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Impressions of the new MacBook Pro

April 19 2022 by Jeff Johnson
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I just bought a new MacBook Pro as my main development computer, because macOS Monterey doesn't support my previous main development computer — a 2014 MacBook Pro — and Xcode now requires Monterey. This will become crucial at the beginning of June with the new WWDC Xcode beta. The specs of my new MacBook Pro: 16-inch screen, M1 Pro, 16 GB RAM, 1 TB SSD. Apple lists this model at $2699 USD, but I bought it for $70 cheaper from Expercom, not only because it was cheaper but also because the arrival date from Expercom was weeks sooner than direct from Apple. (The difference is a bit puzzling.) I wanted to get the computer as soon as possible because I had some free time now and because I wanted to make sure it was all set up and ready before WWDC.

Aside: UPS

I'm talking about United Parcel Service, not Uninterruptible Power Supply. Avoid United Parcel Service if possible. They were chosen by Expercom, not by me; it was "free" delivery, but I would have gladly taken another option if presented. The delivery was scheduled for Thursday and required a signature, which is understandable given the cost of the item. I was home on Thursday when the delivery arrived, but the UPS driver attempted to enter the apartment building via a locked door rather than the unlocked door just yards (meters) away. Instead of making a small effort to turn their head and glance to the side to see the other door, the driver decided to leave without delivering the signature required package, so I had to pick it up myself on Friday at the UPS Store. I would have been happy to pick it up at the UPS Store myself on Thursday, thereby avoiding the hassle of trying to connect with the delivery driver, but the UPS web site wouldn't let me sign up for "UPS My Choice" to change the delivery instructions.

Unboxing

There were a couple of strange things right out of the box. First, the new MacBook Pro was cold. I mean ice cold. I do live in Wisconsin, and it wasn't warm outside, but it wasn't freezing cold outside, certainly nowhere near as cold as the computer. Moreover, the computer had spent a week making its way from an origin in Utah. So I can't explain why it was so cold out of the box.

The other strange thing I noticed immediately was that it had a strong odor. On investigation (sniffing closely), the odor seemed to be coming from the keyboard. The odor remained fairly strong for a day or two, but fortunately a few days later it seems to have dissipated. I've owned a number of laptops and never experienced an odor like that before.

Case

I chose Silver over Space Gray, which I feel was the correct choice. The case of the 16-inch MacBook Pro is surprisingly a few millimeters narrower than my 15-inch 2014 MacBook Pro. The new case is significantly taller than the old case though, and I think slightly heavier. The new case is boxy, whereas the old case is somewhat rounded on top and bottom and more rounded in the corners than the new case.

I really wish that the new MacBook Pro had a USB-A port. There's plenty of space, because it has one fewer port than the 2014 MacBook Pro.

MacBook Pro ports

The worst part of not having a USB-A port is that I need a dongle for my YubiKey. I also need a dongle for every USB thumb drive I own. Ridiculous!

MagSafe

The new MagSafe is more difficult to attach and detach than the old MagSafe, which makes the new MagSafe inferior. The old MagSafe can be yanked out by the cord, which means crucially that your laptop can't be yanked off the desk by the cord! This was a safety measure to protect your valuable device from damage, but this safety measure no longer exists. That's a downgrade.

The cord of the new MagSafe is thicker and stiffer, one reason why it's more difficult to maneuver onto the connector. Another reason is that the new connector itself is farther away from the back of the machine, messing with muscle memory. This morning I was fumbling around in the dark trying to attach the MagSafe to the new MacBook Pro, because it was difficult to do by feel alone. You can compare connector locations in the photo above.

Boot

The familiar Mac "bong" sound is played on boot, which is reassuring.

I don't like the new boot screen background "Chroma Blue". It looks nightmarish, and I wish I could change it. That would probably require disabling SIP, right?

