Life With a 2016 MacBook Pro: Part 3

One month with Apple’s infamous new laptop has given me enough time to figure out if I love it or not.

Part 1 and Part 2 are also available.

My 13″ MacBook Pro with the Touch Bar and 16gb of RAM arrived on November 16th. I’ve had nearly a month to put it through its paces. To me, a month feels like an appropriate amount of time before putting together some real thoughts on the machine. It’s enough time to get used to using it every day and see if it makes your life easier.

I’ve learned over the past month that all of the so-called deal-breakers are overblown.

The New Form Factor

Let’s start with the obvious: these new laptops are shockingly thin and light. Half a pound (compared to the generation) is a ton of weight to lose. And it’s got a smaller footprint than my iPad Pro, which never ceases to amaze me.

I “downgraded” from a 2012 15“ to the 13” because I wanted the lightest professional MacBook I could get my hands on. This delivers. It feels solid in my hands, but in my bag, I don’t even know it’s there. I’m not joking: I always open my bag halfway to my destination to make sure I didn’t forget the laptop. I carry my laptop with me everywhere. This is a huge perk for me.

The new MacBook Pro has a smaller footprint than my 12.9″ iPad Pro.

A lot of ink has been spilled about Apple has sacrificed performance and battery life for the sake of weight and size. I don’t think that’s a big deal, even if it’s true (more on that later).

I’ve also heard people say that nobody wanted a thinner and lighter laptop. But I did. My father in law, a consultant who travels every day with his laptop, also told me he wanted a thinner and lighter laptop. (He ordered a new 15″ as soon as they were available.)

Normal people like thin and light laptops. Laptops are meant to go with you. They should be thin and light.

The new Pros are the descendants of the MacBook Air. The 13″ Pro is thinner than an Air, weighs the same amount, and is much more powerful. For me, this is the perfect size for a portable computer.

How many of us basically wanted a MacBook Air with a Retina display for years? This is basically that, but somehow even smaller. It’s fantastic.

The Keyboard

It’s still my favourite keyboard ever. Bar none. It makes my desktop keyboard feel like mushy junk.

The Touch Bar

I like the Touch Bar. It’s a nifty little feature. Eventually, it’s going to be more useful than the function keys (I already use it more than I ever used the function keys). I find I’m already adapting to it, and tapping where the Touch Bar would be on my Bluetooth keyboard for certain things.

So the Touch Bar, and Touch ID with it, are both great. I’m looking forward to having them on an external keyboard.

The keyboard, and the Touch Bar that come with it, are both phenomenal.

All that being said, nobody needs either feature. We’ve lived without them for years, and could continue to. It’s the very definition of a nicety.

Not unlike an Apple Watch, come to think of it.

I love it, but you don’t need it.

The Trackpad

I never knew I wanted a larger trackpad. Apparently, I did. The trackpad on this laptop makes me happy. It’s given me no issues. I love Force Click, or whatever they call it. I’m fascinated by its mechanics (it feels like a real click to me).

It looks too large, but in practice, it feels great. The trackpad on old MacBooks feels so constrictive now, by comparison, that they almost feel unusable. And they were the best trackpads on the market.

The new trackpads are better. I love them.

Performance

It’s more than fast enough.

I wish I could stop there, but I can’t. I have never seen so many angry rants about how under-powered a laptop is. This laptop handles everything I throw at with gusto, including (but not limited to):

  • Multiple virtual servers
  • Multiple large PhotoShop files
  • Multiple large Sketch files, with dozens of art boards each
  • Any IDE I throw at it.
  • Code processors
  • Too many internet tabs
  • And iTunes (but actually)
  • And running all of the above at once is a non-issue.

In all honesty, computers have been fast enough for the overwhelming majority of us for years. I’d wager a bet that most of us would get by just fine on a 2013 13″ MacBook Air.

The wide-gamut display on the new MacBook Pros is amazing.

