Tag Archive for ‘Laptop’

Moving to the MacBook Pro

13-inch MacBook Pro

After Apple started transitioning their notebook line away from the notoriously unreliable butterfly keyboards, I started pondering what my new work laptop would be. My first work-issued laptop was the 2018 MacBook Air. Although I absolutely loved the machine’s weight, size, and overall design, the keyboard was fundamentally flawed.

I started having issues with the keyboard just a month or two after I received the MacBook Air. But I just dealt with the annoyance of duplicate and missed key presses because I needed it for work. I live too far away from an Apple Store to easily bring it in for repair and that left me with the only option of sending it in by mail, which usually takes at least a week. I couldn’t be without my work laptop for that long.

Then, about a year later, Josh was born and I was on parental leave for four months. I took that opportunity to send in my machine and get the keyboard replaced. It came back about a week later and the keyboard worked perfectly. That’s excellent, but my faith in the butterfly mechanism was tarnished.

I came back from parental leave earlier this year and knew that I was due for a replacement machine in April. Apple had already released the 16-inch MacBook Pro last November with the new scissor switch keyboard and I wasn’t going to order a new laptop unless it had the new keyboard. The 16-inch is just too large for my liking, though. I like to move around the house throughout the day while I work — spending some time at the kitchen table, some time in the living room, and some time in the office. Between that and the extra heft while traveling to work meetups a few times each year, I would much rather have a smaller machine.

The next Mac to return to the scissor switch keyboard was the MacBook Air in March. All the benefits of my 2018 MacBook Air with a new, more reliable keyboard — what’s not to like? I still had another month to go before I was able to order a new work laptop and although I found the new Air intriguing, I felt it was in my best interest to wait and see with the 13-inch MacBook Pro update had in store.

I didn’t have to wait long, the new 13-inch MacBook Pro was announced in May. But that left me with the question, which MacBook to choose?

Luckily, I work for the best company in the world — we’re able to choose what machine is best for each of us and our work, with limited restrictions. So I could essentially get whatever I wanted, configured however I wanted. With price being no object, that means you have to choose a machine entirely based on it’s own merits — there’s no need to make concessions because a component upgrade is too expensive.

I hemmed and hawed for quite some time about what machine would actually be better for me and my work. I liked the form factor, lighter weight, and lack of Touch Bar on the MacBook Air, but how much would I appreciate the extra horse power of the MacBook Pro? And would that additional performance be worth the trade offs in portability?

I had it narrowed down to two different configurations:

MacBook Air

  • 1.2GHz quad-core Intel Core i7
  • 16GB of memory
  • 512GB solid-state drive

MacBook Pro

  • 2.3GHz quad-core Intel Core i7
  • 32GB of memory
  • 512GB solid-state drive

Most of my friends that I spoke with suggested I choose the MacBook Pro, but the decision wasn’t too easy for me. I overvalue portability compared to most of them. I want the thinnest and lightest laptop I can use and will typically give up performance for it. And that extends to the power adapter that the machine uses as well — 30 watt power adapters, which the MacBook Air require are much smaller and lighter than the 61 watt power adapter that comes with the Pro. I know I can use third-party power adapters (and trust me, I do), but it becomes tricky when you want to use your laptop under load with a lower wattage adapter — the battery depletes even when plugged in.

Then there is the question of the shape of the machine itself. The MacBook Air features that iconic wedge shape, while the MacBook Pro is flat. I rarely use an external keyboard, so would the flat shape effect my ability to type comfortably? The answer isn’t obvious and given the state of retail at the moment, it’s not like I could go out and try the MacBook Pro for some amount of time in store. And even if I could, the environment isn’t exactly great from an ergonomics standpoint, so I doubt I’d be able to get a good impression of what it would feel like to use in practice.

And the other major downside of the MacBook Pro is the Touch Bar. I have heard almost nothing good about it and the overall impression that I see online is that the Touch Bar makes your computer worse. Things are a bit different with the current iteration, though, specifically with the escape key being a physical key. But without much experience with it, I’d still err on the side of preferring a machine without one.

But then we get into the topic of performance. This is where the MacBook Pro really starts to shine. Based on Geekbench 5 benchmarks, the MacBook Pro is only marginally faster than the MacBook Air on single-core tasks, but it’s one-and-a-half times the performance on multi-core tasks. It’s difficult for me to gauge whether I will really get much benefit from that extra performance in my day-to-day tasks, though.

I spend all day in Chrome, Slack, Simplenote, and Things. Those aren’t particularly intensive applications, especially since I typically have less than ten tabs open in Chrome at any given time. I also have some menu bar apps open, like iStat Menus, tyke, Droplr, One Switch, and a handful of others. That’s a pretty accurate snapshot of my daily work and I don’t need a ton of CPU performance to keep up.

