MacBook Pro: Design Review
For the past several years, Apple has been an esteemed creator of technology that blends gorgeous hardware with innovative software. Recently, after the introduction of Leopard and a bevy of software releases and updates for its Mac OS X arsenal, Apple dramatically changed the hardware side with the introduction of the aluminum unibody MacBook and MacBook Pro.
It’s crucial that the MacBook Pro receives a “Design Review”, because this machine seems to embody that meaning. So I got my (very, very, clean) hands all over a MacBook Pro (15.4″, 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo) and have been testing it, grinding it, and most importantly gazing at it for two solid weeks. Read on, warriors!
For a bit of a background and context, previous to this MacBook Pro, I have never owned an Apple product in my life. Not even an iPod. Of course, I’ve played with these products quite a lot whenever I could get my hands on one, but owning a Mac is entirely different than playing with it. I’m a heavy Windows user, and have been all my life, which also means that the hardware I’m used to using is also geared towards Windows. This article is not meant to describe the differences between Macs and PCs, but that said, it is rather difficult for me to review without a bias.
Five Word Review
Stunning, sleek, simplistic, but nocturnal
Aesthetics and Action
The MacBook Pro is hands down the most gorgeous laptop I have seen to date. It’s no secret that when the laptop was first announced, the PR shots of the laptop weren’t so glamorous looking. The fact is, this laptop shines like the sun when presented before your very eyes. Even better is the fact that this machine grows on you with every moment you spend using or gazing at it. Two weeks later, I’m still becoming more and more impressed and satisfied with it.
First thing to note is its all aluminum unibody casing. I’ll go into more detail later on, but in short, it’s breathtaking. Ports are put on one side with the CD/DVD slot on the other. The screen hinge is typical MacBook fare, and the front is as blank and gorgeous as ever. My only complaint would be the front edges being a little sharp and not that great for resting your wrists on, but hey, it’ll help improve my ergonomics.
When you actually open up the device, things get very interesting. The keys are now spaced, like previous MacBook and MacBook Air iterations. Switching from a normal Windows keyboard, I adjusted in a snap (along with the corner Fn key). Next up, comes the trackpad. Apple ditched the traditional mouse buttons for the trackpad button, where the entire trackpad is the button (think, BlackBerry Storm, but trackpad style). It works wonders. I’ve gotten so used to it so quickly, that anytime I’m on my work laptop using a trackpad, the first instinct is to press the darn thing down. The slight love/hate thing is the increase in pressure as you move up the trackpad. It’s hinged on the top, so when you’re navigating around the top of the trackpad, it actually takes quite a bit of force. Good for making sure you’re not clicking on something that’ll screw up, say, a blog post, but bad for randomly navigating and suddenly requiring quite a bit of force.
In terms of aesthetics, everything is done properly. The anodized aluminum unibody really takes the trophy here though, as its solid body work really looks and feels premium. The screen with the piano black edges add to the premium look — and matches both the iPhone 2G and 3G to boot. The laptop is properly thin, and when compared to my previous Asus Z71v (standard size for an aged laptop), the Asus gets totally trumped. The downside is that the stouter, wider stance of the MacBook Pro gives it an awkward fit to standard laptop cases/bags/sleeves.
Here is the one gigantic gripe about this laptop: the screen. The glossy display makes it nigh unusable during the day. It’s totally distracting and forces you to max out the brightness settings in order to compensate. Its infuriating if you have any sort of sunlight in the room. Somehow, through the insane reflection, it’ll make your way onto your screen and glare at you while you’re browsing a website (see below). I really wish Apple provided one with a matte display. Steve Jobs noted that they didn’t even bother with a glossy display due to their market research. If the blogs on the net were of any indication, everyone hates it to death when used in the sunlight. I nearly didn’t buy this, because everyone hated it that much. The other unfortunate thing about the screen, is its limit to 1440×900 resolution. I really wanted to run a 1680×1050 resolution that I was so used to on my Asus laptop, so not having the extra pixels is quite a bummer.
There is a redeeming factor about the screen. At night, it’s absolutely gorgeous and stunning. The screen is sharp, has some crazy brightness settings (due to its LED backlighting), and seems to have a rather decent contrast ratio. The pleasure of using it at night is only further emphasized by the LED backlit keyboard, which makes the laptop stunning even when you don’t see it!
