MacBook Pro 2016/2017 — Developer’s honest review, 6 months later
Should you buy it? 13'’ vs 15'’? Or finally switch to a Windows/Linux box?
There’s a lot of good on this version, but there’s also a lot of bad, let’s dig into the different aspects of this machine, I’ll give my thoughts and rating to these:
- Touchbar, Touch-ID
- Keyboard, Trackpad
- Aesthetics & Build Quality
- Performance & OS
Hopefully this helps on to decide if you should buy/choose one.
The TL;DR can be found at the end of this article.
This is the ugly duckling 🦆, even before being released on 2016, there was was already a lot criticism and controversy, for a real reason, because it SUCKS 😒!
While coding as usual, I find myself misclicking a lot, even after a 6 months of using this device as my daily driver (I do have an external magic keyboard in the office), so now I’m required to look down at the keyboard when I want to use any hotkey that uses the Function keys, and we have a lot of them in Android Studio, not having physical feedback is hard.
The default touchbar configuration is no good for us developers so you should make your touchbar to always display the function keys. Under the touchbar settings you can assign any program to display a different layout, in my case I set Android Studio(s).
Another major flaw is not having a physical ESCAPE key, this ain’t rare, having the touchbar bugs out, for example getting stuck in the volume bar, and all of the sudden I find myself without an essential key, a quick fix might be swiping back and forth on configured programs that reset it’s state.
Some apps have native integration while others are starting to, but the only two cases where I find it mildly useful is on Final Cut Pro or Quicktime.
Recently Chrome has added some functionalities, if you can even call it that, but I must say I’ve never use it. It’s slower than using a keyboard shortcut (and no, the touchbar alone is not enough to use Safari, or anything else really).
Also I don’t use Siri, so I call it a gimmick: Not useful at all, even worse, it gets in the way of my productivity! Of course there is a non-touchbar version but the internal specs are subpar.
For a long time Macbook’s have been known for having really awesome batteries, way ahead of the competition, I remember when I first start using MBP back in early 2015 it was huge, life-changing almost, I never used to worry about battery! I rarely carried the charger around since it was always plugged-in at the office, the battery would last me a solid 10h worth of coding time, once again, this was huge for me especially when switching from a windows machine where the battery was around 30 minutes after an year.
So personally this is my biggest disappointment. The 2016’s version brings me back to the windows times, I’ve had my battery completely drained in a matter of 2 to 3 hours of normal app development.
I find myself always worrying about the battery and making a real conscious effort to save it, which in turn (might) hurts my productivity.
A side note, the current Android emulator version although better and faster compared to 2015, it’s also a lot harder on the battery, which ironically, I only use when I’m at home or outside of the office.
This is a fully specced out 13’’, so the CPU and bigger RAM might contribute to a faster battery consumption.
The 15’’ has a bigger battery but more on that later.
So depending on your type of development you do, you might get better results than I do, I’ve had some friends who do mainly web saying they can squeeze about 10/12h with the exact same model and configuration as mine.
A real nice addition to version’s MacBookPro is in the power button, that now serves as a Touch-ID sensor too, the fact that I can unlock my laptop as quickly as my phone is awesome, a very welcome addition, a gets a big thumbs up, it works!
Besides the previously mentioned fact that I don’t have the freaking Function keys anymore, I feel somewhat divided, after getting used to the short travel, I actually enjoy typing on it, even though it is quite loud.
These are the much improved Butterfly GEN2 keys.
I just can’t get used to the crammed arrow keys. I’ve also had some problems with keys getting stuck, due to the mentioned short travel of the keyboard, when dust or other small particles get under the keys, it might be hard to press, feels stuck, and stops registering all together, it’s quite frustrating, personally I’ve had problems with the ENTER and SPACE keys, as you can imagine are essential for software development.
Compressed air seems to be the recommended solution, It worked for me, but not they’re still not at 100% but for some reason they seem to get better with usage 🤔.
In general I wouldn’t say it’s a bad keyboard, but it doesn’t feel as sturdy as I wished or like it was built for heavy-duty usage, so if you are planning to do some sweet hardcore programming beware some problems might arise.
RATING: (hardly a) 7/10
Nothing wrong here, it’s huge and works, I’ve had no problems with palm rejection and I can easily code for long hours without the need for a mouse, this is so precise that I can even use it for Photo/Film editing.
You as a developer should keep mouse usage to minimum, learn and create your hotkeys.
It’s not the most important feature since you as a developer should keep mouse usage to minimum, but it’s a good to know that trackpad works.
