Recently I posted on Twitter that I’d returned my new Macbook Pro. Some people were interested in why, and what my experience was, so here is is.
Caveat: This is all my opinion. There are some people who like the new keyboard, USB-C, and the touch bar, but then there are people who like the music of the Beautiful South, so I wouldn’t draw too many conclusions from that.
Back in 2014 I bought a new Macbook Pro, I got the mid 2014 model maxed out with 16GB memory, the 1TB SSD and the processor upgrade. It’s the machine I do all my work on, and spend a lot of my leisure time using, so for me the upgrades are worth the extra cost.
It was a real upgrade from my (I think) 2010 Macbook Pro. Faster, lighter, more capable. I don’t think I had a single gripe about it at all, it was a great machine.
This machine has served me well for three years, but for a while now has been suffering from the screen delamination issue that affected Macbook Pro screens at the time, and the trackpad has stopped clicking reliably. Neither of these are major problems, I use external monitors, keyboard and mouse.
It’s been hard to find the time to take it into the Apple store however as having it out of action for any period of time would be pretty hard to live with.
I finally decided that what I would do would be to get a new Macbook Pro, restore from a backup so I could continue working while my 2014 model was being repaired. I would then hand down the older computer to someone in my family. Three years should be time enough to feel like I was getting an upgrade, right?
About three weeks ago I received my new Apple Macbook Pro. Including two adapters the whole lot cost me £3,317.
The new machine
Before I start on my list of whinges about the new Macbook Pro, there are a few good points.
- It looks good. Space grey is a pretty nice colour. I was unsure how I’d like it, but out of the box it is a really good looking machine.
- It’s thinner. Though really not that much.
- It’s lighter. Again, nice, but it’s not a huge difference, at least not to me.
- The screen seems nice.
- The new trackpad is gigantic.
That’s pretty much all the positive stuff I can think of, so on to the issues!
Short power cable
The first surprise was that there is a shorter (I think) power cable in the box. Previous macs shipped with a power brick that had a Magsafe connector on one side, and a power cable going to the plug on the other:
The new mac doesn’t have what Apple have dubbed the “extension lead” or as I prefer to think of it, the “long enough power lead”. I haven’t measured the old cable, or the new one, but the new one didn’t feel long enough. I get that a lot of people probably didn’t use the “extension”, but I did all the time, and in my experience more than half of the people I see also used it. There aren’t many chairs in my house that are an extension-less power cable distance from a plug socket leaving room to shift about, and no, all my furniture isn’t in the middle of the room.
This was honestly pretty surprising, so much so that I spent a couple of minutes wondering wether I was just being stupid and the extension cable was hidden in the box, but no, though I was still stupid there was no hidden “extension” lead. I cannibalised one from the 2014 power cable because the new cable wasn’t long enough to reach my machine on my laptop stand.
Apple sell this “extension” cable for £19. 19. UK pounds. Not some sort of Venezuelan bat pound or something that converts to £3.50 sterling. Nineteen. Fucking. Pounds.
Magsafe was brilliant. It’s saved my laptop on several occasions. It seems Apple have totally forgotten, or are hoping we forget, the reason why Magsafe was so revolutionary.
Yeah bitch, magnets, ooooh indeed. A week into using my new Macbook Pro I had an incident where Magsafe would have helped. I switched my sit/stand desk to standing mode, as I do several times a
dayweekmonthyear. The power cable had got caught on something and I only realised there was a problem when my laptop stand started to bend. The USB-C power cable was under incredible tension and I had to lower my desk to free it. Magsafe would have just popped out. With this new machine if I’d not noticed I could have broken my USB-C port or power plug.
Yes, I can buy a third-party adaptor, but I shouldn’t have to. Maybe you missed the £3,317 figure earlier, or didn’t watch that video where Steve Jobs explained how much of a PITA it is to have your laptop yanked onto the floor.
No magsafe adaptor
One of the great things about having had a few macs over the years is that I’ve got a decent number of power cables. If I head to my living room I can pretty much guarantee there’s a power cable I can use. If I go and work in the garden I don’t have to unplug the power cable at my desk. I can keep a power supply in my bag all the time.
