MacBook Pro

Apple MacBook Pro. 15″ Display, 2.53 Ghz Core 2 Duo Processor, 4GB RAM, 320 GB Hard Drive.

Since Apple moved to using Intel chips 3 or so years ago, our household computers have moved to Apple Macs completely. Neither Frank nor I own a single running Windows-based PC anymore (not counting functional but unused machines currently taking up garage space, that is). Between the two of us, we currently own four Macintosh computers:

  • One MacPro tower. This is my “Big Mac”, my primary work machine, and it’s also our home media server. This is the first iteration of the Mac Pro, from the fall of 2006. This is the oldest active computer in the house. It’s loaded with 4 disk drives totalling 3 TB in a RAID configuration, and 8 GB of RAM.
  • One 24″ iMac, current aluminum and glass version. This is Frank’s main computer.
  • One MacBook Air. This is Frank’s laptop, although I use a lot – for example I’m writing this post on it.
  • One MacBook Pro. This is my laptop, which I use at work as well as at home. This machine is the subject of this post.

Frank and I are both mad technology mavens, so we replace our computers often. The list above is the current list; we have also purchased and then sold (eBay: the gadget freak’s best friend) two white MacBooks, a white 24″ iMac, and two Mac Minis. Thus the absolutely true argument I present at the Apple Store when they ask why I don’t want to buy Apple Care: Because I rarely keep a computer for even a full year. The staff person always laughs when I say this, and I assure them I’m completely serious. As long as I am employed and have a working credit card, I will continue to have the latest greatest computer(s) as soon as they are available. That’s just who I am.

So, obviously, I don’t base my decisions much on price. I have decided for myself that Apple Macs are the way to go. To me, these are the BMWs or Mercedes of the computer world. I have work colleagues who shake their heads at this; don’t I know, they say, that I could get the equivalent computer from Dell or HP for almost half that price? Heck, I could get two Dell laptops for the price of one Apple! How can I justify this ridiculous “Apple Tax“?

To explain, I’ll continue with the car analogy, since I’ve gone that route as well. Look, a Honda is a great car. There is absolutely nothing wrong with them. They’re a great bargain and extremely reliable. As far as what they do – put gas in, drive them around, go to work – they are “identical” to a BMW in the same engine class. So why, for example, would I drive a Mini Cooper when I could drive a Honda Civic for almost half the price? Or why drive a BMW 325i when a Honda Accord can be had for, once again, half the price?

If you’re basing your decision on features alone, working through a checklist – then you’ll get the Honda. And if you’re looking for a computer on hardware features alone, working through a similar checklist – then you’ll get a Dell or a Gateway or an HP. But… there are other things harder to put a price on, things like Quality, Style, Usability. These… qualities… are what you’re paying all that extra money for. And very simply, it’s either worth it to you, or it’s not. If those things are worth it to you, then the checklist is only the first part of the equation, and only half of the process. The second part is a judgement call… how much are you willing to pay, and how far are you willing to go, for Quality, Style, and Usability?

To me, Apple Macs are the ultimate in personal computers. They’re solid, stylish, high-quality devices that go beyond just the list of the hardware components that they are constructed with. They’re a pleasure to use. Every tiny little detail, down to the slowly pulsing glow of the “on” light, has been carefully and lovingly thought out. The hardware and the software are designed together, to act as a seamless integrated system.

All of the above is a long introduction for why, Wednesday night, I drove to the Boca Raton Apple Store and bought a brand-new MacBook Pro to replace… my existing MacBook Pro. Tuesday of this week, Apple announced their new, updated line of MacBook laptop computers. The showcase of the announcement was the new MacBook Pro, which features a high-power graphics card, a new carved aluminum body, a large glass trackpad, glossy display, and beautiful styling. You can read full reviews of the new machines here and here, and watch Apple’s complete presentation introducing them here.

So, here are my impressions. All in all, this is a wonderful improvement over the previous model – but with one gotcha that I hope gets fixed very soon. Here we go:

Keyboard. This new model has the same keyboard as the MacBook Air, which I already liked quite a bit. The backlighting on the keyboard is excellent; the letters on the keys glow white, and each black key is surrounding by glowing white light as well. This is not just a “use it the dark” feature; even in a slightly dim cubicle or office, it makes a huge difference. And, as a lifetime touch typist, this is the most typeable keyboard I’ve even experienced on a portable computer. I love this keyboard.

