2016 MacBook PRO review

Update 2017/3/14:

I’ve been meaning to append an update to this post for a while, but have been too busy to do so. Today, I was once again reminded about it for reasons I’ll get back to shortly.

So, immediately after the original blog post, I had two major issues:

  1. It had a HW glitch in the keyboard (Hubris for being too tough on Dell, I’m sure) – basically the ‘O’ key only worked one of three times it was pressed. Apple replaced it overnight, no prob.
  2. Then I was consistently getting a black screen on start up if I had entered sleep mode with my external monitor attached. Apple tried for a short while to blame my external monitor… That stopped when they learned that it’s an Apple Thunderbolt display. There was another feeble attempt at blaming 3rd party software, so I reset the machine to factory and the problem didn’t go away. So, finally convinced, they offered to take it back, but I would then have to wait 3 months for a new one because it’s a custom build. I finally opted to just have it repaired. One more night in the shop, and everything has been fine since. So, early build, monday model, lemon, I don’t know, but I guess no matter what you pay, you can never be sure HW won’t have issues. Lesson learned.

In both cases Apple Support has been top notch (safe the external monitor thing, but that was actually kind of funny 🙂 ). When things do go bad, and they do, good customer support is all I really ask for, and Apple’s is second to none. I leave them my number, 30 seconds later they call back and walk me through the various tests and problems until there’s a solution.

HW glitches aside, there’s a couple of things that I wrote about originally that I now have a 3+ months perspective on:

Weight and size does matter. I was unsure if the modest reduction would make any difference, but it is noticeably nimbler on an every day basis. It also is way more silent than the old one and it does not have the same hotspots around the charging port, for example.

Performance, well, it’s the same story every time you upgrade. It only takes a few days to get used to it, and you then forget what it was like before. Only thing I’ve noticed consistently is that I have much less graphics issues in Unity. Before, I would get weird texture glitches every now and then (lack of GPU memory probably), and had to restart Unity. I haven’t seen that since I got the new laptop.

The USB-C port, much as I predicted, has been a non-issue. Or rather, it has turned out to be more annoying for others because they can’t borrow my charger or my lightning cable, but since that greatly reduces my risk of loosing either, I consider it an overall win 🙂

The O-led display however… Well, it’s the reason I finally decided to write this, because it’s such a ridiculous non-feature that I just had to vent. It has no practical purpose what so ever; it does nothing that I couldn’t do without it. Nothing. But if it was just that, if it was just a party trick, I could try to forget how much it probably added to the BOM and simply ignore it. But that’s exactly the problem, it’s not just useless. It is in fact incredibly annoying on a daily basis.

The bar have no tactile feedback, so even just using it as if it was a row of regular old function keys is a step down compared to a normal keyboard. But it gets worse because of how good the touch is. I usually hover my finger over the F7 and F8 keys when debugging, but now I can’t because it causes random taps when I don’t want them. And don’t get me started on how many times I’ve been asked if I want to turn Siri on. I do not plan to talk to my laptop. Ever. So you can stop asking, but the damn button is right above the backspace key, so if your finger is just a wee bit off, Siri will think you called. Same story in the other side where F1 is so easily activated that I get annoying help dialogs all over the place.

Apple, seriously, what were you thinking? Did this “feature” go straight from Ive’s skull directly into production – nobody actually tested it?

If you absolutely had to change the keyboard, how about you fix the goddamn cursor keys. Yes, I would like full size up/down keys also – I’m a grown up, I have grown-up-size fingers.

Yes, I could use an external keyboard, but at this price, I really shouldn’t have to.

Original post follows below:

Me and my laptop

It’s been 4 years since I bought my trusty MacBook PRO retina. That’s easily a year more than I’ve ever had a laptop before, and the first time ever that I was in doubt as to whether it made sense to get a new one.

All the laptops I’ve had before (Top of the line Dells and Lenovos, typically) has started getting tired after less than 2 years, making the last year of ownership a real drag. Part of that has been due to Windows bloat and build up of crud in the registry and file system in general, so in part I suspect the MacBook has lived longer not just because of its hardware but also because of OsX, but the hardware is certainly part of it.

(On a side note, the Dells have been notorious for needing hardware replacements; from keyboards loosing keys to graphics cards getting bugged colours or weird artefacts, I’ve made extensive use of the next-business-day service. In fact, my wife got a Dell not too long ago and had to replace the HDD after just a few weeks – They might be ok for home computers, but they’re anything but a professional tool and I’ve had my last Dell for sure).