But this might not always be the case. I have an opportunity to spend time working on support for our mobile apps in the future and with that comes the possibility of more intensive applications. Specifically the iOS Simulator and Android in emulation so I can test our apps in different environments. This is a far heavier workload than what I’m doing currently and is the single reason I ultimately decided to spring for the increased performance of the MacBook Pro instead of the better portability of the Air.

Impressions

I ordered the 13-inch MacBook Pro in space gray with a 2.3GHz Intel Core i7, 32GB of memory, and a 512GB SSD. I’ve been using the machine for my daily work for about a month and although I had some hesitation with a few of its features, I’m very happy with the decision overall.

Here are my miscellaneous thoughts and impressions on the machine’s features, when compared to the 2018 MacBook Air that I upgraded from:

  • Physical Size: The difference in thickness and weight of the MacBook Pro was immediately obvious when it first arrived. But it only took a few days before I completely forgot about it. When I pick up the MacBook Air now, I am reminded of how light it is, but in my day-to-day it hasn’t had much of an impact.
  • Keyboard: It feels different than the MacBook Air. And while I appreciate the scissor switch keyboard’s reliability and key travel, I do find myself missing the stability that came from the butterfly switches. Not enough to go back, mind you, but I can understand to a certain extent why Apple was fond of the butterfly mechanism. If they were able to fix the reliability issues entirely and increase key travel, I think the butterfly keyboard would actually be more enjoyable to type on.
  • Touch Bar: I’ve been skeptical of the utility of the Touch Bar since its introduction, but have had very little experience with it up until now. Having a physical escape key seems to be a massive upgrade from the previous iteration and I’ve actually found the feature to be a positive addition to my workflow, although minor. I currently have my Touch Bar configured to display the extended Control Strip with display brightness, keyboard brightness, and volume buttons on the right with Quick Actions, Mission Control, and Show Desktop on the left. I only have one Quick Action configured, but I imagine it will get more useful to me as ideas for automation present themselves in my work.
  • Performance: I haven’t had much of an opportunity to test out the MacBook Pro’s performance. I’ve been sticking primarily to my everyday tasks so far and it has tackled those handily. I’ve run Geekbench a few times and the performance results do bear out what I’ve seen listed in their benchmark browser.
  • Battery Life: I don’t have exact measurements on battery life and mileage may vary depending on your workload. I have found that the Pro’s battery life is worse than the MacBook Air, but not by so much that it impedes my ability to work away from a power adapter for prolonged periods of time. One interesting wrinkle in this attribute is my use of Turbo Boost Switcher Pro, which lets you disable Turbo Boost at will. When this feature is disabled, I’m still seeing better performance and better battery life when compared to the 2018 with Turbo Boost enabled. So if I ever needed to work for longer stints without a power adapter, disabling Turbo Boost would likely do the trick.
  • Power Adapter: The MacBook Pro’s power adapter is large compared to the MacBook Air’s adapter. And massive compared to the third-party Anker power adapter I had been using. But I’ve since purchased Anker’s 45 watt adapter with a similar form factor and although it doesn’t provide as much power as the included adapter, it seems to at least maintain the current charge when the machine is under load.
  • Thunderbolt 3 Ports: The MacBook Air offers two Thunderbolt 3 ports while my new MacBook Pro offers four. There has been exactly one instance where I’ve used more than two ports — I had my power adapter, iPad Pro using Sidecar, and my Apple TV HD connected so I could display its screen in QuickTime for screen sharing on Zoom. I’m sure there are still a lot of Mac users that wish they could have more ports, but I think Apple’s offerings are just fine.

Unless something radically changes over the next couple of years, I expect my next Mac will be whatever the 13-inch MacBook Pro iteration is at the time of purchase. It offers an incredible balance of horse power and portability, which makes it the perfect machine for my work and travel habits.

MacBook Air

As some of you may know, I recently started a new job. I’m now a Happiness Engineer at Automattic, helping WordPress.com users build their online business, share their ideas with the world, or do just about anything you could think of with a website. This new change in my life is at least partly to blame for the lack of publishing here on Initial Charge, but now that the holidays are behind us, I should have a bit more time for writing.

I’ve added quite a bit of new tech to my setup over the past few months and have plenty of thoughts and ideas to share about what’s happened in the world of Apple recently. But today, I thought I’d spend a bit of time discussing the new MacBook Air.

I’ve had the new MacBook Air for about two months now and it’s served as my primary work machine. I occasionally do some communication-related tasks on my iPhone and iPad, but the vast majority of my work is done on the Air.

I ordered the Space Gray model with a 256GB SSD and 16GB of RAM.

