In my last post computer conundrum I posted about the difficult choice of which machine to get. Over the last few weeks I’ve been thinking about this problem, researching alternatives and considering every option.
I use my computer for interface design work. In my free time I do some video editing. I want a machine that can do both in a fast way.
I love macOS because it has the right software that I need to do my work. I’m talking about apps like Sketch, Transmit and Apple’s iWork suite. I’ve researched switching to Windows but from a software standpoint it’s just not an option. The overall software quality is just that much better on the Mac.
Looking at Apple’s product lineup you would think the Mac Pro is the way to go for my situation. It’s marketed as a video editor’s machine of choice. But it’s been over a 1000 days since the trash can Mac Pro was released. It’s also not much faster than the iMac on a single thread. You’d have to get an external screen if you buy it making it an extremely expensive proposition. In terms of bang for the buck it’s probably the poorest choice you can make.
The early 2015 iMac 5K is a pretty neat machine and possibly the best thing you could have bought nearly two years ago, but considering it today it’s clear that a laptop and external screen will net you a lot more bang for your buck.
It has to be said that this is the easiest way to get a reliable 5K screen if you have money to spare and don’t want to do a lot of research though. If you can get a good second hand deal and you work from one location it is an excellent computer.
The most powerful laptop you can get
But for me, even if I had a desktop Mac, it’d still need a laptop. A lot of my modern work life is mobile. If I can avoid the hassle of syncing 2 machines, even better. For my kind of usage the ultimate setup is the most powerful laptop I can get.
Apple announced the 2016 Macbook Pro lineup last month, and it’s not appealing to me at all. I want to buy a new computer, but it’s not going to be that 2016 model. I chose to buy a 2015 Macbook Pro instead.
So, why the 2015 model?
I did a ton of research on the new 2016 Macbook, listed all the pros and cons, and decided to not get it in favor of a 2015 Macbook Pro. I have a deal on a well-priced 2015 with the Radeon R9 graphics card now.
The flaws of the 2016 version are well documented by now but here’s a few: the touch bar is pretty much useless, battery life is poor, you have the dongle situation, the trackpad is too big, and it’s not much faster than the 2015 edition. Next to that you are paying a premium for a USB-C future that is not there yet.
Sounds enticing? Let’s dive into a few of the details.
The Touch Bar is Apple’s #1 feature on the new Macbooks. As an interaction designer I applaud trying to come up with new ways to control computers. However this idea is in opposition with the principle of direct manipulation – the main reason that iOS became such a success.
The touch bar sounds like a nice idea in theory, but the thing is that I never actually look at my keyboard. I’ve gotten so used to manipulating my laptop using my keyboard that I rarely have to look at my keyboard. Introducing looking at a keyboard – and then back at the screen to see the result of your input – introduces a weird way to work with your computer. Suddenly you have to repeatedly move your head from one location to another.
On top of that, the experience is inconsistent when you move to a “docked” situation. There you still have your normal keyboard with function keys. So if you get really really fast with the Touch Bar your skills don’t transfer over when you are using a big screen in a docked situation.
Touch ID/Apple Pay
Touch ID integration seems nice but typing your password is only a minor hassle. Apple Pay is nonexistent in Belgium so that “feature” doesn’t matter to me.
Reports about inconsistent battery life on the 2016 Macbook Pro are abound. Apple even removed the remaining battery life indicator in a recent software update because they couldn’t get it to be accurate. I have a lot of battery problems with my current laptop and it’s exactly what I want to fix, so I am not buying a laptop that has lots of reports of poor battery life.
In some way I’m appreciative of Apple for pushing the envelope and going all-in on USB-C. This Medium post has some very cool ideas on what a future with only USB-C would look like. But the current situation is that I own zero USB-C devices.
When Apple eradicated FireWire I never even owned a FireWire device. When they removed CD drives from their laptops I hadn’t touched a CD for months. When they removed the Ethernet port I was on WiFi most of the time anyway.
This is different though: this is not removing something that I don’t use. This is adding the hassle of dongles for all kinds of ports that I do use every day. I have a ton of USB-A devices and it’s rare that I’m not importing photos or videos from an SD card. I don’t want to have to carry around dongles; and I don’t want to attach some kind of monster adapter to instantly destroy the aesthetics of your setup.
Not much faster
What is also important to note that the Macbooks have not really gotten much faster in the last few years.
Whether you have a 2012, 2014 or 2016 Macbook Pro doesn’t matter so much because they have about the same types of CPU and RAM. The differences are very minor.
For years the Apple community has been hoping that new Macbooks would have some major Intel processor upgrade but it’s just not happening. The 2016 Macbook Pro’s are using 2015’s Skylake architecture.
This is while Windows laptops with the new Kaby lake architecture are being released. How is is that Apple’s hardware supply lines are way behind other manufacturers?
The only theory I have is that they are moving away from Intel, somehow managed to run macOS on ARM, and will be releasing new hardware soon that uses their own chips exclusively.
On the graphics card side the new Macbook Pro is disappointing as well. When other manufacturers are releasing laptops that contain nVidia 1060 chipsets, it is barely possible to play the latest games on a brand nw €4000 Apple laptop. Really?
The 2016 Macbook Pro is not a good buy. I am going for the 2015 machine, because it is half the price and does not have all the disadvantages listed in this post.
I appreciate what Apple is trying to do to push the envelope, but I hope they realize have some more work to provide a complete package. Next to better choices on the laptop front, I am looking forward to revamped iMacs, a Mac Pro that is competitive and an external 4K screen that isn’t as limiting as the LG Ultrafine 4/5K – and that you can actually buy.
In the meantime I’ll do with a 2015 Macbook Pro.