December 1, 2016

The Retina MacBook Experiment: Day 4

Are we there yet?

I keep making things worse for myself.

Instead of trying to use the MacBook exclusively, my inner pragmatist insists I continue to use the best tool for the job. And the iPad remains the better tool for many jobs—reading, email processing, document annotation, music sketches, web browsing, note taking, video watching, social media, and interpersonal communication being the main ones for me.

The laptop remains better at file management, serious audio work, and the shrinking category of tasks that isn’t necessarily better on a computer but can only be accomplished there because the software capability hasn’t made its way to iOS yet. Things involving the Adobe suite, or Sketch, or any number of other specialized professional software that has no mobile equivalent of sufficient power.

This has left me bouncing back and forth between MacBook and iPad a lot this week, and the experience is frustrating. If nothing else, I’m convinced that for me it’s better to have either one or the other, but not both. One mobile computer and one desktop are great (especially a powerful one like the Mac Pro), but two mobile devices just sucks.

Battery Life Revisited

I’m pleased (and relieved) to report that battery life is now at perfectly reasonable levels. As soon as Dropbox’s initial sync finished, the crazy battery drain went away and I’m left with respectable stamina.

It doesn’t last a day of work, but it does last most of one, especially if I take breaks. Comparing it to the iPad on this front isn’t entirely fair, but it’s not unfair either; both are fan-less mobile computing devices, after all. So for whatever it’s worth, the iPad Pro’s battery life is much better than this MacBook’s.

Even taking into account the lifespan without Dropbox active, I still have to charge the MacBook once a day, whereas my iPad Pro lasts 2 days of normal use on a charge. 3 if I’m not working on it extensively, and 1 and half if I’m doing a bunch of music stuff.


I’m beginning to get used to the shallow key travel. It still feels like my fingers are having boxing matches with a table, and the lack of tactile feedback is still impacting my overall accuracy, but at least I’m back up to full speed.

One aspect of the computer that hasn’t bothered me thus far is its performance. I’ve deliberately avoided any kind of heavy audio work or editing of photos in Photoshop or Lightroom, but I’ve had it tackle Illustrator files, large layouts in InDesign, and my usual work in Sketch and it’s handled it just fine. It’s not snappy, especially if I have too many other things running, but it’s absolutely useable to an extent that I did not expect.

I also feel somewhat guilty for how little I’m taking advantage of the ability to move around. The truth is I miss the Mac Pro. I like my desk, I like my chair, and I like the knowledge that sitting at that battle station is a commitment to work. With the MacBook, I find myself wandering from couch to table to floor to bed, not really being comfortable in any of those places.

I’m less productive.

What About the Pro?

I don’t mean to come off as negative about this machine. It’s cute, and it’s very functional for its size and specs. My lack of enthusiasm about it is a reflection of how my needs have shifted to the point where a laptop really isn’t a particularly useful tool.

I’ve been wondering how different this experiment would have been if I’d been able to use the new MacBook Pro instead.

Would its additional screen real estate feel less cramped? Would its slightly deeper keyboard travel alleviate my typing concerns? Would its significant horsepower convince me that I no longer need a Mac Pro? After all, I could just as easily hook it up to my external storage and monitors and use it as a desktop while I’m at home, with the added flexibility of being able to take it with me if I need to.

I think the answer to those questions is maybe”. At best.

In my brief time with it at the Apple Store while I was waiting for my Genius Bar appointment, I went back and forth between the 2016 Retina MacBook keyboard (which is ostensibly better than my loaner MacBook from 2015) and the 15” touchbar equipped MacBook Pro. I have to admit I could only discern a difference because I was directly comparing. It’s far too subtle a difference to change the experience.

And while the MacBook Pros have way more horsepower than the Retina MacBook, they also have loud fans, fewer ports, and less RAM than my Mac Pro. And before you tell me 16GB is enough (I agree for most people), just keep in mind that my Pro has 64GB of RAM in it right now and I can hit that ceiling without too much effort if I want to. Orchestral music production for media is crazy stuff.

At this point I just miss my desktop and am hoping tomorrow brings the notification that it’s ready for pick-up.

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