It would be a sore, sore lie to say that this is no big deal.
I am one of those people for whom the computer is more of a prerequisite to survival than a tool. It is the first thing that I see/hear when I wake up, and the last thing I attend to before I go to bed. I spend anywhere between 3 and 8 hours a day at the computer. In my capacity as a student, I use the computer to do my homework assignments, take and organise notes, and study from the course material provided by my lecturers. In my capacity as a writer, I use the computer to sketch out my thoughts, organise my research, and of course, write. In my capacity as a web developer and programmer, I use the computer to develop and beta test websites, as well as code and maintain desktop applications using the IDEs Eclipse and NetBeans. As an amateur graphic designer, I spend time in Pixen and the GIMP toying around with shapes and effects. As a musician, I use the computer to record ideas in GarageBand and lay down the final tracks in Logic. Finally, as a casual user, I browse the internet extensively, and occasionally play some games. Suffice to say, the computer gets a lot of use, and varied use.
My previous computer was bought in May 2007. A late 2006 white plastic MacBook with a 2.0GHz Core 2 Duo processor, a single gigabyte of DDR RAM, and an 80 gigabyte hard disk drive. I immediately fell in love with it. For my limited use in those days, it was fantastic. Everything felt so zippy. I could be listening to music on iTunes and browsing the web at the same time. Fancy that.
So it should come as no surprise to you that when the time came for an upgrade, my automatic reflex was to get a configuration that I was sure would be overkill for my current requirements. The model I ended up buying was a 15" MacBook Pro with a 2.66GHz Intel Core i7 Processor, 4GB DDR3 RAM, and 500GB hard drive. Needless to say, this was not a minor upgrade for me, neither in configuration, nor in price. I was prepared to cut corners and perhaps get an i5 variant, but common sense prevailed - when there exists something that gets as much use and is as integral to your life as my computer is to mine, you really don't want to compromise, even if that means spending a hundred pounds more.
So now that the unjustifiably long introduction is over, let's get on with the review.
Unboxing and First Impressions
I was pleasantly surprised at how small the box was. The 15" MacBook Pro's box was about half the volume of the box my 13" MacBook came in three years ago. It's a great move, aesthetically and environmentally. The minimalist packaging needed to be slit open in just one area. The box is quick to get to the point - no one really cares about the box, and no one really wants to fiddle with layers of shrink wrap, bubble wrap, free bag and god knows what else I've seen people take out of computer boxes.
The first thought that came to my mind when opening the laptop was that the screen was huge. Possibly because my eyes had adjusted to a 13" screen. I strongly suspected then that I would adjust to the 15" screen as well, and that the perceived hugeness would diminish over time, and that suspicion proved to be well-founded.
First boot was markedly slower than regular boot times, but much faster than I had expected it to be. When the display came to life, I realised just how much difference there is between LED and CFL backlighting. Instant full brightness is one of my favourite features, but more than that, this display seems to be able to handle a far greater range of brightnesses than what was possible with my MacBook, reaching both far dimmer and brighter levels. A pleasant update was smooth backlight level changing. In my old MacBook and in my dad's 2008 unibody MacBook, the display brightness controls on the keyboard would increase/decrease the screen brightness in fixed, quantised increments. In the new MacBook Pro, the controls are still used to achieve fixed levels of brightness, but a change in brightness is accomplished by a smooth fade to the desired brightness, rather than the choppy changes of old. The display is vivid and crisp, and at the very lowest brightnesses are great for reading for extended periods of time. The edge-to-edge glass cover on the display is very reflective, but since I mostly work indoors in controlled light environments, this is a non-issue. It is also fantastically easy to clean.
The unibody design, though far from new to the MacBook Pro, was a shocking departure from what I was used to. It is breathtakingly beautiful. The machine feels solid as a brick while appearing impossibly thin from the sides, thanks to the lovely bevelled edges. I have also noticed that the bevelled edges make it easier to lift the computer from a flat surface.The small touches like the now-you-see-it-now-you-don't sleep indicator, the smaller power button and the side-mounted battery indicator (praise the lord!) added to my general delight.
