Friday, 19 September 2014

MacBook Pro: A Bite of the Apple

Friday, 19 September 2014
I've been using Windows PCs since 1996, beginning with a 'beige-box' 386 running Windows 95. I was mostly self-taught, but went to college during a period when dial-up Internet was taking off and Win95/98 were the operating systems of choice. I've only ever owned computers running the Windows OS, but now I've bought myself a fancy 15" MacBook Pro.

Why? Simple. After first buying an iPad2 three years ago, which led to me buying an iPad3 and iPhone 5 within two years, I've come to enjoy the Apple experience. It has issues, as everything technological does, but I find myself less aggravated using an iPhone than I ever was with various Android gadgets. I've also been frustrated using Windows Vista and Windows 7, and hear only bad things about Windows 8, so thought it was time to get off the Bill Gates gravy train.

I'll always have a soft spot for Windows, however, and may perhaps go back to them if a future version surpasses OSX, but for now I'm enjoying my first ever Mac experience. Although clearly there's the fun of it being a novel, fresh experience for me, which could wear off quickly.

I've had a MacBook for almost a fortnight, so here are my impressions of the laptop, so far. (For the record, this is a 15" MacBook Pro i7 with 8GB RAM, 256GB HDD, and a Retina Display, circa 2012).


  • Retina display. The obvious difference between this Mac and every laptop I've ever owned is the quality of the screen. I have an iPad3 with a retina display, but seeing that level of quality on a laptop is phenomenal. It's a pleasure to use and watch videos on; plus DMD itself looks gorgeous with pin-sharp fonts! (I'm almost angry not all of you are seeing my blog at this visual premium.)
  • So thin! I don't usually care about the dimensions of a laptop beyond screen diameter, but this MacBook instantly made my previous Dell laptop look like something from the Stone Age. It's almost three times thinner. You just feel more inclined to pick it up and go mobile with it now, which is surely the point.
  • Backlit keyboard. I never noticed how dark laptop keyboards can be, even in daylight, so this backlist feature is really nice. It's inessential, sure, unless you do a lot of typing at night, but I really like it. I've hit the wrong key less often, that's for sure!
  • Fast boot-up and shutdown. One of the most obvious and welcome improvements over every Windows system I've owned is how quickly my MacBook boots and exits. It takes about 13 seconds to arrive at the desktop from a cold start, and shuts down in about 3 seconds! A weight has been lifted.
  • No annoying, time-consuming shutdown updates. In addition to the fast shutdown speed, I'm overjoyed that Apple doesn't make me have to install a dozen updates the OS has downloaded in the background. The days of shutting down a laptop late at night, ready for bed, and having to wait 15-minutes for updates to install are over!
  • Less chance of viruses. It's still a fact that the majority of viruses and malware target PC systems, and there are less nasty bugs that are coded to infect Mac's. While you still need to take precautions, surf sensibly, and have a Firewall on, I'm less anxious about my MacBook getting suck and dying on me.
  • Great sound quality. The built-in speakers are really nice and give a rich, decent sound. I still like to attach external speakers and a subwoofer, via the headphones jack, but it's good to know the inbuilt sound's so nice.
  • HDMI output. I believe these weren't always standard on MacBook's, but my 2012 model has a dedicated HDMI slot for connecting my existing monitor or HD TV. Although there are some associated downsides, as we'll see later…


  • Can't close lid without MacBook sleeping. I know closing the lid somewhat defeats the point of a laptop, but I'm accustomed to occasionally using laptops as ad hoc desktop systems. I tend to shut the lids, connect a power adapter, and have everything piped to my external keyboard, mouse, and monitor. Unfortunately, this MacBook goes to sleep when I close the lid. I downloaded an app called NoSleep that fixes the problem, but it will still only output to a monitor when the power cable is attached… and I know it's not a good idea to use a MacBook while charging. The adapter gets worryingly hot. So, I guess I'm resigned to using my MacBook more like a laptop-only system.
  • No easy 'click to desktop'. I'm forever reaching for a 'to Desktop' icon that doesn't exist in Mac. How do you just dismiss all open windows and get to your Desktop screen?!
  • I prefer Windows Explorer to Finder. I just do. I find it easier to navigate drives with Windows Explorer, although I'm sure a lot of that is down to twenty-years of muscle memory failing to adapt immediately. Getting to grips with 'tags' and 'tabs' has made Finder a little easier this past week, but Explorer is perhaps too ingrained because I also use it at work all the time.
  • Mail settings issues. I'm not sure why, but the Mail program occasionally 'forgets' the passwords to my Google mail accounts, and it's a huge pain to reassign them. This also happens for the Calendar. Every so often I find myself having to reapply Google app-passwords (a security conscious thing where you have one Google 'master password', but it generates random ones for apps). I have a suspicion I'm doing something wrong, so would be grateful for any help!
  • Existing external HDD doesn't work. I can play a lot of files on my 1TB drive on my MacBook, but can't save anything to it from a Mac. This is because it's NTFS, apparently, so you need to use FAT32 for cross-compatibility. I had to buy a £49 1TB drive that both Windows and Mac can read-write to.
  • Only 2x USB ports. Two is just about functional, but considering the prices of MacBook's I'm astonished there aren't three of four USBs. Apple obviously want you to use their faster Thunderbolt ports (of which there are two), but USB is more universal. Thankfully, I have a four-port USB hub that means I can still connect a maximum of five USB peripherals).
  • Can't manipulate open windows as easily. Maybe just a personal thing, but I find it much easier to move and arrange windows on a PC. On this Mac, I can maximise to a full-screen mode, minimise to the dock, 'exit' (which only really sends it to the dock), but not much else. It's a bit of a pain to play around with the windows and get them arranged nicely.
  • No optical disc drive. A big reason MacBook's are so light and thin is because Apple have ditched inbuilt optical drives, so you can't play DVD/Blu-ray discs. I don't play many discs on laptops these days, and obviously Apple believe everyone's installing software via Internet downloads nowadays, but it's still a shame. Occasionally, I do like to vidcap discs (for DMD reviews), and now I will have to buy a £60-80 external disc drive.
Those are just some of my main thoughts on this MacBook. I'd be interested to hear about which OS you prefer, and if you're a Windows of OSX kind of person. Answers to a few of the problems and issues I'm having would also be gratefully received!