There’s a small part of me that wishes Apple allowed for a bit more customization with this machine. But in practice, the Air’s internals have been more than sufficient for my needs. I routinely have several tabs open in Chrome alongside Slack, Things, Simplenote, and nearly a dozen menu bar applications.

I know that this isn’t the heaviest workload — I’m sure video editors and developers would push this machine to its limits. But I haven’t had a single hiccup with it from a performance perspective. For my needs, the MacBook Air has been absolutely perfect in this regard.

I’ve been quite happy with the machine’s battery life as well. I haven’t come close to the “up to 12 hours” that Apple lists on its technical specifications page. But I use Chrome, so that’s to be expected. In real world use, I’m getting closer to 6-7 hours on a single charge without making any alterations to my work. That’s significantly more than any other Mac I’ve ever owned and is enough to get me through the bulk of my work day. I bet if I closed some background apps and disabled Turbo Boost, I could squeeze out a full day of work on a single charge.

From a hardware design perspective, I’ve been mostly happy with the new Air. While it is larger and heavier than the 11-inch MacBook Air that it replaced, the machine itself feels rock-solid. And when you consider the additional screen real estate that it offers, I think this is the perfect laptop size for me.

One notable aspect of the MacBook Air specifically is the size of the power brick. This isn’t something that gets brought up too often when I see others weighing the pros and cons of each model in Apple’s lineup. But the new Air’s 30W power brick is the same one that ships with the MacBook. And it’s downright minuscule compared to the 61W and 87W chargers that ship with the 13- and 15-inch MacBook Pros. I’m really going to appreciate that when traveling.

To circle back to the display for a moment — it’s superb. It doesn’t get as bright as the MacBook Pro, but I haven’t felt the need for it in my use. I have the automatic brightness setting turned on and it usually floats between forty and sixty percent. I’m running the display with the default scaling settings and everything looks crisp and clear. Absolutely no complaints on this front.

I’m perfectly fine with the ports situation as well. Two USB-C ports has been one more than I’ve needed in my day-to-day use so far. I haven’t plugged anything other than my power adapter and an external display into the machine. Although never at the same time since I’m using the LG UltraFine 5K Display, which delivers power and data on a single cable. When I’m traveling, I’ll surely appreciate the ability to plug in an external drive while I’m charging, but I can’t imagine a scenario where I’d want an additional port — I guess I just don’t use peripherals like everyone else does.

As a quick aside, how incredible is it that a notebook this small is capable of powering a 5K display. It’s the “best of both worlds” machine that I’ve always dreamed of. I get the thin and light ultra-portable when I’m traveling and a spacious 27-inch display when I’m at home at my desk. It really is amazing.

But back to the port discussion. This transition to USB-C has been kind to me. I’ve purchased a new SSD that came with a USB-C cable and a USB-C to Lightning cable so I can charge my external trackpad, keyboard, and mouse when the need arises. Funnily enough, I own more dongle-related t-shirts than I do actual dongles for my MacBook Air.

The Air’s built-in trackpad feels spacious and comfortable — Apple continues to build the absolute best notebook trackpads on the market. There was a bit of an adjustment at first, since I was moving from the older-style physical trackpads to the haptic-powered ones. But it didn’t take more than a week or two before the trackpad felt normal to me.

My biggest complaint is that the trackpad occasionally misses my “tap to clicks”. However, this has been the case with every Mac trackpad I’ve ever used — the Air is no better or worse. I’m almost certain that these missed inputs have something to do with the algorithm Apple uses to prevent accidental clicks while typing. And although it doesn’t happen more than a couple of times each day, I wish there was a way to fine-tune this setting so that it missed these “tap to clicks” less frequently.

Touch ID has been such a nice feature for me and I’m so glad Apple decided to include it without the Touch Bar, which still feels a bit too gimmicky to me. I do have my Mac setup to unlock automatically with my Apple Watch, but this actually lends itself well to how I plan on using my Mac.

When I travel, I often leave my Watch at home — it’s one less thing to charge, manage, and keep track. So I can utilize the convenience of Touch ID in those instances. But while I’m at home, the Air is frequently connected to the 5K display in clamshell mode, which means Touch ID isn’t available. This is where unlocking with my Watch swoops in to smooth out the rough edges. This is the sort of seamless integration and niceties that I’ve grown to love about using Apple products.

And that brings me to the keyboard. Apple’s new notebook keyboard might be the most controversial change to their lineup — even more so than the move to USB-C. I typically stand on the side of it’s mostly fine, but I have experienced some problems that had me reconsider this stance.

The full-size left and right arrow keys still trip me up from time to time. Although I have started getting used to it. I do believe that the inverted “T” design of the previous style keyboard is still vastly superior, but this change isn’t a deal breaker for me.

