Yes, I know, I’ve already reviewed Apple’s new laptop line, the MacBook Pro.
But that was when they first came out. When I had a review unit supplied by Apple (AAPL). Before I spent $3,000 on my own, suped-up, top-of-the-line 13-inch MacBook Pro.
I know: That’s an obscene amount of money. But this is my main machine, my livelihood. If you add up the hours, I spend more time with my laptop than I do with my bed, car, or home. I figured it would be worth the splurge.
As it turns out, that’s a big Yes and a big No.
Life with this thing has been a roller coaster: one emotional whiplash after another. “Cool!” “Oh, NO!” “Cool!” “Oh, NO!”
Looking good on paper
Four things attracted me to this new laptop. First, you can get it with a 1-terabyte “hard drive” (actually a giant flash drive). I’m a big photos-and-videos guy. I’ve spent the last five years struggling against the storage limitations of MacBook Airs. I’m ready.
Second, the size. This thing is at least an inch smaller than the MacBook Air all the way around. Apple shaved away most of the margin around the screen. I’ve wrestled with my laptop on an airplane tray for the last time.
Third, the screen. I’m finally ready for Retina resolution on my main machine—and having enough brightness to light up a runway doesn’t hurt, either.
Fourth, being able to log in with a touch, thanks to the fingerprint reader. (You can read about the Touch Bar here. It’s super handy to be able to adjust the volume or brightness with one quick swipe, and navigating a video is super quick—but otherwise, I don’t use it much.)
I knew I was also getting far better speakers; a much bigger trackpad; the Touch Bar above the keyboard; and four USB-C jacks instead of the usual USB, video, and power jacks. I didn’t think any of those things would affect me.
At the time.
Up: The power thing
I know everybody bellyaches about the loss of the standard jacks. But USB-C is awesome, man. You can’t plug this cable upside-down. There’s no right end or wrong end. A single cable carries audio, video, power, and data.
The whole industry is going to USB-C—phones, tablets, laptops, desktops—so get used to it.
Right off the bat, I love that you can plug the MacBook Pro’s power cord into either side, since any of its four USB-C jacks can accommodate it. Useful more often than you’d think.
Yeah, it’s sad that we’ve lost Apple’s MagSafe magnetic power-cord connector. But the fact that we don’t have to buy Apple’s power cords anymore easily makes up for it.
For example, I like to have a spare charger next to my bed, and another one in my laptop bag for travel. But I don’t like paying $70 or $80 to Apple for spare cords.
Now, I don’t have to. Any old USB-C charging cord will work. You can get power from the wall, from your car’s cigarette jack, from one of those backup batteries, or even from another USB-C laptop! Like mouth-to-mouth resuscitation for laptops.
I bought a $27 Dell charger and a Udoli one for $35. The Dell one lights up to show that it’s getting power, which the new Apple cord doesn’t. The Udoli one has a regular USB jack on the side for charging your phone or Fitbit (FIT), which the Apple cord also doesn’t.
Now, in theory, any USB-C device can charge from any USB-C charger; the voltage and whatnot is adjusted automatically. You can even charge the MacBook Pro from a phone charger. It’ll take forever, but it’ll charge.
My cheapo Dell charger supplies 27 watts; the Udoli offes 45 watts. Neither, in other words, charges as fast as the Apple charger (61 watts). And the Dell charger does a weird thing when the laptop is closed: It chimes every couple of minutes, as though the power is being unplugged and replugged.
I don’t care. I got away with price murder on these spare chargers, and they’re smaller and handier than Apple’s.
Oh! And I also bought, for $15, a charger that plugs into my car cigarette lighter. It juices up the laptop great (I’m frequently the passenger on long drives to the airport), and has an extra USB jack for charging something else.
Down: The Trackpad
Apple made its new trackpad huge, and I can’t figure out why. What does that get you?
What it gets me is accidental clicks, caused by my left thumb as it hovers while I type. My cursor or insertion point suddenly pops into the wrong place or the wrong window.