Display. The all-glass screen, which reaches to the edges, is more than a design subtlety. The black glass that surrounds the display actually helps to cut out ambient light, and makes the screen seem much sharper and clearer. This is a prime example of where a design decision actually improves the quality of the display itself. I’m sure that the underlying LCD monitor is the same as on other laptops, but by encasing the whole thing in a black-beveled glass lid, Apple has really hit the mark. This looks as good as the standalone iMac display, very attractive.

Graphics and Display Adapters. One big change is that Apple has ditched the DVI port on the previous model, replacing it with a “Mini Display Port”. This means, if you want to connect the laptop to an external monitor, you’ll need to buy an adapter. I bought both a VGA and a DVI adapter ($29.00 each!) so I can use the large monitors I have in both my home office and work office. Unfortunately, I discovered an annoying problem here.

One of the big features of this new model is that is has two graphics cards: An integrated, low-power graphics card for use when on battery, and a separate 512MB NVIDIA GeForce 9600M GT card when you need some serious horsepower. Since I do a lot of video editing and Flash authoring as part of my job, this is extremely important to me. So, I switched the MacBook Pro into “Advanced Graphic” right away and left it there.

Unfortunately, whenever I connected the Mini Display Port to VGA adapter, in order to connect to my 24″ external monitor… the computer freezes. As in, the mouse won’t move, progress bars stop in their tracks, etc. And nothing appears on the other monitor. But, if I log out and switch the computer back into the lower-power “Integrated Graphics” mode, then the adapter works. Now, since I have had such good experience before, I’m going to assume(!) that this is a temporary glitch that will be fixed soon – or perhaps I just have a broken adapter.

This is the only area that I feel a little let down by this new model.

Track Pad. This new track pad is about 35% larger than the old one – and the buttons are now hidden underneath the track pad itself. Despite what some in the trade press have said, this is not a “no button” mouse – the buttons are just under the pad, not visible as actual buttons. You still click down on the pad in the same place and in the same way as on any other trackpad. But since the “clicky” area is underneath, the surface area has a lot more room for your finger(s) to roam. I no longer have to pick up my finger and scroll again when I need to move a long distance, like I used to.

In addition, this track pad is multi-touch, like the iPhone screen. There are gestures for up to four fingers. I particularly like swiping four fingers to use the window-revealing Expose feature, as well as rotating photos and objects using the two-finger “pinch and squeeze” motion. Now, more applications need to support these gestures.

The surface of the track pad is incredibly smooth and low friction. Your finger glides over the surface. Supposedly, this track pad is actually made out of glass, which would explain the feel. However, it certainly looks like it’s made out of aluminum to the eye. The overall coolness of this track pad makes me wonder if rolling mice will be going the way of the dodo bird. I already wish I had an external, plug-in version to use on my big Mac Pro….

Ports and Optical Drive. The previous MacBook Pro has some ports on the left side, some ports on the right side, and the DVD/CD drive in the front. This meant that when I connected it up to a monitor, etc. I had some cords hanging off the left side (power, USB, and headphones) and some hanging off the right side (monitor, ethernet, and other USB). This new model moves all ports to the left side, and moves the optical drive to the right side. Now, all external cables can be neatly lined up on the left, and the right side can be left clear for use with a physical mouse. I love this, although a left-handed work colleague does not share my enthusiasm.

Shape, Design and Overall Aesthetics. Well, this is an Apple product, so of course it looks great. But frankly, so did the previous model. What’s different about this one is the smooth curved corners and the overall shape. Unlike any other laptop, whose cases are composed of multiple pieces of metal and plastic, this new MacBook Pro is literally carved out of a 1″ thick slab of aluminum in a single piece. Apple even has a video of the process here. The result is that the fit and finish of this machine is absolutely remarkable.

Each individual key in the keyboard protrudes from a hole carved through the laptop case itself. And the whole keyboard area is recessed slightly within a gentle curve. The laptop case closes with a magnetic catch – there is no physical latch. To aid in opening it, a cutout is carved into the front edge. Due to the curved edges, this laptop feels great to carry around. And the solidity of the case is such than you can hold it open, by one edge, and the machine doesn’t flex or bend at all. Yet it is the same weight as the previous model. Absolutely amazing.

Conclusion. It’s gorgeous, fast, and efficient. It’s got the best keyboard on any laptop I’ve ever used. The track pad feels almost like alien technology. The fit and finish of the case is unparalleled in consumer electronics of any kind.

I’m in nerd nirvana, and I won’t ask for anything more from Apple- until this time next year, when this model will be old hat and I’ll be anxiously listing it on eBay to make room for its replacement, of course.

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