Still, 4 years in with the MacBook, and I feel like it could easily have done a year or two more, but two things were nudging me towards a new laptop – the 256GB SSD was constantly kissing the 95% mark and I had to do frequent cleanups in my temp and trash folders to be able to work (not a bad thing per-se 🙂 ) and the graphics card was sometimes struggling a bit with two large displays running Unity, photoshop and Blender at the same time, causing the fan to be on more than I would have liked.

Enter the 2016 MacBook Pro.


First of all, let’s get the price of out of the way: It’s ridiculous – there is no justification for it, other than Apple charging big bucks because they know they can. For me, as for most people in my situation I would guess, it is, however, also somewhat irrelevant.

It’s my primary work horse – the only tool I own (aside from software licenses), and I buy one every 3 (now 4) years and use it 10 hours every day – saving $1000 and risk getting a Dell-esque piece-of-crap Hardware that needs a new HDD in the middle of the week, costing me a couple of days worth of work, just isn’t an option. The fact that it lasts a year or two more than the competition means I would probably pay even more if needed (Don’t tell Apple that though 😉 )

So, with that out of the way, what am I getting for all my cash?

It’s obviously lighter and thinner – I only just got it so can’t say if this is anything I’ll really notice, but since I drag it around all the time, less is definitely better. The limited testing I’ve done suggests that it also stays cooler, which was my only real concern with the reduced size. The old one could get seriously hot around the hinge when Unity was pushing polygons at 60FPS so I had a (seemingly unwarranted) suspicion that a smaller form-factor might make it harder to get rid of the heat and thus make the problem worse.

I love the keyboard. It’s a bit click-y-ti-clack where the old one was dead silent, but the feel is just phenomenal. I actually think I type faster and make less typos, though that could be a euphoria-induced illusion ;).

The touch pad is even more awesome. I loved the old one which was leaps beyond anything I’d ever had on any other laptop, yet it pales next to the new one. Everything from the sound it makes to the very subtle, yet rewardingly haptic, feedback when you press it is just best-of-class – nothing I’ve tried on any other laptop (mine or others) are in the same ballpark – hell, they are not even in the same galaxy. It’s so good that I feel a bit bad for throwing $100 at a new magic mouse 🙂

The O-led display that replaces the function keys is… Well, it’s a gimmick. A very expensive one, I presume. I really don’t see the point of it, and seriously doubt I’ll ever use it, but I’m going to try to keep an open mind. Maybe there some kind of use for it, and I just can’t see it, but this is probably the one thing I would have taken out if I could, just to save a few bucks.

USB-C… I *really* hate that I can no longer use my thunderbolt display as a charger. This, to me, is the only really annoying “feature” of the new MacBook, but I still think it was the right thing to do. My old macbook would get quite hot around the magnetic charging port, so I suspect the connection wasn’t all that fantastic, even if it was a great concept, and having a single shared port for everything just seems like the right thing to do. The world probably isn’t ready for it, but it wasn’t ready for tablets either, and that changed quick enough. Having an adapter for my other legacy peripherals is a minor moan, that I suspect will go away faster than I can possibly imagine. So thumbs up for paving the way for a world of fewer odd cables, though I wish I could have bought a mag-charger adapter.

I now have 512 GB of SSD which should keep me running for the next 4 years (my 256 GB disk has been almost full for 4 years, so it’s not like my needs are skyrocketing, but every new project I start do tend to add a handfull of GB, so it’s nice to not have to worry about it).

The new graphics card is fast. The old one was never a problem, but I can quite clearly feel the difference when working in Unity – projects that were just barely managing 60FPS in the editor are now keeping an almost constant 100FPS. I know this isn’t a cardinal point for everyone, but for me, this upgrade alone was worth the price.

It’s pretty much the same CPU I had in the old one, though the memory is faster, so I suspect that a benchmark would tell me that everything runs a tad quicker, but probably not enough to have any real-world impact on my daily use. If I consider a typical day in my life, the amount of time I spend waiting for CPU bottlenecks is probably less than the time I spend getting coffee (Yes, I drink too much coffee, but that can’t be helped). I much prefer a smaller, cooler, less battery hungry machine over one that is 15% faster in those few cases where it actually matters, so CPU was never a concern for me.

Finally, I love that I can have it in space grey 🙂

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