George Stefanis

Macbook Pro 2016, one month review

02 Jan 2017

tl;dr: Buy it if you have a laptop before 2015, don't buy it if you have last years Macbook Pro. Also there are cheaper alternatives if you can't justify the steep price point. Overall it's really enjoyable and I like it.

For the last 3 years, or so, I've been using a Macbook Air. It was the 2013 edition with an upgraded intel i7 and 8gb of RAM. It's been a wonderful machine. It's super light-weighted, consistent in its behaviour and it's been my mate for three years. I've been having some issues though.

Most of the time I had it plugged to an external screen and whenever i was taking it with me the 13 inch non-retina display was annoying me. It was really showing its out of dateness. Moreover I would love to be able to connect my laptop with an extra external screen, but that's impossible. Finally the 8gb of RAM did start becoming a big limitation these days. All of the above led me to upgrade myself to something new. So i waited, like everyone else it seems, for the new Mac to arrive.

Ordering the new Macbook

Before splashing out and buying a 2000£ pile worth of silicon and aluminium i did read a lot of reviews about the new Macbook. I did follow all the twitter feeds and all the different blogs i found and got mixed messages. I have to admit i got scared, but i did order one nonetheless. That was mid-November with an estimated arrival of early December (2-3 weeks). Unfortunately i kept reading more reviews and as a result, one week later, I did cancel my order.

After that i start looking for other laptops. I don't want to go back to windows as I don't think it's the best environment for a developer, at the time being, So my only other choice was to move to a Linux laptop. My first choice was the Dell XPS 13/15. I've read so many things about them and I even checked them out. I really loved the bezel-less screen but i didn't like the choice of materials. Some people love it, but i didn't. Also there is a notorious issue with coil whine, and you can find a lot of complains on Reddit. I was also looking at other laptops too but none was cutting it.

After that exercise I found out why Apple charges so much for its laptops. For the time being there is no real competition to them. No laptop manufacturer manages to combine the hardware quality and the software maturity of an OS like MacOS like Apple does. So after that, early December,I did order a 15 inch Macbook pro, with 16gb of RAM, 512gb SSD and a 2.6Ghz Intel i7. The estimated delivery was in 3-4 weeks (sometime during my Christmas vacation).

Delivery

During the first week, after ordering my Mac, the estimated delivery date changed to one week before the original estimation. That was a super pleasant surprise as I would be able to take my new Mac in my vacation and be able to spend some time with it. Turned out that i got it delivery on the 21st of December, 4 days earlier than the earliest estimation from Apple. I'd really love to know more about what goes behind the supply chain processes of Apple to be able to deliver so many things ahead of time (all of my Apple products have arrived earlier than promised.

Setting up and first impressions

The packaging is, as always, spartan and impressive at the same time. Opening the box to the space grey laptop is super eye pleasing and i'm really digging the product from an industrial design perspective. Really thin, small bezels around the screen and the keyboard is looking amazing. The keys are almost in the same height as the speakers and overall it's gorgeous.

Opening the lid boots the laptop immediately and in a yew minutes you are ready to use the machine. I did use the laptop a bit, but as i was at work didn't have enough time. Later that same evening i went home and start setting up my machine using my dotfiles (they need a bit of work still).

Keyboard

As I was finishing up setting up my machine i found out that my keyboard had an issue with the letter D. Sometimes i was clicking it and it wasn't registering and sometimes it was registering twice. That was really disappointing. There are a lot of people on the web with similar problems with their keyboards and random keys exhibiting the same issues.

I had a chat with Apple customer support and i did reset my laptop SMC as well as entering in safe mode. Also i did click A LOT the key itself because i did read that some people solve their problem this way. There is speculation that it might be some issue with residue leftover from production or something like that. I won't lie, I was massively disappointed and I was thinking of returning it to Apple. By some miracle though, next day the problem disappeared. I suspect that spamming the problematic key did more that the reset or the safe mode. So since then I didn't have any issues with my keyboard.

On day 2 of using the keyboard i had some issues with several keys registering twice and in general i was bashing the keys like crazy. The fact that i'm using a mechanical keyboard normally says something about bashing the keys. The thing that i did to solve the double registering problem was to go to the keyboard settings and change the settings slightly so they won't register as fast. Since then it's been a smooth experience. The only thing that annoys me slightly is that the keys are slightly bigger and sometimes i end up clicking the wrong keys.