Fabrication and Flavour
The MacBook Pro’s unibody is a feat of engineering. It’s important to recognize this, because on the outlook, it seems to be a very daunting manufacturing process — so daunting that a big portion of their “Spotlight turns to notebook” event was spent by SVP Jony Ive giving a very detailed view of the entire process. What it results in, is a fantastic display of aluminum, a lighter weight casing, a very strong shell, and a growth in the minimalistic effort that Apple so proudly embodies.
This minimalism is only further accentuated with the infamous “less button” effort of Steve Jobs. And it works really well. Clicks feel solid and have a good degree of resistance, although it tends to get tiring and rather loud when used extensively. Of course, for those moments, using the traditional tap-to-select works just fine.
What Apple has really done, is give it the build quality a “Pro” machine really deserves. Every mechanical movement is tuned so well, that it makes it a joy to use, even if its nonsensical repetitions of opening and closing the screen.. The hinge is built so well, that it doesn’t suffer from a millimeter of flex or give, when you’re opening it. Furthermore, the sound of closing it — when the magnet captures just the right about of attraction — is superb. I’d never though I’d give such a long paragraph to opening and closing a laptop, but if you think about it, you do this nearly everyday, which makes it a valid Engineering point.
The little details that Apple is so famous for, is ever present, from the charging adapter with wire holders to the magnetized (and tiny) connector to the battery indicator, to the charging indicator to the flush power button. Everything is silent, buttons are flush, openings are small, and if I were crazy, I’d say that everything was just done too well. Fortunately, I’m not and I’m loving this machine.
Interface and Interaction
This is a rather hard section to write, as my lack of Mac experience has all to do with any gripes and issues I have. In all seriousness, I have found that every issue I have with the Mac OS is the very reason why people love using it. So in a decision of epic proportions, I’m going to skip out on this section. However, please feel free to check out my personal blog for a series entitled: Mac OS X, from a PC Perspective. Here I list all the love and hate issues I have with Mac OS X from the perspective of a power Windows user. I’m sure every Mac transition goes through this, but in this series, I will attempt to qualify these factors.
Performance and Pacing
Since this is a matter of how-much-money-are-you-willing-to-shell, I won’t go into too much detail. Reviewing a laptop is really different from reviewing a phone, as the pricing is based on hardware; in a phone, you can’t even configure such settings, let alone buying a phone because it is outfitted with 192MB of RAM rather than 128MB.
Anyway, the configuration I have packs a 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo (I believe Penryn-based) with 3MB L2 cache and 1024MHz FSB, 4GB of DDR3 SDRAM, integrated NVIDIA GeForce 9400M with 256MB shared, discrete NVIDIA 9600M GT with 256MB GDDR3, 250GB HDD @ 7200rpm, 802.11a/b/g/draft-n and Gigabit LAN connectivity, Bluetooth v2.1+EDR, 8x slot-loading SuperDrive.
Suffice to say, this puppy chews up everything on the planet, lasts a very satisfying 5 hours on its integrated GPU (and it really does last 5 hours), and doesn’t overheat after 8 solid hours of gaming (yeah, I did). On its discrete GPU, Crysis Warhead runs without a sweat at Mainstream settings — I don’t have a framerate count at the moment, but even with massive shooting, it doesn’t seem to drop much. Also, draw distances seem to be limited with objects popping up everywhere. Most other games run well on its highest settings. Granted, the MacBook Pro does gets really hot, and without an external keyboard, you might feel the heat on the keyboard.
Tracking the Trends
It’s no surprise that the MacBook Pro was so well received (and covered, by the media), but I really think it deserves this praise even if it was just for the hardware. Whether you like Mac OS X or Microsoft Windows is a whole other elephant to swallow. Apple has given so much thought and design elements that it definitely attracts anyone looking for a new laptop in the coming ages.
The MacBook Pro was due for a design change, and thankfully Apple has delivered with another stunning product. It left the 17″ MacBook without the new casing, but I’m guessing this was more to do with restrictions on the aluminum unibody.
So here we are at the end of the MacBook Pro design review. And here I am, stuck trying to scramble words together to conjure a phrase worthy of the MacBook Pro. And heck, I think what I just wrote is enough to spark emotions, so I’ll leave it at that.
Maybe its one of those “indescribable” phrases that everyone (especially me) uses. A phrase that puts together the thought of how great a product is, without being able to describe how great the product is. Oh English, how lovely art thou.
If you’re looking for a new laptop to replace an old, lovable machine (like the above Asus Z71v), if you are in any way interested in Mac OS X, and if you have a sizable wallet, the MacBook Pro is the machine to get.