I’ve been using Mac laptops as my primary machine for a few years now, going through 5 notebooks since 2004. Each time I upgraded, from PowerBook G4s to various MacBook Pros, I’ve always felt like I was making a step forward, gaining speed, useful new features, and so forth.
This week, I “upgraded” from a 1.5 year old 17″ MacBook Pro to a 15″ MacBook Pro. For the first time, I feel like I’ve taken a big step backwards.
(By switching from 17″ to 15″, I’m going from 1920×1200 resolution to 1440×900. I didn’t really want to make the switch from 17″ to 15″, but that’s another story and I obviously can’t fault the new notebook for this.)
The biggest problem with the new notebook has been the trackpad.
Apple has added support for all kinds of gestures to it, which is interesting, but it turns out the trackpad registers the gestures unintentionally far too often. The first thing I did with my new notebook was hack on a Keynote presentation, and I found objects constantly being rotated and resized by accident. I also had a similar problem in web browsers where I’m constantly inadvertently changing the font size of the page with the new notebook.
The ill effects of the extreme sensitivity of the trackpad are made worse by how much bigger the trackpad is on this model, and by the fact they’ve removed the trackpad button. My hand is trained to rest my thumb on the bottom of the trackpad–where the button used to be–and this leads to many (but not nearly all) of the false gesture triggers.
After being constantly frustrated by this, I discovered that you cannot turn off gestures. What? Leave it to Apple to be utterly unconcerned with their user base by changing a primary input mechanism of the notebook from a pattern unchanged through nearly a decade of Apple laptops and skipping on obvious accommodations to help users make any adjustment.
By reading through countless forum messages from other frustrated users, I discovered a third-party application that can disable the gestures.
The Display Connector
Next up on the list, there is no longer a DVI port in the laptop. Instead, you’ve got this mini-port that requires the use of an adapter. That’s right, unless you have the new-model 24″ Apple Cinema Display, you’ve got to buy a dongle to hook up the notebook to any display. And when you present on the road, you’ve got to have two dongles–one to adapt the mini-port to DVI, and another to adapter the DVI to VGA or to do mini-port to VGA.
But the fun doesn’t stop there! It turns out if you have a 30″ Apple Cinema Display, like yours truly, you have to buy another $100 display adapter–one that’s fairly big and unwieldy. And once you do that, you’ll discover that there’s a known (unsolved) problem where you’ll get noise in the display: little flickering lines that appear all over the place. Apple’s forums are full of complaints about this; no solutions mentioned. Brings me back to the UHF days on the family TV growing up. In a bad way.
The Glossy Display
Due to popular demand, the 15″ MacBook Pro is no longer offered in matte–you must choose the glossy display. This means that under many common lighting conditions, you get to see yourself in the display clear as day! I guess the narcissistic set will enjoy this, but I find it extremely distracting and can make the display hard to read.
Wrrr, Weeeeeee, Wrrr
I had to do some late night work tonight, and as my wife was drifting off to sleep, I opened up the new MacBook Pro. As it always does on sleep and wake, the CD-ROM drive made a lovely loud repeated set of “Wrrrrrr, Weeeee, Wrrrrr” noises. This loud and obnoxious noise pulled her back fully alert and wondering what all the racket was. Folks will certainly notice any time you close or open the lid on this sucker.
Think Before You Leap
If you’ve got a MacBook Pro from the generation right before this new one, consider the downsides before upgrading. You may find (like me) that it’s not an upgrade at all.
(Update: My original posting-in-anger had a really cranky conclusion; I chilled it out a bit the next day.)