Speakers, trackpad and touchbar

The thing that really surprised me was the speakers. They are really awesome, with great quality and i really enjoy them. I got to the point where i'm not using my headphones anymore when i'm alone and listening to some music. It's really that good. The sound that comes out from the laptop, to my speakers, feels more rich too. It was a really pleasant surprise. I enjoy it daily.

Another thing i've been reading was about the huge trackpad. People are complaining that it's too big and that they have problems with clicks. I didn't have any issues with the palm rejection mechanism and overall it works as expected. I'd go as far to say that it's much better that my macbook air trackpad.

As far as the touchbar is concerned I don't have much to say at this point. It's a novelty, that I don't use all that much. The most interesting usage that I've found is watching the Spotify song progress at all times. Using the touchbar for things like volume up/down is less convenient than having actual keys there at all times. I wish there was a way to have the volume up/down always there. Instead you can have the volume key that, when you click it, shows you a voice slider. This is one click away by comparison with before but it was my most used feature on my keyboard. So it annoys me.

There is a lot of potential to the touchbar, but obviously there is a long way to go. It will be a lot better when apps like Google Chrome and others start supporting it.

Screen

As you expect the screen is gorgeous. It's amazing. The colours are very accurate and vibrant, the brightness is impressive and the smaller bezels are making it look really sexy. Also they help in reducing the footprint of the laptop. Even comparing it with my work Macbook Pro 15inch from 2015 it's heads and shoulders above and beyond. The screen of my macbook air was one of the main reasons of buying a new laptop and I'm not disappointed. 👌

Connecting the laptop with an external monitor made it quite warm. I haven't had the time to test it extensively with external monitors and gaming but I plan to during the year. I'm looking to upgrade my Dell 2311 with a 4k or QHD 27 inch IPS display. The new macbook should be super comfortable driving both screens.

Battery

The things you've probably heard are all true. The battery life is disappointing and irrational. It's like hanging out with a teenager and having mood swings every 5 minutes. One day the battery lasts 10+ hours the other day, with similar usage, it lasts 4-5 hours. To make things worst, Apple decided to remove the time remaining indicator (which i find stupid to be honest).

I'm slightly positive on the matter because it seems like from a hardware perspective the battery is capable of running the laptop for 9-10 hours. It seems like there are still software issues that need some love. Even companies like Apple and Google ship bugs in their software. As the platform matures these problems should be less prominent. 🤞 🤞

Software

I've been using MacOS since 2008 and I'm pretty familiar with it. So far the experience with it was awesome and i didn't have any major bugs annoying me. But with the new Macbook i had some random software issues. The first week especially the Mac crashed at random points and I had to do a hard reset. That was really disappointing. Fortunately things normalised and I expect that Apple will iron out any issues between the hardware and the software. It might not be the fastest progress but it will happen soon enough. I'm not so concerned about it.

Dongle life

I have to admit that I never agreed with all the noise around USB-C. Apple is pushing, through the Mac platform, a standard that it's far superior from their predecessor and eventually will make our lives easier in the future. As MKBHD said it's like crossing a bridge and now we are in the middle. The future ahead is bright though, I'm really looking forward bringing one charger for all my devices. We are not far from that day.

For the time being I'm using a Hootoo USB-C hub where I connect my screen, keyboard, external hard drive, charger and my camera memory. The Hub is not without problems. Sometimes i need to unplug my HDMI and plug it in again in order for the screen to work. I found out that if i plug my charger to another port and not in the hub makes the problem less frequent. We obviously have a long way to go on the hubs but we are getting there. The idea of plugging just one cable and all your external peripherals are there for you to use is exciting and I'm looking forward to more mature solutions.

Final thoughts

Overall impressions are that the laptop is a solid machine but with a few quirks and 1 big problem. The problem is that the battery life is unlike other apple machines i had before. It makes me having to think of the battery and look at it every so often. Never had that in the past. The keyboard is something that needs time to get used to but overall it's very pleasant to use.

Should you buy it? It really depends. If you are coming from a 2015 Macbook Pro then no! Don't buy it because you won't get enough performance boost. The design is first class as always but I'm not sure it's worth the steep price asked by Apple. If you are coming from an older machine (like me, coming from Macbook Air 2013) then this is a sold upgrade. The SSD is super fast, the screen is gorgeous and the CPU is very capable. If you have the money then go for it.

There are still other choices out there that are worth considering. The Dell XPS 13/15 (for Linux/Windows) are gorgeous and the Microsoft Surface (Windows 10) is a good alternative too. If I had to choose something else I'd probably go with the XPS 13 Developer Edition.

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