For the first time in Apple’s history, the recent incarnation of consumer and professional laptops are starting to show signs of being part of the same family. While the MacBook has seen arguably the most impressive bump in terms of comparison to its original feature set, MacBook Pros have also received great treatment.
This brief review will give an overview of the new features and our experience. Future posts will delve into certain changes in more depth. We have previously posted unboxing photos of the new laptop for your enjoyment.
Exterior & Build
The first MacBook Pro I purchased started to vibrate suspiciously when turned on — to the point where it was audibly annoying. I returned it to the Apple store and was given an immediate replacement. That said, I’m certain that Apple’s claim of a revolutionary manufacturing process is not just hype. To quote Harry McCracken:
I hate car metaphors in computer reviews, but I can’t help myself: The old MacBook Pro was a solidly-built Toyota, and the new one is a Lexus.
While the MacBook Air clearly benefitted from the new process, it still feels slightly ‘delicate’ due to it’s very nature of being so thin. Imagine the robustness and curves of the Air built around the already sturdy MacBook Pro, and you’ll be somewhere close to the mark.
The keyboard takes very similar cues from the keyboard featured on the previous generation of MacBooks. It is a significant step forward from the previous generation of MacBook Pro, and a step that was undoubtedly needed. It’s also great to see that, despite the generously increased trackpad size, the keyboard hasn’t suffered in terms of space.
The final points to make are that the sleep/standby light is far more subtle than on previous versions (no longer lighting up a darkened room), and the positioning of the battery indicator on the side re-enforces the fact that it should have been placed there all along. It is now usable, rather than being a feature many people probably never even notice.
One of the major talking points surrounding the new screen is that the matte option is no longer available — you can choose gloss or nothing! Personally, I haven’t found this to be a problem due to the sheer brightness of the new LED display. It even leaves my Cinema Display feeling decidedly lackluster. The only noticeable sources of reflection are lights, windows (in a dark room) and the sun.
It’s very easy for critics to complain about the gloss screen when they haven’t tried it on a day to day basis — spend some time using it and you do realize that it poses very little inconvenience.
My personal preference goes against the black screen surround — I love the simplicity of aluminum on the Cinema Display for instance — but it seems to be the design direction Apple is taking and it’s difficult to argue with Jonathan Ive’s thinking based on past successes. I’m confident that I’ll grow to like it more with time, as it does certainly helps to remove distractions from your peripheral vision.
There are two notable changes in the available ports on the new notebook. Firstly is the switch from a DVI display connection to Display Port. This is a far smaller connector, now standard across Apple’s notebook line. It is capable of powering anything from a small VGA display to a 30″ LCD using any of the various adaptors available. It’s a shame that Apple didn’t bundle a DVI adaptor by default, but understandable. I was concerned that the size of the Display Port adaptor would lead to it feeling flimsy, but the fit is very snug and the connector isn’t easily pulled out.
The second change to note is that of removing Firewire 400, leaving only a Firewire 800 port. Personally, I don’t find this to be too much of a problem due to converters being readily available. The problem is greater for users who use both a FW800 and FW400 device, as they are now required to buy a considerably more expensive hub.
With the new notebooks, Apple have pulled out all the stops in terms of graphical performance. They include both an integrated NVIDIA GeForce 9400M along with a discrete NVIDIA GeForce 9600M GT. Swapping between the two involves altering a preference in the ‘Energy Saver’ panel and logging out/in. It would have been ideal if this switch-over could be done on-the-fly (when moving between battery and main power for instance), though it is a small price to pay for the huge benefit of two graphics chips.
Game performance is as you would expect — nothing short of exceptional. The popular games I tested were able to run with settings at their most detailed, at full resolution, with no noticeable problems. I expect that it will make a solid hardware platform for several generations of games to come.
Battery & Performance
Apple quotes the battery life for non-intensive tasks as 5 hours. From limited testing, this appears to be a fairly accurate figure — with brightness turned down and wireless on I was able to coax just over 4 1/2 hours. This could easily increase after a few charge cycles as is often the case.
With the latest MacBook Pro, Apple has created something which looks and feels ‘right’. All the new additions come together to create a system which is sturdy, powerful and innovative. That said, in blurring the lines between consumer and professional notebooks lines to such a degree, they have made choosing a MacBook Pro a more difficult choice.
- Stunning and robust build quality
- Gorgeous LED Display
- Very simple to swap the battery, hard drive and RAM
- Two ‘cutting edge’ graphics chips
- Trackpad allows for some very useful new gestures
- Initial unit was faulty (likely an exception to the norm)
- Lack of a Firewire 400 port
- Display available in gloss only
- Large price margin between MacBook and MacBook Pro for few additional features
If you have any burning questions about the new MacBook Pro, please let me know in the comments — I’ll be happy to do my best to answer! I’ll be following up with a few more in-depth posts surrounding the trackpad and hardware modifications in the near future.