In late December, I upgraded my mid-2012 MacBook Pro to a 15” MacBook Pro with Touch Bar. It’s a definite improvement over my 2012 MBP. It’s solid and well-made and beautiful and I like it more the more I use it. The screen is beautiful. Just… gorgeous.
For what it’s worth, I thought I’d post some notes on my early impressions. If you’re on the fence about ordering one of these machines, maybe this will help you decide.
Touch ID & Unlocking with Apple Watch
These two features may be the unheralded genius attributes of this new Mac. Touch ID is every bit as slick on the Mac as it is on the iPhone, and what I’ve noticed after using it (and Apple Watch unlocking) for a few weeks is that I’m much more likely to pick up and use my Mac because there’s far less friction now between when the Mac is closed or asleep and awake and ready for me to type. There’s no more waiting on the system to wake up and get reset; it’s just ready to work when I am. The Mac feels more like a fancy iPad now because of this responsiveness.
I kind of like the keyboard. I can see why it’s not right for everyone, but it’s not horrible. It’s a bit clacky for my taste, but I can live with it. You could definitely bang out some satisfyingly angry emails with this keyboard.
I do feel like I make more mistakes when typing on it, though, because it’s hard to feel the difference between keys. I often end up hitting a couple of keys simultaneously or hitting the wrong key entirely. I have the hardest time with modifier keys. I’m getting better with time, though, and most of my typing is on external keyboards anyway.
I don’t love the arrow key layout. Hopefully I’ll get used to it, but the half-height up and down keys are definitely harder to hit reliably.
The Touch Bar is very cool and I’m using it more and more. I was most worried about the lack of an escape key, but I got used to the soft escape key really quickly and it isn’t really an issue for me now.
My favorite Touch Bar feature so far is the scrolling list of slides when you’re presenting a Keynote deck. It’s so easy to swipe that list and find a slide to go back to. I never want to be without this feature again.
There are some UX issues with the Touch Bar. The inconsistency of what’s in the bar at any given time can be annoying. I like the ability to switch tabs in Safari using the bar, but sometimes that feature is there and sometimes it’s replaced with other functions because my cursor is in a text field or whatever. You have to stop and interpret the features available from moment to moment in the touch bar, which makes it hard to create a habit around using it.
I wasn’t initially sold on having the Touch Bar controls for brightness, volume, etc. versus having dedicated hardware switches because it added an extra couple of steps to changing settings. But then I discovered that you can just touch the control and swipe in one motion to change brightness and volume. That’s sweet!
I know this hasn’t been true for everyone, but my battery life has been phenomenal right off the bat. I plugged the Mac in for a day and let it download iCloud and Dropbox files and do whatever else it needed to, and I am already getting way more battery life than I did with my mid-2012 Mac; maybe two to three times as much? As long as I’m not doing anything that hits the processor too hard, I can reliably run it for most of a workday without plugging in. I’m looking forward to seeing how that holds up in the weeks ahead.
I decided to start the machine from scratch and only install the things I actually use on the new Mac. I’m a bit of a digital dilettante, and I try lots and lots of software. As you can imagine, a lot of it gets used briefly and then never again. Getting rid of this cruft and only installing things as I need them feels great.
1Password is a real boon here, as I keep all my software registration information ready for just such an occasion. Evernote and Pinboard are helpful, too. I’m compulsive about keeping a list of everything I install and uninstall on my Mac. I’ll have to write up that process one of these days, but suffice to say if my system is stolen or goes tits up, I can recreate my environment on a new Mac fairly faithfully.
On the other hand, I also make a lot of tweaks to my system that can take a long time to recreate. Not using migration assistant means a lot of these go away and I’m left scratching my head trying to figure out how I accomplished some shortcut or other. I try to keep notes in Evernote to help with this, but I’m not as diligent about that as I should be.
For example, I added some program to my old Mac that let me drag a window while holding down control and shift; now I have no idea what software that was. (Update: I found it! Better Touch Tool. So good. And it lets you customize the Touch Bar.)
So, it’s going to take a long time to get this new machine all tweaked to where I really like it, but the good news is that with Dropbox and iCloud, it took almost no time at all to get me up and running with a usable system and almost all my data intact.
Yeah, you need ‘em, but maybe not as many as you think. I like the feel and flexibility of the USB-C ports, so I don’t have a problem with transitioning to them. I’ve managed to get all the dongles I needed to get me back up and running the way I was with my last Mac without spending much at all.
If you want a good all-in-one dongle solution, may I recommend the Huawei MateDock USB-C Multiport Adapter. It’s currently $89 on Amazon, but somehow I managed to snag one for just $39, so wait for a sale. This thing has two USB-A ports, an HDMI, a VGA, an ethernet port and an extra USB-C all jammed into a nice little package that fits easily in your back pocket. I use it as my Swiss Army Dongle for connecting to various displays at work.
My one major gripe in this whole process was that the new power adapters are $79 and they don’t come with an extension cable ($19) and they’re useless if you don’t buy a USB-C charging cable (also $19). Which I didn’t know, which necessitated a second trip to the Apple store. Grrrrr.
Actually, that reminds me of my other major gripe: The MagSafe power connector from my Thunderbolt Display is now useless (there’s no adapter from MagSafe to USB-C), so I had to buy the above extra power adapter and run yet another cable behind my desk. Grrrrr.
- I was initially having problems moving things with the touchpad. Pressing on an item and dragging didn’t work reliably and I needed to try several times to get it to drag properly. That problem seems to have cleared up, but I’m not sure if it was a system update or me changing my behavior that did it.
- Several programs were crashing whenever the Mac went to sleep, but the 10.12.3 update seems to have fixed that.
Gripes aside, I just really love this new Mac. It feels solid and self-assured in every way. Moving to this from a 4-year-old Mac, I can definitely appreciate the constant refinement of features over the last few years. I wish the keyboard was a little deeper, but I’m not sure I want to trade that off for the extra thickness. I think the Touch Bar interactions could use some rethinking, but it’s got some real promise. Everything else, though, is beautiful and works like a charm. All things considered, I’ve got no regrets about getting this new Mac.