Friday, January 9th, 2009 http://adamkhan.net/rambles/Panning-for-MacBook-Pro
’ve now had my late 2008 15” MacBook Pro for about a month and I still marvel at it. It would be impressive even if it did nothing, was just a prop in a futuristic movie, but it actually works, it actually runs the fabulous OS X operating system, pedigreed back to UNIX, designed and developed every ongoing moment, an achievement humanity can be proud of.
I had little interest in the previous MacBook Pro. To me, although it was also metal, it seemed ugly and plasticky, the keyboard a relic. The MacBook, however, was a very exciting machine and marked my return — as it did for so many others — to the Apple fold. Although it’s now slow and dirty compared to my new bit of anodized brushed slickness, I just loved the shape and proportions and simplicity of it. So when I saw the new MacBook Pro for the first time, a design that replicates the MacBook but in more exquisite materials, I couldn’t stop looking at pictures of it, particularly from above. Could I accept aesthetically the wider body, accommodating the speakers? Does that ruin the graceful proportions? No it does not. Although the thing seemed comically long to me at first, particularly when closed, the size now feels just right.
It is so amazingly quiet. I hadn’t realized how much of the time the old MacBook’s fan was blaring. Looking at iStat Menus I see the fans are actually running at 2000rpm but I don’t hear them. Oh, but there’s so much left to say! The trackpad. How much I appreciate the lower friction on the new glass; it’s so much easier to move across than the MacBook’s surface, which now feels treacly in comparison. Who would have thought that these things make such a difference? But when using a tool for work, for entertainment, for research, for paying bills and buying books, playing games and watching movies, they seem to start mattering rather a lot.
Which leads me to the next improvement: the keyboard. Although this perfected recessed chiclet style looks the same as the MacBook’s, the keys are definitely more clicky with quicker bounce-back. As an old hand at touch-typing I so much prefer that. With my MacBook I’d wonder occasionally how much slower I was typing than on a cheap generic clicky keyboard, and I think even now I’m probably slower on the Pro than on such a keyboard, but it doesn’t matter to me (though I guess it probably should) as I’m just so pleased with the improvement.
So why not get a desktop computer and choose the keyboard you like best? I don’t know, but I wouldn’t. I’ve come to love how these laptops are complete in themselves (to contravene the wisdom that it’s best to keep the components separate). I can take this fabulous machine anywhere — downstairs, to a cafe, on a train, a hotel room abroad — and everything works precisely as it does at my desk. Having my digital setup stay utterly consistent wherever I may be more than compensates for a keyboard that may be slightly slower to use.
These are somewhat abstract benefits, so let’s get back to the carved and polished chunk of metal itself. Yes, the unibody! This machine is like a sculpture of my previous computer — except it’s actually a better computer! I’ve had computers for 22 years and they’ve always been plastic; never had a metal one before. And what metal! And glass! I can actually keep this one clean, unlike the MacBook, so that no matter how many months and years I use it, just a wipe with a damp cloth and it’ll be almost as good as new. Bury it in the earth for 500 years and dig it up and the body at least will be exactly as it was. This earthy physicality is itself valuable when using a single tool so much of the day. I say earthy but it’s so shiny and smooth that it’s kind of anti-earthy. Or at least, it’s like the sort of treasure you root through the earth seeking, panning for MacBook Pro. (All that said, the keys themselves are plastic — perhaps that’s the next thing to change, though they do feel more rubbery than the MacBook’s, though that may be a tactile illusion. And I suppose burying it would get dirt under the keys rendering them unpressable without a clean-out.)
People have said the screen is amazing, and it really is nice and bright. But the white is colder, less yellow, than the white on my Apple Cinema Display, and I think I prefer the warmer white; the MacBook Pro screen seems almost fluorescent it’s so white, and I don’t much like fluorescent lights.
I run my fingers along the outside of the top and it’s just such a smooth thing. I close it and the small thud is so elegant, a subdued snap. The notch to open the machine is such a classical carved shape.
There is no finer computer available in the world. Even the superior new 17” version: it’s still 17”, and if the size you want is 15”, then it’s not better. Nope, there is no finer computer available, and since a computer is so central to life today, that’s saying a lot. And perhaps most amazing of all, it’s affordable for the average modern consumer. At $2,250 or so that’s about 1/18th an annual salary, or about three weeks’ work for an average adult. I think of similar top-flight items in other spheres — cars, watches — and how much more money these cost, and neither of these has as much routine impact on life today as a computer (at least for me; though of course a car could be depending on how and where one lives).
There’s only one drawback: consumer electronics shops are boring for me now. I look around at all the other laptops and they just seem quaint and clunky also-rans.