The new old MacBook Pro

Wed Dec 7, 2016

About that MacBook Pro I had my eye on. I couldn’t wait. As much as I appreciate all my iMac has done for me, I just couldn’t listen to the endless spinning and chirping of that dreadful hard drive for another year without going insane.

I’ll admit, I was hoodwinked at first by the narrative spun by a few entitled tech journalists. It had been two years since the MacBook Pro was last updated in early 2015. People were hungry for a new mac. That is why the general disappointment was all the more compounded when the new MacBook Pros were released recently.

Professionals bemoaned the lack of bleeding edge CPUs and a limit of 16GB of RAM, because they all of course need at least 32GB (dude, please). And recreational users (like me) winced hard at the sky-high price increase. An increase, no doubt, resulting from the addition of a questionable touch bar added to replace the function keys.

But I came to another realization. A realization that perhaps did not enter the minds of most tech pundits who begrudge the steep price for being an early adopter, but then pay it anyway.

And that realization is that the two-year old MacBook Pro is still a damn good laptop. And arguably a better laptop for the present. So that is the one that I got. Not the new one, but the “old” 2015 one that costs almost $1000 less than the touch-bar model.

Let’s face it - the 2015 MacBook Pro has all the ports you need today, including the awesome MagSafe adapter which got turfed in the new version. Early adopters are cursing the “dongle life” they have to endure with the new MacBook Pro, but instead it is “future me” who will be cursing at the late onset of dongle life. “Present me” is quite okay with that because I’ve got an SD card reader for easily importing photos, an HDMI port for connecting to the TV, USB ports that work with everything in the world right now (including every iPhone in existence), and a Mini DisplayPort that lets me use my iMac as a monitor.

Guess which laptop doesn’t connect to the iPhone without a dongle? That’s right - the “new” MacBook Pro. Chuckle at the irony if you want to but you won’t be laughing when you shell out almost $3000 for an Apple computer that doesn’t connect with Apple’s most popular product. You could argue that the new MacBook Pro is more future-proof than the old one, but think on this:

The future has not been written. There is no fate but what we make for ourselves. John Connor in Terminator 2: Judgement Day

I’d like to say that Apple has become so big that they have the weight to foist new I/O standards on people without caring about a backlash, but that’s not true because they’ve always been that way. Even when they were smaller and scrappier they killed the floppy drive without looking back. Change is not a bad thing, but all I’m saying is that we are free to accept change at our own pace. You can change today or you can change tomorrow. Like RRSPs - you can pay your income taxes now or you can save your money and defer your taxes until you retire.

The MacBook Pro is an altogether different product from the iMac, but the 2015 MacBook is an extremely nice upgrade for me. The retina screen is bright and crisp (the new Verge re-design in particular looks gorgeous on it). The keyboard and trackpad are as buttery as you’d expect from a best-in-class laptop. But the sheer speed of the thing is what has me most excited. As I’ve mentioned many times before, a solid state drive makes all the difference when it comes to the user experience, moreso I believe than processing power.

The only caveat to this laptop is that the base model only has a 128GB hard drive. Upgrading to one terabyte costs an extra $1000, which is obviously ridiculous. Since pictures make up the bulk of our data (my wife has a particularly large library), I solved this problem by going external. I bought two 2TB external hard drives. One of the drives is purely a Time Machine backup of the first drive. Each drive cost me $90, so this comparatively cheap “outsourcing” more than makes up for the inconvenience of plugging in an external drive to look at photos.

My plan is to never back up the internal drive at all. All my documents, music, and movies all exist in the cloud at this point. Heck, even this blog is synced up to iCloud now. There should never be a need to save any data on the internal drive. You couldn’t have gotten away with that 10 years ago.

I could go on, but I’m not trying to write a review here. I don’t think casual consumers can go wrong with this 2015 model though, especially if your computer is more than five years old, like mine.

However, if you’re going to read a review of the new MacBook Pro, read Joanna Stern’s. She has the good sense not to take it all so seriously.

She includes a picture, for example, of how the wider trackpad can fit at least four pieces of sushi - a facetious metric which underscores the ridiculousness of such “advances” in technology. She then says that you’ll “get used to the spring of the keys in the new flat keyboard” just as you “get used to sleeping on a rock when camping.”

She had a lot of trouble trying to decide whether to recommend the 2016 model over the 2015 model. In the end, her advice is to “see where the new MacBook Pro is better, the same and, yes, worse than the old MacBook Pro, then decide what matters to you.”

That is solid advice, and that is exactly what I’ve done.

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