was flashing red. The laptop was almost dead. That’s truly pathetic. Seriously Apple, it’s bad. If I had been on a 12 hour plane flight to China for an important meeting and was trying to get some last minute work done on the plane, I would have been completely screwed if I had to rely on battery power alone. 2 hours?!?! Really???
This laptop NEEDS to be plugged in, which in my mind, almost defeats the purpose of the laptop concept to begin with. It needs to sit on a desk or a coffee table, with the power cord attached, or else it’s dead inside of 3 hours. You literally need a collection of chargers, adapters and cords to travel with this thing. You’d need one for the car for a long drive. One for the plane to use it’s power so you wouldn’t need to be on battery only, and a whole collection if you’re doing any international traveling. I hope you have a big laptop bag, cause without all your accessories, you’re in deep crap.
Despite the battery issue, and the screen being reflective, it’s a nice laptop. It works quite well, it’s quiet, it runs cool to the touch, and I haven’t had any issues with it hardware wise or functionality wise. It truly is a nice piece of hardware. I wouldn’t discourage anyone who was thinking about getting one from doing so. I just think that issues like the battery need to be out in the open before you buy things this expensive. Apple, by the way, rates the battery at “5 Hours” on their tech-specs web page, just FYI. The brand new 17″ is rated at 8 hours. Best of luck with that.
I think, if it had a seriously improved battery, it would be damn near unstoppable in the business class laptop category. A very nice generation of machine from those crazy hippies in California. It’ll serve me quite well for a good long while to come… unless the battery craps out on me.
-update: added hardware specs.