My Review of the 2017 15" MBP
I had an opportunity to try out the new MBP with touch bar. My current laptop (13" 2015 MBP) had a battery-swelling issue and needed to have the battery replaced. Given that Apple computers are all sealed up, this isn’t a matter of just swapping the battery out — the entire top case and keyboard needed to be replaced.
I was already looking to move to the iMac Pro because I knew a laptop was just no longer viable for the kind of “oomph” I need. But the iMac Pro wasn’t yet available to order, I couldn’t be without a computer for the 3–4 days it was going to take, and I absolutely did not feel safe continuing to use a laptop with an obvious battery issue.
So I purchased a loaner machine — the 2017 15" MBP. I figured maybe if this machine was powerful enough, I wouldn’t get the iMac Pro (though I was drooling over it). I figured I’d get the best, mostest expensivist MBP I could get, and see if that would work.
Alas, it did not. This is not a reflection on the machine itself. I just can’t do the kind of work I need to do on a laptop anymore. (This work involves simultaneously running multiple Xcode projects, a Windows virtual machine to write firmware for my device, and the thing that really killed, it, the pig of a development environment called Android Studio. I would also occasionally do video-editing and production for community theater productions).
So, my review is a bit colored. Having said that, I will say this. It’s a beautiful machine. I used it for almost a month.
The Touch Bar
I was “OK” with the touch bar. I don’t consider it altogether useful, so if felt kind of a like gimmick. I missed having a dedicated escape key, because my work involves needing to hit that escape key quite a bit. And I didn’t take too much advantage of any of the other touchy touch-bar stuff. But it wasn’t something I hated like a lot of people seemed to be throwing at it. It was… “fine”.
I really liked touch-ID. I didn’t end up using it too much, because I also have an Apple Watch and had the watch set to unlock my machine, just like it did on my other laptop. I really wish the iMac Pro external keyboard had this capability, but I can understand if there are security considerations for sending data over Bluetooth or whatever and that’s why it isn’t on the machines with a separate keyboard.
Lots of people have complained about the keyboard on this machine. The travel is very “low”, and there have been a smattering of people who have had to have it replaced already due to stuff getting under a key and with such tight tolerances, they can’t get the dust/dirt out and the key is then “broken”. I didn’t use it long enough to notice any problems, and again, it was “fine”. I didn’t particularly love it or hate it. If I used it all the time, I probably would have gotten used to it and would complain that the old keyboards are wobbly and weird.
My god, it is beautiful. But then again, all Apple retina displays are beautiful. There is nothing new under the sun with this particular display, but nobody does displays like Apple does displays. It was gorgeous.
As mentioned above, even with as much horsepower as this machine had, it wasn’t enough for me. Although I did notice that the fan did not come on nearly as much when I would do something powerful (alas, Android Studio is such a freaking pig that it would come on during some large Android compiles). Video editing was clearly a step up from my 2015 MBP, but I absolutely would have expected it to be just by being 2 years newer. Still, the machine was still not powerful enough for the type of work I do.
Given that my previous machine was a 13" machine, the 15" machine felt clunky to me. It was just “too much” machine from a WxH perspective. Now, if the machine was powerful enough for what I needed to do, I probably would have loved the form factor as I would have said I need that tradeoff for the oompf I got. But, since it wasn’t powerful enough, the 15" was just overkill. Note, I just mentioned WxH — no mention of depth. This machine is ridiculously thin, and when I had to carry it somewhere, I liked that. But since I’m mostly at a desk or other table with phones plugged in for development, I would have been happy to have it thicker if it meant more performance. Thus, the thinness is beautiful to look at, but given my requirements? Meh.
Thus, the machine was “too much” from a size perspective, and “not enough” from a performance perspective. So, it just didn’t work for me. This might sound familiar to a lot of other complaints “pros” have had, because while this machine is called a “pro” laptop, it really isn’t.