The keyboard is, over all, a joy to type on. My main gripe is that the keys are a bit smooth, even slippery at times. My MacBook's keyboard had a dry, grainy texture to it that I loved. I hated that it took three minutes to get the keyboard dirty, but I loved the texture. At the expense of friction, the new MacBook Pro's keyboard is classier and possibly cleaner. This is the first backlit keyboard of any kind that I've owned, and I must say - it's amazing. No more bending the screen downards for a quick glimpse of the keyboard. At night I can finally turn off my retina scorching desk lamp while doing work.
The massive trackpad is great. It feels good to track on. It's very smooth and gets more resistive the more pressure you put on it. Eliminating the button was a good idea. It took me a while to get used to, because I had gotten into the habit of feeling for the border between the button and the trackpad to find my bearings. After a few days this issue resolved itself. Besides, I don't primarily use the trackpad anyway. With this iteration comes inertial scrolling, something Apple claims is a purely software change. Inertial scrolling is essentially scrolling with the flicking motions commonly used in the iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad to navigate. It's a more intuitive way to scroll, and though the animation is a bit jerky at times, it's a good addition.
The speakers are much better than I expected them to be. At maximum volume, most of the songs in my iTunes library play loud enough to fill up a medium room and even make it difficult to converse. In my previous computer I used to use VLC's 400% volume setting just to get audio to play at acceptable levels. That is no longer necessary. The high range is very well represented - usually laptop speakers overplay the high frequencies and make songs sound like tinny sizzlefests. The mid range is also very meaty. The low range is surprisingly decent given the tiny cone size the subwoofer must have. Sure, you won't be using the MacBook Pro to power pumping House mixes at your parties, but for casual listening, the bass representation is adequate. Another thing worth noting is that the unibody construction allowed Apple to make a much finer speaker grille, so I can safely spill crumbs over the speakers without worrying about anything falling in. (This was just an example, please do not eat at the computer!)
I don't know what the megapixel rating of the iSight camera is, but I have been getting much clearer pictures with Photo Booth and the people I Skype with are able to notice an appreciable improvement in video quality. The fact that the iSight camera is placed behind the edge-to-edge glass display and not simply embedded in the bezel as with my old MacBook means that it is extremely simple to clean over the area to remove smudges/condensation/anything else that might be marring the picture quality.
The meager selection of ports is fine with me. Though some users will cry with desperation at the MacBook Pro's lack of USB ports, I for the most part manage fine with just 2. I have a Belkin USB hub for when I need more. One issue that sometimes crops up is the fact that the USB ports are placed so close together that an exceptionally fat dongle or flash drive in one of the ports will obscure the other, reducing the number of available ports to effectively one. This defect has been present in several generations of the MacBook Pro, and though it's not a deal breaker for me, I'm surprised that a company that's so obsessed with minute details could leave this glaring deficiency unattended. I'm particularly thrilled with the addition of the SD Card slot, because transferring pictures from my camera is something I hated to do because of the speed. Now, pulling images off the SD card is almost as fast as, if not faster than, an internal copy from my hard drive. I'm looking forward to filling up my iPhoto library with lots and lots of lovely pictures and videos now.
Wireless reception is a bit disappointing. I can actually pick up more wireless signal with my 2007 MacBook than I can with my 2010 MacBook Pro. I suspect this has to do with the plastic vs metallic enclosure, but I'm at the very edge of wireless coverage at college, and I've been forced to connect to the internet with a fat red ethernet cable since I've got this new system. Somehow I don't feel as mobile as I should.
