MacBook Pro, iPhone 7, PS4 Slim, Surface Studio

MacBook Pro

Apple’s refresh of the MacBook Pro line has been eagerly awaited for years, with many professional users believing that Apple has not been showing enough love for the line in recent times. The announcement of the 2016 refresh would have certainly seen many of the professionals clearing their credit cards in anticipation of the product release, but is it what they’ve been hoping for?

There’s no doubt that the new MacBook Pro models (both 13" and 15") are a beautiful piece of hardware. Super thin, super light and super minimalist, they continue with Apple’s industrial design philosophies. The chassis houses a Retina display, which works beautifully with macOS, it having some of the best DPI scaling around. One area with some apparent regression is the omission of the glowing Apple logo on the lid — this might be subjective, but it’s a shame to see something as cool as that disappear.

As we saw with the MacBook refresh not too long ago, the new MacBook Pro has only USB C connectivity. A single socket for everything, from power to peripherals. On paper, there couldn’t be a better idea. Yet this is where the head-scratching begins.

There’s no denying USB C is the future. It’s the result of decades of feedback from the computing world. One of these single connectors (on the MacBook line at least) can carry up to 40Gbps of data. It has no ‘right way up’, in that it is fully reversible. It can carry a significant amount of power, charging your laptop or perhaps charging a peripheral. It’s power, ThunderBolt, USB, FireWire, all in one. That’s awesome.

USB C’s biggest enemy is how new it is. So new in fact that connecting just about anything except the power cable to your MacBook Pro will require a dongle. Unfortunately, the MacBook Pro doesn’t ship with such things, meaning that the vast majority of buyers will need to shell out on these dongles. And they aren’t cheap.

Apple are a company that loves to drive innovation and their impact in today’s world cannot be understated — products like the iPhone and iPad have become paradigms in their field. But there comes a point when design choices start to feel arrogant. I’m sure Sir Jony loves the uniformity of the port arrangements of the new MacBook Pro — I have to admit I do. But would it really be that much trouble to include a USB C to USB A dongle in the box? Including such a dongle says “we’re giving you cutting-edge technology, and we appreciate others might not as advanced as we are”. The lack of one says “that’ll be $19 to connect your new iPhone 7 please”. Not cool.

iPhone 7

We’re nearing the iPhone’s 10th birthday. I remember taking my first-generation iPhone home and showing it to my family. It was like telling someone the internet existed for the first time — people were truly amazed at what this portable device could achieve. Innovation inevitably wanes over time but the iPhone range still holds its own in the world today, even amongst some other remarkable devices like the Samsung Galaxy S7.

The iPhone line feels like it’s in “refinement mode” at the moment, as whilst features like Apple Pay are undoubtedly useful, they aren’t truly re-inventing the device. That’s not all bad though, as that does mean that a few years of refinement has left us with a device that is hard to fault. The latest model ticks all the usual boxes: New camera? Tick. New display? Tick. Lighter and smaller chassis? Faster processor? Better battery life? Tick tick tick. So good so far.

When the world comes to remember the iPhone 7 in time, perhaps one word will come to mind: Courage. This is the moniker that Apple gave themselves, as they removed one of the most ubiquitous ports in history, the 50-year-old 3.5mm headphone jack, from their new product. Apparently this change is to increase space available internally and to better waterproof the product. There is evidence for this, as the iPhone 7’s battery has around 12% more capacity compared to the iPhone 6S’s unit. As for the waterproofing…test results for this might be harder to come by.

Rather kindly, Apple has included a Lightning-to-3.5mm adapter in the box for the iPhone 7, which is a nice touch. As mentioned in the Macbook Pro section above, this inclusion aids the transition to no 3.5mm jacks, although the ability to have both power and audio plugged in is no longer an option without a third-party adapter. That scenario is way down the likelihood list thankfully, but you can’t argue that functionality has been deprecated. The impact this will have on the owner is very subjective, so the jury is still out here. If the iPhone 7 were to still sport its 3.5mm jack, it is easily the new holder of Apple’s famous “The best iPhone yet” slogan. But for those of us that can’t get by without the jack, it might just be “The worst iPhone yet”.

Surface Studio

Microsoft’s Surface line had a troubled infancy, but since the Surface Pro 3 was released the line has truly been in its stride — and it has been redefining what we thought mobile devices were capable of.

Surface Studio brings to the desktop what the Surface line bought to the tablet/laptop line — incredible innovation.

The Surface line’s design ethos has worked well when applied to the Surface Studio — very iMac, yet entirely different in its own right.

The Surface Studio is aimed at professionals, bringing together the best of the previous devices; there is a super-high DPI screen, which is multi-touch enabled, industry-leading stylus support, and powerful hardware under the hood. All in all, an impressive package.

One feature stands out in particular — the Surface Dial. This new peripheral is like no other — a hockey puck-sized disk, accepting input in three dimensions, sits on the screen in your non-dominant hand. The presence of the device on the touchscreen is immediately sensed, projecting a radial menu around the circumference which is navigable by rotating and depressing the device itself. If you’ve used the Modern UI version of OneNote, this menu and the way it operates will be very familiar. The artists and creators of the world can now do things like change the colours of a brush stroke as the stroke is being laid on the canvas, in a completely fluid way. Fantastic technology.

With Microsoft’s products in the Surface line running alongside some questionable decisions from Apple’s various departments of late, Microsoft has a good claim to the innovation crown. And with that crown bouncing between companies, we can look forward to some excellent competition in the coming years.

PS4 Pro

A new era of console gaming has begun.

The PS4 Pro marks the point where a console has been refreshed, had its processing power increased, and is advertised as a performance upgrade. This change raises an interesting debate. If I buy an upgraded console, will I be at an advantage due to better FPS and graphical fidelity? If I stick with my old console, will I be at a disadvantage? Sony will surely go an extra mile to ensure parity in the end, although there are many reports of large differences between the two platforms when running the same title.

One big question, if not the biggest, is whether the PS4 and PS4 Pro will be interchangeable until the PS5 materialises. Sony are already not ruling out exclusive content for the PS4 Pro, with them openly not banning the practice of paid PS4-to-PS4-Pro upgrades in titles.

Sony admits this change is to retain the audience that statistically abandons the platform mid-lifecycle and moves to alternatives such as PC gaming. You can’t blame them for wanting to retain their user base, but whilst they’ve potentially closed one can of worms, it’s highly likely they’ve opened one or two more.

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