MacBook Pro 15″ April 2010

So my new MacBook Pro arrived on Monday. First impressions:

Migration Assistant is great when it works. It failed the first time, destroying my main user account. Luckily, before I decided to reinstall Mac OS X I figured out I could log on as root and rebuild the main account, which Migration Assistant then destroyed again (I was trying to copy my old Tonio Loewald account over my new (empty) Tonio Loewald account). Argh! Turns out it works if it isn’t overwriting an existing account, so the trick is not to replace your destroyed account. Bad Apple!

Battery life is a joke (it would be fine if Apple weren’t making extravagant claims…). OK, it looks like it gets maybe 4h with reasonable (not heavy) use, which is 50% more than I got with my old MacBook Pro and a new battery, but I’d love to know in what fantasy land I might squeeze 8-9h out of the battery. It’s a huge disappointment after my iPad exceeding my wildest hopes in terms of battery life. I guess if MacBook Pro marketing types had written the iPad specs they’d have claimed “up to 25h” or something.

This sample file ("Gecko.jas" was rendered in Cheetah 3d in 22s on the new MBP, vs 48s on the old. Render times were pretty much the same on battery as plugged into a wall (with default Energy Saver settings) but projected battery life dropped by more than half during rendering.

Speed is actually better than I hoped. Over ten years ago I set myself a rule that I would only upgrade computers if the new machine was going to be at least twice as fast (this was after blowing all kinds of money on a succession of upgrades which netted little speed benefit, such as 120MHz 604e to 180MHz 604e). Photoshop CS4 launches almost instantly on this baby and Cheetah 3d launches twice as fast (and no, I did not spring for an SSD — very little of what I do is disk-bound — but I did spring for 8GB RAM).

Unity's window sized for 1440x900 in a 1680x1050 screen

The biggest improvement in the display: I got the higher resolution 1680×1050 display, which is the same resolution as the 24″ displays I’ve been using at home for the last few years. This is the difference between Unity development being bliss and a total pain in the ass. (It’s not quite the 1920×1080 I’d like, but I think that would be uncomfortably dense on a 15″ display.) I did not pay extra for a matte finish because I actually prefer the brighter gloss displays 90% of the time. (I can read novels on my iPad in direct sunlight — yes I need to make sure I’m not reflecting the sun into my eyes, but this is hardly a deal breaker.)

It takes a while to get used to the glass trackpad. The best option, ironically enough, is to forget it’s a glass trackpad and pretend that the button is where it’s always been. It just works. (So, yes, you click and drag by pressing down on the trackpad with one finger and then moving another finger around lightly. Apple has really done a fine job of handling the details so well that it just does what I expect. (I haven’t tried a “magic mouse” for anything serious, so I don’t know whether the criticisms of this device are justified or merely caused by the user not simply forgetting he/she is using a magic mouse and letting it “do the right thing” — I’m willing to bet it sucks for gaming though).

The "icebook" was the last beautiful and yet truly robust notebook Apple produced — image from Wikipedia

Another huge win — at least, I’m projecting — is durability. My MacBook Pro has taken quite a beating, in large part because more than any laptop I’ve owned it has served as my main computer, and also because it has continued being bearable to use for longer than any laptop I’ve owned. The unibody machines (starting with the MacBook Air) feel far more solid and durable than either the TiBooks or the original Aluminum MacBooks. Indeed, they feel more solid than even the bulletproof white iBooks. (A friend of mine recently posted on the durability of his Lenovo tablet, which is enviable.) Nearly ten years after the original icebook, Apple may finally have managed another triumph of aesthetics which does not sacrifice durability.

So, this is going to be my digital home for the next several years. It may in fact be the last Mac I ever buy (if its successor is either iPhone OS based or a “unification” device that runs both OSes).