Ode to a MacBook Pro

July 12, 2018 by Jeff Johnson

My main Mac is a 2014 15-inch retina MacBook Pro. It's a good machine. In some ways, it's superior to the 2018 MacBook Pro, and I have no plans in the foreseeable future to buy a new MacBook Pro. The 2014 model has a keyboard that is both quiet and reliable. It has function keys, including volume and brightness, which I use every day. It has a variety of useful ports, including MagSafe, HDMI, and USB-A, all of which I use regularly. (MagSafe has saved my MacBook Pro from harm on several occasions.) Yet the 2014 is not my favorite model ever. That honor goes to my late 2006 17-inch MacBook Pro. The "late" refers to the October introduction date; the machine itself is still functional. It mostly sits in a closet now, though I occasionally boot it up to print documents, because it runs an older version of Mac OS X with the drivers to support my old printer. In my opinion, the pre-unibody MacBook Pro was the best design ever. The difference is in the details that make this machine most friendly to customers.

Let's start with the screen. Unfortunately, Apple no longer makes 17-inch screens for laptops. Worse, Apple no longer makes matte screens for any Mac! Four years after buying my current MacBook Pro, the glossy screen still bothers me all the time. The reflections are very distracting. I want to see what's in front of me on my screen, not what's behind me. You can't magically avoid light and reflections just because you have a laptop. Yes, I could go sit on the floor in the hallway right now for some shade, but I think you'll agree that's far from ideal.

The screen of the 2006 MacBook Pro attaches to the body with a latch. When you press down the screen, it snaps into place. You can easily press in with one finger on the front edge of the machine to unlatch the screen and then open it fully. The latch also has a small pulsing sleep indicator light where you can see it in the front. When the screen is open and your hands are on the keyboard, the edges of the body are rounded and smooth. I find this all to be very ergonomic.
2006 MacBook Pro latch
On the other hand, the screen of the 2014 MacBook Pro attaches to the body with a magnet. Opening the lid with the magnet requires significantly more force than with the latch. In place of the latch, the 2014 model has a "notch". (Don't you love notches in Apple devices?) The notch is in the same area as the front camera on the screen, which makes smudges likely. The two ends of the notch are very sharp. Moreover, the whole top case has abrupt, unrounded edges. When you're using the machine, you can feel the edges against your arms. It's uncomfortable. I don't know what Apple's hardware designers were thinking here, but it wasn't about ergonomics.
2014 MacBook Pro notch

The battery in the 2006 MacBook Pro is replaceable by the customer. Trivially. The entire process takes seconds. You just flip over the Mac, pull the two latches, take out the old battery, and then push in the new battery. When you're traveling, you can keep a spare battery in your laptop bag in case you need it.
2006 MacBook Pro latch
In stark contrast, the battery in the 2014 MacBook Pro is glued to the inside, so it's not customer-replaceable. In fact, a certified technician needs to disassemble the whole machine and replace the top case in order to replace the battery. I had to get this done last month, because my 2014 MacBook Pro wasn't holding a charge well anymore. It's important to recognize that every battery will wear out eventually, so battery replacement is both common and inevitable for every model of device. The earlier design is a sane approach to the reality of battery life, while the later design gives the pretense that batteries last forever.

Apple doesn't make them like they used to, which in my opinion is a loss for customers.

Jeff Johnson (My apps, PayPal.Me)