Some of you are reading this and claiming heresy, insisting that you need at least 32gb of RAM and as many cores as you can buy. While that may be true, and I don’t doubt your understanding of your own needs, I suspect you’re never going to find a good laptop anyway. You need a professional desktop for power like that.

The thing is, laptops need to be portable. That means thin and light. Most laptops, including Apple’s professional lineup, don’t need to compete for the interests of uber-demanding developers and filmmakers. For those people, there’s the Mac Pro. And I suspect Apple has a new version of that computer coming soon to satisfy their needs.

Every computer is a compromise towards portability or power. In this case, I think Apple made the right call.

The Dongles

They haven’t made a difference in my day-to-day life. I wrote about the dongles previously, but having given more thought to it, there is one thing that confuses me.

USB-C is very nice. USB wasn’t really nice before. I never liked USB before. Now I do. What took them so long to get around to making a nice, small, reversible jack?

This laptop has perhaps the best build quality of anything I own.

I’m not mad that the MacBook Pro is all in on this. I think Thunderbolt 3 and USB-C are great (and I’m thrilled that I can power a 5K display with Thunderbolt 3). I just want to know why it took so long.

I also wonder: had USB always been this nice to use, would Apple have used it for their iPhones and iPads instead of Lightning? I’d prefer USB-C at this point (although I’m sure it will never happen).

Two other quick thoughts: I don’t miss the SD card slot. It was nice to have before, and it would have been nice to have it over the past month, but plugging in a card reader (or just using USB) hasn’t been an issue.

However, I really miss MagSafe.

Battery Life

This is the only area where the new laptops are disappointing. I’m definitely not getting the ten hours of battery life that Apple is claiming. I’m somewhere around eight — respectable, for sure, but not as advertised.

Apple already issued a “fix” for the problem, which hides the “Time Remaining” estimate from the battery life bar. Apple claims it was inaccurate (although I haven’t seen any hard evidence to the point). Regardless, it doesn’t change real-world battery life.

This is one area that is truly unfortunate. You have to decide if you need a thin and light laptop, or if you need a laptop with great battery life. You very well might need both, which makes it hard to recommend these new MacBook Pros to you right now.

The 13“, in general, seems to last a little while longer than the 15” laptops. I think that’s because it doesn’t have a discrete GPU. My old laptop was a 15″, and I’m getting roughly double the battery life with this new Pro than I was with the old one. So take that how you will.

For me, eight hours is an improvement over the four hours I used to get (massively so). I’m pretty happy with eight hours. But when you get actively working on photo development or anything too power-hungry (video editing), the battery starts to dive pretty quick. I went down 30% today with two hours of photo editing in Lightroom.

Even if you’re fine with six to eight hours of battery life (and I am, especially by comparison to my older machine), Apple’s estimates will make you feel lied to. I don’t mind a laptop with eight hours of battery life. Just tell me up front.

Apple didn’t. And that’s gross.

Finally

I’ve lived with this machine for a month, and it’s quickly becoming my favourite laptop ever. It’s an improvement in every area for me (although it’s slightly less powerful than before), and I find it easier than ever to put my laptop in my bag and walk all over the city for a day of meetings.

To me, that makes a great laptop.

It’s a shame about the battery. For most people, it might not be a deal breaker. I can get through an entire day on battery without an issue, and I can use the laptop on and off throughout a weekend without having to charge it too. But frequent flyers have reason to be disconcerted.

But apart from that, to me, these laptops are a win. They’re a big indicator of the future of computing: small devices that can become massively powerful thanks to the capabilities of things like Thunderbolt 3.

My motto is simple: buy the smallest laptop your workflow will allow you to, and plug it into the largest and best display available when you’re at your desk. With the new MacBook Pros, I finally have a truly tiny laptop with a lot of oomph.

And it can power a 5K display to boot.

Posted on December 15, 2016.


Originally published at wildfirestudios.ca on December 15, 2016. If you like this post, you should subscribe to the newsletter.

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