Nov 15, 2016
9 mins read
tl;dr － After lots of hesitation, I ordered a new (high-end) Macbook Pro (late 2016), then cancelled a few days afterwards. The USB-C only connectivity, the limited user serviceability, the slow upgrade cycles and the lack of on-site warranty made me question my purchase. The premium price tag for medium-range specs and the lack of serious innovation did not help.
At first, I though that replacing all those heterogeneous connectors by their versatile and modern incarnation was a great idea. Then I realized I don’t have a USB-C external harddrive, and I would need an adapter. A SD card reader will have to be carried around and plugged in when needed. Same goes for external display, ethernet (that’s not new), meeting room projector (that’s not new neither and screw VGA anyway). Even an additional battery loader requires additional cables.
Apple realized that would deter customers and, in an unprecedented move, reduced the price of its adapters. Not sure it’s entirely good news.
More alarmingly, there may be compatibility issues. I also spent time watching videos from that guy who repairs Apple products for a living but won’t buy one for himself. And he showed that MBP USB-C can have serious issues. Was it a defective item? Could be. Is it a design issue? Maybe. Anyway it made me wary.
You know it when you buy it. The RAM is soldered to the motherboard, so don’t be cheap and aim high when you place your order, because you won’t be able to increase the quantity afterwards. If the RAM is defective, tough luck, it will be a trip to the store and to tech service in order to replace it.
If the battery must be replaced, it’s going to cost you 209€ (VAT incl, Belgium price) and your laptop will be unavailable for several days. And it will happen, specially if you bought your MBP when the new model came out four years ago and that you waited for the next major upgrade to replace it.
The screen and the rest of the hardware are also hard to fix.
That’s a bunch of issues I gleefully discarded when I bought my MBP, mid 2012. Now the incredible battery is reaching its end-of-life and the once vague concern has become a real issue.
The previous model (the so-called first unibody) gave the owner some leeway to replace parts, and I easily swapped a HDD for a SSD, only to find out that the flat cable was so poor it couldn’t handle the SSD bandwidth (freeze and crash would inevitably occur within the minute).
Today I would not even bother to attempt to upgrade a component. Actually, the SSD is now soldered too. Game over.
The overpriced Apple Care (314€) covers hardware failures, but there is no option for next-business-day on-site repair. It means that in case of hardware issue, you will have to send your laptop to Apple and find a replacement solution for the days or weeks to come. And since you are unlikely to be able to perform basic maintenance on your own (like replacing a battery or RAM), the odds of running into trouble are even bigger.
Now I don’t put too much faith in any on-site warranty. The brand and the product have to be reliable in the first place. But relying on Apple built quality solely is a dubious proposition at best for a professional user. That’s what I’ve done for years, and luckily nothing ever broke. I always had a spare MacBook Pro that could do the job, should the main one fail. But now that I’m older and full of wisdom, I’m not sure I want to go down that road anymore.
The lack of on-site warranty disqualifies the Macbook Pro as a “pro” machine in my opinion.
Touch Bar, yeah. It’s cool. Even if you don’t find it useful, it’s not going to make your life worst, right? Wrong. And not only for mainframe operators or people stuck in 1971. As a developer, I use the keyboard extensively, and many functionalities are bound to function keys, even in the most modern and hype editors. Unlike many fellow coders, I try to avoid using the mouse as much as possible, and I try not to look at the keyboard (this guy showed me the mighty way of the keyboard shortuts).
A missing function key row is therefore an inconvenience to me.
A flat representation of the function row on the Touch Bar won’t give me any tactile information on the key position, forcing me to look at the keyboard, increasing eye fatigue (I’m getting old, yes, and I need a 3k screen badly). So to me it’s a negative-value feature, although I reckon it makes perfect sense for the general public.
Aside from the TouchBar, where is the killer novelty? A revolutionary screen (like the first retina)? A form-factor you won’t find from the competition? A new material or design (like the first aluminium unibody)? No, only the Touch Bar, that’s it.
If I buy a brand new Macbook Pro, why should I care?
As opposed to, with a PC: I can change practically when I want and get an up-to-date laptop with little to no need to stretch or delay my purchase.
As a freelance developer, this is not really an issue. Not that we freelancers pile up money. Actually, it’s the only substantial investment I do every 2, 3 or 4 years, and I use it as my primary tool. We have it easy in our profession: no store, no rent, no factory, no stock to pay upfront. Just a laptop and few licenses. Even a 50% overprice is not a real issue if you get a flawless experience in return.
Yet, for the price, I feel like I’m not making a good deal. That’s a budget of around 3600€, including the Apple Care, plus extra for the dongles, and despite a whooping 220€ discount (didn’t even have to ask for it, it was offered when I ordered as a professional). For no-so-fantastic specifications, even if the build quality is great, this steep price makes me uneasy.
Arguably, it is not crazy expensive compared to HP (HP EliteBook 1040 G3 V1A79EA for €3,586.00 and HP ZBook G3 Y6J62EA for €4,137.00). That’s what I would call ludicrous.
But for €2,608.32, I can get a gorgeous Dell XPS15 (4k touchscreen, SDD 512Gb PCIe). Or for €2,884.39, a well spec’ed Lenovo ThinkPad P50 (4k screen, SSD 1Tb PCIe NVMe). And the Alienware 15 with it insanely powerful components comes at €3,181.00, if only I had the might and the will to carry it with its power brick.
All of them ship with a 3yrs onsite warranty.
I’m still pondering my next purchase. If it wasn’t for Microsoft Windows, I would have bought the Dell XPS 15 already. But it has been plagued with issues after its launch (BIOS updates required), and even if it got better, it can still turn out to be problematic. But it could manage. Installing GNU/Linux on the other hand is very tricky, even with recent kernel that fix most problems (but regressions have been reported).
We’re talking CPU throttling, abysmal SSD write speed, BSoD, SSD not found on Windows. Add sleep/resume issues, external screen freeze, audio jack crackling or failure to detect on GNU/Linux. And the switch between the nVidia GPU and integrated video chip (Optimus) is bogus on that OS (applies to all manufacturers).
The Lenovo Thinkpad P50 has a larger footprint, and the screen is non touch and not as good but it’s more robust, service friendly by nature, with no major issues reported on Windows and much less issues on GNU/Linux.
Still, it won’t be the nice, smooth, pleasant ride I’ve enjoyed with my MacBook Pros and OSX.
Who knows, I might buy a Mac after all if things turn out okay in the coming weeks. I’m neither a fanboy nor a hater, just a professional looking for the best gear to get my job done with pleasure.