This is without a doubt the best screen ever in a MacBook (or on any other laptop), it has more than enough brightness, even outdoors (while your battery lasts 🔋😨) I’ve had no problems seeing my code, indoors during normal usage I keep it at ~70%, bumping to the maximum sometimes feels like too much light and hurts your eyes after a while 🖥.
The colours and definition are what would expect from a Retina display, even during long coding marathons, my eye strain is significantly less since it’s just easier to read. The bezels are thinner too, so in a nutshell: an awesome display made better.
13'’ vs 15'’
For a long time this was the hardest decision: if your thinking about buying an expensive machine as the MBP for software development, which size should you pick?
In the end it was the 13'’.
I’m quite happy with my decision since whenever I’m not working at an usual place (office/home) I have an external setup (🖥 ⌨ ️🖱,) this means whenever I’m working for longer periods I don’t really use the actual laptop, but whenever I want to be at a caffe or traveling, portability wins, when I see a 15'’ it feels way too bulky, so if you can buy an external monitor you’re golden.
The 15'’ version has better specs, something you might want to take into account, but for me the the fully spec 13'’ is enough.
Aesthetics & Build quality
Nowadays I’m pretty sure that you the reader has already seen it all over the place.
I prefer this “simpler” low key look, with the nice space grey color, it blends in compared to the old school white, but I do miss the glowing logo, the build quality is top notch, the hinge is the best in the market, you can open the laptop with one hand and the screen stay sturdy in it’s place, it is without a doubt a very well (the best) built laptop, feels premium, as it should for this price, so Apple didn’t disappoint.
Rip glowing 🍏
It’s now 2017 so USB-C is becoming more and more a standard, My current smartphone is a Pixel which is also USB-C, but not all of the test devices I use are, so needing dongles to connect other devices, ethernet and external display can be a bit annoying, but I knew what to expect so I just bought the necessary accessory, just beware you don’t need the expensive official ones.
Not related to software development, but I do miss the SD-Card port, and this I don’t see a reason why it shouldn’t be included since the biggest audience besides developers are content creators who still and will rely on this format.
Performance & OS
- I have no complaints here, taking the price into account it would hurt to perform a little bit better, but this is an apple device, it’s always overpriced, you must also known this is not a gaming machine at all (although I could easily do casual gaming), but for your development needs I don’t think you’ll find any problems performance-wise, compiling on Android is by it’s nature, a very slow process, but I’ve noticed quite an improvement even when doing full builds in large projects.
Sometimes it gets hot under heavy loads (Apple prefers to throttle your CPU instead of firing up its fans in order have quieter laptops), but this shouldn’t be an issue you will encounter during normal usage.
The SDDs speeds on these computers are just crazy good!
The main reason I switched to mac and never looked back was the operating system. macOS is hands down the most stable OS I’ve ever used, so for software development, and since it’s somewhat an industry standard (for all the right reasons) whenever you are reading a blog or tutorial you’ll probably encounter the macOS environment as an example, unless you are on Microsoft proprietary software, I always recommend everyone to try out macOS, give it a fair chance you might be surprised.
Conclusion / TL;DR
- The touchbar is the disappointment you would expect
- The battery is quite bad compared to the 2015’s model(s)
- It is an overpriced machine but it will undoubtedly meet your development needs. The 15’’ machine has better specs and slightly better battery performance, but you shouldn’t feel any major differences, at least in software development. An external GPU won’t really help you and it is a tad more expensive ($/performance).
- I always choose to have the 13’’ version, this was a really important decision for me at the time but since I always have a external display with mouse and keyboard I rather have the portability when I’m at home or outside.
- The 15’’ feels a little too bulky for me, but I must admit that sometimes it gets a little hard to code in a smaller screen, it’s a matter of preference really but if you are thinking about using your laptop exclusively than it might make sense to go with the 15’’ since you’ll need all the screen real-estate you can get.
- To finalise I got make a reference to the awesome speakers, they’re surprisingly loud and very good quality for a laptop, also the camera and mic are acceptable and very useful for those Slack video-calls.
- If you are afraid of macOS vs Windows, give a shot! You’ll be familiar in less than a week.
I always recommend the MBP whenever a fellow developer friend/colleague asks for my opinion, has it’s flaws, but it’s also a very well built machine, the operating system is the best in my opinion and the build quality is matched by none
If you are in need of a new machine buy it, if you can hold one for a little while I would maybe wait for the next cycle, Apple might improve on all the negative feedback and controversy it received.
My final rating: 7.5/10, Buy.
Joaquim Ley (@JoaquimLey) | Twitter
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