This machine only has 4 USB-C ports, and as much as I’m ready to embrace USB-C, and I applaud Apple for trying to push the industry there, I would have killed for a couple of “A” ports. You end up having no choice but to buy dongles, because there just aren’t enough USB-C things on the market yet. My display was HDMI/DP, and so that means a dongle. I need a card reader, so that means a dongle, etc. In the end, USB-C just isn’t ready, and I celebrated like it was New Year’s Eve when I got my iMac Pro and had a sea of both USB-C (and thus, Thunderbolt 3) and a sea of USB-A ports.
I also had real, actual problems with the USB-C ports as they tried to be Thunderbolt-3. I have a Drobo desktop drive bay, which supports USB-3 (via USB-C) and TB3 (via USB-C). The TB3 never, ever, ever worked with this laptop, yet immediately worked with the iMac Pro. I don’t know why this is, but it was frustrating.
I also ended up facing an additional problem with USB-C, in that suddenly, all my USB-2 devices didn’t work. I’m one of the geeks who know how the USB sausage is made, and so I know that when you want to plug in USB-2 devices to a hub, your hub actually becomes 2-things: A “USB3” hub, and a side-by-side “USB2” hub. For some reason, after a while, the USB2 hub just stopped working when plugged into one of the USB-C ports. I moved it to another port, and it was fine. I don’t know why this happened. But again, this was frustrating.
The port problem, as frustrating as it was, is something I almost want to chalk up to the fact that I did a port (via Time Machine) of the old 2015 MBP to this new 2017 MBP (which was itself a Time Machine port from a 2013 Macbook Air to the 2015 Macbook Pro). It didn’t feel like this was a problem due to the machine, but a problem with having an old account that I ported over. I wonder if I had set this up as a new machine, and just used iCloud sync to move my Desktop and Documents folders, if I would have been fine. But who knows.
Today I took the machine back. My iMac Pro is here, my 2015 MBP battery is fixed, and so I just don’t need it. I will be sticking with my 2015 MBP for when I need to travel (syncing my documents and desktop folders via iCloud Drive), and will be using my “oh my god I want to marry it” iMac Pro for when I need to do serious work (which is most of the time).
In all, I wasn’t too happy with this machine. I really don’t think this is a “pro” machine. I think it is a souped up MacBook Air, which, unfortunately, is what I think Apple was shooting for. Given that they recently had what appears to be a “come to Jesus” moment with pro users and are doing another Mac Pro, (and the iMac Pro is really damned good), my gut says that the next generaion of Macbook Pros will be different, and will actually be machines pros want. The 15" can go away, and the 13" could just become the “iMac Air” type replacement. I love the 13" form factor.
If Apple were to ask me (and they won’t), here’s what I’d do:
- Get rid of the touch bar. It’s not really interesting. Or, if you’re gonna keep it, put the escape key back. I know from a design perspective Apple likes symmetry and all that, but it ain’t gonna kill you to have an escape key. Sometimes functionality is more important than form.
- Keep the Touch ID (or move to face ID like on the iPhone X). My gut says they will go with Face ID. But I dunno. The touch ID also serves as the power button, so I could see keeping it. But who knows.
- When making a pro laptop, it’s OK to make it thicker. I don’t think any pros care too much about thinness. But I admit a bias here as I need serious horsepower and probably am not a laptop user anymore anyway.
- Please consider putting an A-port or two on here. I doubt Apple will do this, because it’s highly possible that the next generation of laptops will be further down the USB-C transition curve, and it might mean having an A-port is kind of silly. But, the 2015 MBP does have a card reader built in, so it’s not like having a different kind of port is cray-cray. This might also force the machine has to be thicker, and as I pointed out, I don’t think pro users will care.
- Keep the space gray. It’s awesome. Go ahead and make a gold one, too.
- Fix the keyboard. I don’t care if you keep the key travel small, but you can’t let the keyboard get gummed up like some users have reported, with no choice but to replace it. “Ya done messed up, A-Aron”, is what I’d say to the keyboard design.