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My new MacBook Pro – an informal review

Getting new computers used to be the coolest thing for a geek, gear infatuated guy.  There’s no doubt that I am spoiled because of working for Adobe. However, the "I can’t wait to unpack it and stay up to midnight to play with it" feeling has long since flown the coop.  So much so, that I waited nearly two weeks before moving over to the latest iteration of Apple’s MacBook Pro laptop.  If you’d like to hear what I like and don’t like about the newest MacBook Pro and Leopard, read on.

All right geeks, I waited mostly because I had NAB the week after I received the laptop, so I thought "No point in trying to push it – I waited this long…"

This time around, I went from a 15" to a 17".  My main reasoning for doing so was less about the screen real estate as it was decided for me before I could change it.  Still, I have to admit I was intruiged about getting a native 1920×1200 resolution screen and because of that, I decided the extra pound or two wouldn’t be a big enough detractor for me to stick with a 15"

On the pros side, I’ve been very impressed with the quality and size of the LCD panel.  17" is a whole lot ‘mo betta’ than a 15" – especially when you’re playing with applications such as Premiere Pro and After Effects.  The physical size of the laptop is closer to 1" larger than 2" because the screen size is measured diagonally.  I haven’t tried connecting the laptop to a projector and seeing how big I can get both LCD and projector at the same time, but I have to imagine that it will be easier than in the past.  1920×1080 is awesome for displaying information.  I can realistically have both Adobe Premiere Pro and After Effects open at the same time, viewable on the same 17" and have a functional interface on each.  That’s stinkin’ cool!

You can’t have Leopard and not be impressed with their visual appearance.  The look is nice, clean and functional.  The icons have been updated and look great.  Vista is nice and has definitely progressed, but all things being equal, I’ll choose Mac OS X over Vista for the looks category.

Speaking of Microsoft, I have Office 2008 and while most people have been taking shots at it including Macworld, I’ve actually found it to be a nice upgrade, if only for the fact that the applications are now Intel native.  The interface of Office seems to have gotten simpler and I find that to be a good thing.  I’m not a power user and so I want to find what I need quickly and efficiently.  So far (again limited testing thus far), it’s been fine.  Seriously, how many people use all of the features in Microsoft Word?  Answer – slightly less than those who use 100% of Photoshop.

Memory is a big plus.  Since I have to often demo off the laptop, getting the most performance from it is always a big concern.  So, having a full 4gb of memory in a laptop is a big plus in my opinion.  Take that Windows PCs!

Dare I say it, I love having Microsoft Windows on my Mac! Blasphemer! As a guy who does presentations and demos all of the time, having both OS’s on a single machine is a HUGE boon.  PC people don’t care if you boot in bootcamp and Mac people love to brag that you can do PC if you want to. I just love toting one laptop instead of two (which I’ve done…ugh…)

Okay, enough with the pros.   There are some major things that I haven’t tried yet that will probably affect my overall thoughts with Leopard and the new Mac.  One of which is Spaces and the other is Time Machine. As I’m typing this, I’m working on creating a back up via Time Machine.  In theory, this should be a huge help for creatives with unattended, low maintanence backup.

Weird stuff – sometimes my hard drives won’t mount via firewire 800 – haven’t figured out why this is.  I’ve also had two instances already where a key starts to just repeat itself like sssssssssssssssssssss… See?  Like I said, weird.

On the cons side:  LCD panels have a native mode or two and then everything else is emulated.  This seems to be true of the MacBook Pro as well.  The problem is that it seems the ‘native’ resolutions is 1920×1200. While this is terrific most times, I know that when I do hook it up to a projector for a demo, I won’t be viewing my LCD at that resolution. Plus, I’ll be honest and say at 41, my eyes aren’t what they used to be and the option of a lower resolution would be nice. Herein is the problem – the other display modes that I’ve looked at so far absolutely suck!  I’m always hesitant to use any negative word, but there you go, it sucks. The resolutions are SO soft as to be unusable.

The spinning beach ball of death!  ARGHHH!!!!   I’d heard that Leopard had a few issues and that a number of people had reported the spinning beach ball showing up with alarming regularity. Both on the blogosphere and internally, I had heard about Leopard issues, but until I had a new computer and had to do actual work with it, I wasn’t too concerned.  Well, now I am.  I am up to date on all of the Leopard updates and the beach ball shows up all of the time for no particular reason.  I’ve not loaded much on there and basically it can show up with only a couple of applications open.  While talking on the phone with another Adobe employee, I was watching Apple Software updater take over a minute to bring up a dialog box!  Ouch! Maybe it has something to do with indexing the drive initially – I don’t know.  If some of you have some tips on how to make this go away or faster, please share!  I’ve uninstalled Snapz Pro from Ambrosia as a OS level piece of software that might be conflicting, but again I’ll take any suggestions. 

Leopard overall doesn’t seem like a very clean, tidy OS right now. I know it will get there, but we’ve all come to expect Apple to do better than Microsoft at delivering a good product.  Right now, if I had a choice to have Tiger loaded on this new laptop, I probably would.

The overall speed of the Mac is just okay.  Granted, it’s a laptop, but honestly, I was hoping for a bigger boost in performance than I’m seeing so far.  I’ve always maintained that Apple is on the edge of balancing performance with the laws of physics: Things such as heat disapation, power consumption, etc.  At first glance, I’d say the new 17" handles this balance better than my 15"

In conclusion, I am moderately pleased thus far but unless some of these issues work themselves out, I am going to be very upset.  As Apple grows in marketshare and more people start to ‘think different’ it becomes more important than ever that Apple continue to not only innovate but maintain stability and quality.

Oh, how I wish I could go back to the simple joys of enjoying the technology simply for the fun of it! ;-)

Until next time, Dennis

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