Alex headshot

AlBlue’s Blog

Macs, Modularity and More

Review of MacBook Pro (Late 2008)

2009, review

Although no new MacBook hardware is likely to be announced at WWDC, I've also had a Write review of MacBook Pro TODO item on my list for a while, so time to get it out of the way ...

I waved goodbye to my final G4 Mac laptop when (believe it or not) the end of the (non-magnetic) power cable broke off and got trapped in the power charging port of my PowerBook. The computer, disk, screen, keyboard etc. was all fine; but I couldn't get charge into the laptop, so it was a brick. All for the cost of a 10¢ computer part. That's not the first time it had happened, either – an older power adapter had done the same thing (but I'd managed to fish it out and replace the adaptor the previous time). So, I ended up with a MacBook Pro with a 128Gb SSD and 4Gb of RAM. Here's what I think.

This is probably the worst Apple laptop I've owned, and I've owned them since the early Mac OS X 10.0 days (the original TiBook was my first foray into Apple hardware, having been on NeXT systems beforehand), and I've been through the TiBook, PowerBook 1.5, PowerBook 1.67 and now MacBook Pro (Fall 2008) models. The fact that it's an Intel machine isn't really an advantage/disadvantage to me (other than 10.6 will be able to run on it) but it is the worst of the lot so far.

Firstly, I've always bought Matte screens; and for a very good reason. Glossy screens may look sexy in the adverts where you see the reflection as it rotates around the centre, but the reality is that they also reflect in real life as well. I'm sitting here with the Sun streaming in through the window, and the reflections are obvious and intrusive. Unless Apple are planning to come out with an iMirror app, I can't really see why Glossy screens are the only way – unless the cynic in me is right, and it's just a cost-saving measure to prevent having two types of screens manufactured. His Steveness probably works in a office with no Windows, after all ...

Secondly, the keyboard is crap. The all-in-one aluminium body means that instead of the keyboard being a self-sealed unit that sits atop the macbook, the keyboard in the MacBook Pro ‘pokes through’ the cut-out aluminium holes. What this means is each key is basically a mini window to the hardware underneath (and why there's so much space between the keys) but where it really shines is the under-keyboard lighting. On the old PowerBook, the keyboard lighting was a graceful affair, with each letter lighting up as light demanded. With the new MacBook Pro, the keys light up, but there's an insane amount of light spillage from under the keys, and unless you're working directly overhead the keyboard each key has a halo of light to distract you.

Thirdly, whilst the machine feels solid, it also feels heavy. I think that it's technically lighter than the old PowerBook was, but the screen is a lot heavier (all that glass) which means the screen isn't structurally as sound as the previous one, especially when carried one-handed. It's very easy to pick it up one-handed and have the screen bend over backwards; so far, it's not been damaged but it's only a matter of time.

Fourthly, the design of the ports on one side leads a lot to be desired. For the previous PowerBook, the external monitor cable (usually the thickest of the lot) was right at the back. Now, the display cable (small socket) lies about half-way down one side. And typically, the monitor cable goes backwards whilst USB cables go forwards (to mice etc.). Aesthetics have a lot to blame here; to get the ever-decreasing-size of ports, the monitor is now in a completely different place. Perhaps we'd be in a better position if the laptop used a decent DVI adapter like before, and so the connector is at the back.

Fifthly, the hinge of the MacBook Pro is black. Notionally, that's to fit in with the black border of the screen. However, when the laptop is closed, there's an obnoxious black edge to the hinge. None of the previous Apple laptops look ugly when closed; the MacBook Pro is the first example of its kind.

Sixthly, the trackpad is annoyingly loud. I used to use tap-to-select for mouse clicks, but it's pretty tricky to use the tap-to-select without generating a loud click. Not good for late night coding sessions.

Seventhly (and lastly), the screen release indentation on the front of the lid has really sharp edges. Try one in an Apple store sometime - you can practically cut yourself on it.

So all in all, I wish I'd been able to stay with my old PowerBook. However, Intel is the way forward (as is 10.6) so the new laptop will allow me to achieve both. But I can't help but feel that the current unibody MacBook Pro is a lesser rival to all of its previous generation devices.