These are all Magsafe 2 power supplies. Apple doesn’t sell a magsafe to USB-C adaptor, so these power supplies are all basically useless to me. The magsafe power cable that comes out of my Apple lightning monitor? Can’t use it.
The dongle situation on the new Mac is pretty crap. Just to get the same functionality that was completely built-in to my 2014 Mac I had to buy three:
– USB-C to Lightning
– USB-C to regular USB
– USB-C to mini display port (third party)
And that was just to get it all working as it was day to day before (and ignores the magsafe power cable coming from the monitor issue). If I want to plug an HDMI monitor in, or an SD card I need more adapters. To make matters worse, the USB-C to mini display port adaptor I had to buy from a third party because Apple doesn’t make one. Maybe the USB-C to Lightning one works for this, maybe it doesn’t, I don’t know. Nothing I read on the Apple site suggests it does.
I get that USB-C might be the future, but having to buy, carry, and juggle multiple adaptors is a crappy experience, and are SD cards really so anachronistic that they don’t deserve a port of their own?
The new keyboard is loud. The sort of loud that I’d feel self-conscious and a bit selfish using in an open plan office, coffee shop, or train. I don’t quite get how Apple thought that the noise of typing on the new keyboard was OK.
The keys are much bigger, closer together, and lower profile. Though I think could have got used to the keyboard, it was annoying. Lower profile and closer together meant that my fingers couldn’t “reset” their understanding of their position on the edges of the keys so well. This meant I made more mistakes and found it harder to type fast. I was put in mind of the feeling of typing on an iPad with it’s lack of tactile feedback. Put in mind of the feeling of typing on an iPad with a rubber mallet.
I much preferred the 2014 model. I’m not sure if the drive for thinner laptops is worth the decrease in comfort and the *THUD* *THUD* *THUD*.
The touch bar feels like a gimmick, and one that ultimately detracts from the usability of the machine.
When looking at the screen it required a context switch to use. Instead of having a predictable set of buttons I now need to look away from the screen, look to see what functions are available on the touch bar and where, use them, then get back to what I was doing. Every operation that I made on the touch bar was slower and more interrupting than the same operation using either a static set of buttons, or the mouse.
The most annoying change though was the lack of physical escape key. I knew I rested my finger on the escape key a lot (no, I don’t use Vim as my primary editor) and was curious how it would fare. Ultimately it was annoying.
I’m pretty uninterested in this. I used it to unlock my laptop and 1Password, but it wasn’t really much faster than the keyboard, if at all. I didn’t use Apple pay (though I do on my phone). Fingerprint recognition on the iPhone feels like a step up, if this is an advancement then it doesn’t feel like a large one.
It doesn’t feel revolutionary in the way I think face recognition might do.
I know the laptop was faster than my 2014 model, but there really didn’t seem to be much in it. I’m not sure what I was hoping for here, but I guess what I discovered is that my 2014 laptop was fast enough.
The new model still had 16GB RAM and a 1TB SSD, so there was no change there.
If Apple had made a laptop with the same keyboard from 2014, the same set of ports, magsafe and no touch bar I would have kept it even though it really doesn’t feel that much different performance wise than my 2014 machine. If I was switching from a 2010 mac this would have been an upgrade, but I’m not.
Individually these issues I could probably have lived with and got used to. Just ponied up £19 for a stretch of mains cord, or taken the risk of not having magsafe, but taken together they were more than I was willing to put up with.
If you like touch bars and bad keyboards, already carry a separate bag for adapters for your computer, or have no chair in your house further than 50cm from a plug socket you’re going to love this machine. If you’re upgrading from a crappy Air from 2010 it’s going to be an amazing speed upgrade with some irritating dongle shenanigans, but for me it was just disappointing.
Don’t take my word for it though, go ahead and get some more opinions, some people really like the keyboard, some people like the touch bar. These niggles are just the things that irritate me personally. Perhaps try one out. Apple make it really easy to return a laptop you decided you didn’t want.
Returning the machine
Some people asked me about this, so here are the details. You can return most stuff to Apple really easily, even if you’ve used it, for up to two weeks. They even pick it up via UPS. Just make sure you return it within the time limit.
If you want to give the 2017 Macbook Pro a go you can order one and as long as you’ve not yanked it onto the floor by the power cable and bent the lid then you can return it to Apple for a full refund.