Apparently, this problem is much worse if you’ve turned on Tap to Click (which requires only touching the trackpad, not actually clicking down on it, to register a click).
I’ve solved the problem by taping a piece of cardboard to the trackpad, in essence shrinking it. Real classy.
Up: The Keyboard
The key travel has gotten dissed for its shallowness, but I can really fly typing on this keyboard. It’s crisp and firm. Loud as hell, but crisp and firm.
Neutral: The adapter thing
Of course, switching into MacBook Pro Land means getting adapters for everything that normally plugs into USB. Sometimes, that just takes the form of a $6 replacement cable; sometimes, you need a $3 plug adapter.
Everybody talks about how many dongles they’ll need, but that’s not been my experience. I still have one Fitibit cord, one MiFi cord, one digital camera charging cord, and so on; it’s just that some of them have an adapter plug on the end.
I did have to buy a new Lightning-to-USB-C cable for my iPhone. Apple’s version is $19, which is absurd. I found this awesome one on Amazon (AMZN) for $9. It has a sturdy, non-tangling nylon fabric outer shell, available in three metallic colors to match the three MacBook Pro colors.
I’ve read here and there that cheapo Chinese USB-C adapters and cables can be glitchy. But all the ones I’ve picked up on Amazon have worked like a champ, except for the Dell dinging-power-cord thing.
Down: No card slot
I deeply, deeply miss a memory-card slot. Used to be, transferring photos from a camera was as easy as popping out its memory card and slamming it into my MacBook Air. Now I have to go looking for my $8 USB-C card reader, or hook up the camera with a cable.
I no longer have any video-output jack, either—like VGA, HDMI, or Mini-DVI. So for $45, I bought a multi-jack dongle that offers both VGA and HDMI—and Ethernet and a regular USB jack. So I’m covered there.
Up: One-cable docking station
I spend a lot of time doing book layouts, so I sprang $524 for the LG UltraFine 4K 21-inch monitor. What’s amazing about it is not just the gorgeous image; it’s that one USB-C cable connects it to the MacBook. That single cable charges the laptop, carries audio and video to the monitor’s screen and speakers, and conducts data both directions (there are four USB-C jacks on the back of the monitor).
I used to hook up my MacBook Air to a docking contraption every time I came home from the road. Now, I plug in one cable, and my entire desktop system is ready to go. It’s fairly awesome.
Down: Shorter battery life
Apple says this smaller laptop has a smaller battery than the MacBook Air—and yet that it still gets the same 10 hours of work time.
There’s been a lot of confusion and analysis about why the MacBook Pro does or does not get the battery life it’s supposed to. But this much I can say for sure: You get better battery life if you install the latest Mac OS version, 10.12.3. And if you keep the screen dimmer than full brightness. And if you don’t do heavy-lifting work like Photoshop, video editing, and games.
This much I can also say for sure: No matter what you do, you won’t get as much life out of this battery as you would doing exactly the same work on the MacBook Air. It’s a 33% smaller battery; it’s not going to have the same capacity. I usually get six or seven hours from it.
I wasn’t ready for that, and it’s a real drag. Thank goodness I’ve got chargers all around me.
If you’re a Mac person and can’t afford to switch to Windows, then the new MacBook Pro is it. Apple doesn’t intend to update the MacBook Air or the older MacBook Pros anymore. The future is this or nothing.
But you know what? This really isn’t a MacBook at all.
I mean, it doesn’t have the same anything. Screen, jacks, power cord, keyboard, battery, trackpad…it has almost nothing in common with previous Apple laptops.
It’s much better in some ways, and much worse in others. You’ve been warned; keep hands and feet inside the tram at all times.
David Pogue, tech columnist for Yahoo Finance, welcomes non-toxic comments in the Comments below. On the web, he’s davidpogue.com. On Twitter, he’s @pogue. On email, he’s firstname.lastname@example.org. You can read all his articles here, or you can sign up to get his columns by email.