Apple's claims of battery life have been inching upwards with every refresh, and this update is no exception. Their proud proclamation for this generation of 15" notebooks is "One charge. Nine hours". While I strongly suspect that this nine hour battery life can actually be achieved, you'd probably need to lower the display brightness to nearly zero, turn off wireless networking, eject any discs in the drive, and work solely on TextEdit to the exclusion of all else. That said, I am actually very impressed with the battery life of this unit. On my first field test (a day out in classes) where I had a few apps running, display at about 60% brightness and wireless turned on, I found that I could squeeze six hours of juice out of the battery. Had I lowered the brightness further and been more economic with multitasking, I could have managed over seven. Seven hours of battery life is quite excellent, and unparalleled in this class of machine. Apple's last measure to improve battery life was to exclude the easy battery removal mechanism and use the space saved to expand the battery. This time, the extra battery life comes from better power management in Intel's Core iX processor.
Finally, the hard drive, though a 5400 rpm drive like the one in my previous MacBook, seems to be much faster at file transfer. It finished copying over my fairly large iTunes library, 35GB in size, in a matter of minutes.
If you look at what I upgraded from, you'll notice that the machine is a quantum leap in computing power from the old MacBook. I have no benchmarks to offer you, just some information about what I have observed while using the computer in all sorts of ways over the last week.
- Multitasking: It is possible to run lots of programs at once without experiencing any slowdown at once. With my old MacBook, I developed a subconscious mechanism of alt-tabbing and quitting programs whenever the computer became less than satisfactorily responsive. I have never had to do that here. I have some "staple" programs, ones that I need to keep always running for my workflow. These are iTunes (of course), Mail, iCal and Firefox (I am a die-hard Safari fan, but until I get vertical tabs, I'm going with the 'fox). On my old computer, these four programs would just about run acceptably. If I had to use something else, like OpenOffice or NetBeans, one or more of my "staple" applications would have to go. Firing up GarageBand meant that everything else had to be quit, else GarageBand wouldn't get enough memory allotted to it. On this machine, I can have Safari, Firefox, Mail, iCal, iTunes, NetBeans and OpenOffice open at the same time without missing a beat. It's app Nirvana.
- Graphics: I've finally been able to get back into gaming again. Thanks to Apple's new seamless switching technology and updated discrete graphics card (NVidia GeForce GT 330M with 512MB of VRAM) I can run my favourite games at the highest settings with very playable frame rates at native resolution. Perhaps my taste in realtime strategy and city-building games goes easy on what most "hardcore" gamers would call a medium-grade graphics processor, but it works beautifully for me.
- GarageBand: Garageband runs great on this machine. 16-20 simultaneous software instruments are a piece of cake for the computer. Export and mixdown times have vastly improved. I used to get a lot of lag recording midi over a usb-midi cable, but that is no longer the issue. The latency is barely noticeable. I can also have GarageBand running smoothly along with my other apps, which is like a gift from heaven.
- General processor goodness: I've been working on a project that required me to encode a large number of mp3 files lately. Because of a glitch in the mp3 player, I had to re-encode about 24 mp3 files, but not before I had converted them from wav to aiff. When I saw the progress bar on my converter zoom past, I blinked for a second. At first, I thought it was the progress bar that usually said "preparing files", not the actual encode. Turns out the "preparing files" had already been past without me noticing, and it was encoding the mp3s at an unbelievable rate. The entire conversion process took less than 5 minutes, depriving me of the coffee break I would have taken had I been doing this on my old Mac.
Although at first glance the new MacBook Pro looks identical to the previous generation (with the possible exception of the MacBook Air style cylindrical MagSafe charger) the internals of the laptop are profoundly different. Owners of the previous generation may not have enough of an incentive to upgrade, but for anyone with a pre-unibody laptop, the new macs are excellent.
It works far better for all my work than I expected. It's great for writing, reading and developing, and not too shabby for games, although if you are looking for a dedicated gaming rig, it would do you good to look elsewhere. I adore the design. It is something I'm proud to take out of my backpack/briefcase and sit down to work at. The inertial scrolling makes browsing large documents and webpages more intuitive and pleasurable. The large, bright, instant-on screen is vivid and the perfect window into the OS and the internet.
I absolutely love the new Mac, and I'm looking forward to many hours of work and play at this lovely machine.