Entry no.: 204
10 Aug 2007, 11:44 AM
The good, the bad and the different
My story with Apple portables [see PowerBooks post on my old Kit.blog] begins in 1999, when I bought my first PowerBook Lombard. God, that was a sexy beast! In 2002 I switched to a PowerBook Titanium and last week I bought a new MacBook Pro, to which I'm still adjusting.
This is hardly a showdown — the title could be a little misleading — the PowerBook is to old to engage in such a competition. Apple portables improved much in 5 years and the new laptop is hands-down better than its five years old ancestor — in fact, it's for sure the best Apple portable, but unfortunately I tend to be harsh with the ones I love, so I'll go on and depict here a subjective yet merciless comparison.
The good is one hundred percent insanely great.
Faster two-core processor: Intel Core 2 Duo has three times the clock speed — 800MHz to 2.4GHz makes a huge difference, obviously;
New technology and overall evolution: 4MB L2 cache, 667MHz DDR2 memory (the fastest portable computer memory on the market), 800MHz frontside bus, 16-lane PCI Express graphics, NVIDIA GeForce 8600M GT, 256MB of GDDR3 SDRAM, 802.11n wireless, USB 2.0, Bluetooth 2.0+EDR (Enhanced Data Rate), Gigabit Ethernet, DVD writer etc;
LED backlit screen means the display weighs less and is more power efficient than the cold cathode fluorescent lamps (CCFLs). It is very bright;
Improved enclosure and build quality: not a revolution here, but a great deal of evolution;
MagSafe magnetic power connector, on the other hand, is a truly revolutionary item. Insanely great! This is how all plug-and-socket connections should work;
Larger: trackpad, screen resolution (1440-by-900-pixel), speakers. It accommodates more memory — 4GB of RAM — which may seem excessive today but it'll probably barely make the cut in five years (Adobe Illustrator CS8 will probably need all of that);
Lots and lots of new additions: integrated iSight camera, remote control, internal Bluetooth, illuminated keyboard, sudden motion sensor, scrolling function for the trackpad, optical audio I/O — all more than welcome. Great.
Design compromises, a lost arts, some broken habits and a bug.
New hinge limits screen's maximum tilt angle: if both the Lombard and the Titanium could tilt back almost fully (~180°), the new hinge on MacBook Pro severely limits the tilting angle. For tall people using the laptop... well, on their lap, tough luck. Yes, the new hinge is far more solid, but I feel it improved on my spine's expense.
Keyboard: oh, this is a difficult one. The keyboard not only looks gorgeous, but is gorgeous after nowadays standards. It is also light-sensitive and illuminated. Unfortunately, keyboard standards are declining as they are getting cheaper and cheaper: their click (tactile feed-back) gets more and more anemic and hesitant. The Lombard had the best keyboard, the Titanium's was worse but still better than this one. Keyboard click is a lost art.
I/O ports placement: the ports are not only exposed and visible now, but their placement on the sides can become — for heavy users — fairly anti-ergonomic. For instance, a thick FireWire cable mounted in its slot may impair mouse operation;
No S-video out: using the laptop to output signal to old television sets means buying new adaptors. Ok, the S-video era is over, I can get that. Let's move on.
New ExpressCard slot — ExpressCard is the PCMCIA standard replacement for the CardBus PC Card slot — but I haven't seen a single ExpressCard until now, let alone owning one. My old PC Card doesn't fit, obviously;
No iSight settings: average user does not have any control over iSight settings (brightness, contrast, hue, saturation etc) and in some situations, like contre-jour or white walls as backgrounds, compensation is needed;
Large and heavy charger: thew MacBook Pro charger is much larger and heavier than Titanium charger. I know there is available a newer, more compact charger, but the one included in my kit is the older, bulkier one.
Tilde missing on the Romanian keyboard1: "~" (tilde sign) and "`" (grave accent) are missing from the "Î" (Latin letter I with circumflex) key — or should I say that the Tilde is missing from the Tilde key? — although the key works as per normal keyboard layout.
MacBook Pro name seems awkward to me, although I fully understand the marketing reasons. I miss the PowerBook name, though. It was a great name.
Screen format is wider now.
Self-adjusting screen luminosity to ambient lighting may be annoying if not accustomed to, but fortunately it can be disabled.
Reaching inside is more difficult now as the keyboard is no longer easily removable and the access area moved now to a hatch placed near the battery.
The many improvements, the formidable performance and the awesome general quality transcend the drawbacks, by far.
It is obvious that Apple made serious efforts to keep it cool and a few design decisions (ie. ports placement) were influenced by Intel processor cooling requirements. The new hinge design is probably based on a history of faults so that's understandable, too. The less responsive keyboard impression is based upon my subjective experience with really high-quality keyboards on more expensive machines (Lombard was almost twice as expensive at the time), and that's probably an area where Apple tries to reduce costs in order to keep the machine affordable. On the other hand, although I hate it, the soft-click or clickless touch may well be a trend in keyboard design.
The many improvements (both evolutionary and revolutionary), the formidable performance and the awesome general quality transcend those drawbacks, by far.
All in all, the new MacBook Pro is the exceptional machine that I came to expect from Apple and I'm sure it'll not only to hold up for a long time, but also to age gracefully.
1 I already filed a bug report with Apple (Problem ID: 5400784) regarding this issue.