December 7, 2016

The Retina MacBook Experiment: Conclusion

Back to the Mac

My Mac Pro came back from the Apple Store over the weekend, which means that I’m back to my usual setup of powerful desktop + iPad Pro.

It’s a relief.

The latest episode of Candid needed some audio repairs to fix a recording issue, and it was a breeze to fix and finish up the episode on the Mac Pro. Meanwhile, I’ve been working on a few longer articles and felt a pang of jealousy toward Josh’s MacBook Pro and its touch bar functionality with the terrific new update to Ulysses for the Mac.

Then I remembered that not only has the iPad version offered that functionality for a while, it’s also better on iOS since you’re able to see all the available options at a glance without having to scroll the Touch Bar to reveal the ones further in.

It’s an increasingly common example of macOS being the platform playing catch-up, and I admit that it’s disorienting for someone who grew up thinking that computers were the powerful things on your desk you did work on and tablets and phones were just casual peripherals.


I spent a week with the Retina MacBook as my main device, and while I didn’t feel compelled to buy one at the end, I do consider the experience valuable.

Here’s what stood out to me:

  • It’s more powerful than I anticipated; more than capable of handling the vast majority of computing needs that people have these days
  • It feels smaller and lighter than my iPad Pro + Smart Keyboard, which makes it a very attractive option for travel and those on the go
  • Going back to laptop battery life after experiencing iPad Pro battery life is not fun—even the MacBook pales in comparison
  • The Retina screen is magnificent to look at, but it also feels cramped. As long as you’re doing only one or two tasks at a time, things look great, but proper multi-tasking is claustrophobic
  • I didn’t get used to the keyboard. It feels significantly worse to type on than the iPad Pro Smart Keyboard, and I never got back up to my full speed. I think a lot of that has to do with how feeble the physical feedback of the keys is. I often felt like I’d pressed a key only to see on the screen that it didn’t register, or I would hit the wrong key without realizing since the limits are so difficult to discern by touch
  • I didn’t mind the single port at all
  • I didn’t miss the SD card slot either, since none of my Macs have had one in years

When people ask me what computer they should buy, I’m definitely going to steer the Mac folks in the direction of this MacBook from now on. The horsepower of the Pros isn’t worth the added cost, noise, and size for normal use.

That being said, I’d recommend they wait for version 3, which I assume will bring a Thunderbolt 3 compatible port and the new keyboard mechanism from the new MacBook Pros. Those two adjustments, plus the usual performance bump, would make for a very compelling computer.

Just not for me.

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