Before owning the keyboard, my biggest worry was in regards to the distance between keys. This aspect of the keyboard was a significant hurdle for me in the brief moments that I spent test driving the keyboard at Best Buy and the Apple Store. I always felt lost while typing because there just wasn’t enough definition between the keys. Luckily, that feeling subsided quickly and the keyboard actually feels good to type on now.

That is, until I started getting duplicate inputs when I pressed certain keys. Whenever I would type something with the letter “a” or “p” in it, the Air would register multiple key presses when I was only intending to type a single letter. For example, typing the word “apple” would give me something like “aappple”. Referring to this as “irritating” would be a gross understatement.

Since I spend most of my day typing, this is basically a nightmare. I’ve tried to mitigate the issue by attempting to smoosh whatever dust or debris is causing the problem by firmly pressing on the top of the key and giving it a little wiggle with my finger. That will usually give me another day or so until the problem arises again. But this is by no means a solution.

Upon the recommendation of Apple, I went out and bought a can of compressed air that I’ve used to hopefully blow the dust and debris out of my keyboard. The jury’s still out as to whether this is going to fix the problem for longer than my smoosh method, but I’m cautiously optimistic.

It is a pretty major failure on Apple’s part that this is even a problem to begin with, though. I’ve owned a handful of other Apple keyboards throughout the years and I’ve never had to use compressed air to clean debris out of them. In fact, this is the first can of compressed air I’ve purchased since I switched to the Mac over twelve years ago.

I just can’t see how this design flaw wasn’t discovered during testing. It had to have been. I only had the MacBook Air for about 3-4 weeks before I started having problems with it. If it means I have to blow some compressed air into the keyboard every month or two, I guess it’s something I can deal with. But Apple needs to take the time to think about whether the trade-offs are worth it for this keyboard design.

Spoiler alert: they’re not.

Yes, I’m sure Apple’s design team appreciates the thinness of this keyboard, but that shouldn’t come at the cost of usability. Especially when they have another keyboard in their lineup that’s absolutely incredible to type on. I’ve used the Magic Keyboard for almost two years now — it’s an absolute joy to use and since it’s still using scissor-style key switches (as opposed to the butterfly mechanism in MacBooks), it doesn’t exhibit any of the problems that users have experienced with the MacBook keyboards.

Apple needs to stop trying to fix a flawed design and refresh their entire notebook lineup with a new keyboard that utilizes the same key switches that they’re using in the Magic Keyboard. That would be the ideal way forward for Apple and their customers.

Here’s the thing, though. I grouse about the keyboard, but honestly, I love this machine. Nearly every other decision that went into building the new MacBook Air was spot-on. The weight and form-factor are perfect for my needs, Touch ID fits well into my workflow, and the performance is fantastic. The keyboard alone might be a deal breaker for some, but I think this is the best Mac I’ve ever owned.

Laptop-Less ➝

David Sparks has made the decision to go laptop-less and I wish I could do the same. But unfortunately, due to recent career opportunities, I don’t think I’ll be moving away from portable Macs anytime soon.

My hope was to purchase a 27-inch iMac to serve as our home server and occasional workstation for Mac-specific tasks and then use my iPad as my primary machine. But I’m going to need a Mac to run certain applications in the near future that just aren’t available on iOS.

It looks like I’ll stick it out with my current, aging MacBook Air until Apple refreshes their lineup in the next month or so. At that point I’ll have to decide which machine with a terrible keyboard I’m willing to use.

Microsoft Surface Laptop ➝

This is the best windows laptop I’ve ever seen. But unfortunately, it’s in a form factor I’m no longer interested in and runs an operating system that I don’t want to use. In recent years I’ve realized that there’s only room for two categories of non-pocketable machines in my life — a high-powered desktop with a large screen, a role that will likely be filled by an iMac in the near future, and an iPad. I don’t even want a laptop anymore.

As for the operating system, I switched from Windows to macOS in 2006 and never looked back. Without some drastic changes to the third-party software ecosystem and user interface, I don’t think I’d consider using it unless I was given no other option.

Mark Gurman Details Apple’s Upcoming 12-inch MacBook Air ➝

Another great Apple hardware scoop by Mark Gurman — Slimmer design, a USB Type-C port, refined keyboard and trackpad, and several rendered images to illustrate the changes. I think it’s worth mentioning (as John Gruber pointed out), Mark never uses the word “retina” to describe the screen on the new Air.

I hope that the bit about the USB Type-C and headphone jack being the only two ports on the computer is simply a miscommunication. I can understand Apple getting rid of the extra USB port and even the Thunderbolt port — I’ve only ever had one USB device connected to my MacBook at a time and I’ve never used the Tunderbolt port. But, MagSafe would be something I’d miss. I can’t count the number of times my laptop has been saved by that little connector when someone tripped over the power cord.