The Computer Blog

Monday, October 20, 2008

First Impressions of the new MacBook Pro

Well, the last thing I thought I would do this weekend was to buy a MacBook Pro; but that’s what I did. After some discussion and hands on time with both the new MacBook’s and MacBook Pro’s, I bought the “entry level” 15” 2.4 GHz MacBook Pro with 2GB of RAM and a 250GB hard drive, iSight, a single FW800 port, 2 USB 2.0 ports, a Gigabit Ethernet port, and a mini-Display Port. I wanted to drop to the smaller 13 inch format of the MacBook, but I had to decide between it and Firewire in a notebook that would be used as a desktop replacement. As I had said it might in my last blog, the lack of Firewire in the MacBook did prove to be a deal breaker. While Apple may be happy with forcing me to step up to a MBP, many people won’t and I wouldn’t have done it, Firewire or no, without the hard disk and memory being user replaceable and the 24 inch LCD with iSight becoming available. It was the combination of all those things that convinced me to spend the money. (And now I need a two thousand dollar bailout!)

As always, the packaging was elegant. The first thing I saw after opening the box was the silver rounded rectangle of the notebook, wrapped in clear plastic, with a small black tag bearing silver letters saying “Designed by Apple”. After lifting out the computer, the black tag serves as a pull-tab to lift up a black plastic divider covering the power adapter and a recessed black box containing the user manual and the software DVD’s. The power adapter is the 85 watt version. After plugging it in, I pressed the machine’s power button and the machine booted into a Leopard welcome video welcome typical of Apple’s Macs. Once that was over, I found myself in the system’s Migration Assistant. Using a Belkin Firewire 400/800 cable my wife bought for me at the Apple Store, I connected the MBP to my 24 inch iMac, which I booted into Target Disk mode, and let Migration Assistant pull all my data and applications across. While it took about an hour and a half to get everything, it worked flawlessly. That experience was very different than what I went through using an Ethernet cable transfer between my wife’s new MacBook and her 20 inch aluminum iMac . With 16 minutes to go, the Ethernet Migration Assistant transfer bombed out; and it subsequently took me three tries to get most of her data transferred. The system issued an error message and refused to copy her VMWare Windows XP virtual machine image, something the MBP’s Firewire transfer did without a hitch. (Note: Target Disk Mode DOES exist on the new MBP. If you’re in Target Disk Mode and on battery, a nice little glass will appear at the bottom of the screen and its fullness will correspond to your battery’s charge.)

Once Migration Assistant Completed, the machine stepped through a few more windows before heading to the Desktop which it never reached. It seemed to hang short, so I held down the power button to shut the machine down and then restarted it. It went straight to the Desktop, and all the files I had seen on my iMac’s Desktop were there. One application had lost its bearings with respect to its database, an error easily corrected, and I loaded a few more that had been living on my old MBP.

Using an Apple Mini-Display port to DVI adapter, I hooked the new MBP up to a 20 inch Apple Cinema Display as well as an network drop and a spare power adapter, turned it on, closed its lid, and slid it onto the foot of the display. It came up on the 20 incher as expected. This is my temporary “at home” setup until Apple releases the new 24 inch Cinema displays with iSight next month. Then, the 24 inch display will become my MBP’s main screen when I am home, and the machine’s native 15 inch display the main screen when I am at work or on the road. For my Time Machine backup, I will use the same 500GB Firewire disk my iMac did.

(One note about running this machine with an external display. On this model, Apple moved the optical drive slot to the right, rear side of the machine. That makes it easier to insert/remove optical media when the machine is on your lap. But the notebook’s slender design makes inserting a CD/DVD almost problematic if the notebook is sitting on the foot of the display or beside it on a desk. For this purpose, it would have been better if Apple had left the optical drive in the front.)

The first time I really got to use the machine was at my office. The lighting there is not as ideal as it is at my home; the windows at my office are behind me and the desk the MacBook Pro sits on. Reflection at first was a significant problem, but I managed to mitigate most of it by closing up the window blinds tightly. While that didn’t get rid of the reflections entirely, it and turning the screen brightness all the way up did overwhelm them to the point of making them less than a nuisance. If I hadn’t been able to get the blinds behind me closed, I’d have been in big trouble. A matte screen machine, which is not an option in Apple’s current notebook line-up, would be much better for my office environment.

That said, I otherwise like the glossy screen. However, while attempting to calibrate the screen, I experienced some settings at the extreme ranges that made me wonder about the quality of the LCD’s being used in these machines. The native gamma was off the charts (above the 2.4 range).

I have a MacAlly Bluetooth Mouse I used with my old MBP; and, using Bluetooth, I was able to pair it with the new machine, though it took multiple tries. I have also noticed a bug in the Airport software where the Airport menu icon incorrectly displays Airport status when Airport is on and connected. (It looks like it’s still off.)

The notebook is very quiet. I haven’t noticed any noise at all and the fans have not come on yet during any use. I’m hoping it stays that way after I replace the native hard drive with a new Samsung 500GB hard drive later this week. I ordered it and 4GB worth of memory from Other World Computing and hope to have them both installed in the machine by the end of the week.

The trackpad is very responsive, no matter whether you’re pushing it to click or have it set to detect a finger tap. What’s really cool are the small videos that demonstrate the allowable finger motions when you go to the Trackpad icon within System Preferences. That’s a very nice touch and a great way to demo the capabilities of the device.

The keyboard feels just slightly different than the one on my old MacBook Pro. There’s not quite as much “give” in the keys, but I like that.

As for battery life, I ran the machine for about three hours on the battery alone while working on a Word document and with screen brightness set at “full”.

Overall, I like the new MacBook Pro. It’s a slightly better value than the one it replaced mainly because of its lower cost for equivalent performance, upgradeability, and the ability to hook up to the new displays, something I’ll have to wait to evaluate. I haven’t run any performance benchmarking tests, yet; but I’ll try to make time to do that tonight. All that said, if you have a previous generation MacBook Pro or one even two generations back and you’re happy with it, there is no compelling reason to switch to one of the new machines. Like always, you have to decide what’s best for you and whether spending the money it takes make sense in light of both other Mac and Windows alternatives.

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