Justin Duke

A month with the new MacBook

I have been using the new MacBook Pro (fifteen inches, in what I guess is space gray?) for about a month. It’s my primary laptop now.

Below are some thoughts I have on it. They are in no particular order, but I tried to cover all the main talking points:

  • keyboard
  • Touch Bar
  • Touch ID
  • the internals
  • ports
  • battery
  • price

I’m going to lead with the conclusion, because it’s a very boring one in contrast with a lot of the hyperbole that invariably gets thrown Apple’s way:

The new MacBook is a good laptop. It’s not a particularly great laptop compared to the previous MacBook, but it’s stronger and lighter and generally nicer. It is an incremental upgrade, and should be purchased as such: not as a revolutionary laptop but as an iteration.

Okay, now onto the actual thoughts:

Keyboard

When I first started using the keyboard, I quite actively disliked it. The travel was off, the arrow keys were terrible, even the backlight seemed mediocre.

Now, I quite enjoy it – it takes some acclimation but once you get the hang of it, it feels natural and good. The feedback from the keys (more audial than anything) is just as good as my previous keyboard.

The arrow keys still suck, though.

The Touch Bar

The Touch Bar is frivolous.

It’s not actively bad, but it’s only slightly north of value-neutral to me compared to a keyboard with actual function keys. My metric for this is the following – when I switch from using the laptop’s keyboard to using my old bluetooth keyboard, do I find myself missing the Touch Bar? The answer is invariably no.

(The largest impact the Touch Bar has had on me was finally getting me to map the caps lock key to escape, which is pretty nice.)

Touch ID

Touch ID is dope.

This simple UX improvement was executed very well, but I want to Touch ID everything. Right now you can only use Touch ID for logging in, unlocking stuff in Preferences, and a couple random installer dialogs.

I want to use Touch ID for the following:

  • In lieu of entering my password in iTerm2.
  • Logging into anything that’s stored in OnePassword.
  • Anything involving iTunes Connect.

The actual internals

I won’t profess to be really great with hardware and specs, so this is subjective: did the laptop meet my hopes and needs in terms of capability?

I bought the laptop because I needed something stronger (even though I bemoaned the inability to get 32 gigs of RAM) and, well, the laptop is stronger!

My use case on a day-to-day basis is basically the following:

  • Slack
  • iTunes / Spotify
  • Xcode / Pycharm
  • A couple VMs
  • Chrome
  • Postgres, Redis, and a bunch of random background stuff.

My old laptop could not handle all of that: it would lag noticeably and the fan would make a hellish sound.

This laptop can handle all of that very easily and is quiet, even when doing expensive/difficult operations like large builds or analyses. So, I’m happy with it in that regard.

Ports

Lots of folks (myself included, kinda) groaned about the ports and new charger.

It honestly hasn’t affected me too much. I had to buy two Thunderbolt-to-USB adapters and an adapter for my monitor cable, which I think set me back like thirty bucks.

And none of my chargers work, which is annoying but not a big deal. The bigger deal is that I’m no longer part of the MagSafe charger monoculture, where I didn’t really have to worry about bringing my laptop to a friend’s house or an office because someone would invariably have a charger for me to borrow. Now I actually have to be cognizant of it.

But being to plug the charger into my laptop in on either side is surprisingly useful! And the idea of the One True Port is something that intuitively makes sense to me, even if I have to wait a little longer for the concept to bear fruit.

Battery

The battery life is for sure better than my old laptop, but not be that much – I’d estimate maybe 20%.

I get four hours of work (so, using it at full throttle) out of it, which is way less than the ten hours they marketed but you’re setting yourself up for failure if you ever believe any battery life estimate ever.

(Apple’s response to the discrepancy between the ten hours and the actual battery life is to remove the battery life estimate altogether, which is unequivocally dumb and bad.)

Price

This thing is fucking expensive..

I spent north of three thousand dollars on it. That’s a lot of money!

It was worth it to me: if it makes my software development even 10% more efficient 1 then it pays for itself in a month.

But that’s a very large sum of money and it seems worth pointing out.

Should you buy one?

When people ask me if I like the laptop, I have a very specific response:

I definitely don’t regret the purchase, because the internals alone were worth it for me in justifying the expense.

One might note that I don’t actually answer the question – and the truth is, I don’t really like the laptop, nor do I particularly dislike it. Touch ID is the only feature that gets me actively excited; the laptop, in my head, is sorta separate from any emotional attachment. It’s a good tool that makes me more productive, and that’s it.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with that – in fact, the desire to emotionally attach yourself to your tools is probably the weirder move – but it’s worth pointing out, especially as it contrasts with Apple’s marketing.

If you need a better tool – and think a better tool is worth a couple thousand dollars – you should purchase this laptop. Otherwise, get something else.


  1. Napkin math: I value my time at $200/hr. This thing costs $3400, which is equivalent to 17 hours of time. I spend fifty (or more) hours a week working, so if it gives me an extra five hours of productivity that’s right around four weeks. [return]
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