Why I’ll Pass On This MacBook Pro Update


Today saw the release of refreshed MacBook Pro notebooks, and the new models aren’t without charm. Despite some decidedly impressive spec bumps, and the brand new Thunderbolt combo display/data port, this generation ends up leaving me cold, although it does plenty to whet my appetite for what’s coming next.

Few Brand New Bits With Limited Use

The MacBook Pro actually introduces very little that we haven’t seen before. The big two new additions are the new Core i5 and i7 processors that use Intel’s latest Sandy Bridge processors, and Thunderbolt, the DisplayPort-integrated fast data transfer connection tech that can manage dual channel transfers of up to 10Gbps per channel.

Apple says the new version of the 13-inch MacBook Pro is “up to twice as fast” as the previous generation, and Thunderbolt is definitely a technology with plenty of promise. But speed bumps are going to come with every major update, and Thunderbolt, while it has promise, doesn’t connect to anything as of yet (besides maybe other Macs and DisplayPort monitors).

No Change Where I Need It Most

I use a mid-2009 13-inch MacBook Pro as my mobile workstation, and from the updates I’ve seen today, there’s nothing that Apple included that would affect the areas where improvement would have the most pay-off.

Occasionally, I admit I could use a little more processing muscle when it comes to having tons of applications open, including Photoshop, but generally speaking, I’m happy with the notebook’s speed and performance. What I’m not happy with about my machine are exactly the things that this update fails to address. Specifically, I’m talking about battery life, display options and improvements, and physical footprint.

The new Pros all offer seven hours of battery life. That probably adds up to a bit more real-world usage than previous models, despite shorter life claims, thanks to Apple’s more honest testing methods. But it doesn’t provide a significant boost to the life of previous built-in battery Mac notebooks, which is something that would definitely have me rushing out to the nearest Apple Store, since the ability to work untethered is still the prime motivating factor behind owning a laptop in my opinion.

Because notebooks are portable, you make tradeoffs with regards to the display. Screen real estate is limited, and things can get pretty cramped pretty quickly if you’re using a lot of apps at once. But Apple appeared to be making considerable strides in this area, since the MacBook Air it unveiled late last year offered a generous 1440×900 resolution display on the 13-inch model. Yet the new 13-inch MacBook Pro keeps the same 1280×800 resolution as previous generations, and doesn’t even come with a matte screen option, unlike its bigger siblings. Better resolution screens are destined for the platform, but they aren’t here yet.

The design of the Pro’s enclosure also remains the same. It’s a fine design, and one that I quite like, but it’s getting fairly long in the tooth and I think Apple could make major improvements by borrowing from the MacBook Air. We’ll likely see weight loss and a slightly slimmer machine with the next major revision of the platform, which at this point seems bound to be just over the horizon.

Transition Phase

In my opinion, these MacBook Pros represented a stopover on the way to something truly great. The next generation will likely boast all the improvements (speed bumps, Thunderbolt, etc) we’ve seen today, but be optimized for and ship with OS X Lion (and may include bigger trackpads to support its new multitouch features), and introduce more advancements in battery and screen technology. Plus, we’ll likely see an improved MacBook Air that inherits plenty from this generation of MacBook Pro, which might be a better option for lighter users. Finally, by the time the next update rolls around, we’ll have a better idea of what to expect from the Thunderbolt-capable device ecosystem, and Apple will have worked out any kinks that may appear with that brand new tech.

The MacBook Pro is a great buy with awesome specs at a good price, but if you don’t have an urgent need and you’ve only recently upgraded, take my advice and hold out for better things yet to come.

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