MacBook Pro Review

4623570_rawThere’s been thousands of MacBook Pro reviews, but I’ve not done one before and having just taken delivery of my first one, I wanted to write about it.

I’ve previously been using Hackintosh, and fell in love with OSX already. As a long time UNIX user, and developer, OSX is a breeze to use and comes with all the usual tools I wanted. It has the benefits of Linux with the software compatibility sewn up. It would sure be nice if Linux would get the kind of commercial software developed for it like OSX has.

But this is meant to be a review of the MBP, not OSX. Because let’s face it, the difference between OSX on a PC and OSX on a real Mac has often been cited as zero. I’ve read in countless areas of the web, forums mainly, that Apple hardware is not worth paying the extra dollars for. I’m here to tell you that is patently not true. And I’ll outline why the MBP hardware is light years ahead of any laptop I’ve looked at recently. Vista notwithstanding.

OK, so the first thing you notice about the MBP, which is missing on pretty much every laptop I’ve owned, or seen, is solidity. The MBP is solid. You can pick it up by the corner and it does not flex. It is carved out of a slab of Aluminium of course, so you might expect that. But the kind of build solidity you get with the MBP isn’t available even on the top end IBM/Lenovo machines.

You’d expect a solid aluminium laptop to be heavy. But this isn’t. It’s actually lighter than the two HP machines I previously owned – although to be fair one of those was a 17″ desktop replacement that weighed a tonne. But the newer HP machine was a 15.4″ and weighed a lot more than the MacBook. And I dunno about other blokes but normally when I’m using a laptop on my lap, I end up with sore ‘crown jewels’ because the laptop always sits on top of them. Not good if you’re wanting to start a family! Not so with the MacBook Pro – it fits nicely on the lap without squashing the kids…

You might also expect a laptop made of solid aluminium to be hot, but again, during most normal use this isn’t the case at all. The MacBook Pro runs very cooly indeed, although it did get quite hot while I was installing XCode. But there was a lot of disk activity, and DVD reading. The fans being placed in the back of the machine by the screen hinge is a nice touch because it means for once I don’t have to watch where my legs are placed underneath the laptop because there are no fans to block. What a stroke of genius – and how come no other laptop manufacturer has thought that obstructing the fans on a laptop with your legs ought to be something that is designed around.

The trackpad. What can I say about the trackpad? Just utterly amazing. Every PC owner should be forced to use the Mac multitouch trackpad before they claim that the hardware is not worth the extra price ticket. Multitouch just breaks all the usual rules of interacting with a trackpad. I used to despise trackpads, I could never get on with them. I suffer with reasonably sweaty hands, unfortunately for some – especially those who have to shake hands occasionally with me – and the standard PC trackpad really does not like moisture on the fingers. The Mac Multitouch Trackpad doesn’t seem to care at all. It moves around when it should – and interestingly and perhaps even more importantly, it does NOT move when I am typing on the laptop keyboard. It detects the palm pressing it instead of the fingers very nicely indeed.

Which leads to the keyboard, which I thought would be an absolutely awful thing to use. It looks tacky. It looks like something off a ZX Spectrum from the 80’s (OK, a ZX Spectrum Plus, cos the original Spectrum had a rubber keyboard). It looks like you’d managed to type about 20 words a minute on it even if you were an accomplished touch typist. I’ve not checked how many WPM I can type on this keyboard yet, though I managed about 58WPM on the Compaq keyboard last night. But I find this keyboard actually leads to a lot less errors and I can type very quickly indeed. The BEST thing of all with it is that I am not clipping the ENTER key when I want to use apostrophe which is something I was forever doing on the normal Microsoft Business Keyboard I had with the desktop PC. Now that’s partially because I’m so used to the UK keyboard and have had to recently adjust to the aussie layout. But I don’t suffer that with the MBP. Now, back to the ZX Spectrum keyboard – its fair to say the ZX Spectrum keyboard was not backlit, and this keyboard is. And that REALLY helps when you want to type something in a dimmer room. And it looks super cool too.

The screen on the MacBook Pro is a beauty. On the model I have it’s a 15.4″ version – and it adjusts the brightness automatically according to the ambient light conditions in combination with the settings determined by whether you’re running on mains power or the battery. The 1440×900 display resolution seems to display more content than the same resolution on Windows – but I’m not sure if that’s just some kind of optical illusion. It certainly feels bigger than I expected – perhaps I won’t need dual monitor after all? Nah, who am I kidding 🙂

Whilst writing this article I have noticed that the underside of the MBP is actually now, icy cold…

Is the MacBook Pro fast? One word. Blazingly. The model I purchased was the 2.66Ghz version with 4G of RAM. The desktop ‘Hackintosh’ I’ve been using (which interestingly is solely responsible for me deciding to buy Apple hardware at all) was a 3.16Ghz with 4G of RAM, 500G SATA disk and a GeForce 8600GT video card and was quick. Very quick under OSX, bearable under Vista (but that’s another story altogether) and I was concerned that when I moved to a portable again I’d suffer speed degradation. I don’t know if it’s because of Snow Leopard ( OSX 10.6 ) or because of the hardware but this portable machine, with all it’s light weight, extensive battery life, super quiet operation, is definitely no slouch. Starting apps on the MacBook seems to happen as quickly, if not quicker, than on the Hackintosh – yet there should be a world of difference in performance on portable equipment. Certainly in the PC market that is the case. Though I admit that is all about ‘feelings’ as I haven’t yet done any benchmarking.

The final amazing innovation I want to talk about in this article is the magmounted power cord. How many times have you left the laptop on the table with the lead hanging down and trailing across the floor to the wall socket, when the dog comes running in, all excited to see you, and – being a dog doesn’t care about such things as expensive laptops – runs straight through the cable bringing your laptop crashing to the floor in an expensive thud, or pulling the cable out at a horrendous angle and risking breaking the pin. I’ve seen Dell’s in the past with broken laptop power cords as a result of this – usually at the laptop end where it’s hard to repair. The MacBook Pro gets around this with an utterly ingenious little device that is held in place by the power of magnetism. If the dog pulls on my cord it pops out with no damage to cord, laptop or dog. Why has no-one else thought of this?

One thing I can say about all this, Apple has innovated with the hardware. Is it worth the extra price point? You bet. Anyone who’s considering upgrading their laptop, I’d seriously recommend you at least go and check out the MacBook Pro, or if you’re not into 3D gaming (which I’m about to try on the MBP and will write about later) then you can probably get away with a standard MacBook. You really will not be sorry. I wish I’d gone to it earlier!