Chroma Blue

Notch

The MacBook Pro now has a notch at the top of the screen, like an iPhone. The good news is that the notch doesn't bother me. I don't really notice it. However, it would be nice to be able to make the menu bar fully black in light mode to match the notch. By default, the menu bar is grayish in light mode. (If Reduce transparency is enabled in Accessibility System Preferences, the menu bar and Dock are white.) I haven't yet noticed a main menu conflict with the notch; having the 16-inch screen rather than a 14-inch screen probably helps avoid that.

Keyboard

Other than the initial odor, I've enjoyed typing on the keyboard. I feel that it's actually a little better for typing than my 2014 MacBook Pro. My speed and accuracy are excellent on the new Mac.

My only remaining complaint about the keyboard is the top function key row. The escape key is much wider than on my 2014 MacBook Pro and my older 2006 MacBook Pro, and much wider than the key below it. This messes up more than 15 years of muscle memory for the F1 and F2 brightness keys, which I use every day.

2022 escape key
2014 escape key

Those keys look gross close up, don't they? Sorry!

Battery

Battery life is excellent. It's much longer than my 2014 MacBook Pro, at least twice as long if not longer. I haven't bothered to measure the exact length of time. I still wish there was a user replaceable battery though, like in my 2006 MacBook Pro, because the battery will assuredly go bad eventually, as all batteries do. I've had to get the battery replaced in my 2014 MacBook Pro twice, which was an ordeal each time.

Trackpad

The new trackpad seems less accurate in registering clicks than the 2014 MacBook Pro, which didn't have Force Touch. The new trackpad was overly sensitive to clicks until I switched Trackpad Click System Preferences to Firm from the default Medium. Now it seems slightly insensitive to clicks, but I prefer that to oversensitive. In either case, it's definitely not perfect, and in my opinion worse than the old trackpad.

System Preferences, Trackpad, Click

Speed

The new MacBook Pro is noticeably faster in some ways than the 2014 MacBook Pro, but not massively faster in my experience so far. I believe that most of the difference for me is actually faster file system operations with the newer, faster SSD in the new MacBook Pro. I don't do a lot of things that require a faster CPU. My Xcode projects are relatively small and are written in Objective-C rather than Swift, so they already compiled quite fast the the 2014 MacBook Pro. Now they compile slightly faster, but not enough to make a significant difference.

16 GB of RAM seems plenty for me. As it was with the 2014 MacBook Pro. My work doesn't require vast amounts of memory. In fact, 8 GB of RAM seems plenty in the M1 Mac mini that I bought as a test machine back in 2020, though I don't use that computer as extensively as the MacBook Pro.

Software

If I recall correctly, my new MacBook Pro came with macOS Version 12.2.1 installed, so I had to immediately update to 12.3.1. However, I don't know when the computer was manufactured or how long Expercom had it in stock before sale. March 14 is when macOS 12.3 was released (and 12.3.1 on March 31).

As I discussed in yesterday's blog post, the computer came with an /AppleInternal folder inexplicably installed on disk.

In general, Monterey seems buggier than Big Sur. I've already found a number of new bugs while using the new Mac full time for a few days. One bug related to setting up the machine is that Contacts failed to import the Contacts Archive that I exported from the 2014 MacBook Pro. There was no error message, it just didn't work, leaving zero contacts. I was able to successfully export and import the vCards though.

I don't think Monterey is specifically problematic, I just think the annual OS release cycle is too fast and doesn't leave time for quality assurance, so every new major OS version is worse than the one before. Apple needs to get off that cycle.

Conclusion

To be honest, I didn't want to buy a new Mac right now. I've been holding out for a matte nano-texture display on the MacBook Pro. Nonetheless, I felt I had to pull the trigger, with macOS and Xcode making my 2014 MacBook Pro obsolete, and WWDC imminent. If Apple releases a nano-texture MacBook Pro in the future, then maybe I'll upgrade to that and sell this new machine. In the meantime, my new MacBook Pro seems fine for my purposes. The bigger screen gives me more room to work, and the speed improvements, while not astonishing, are welcome.

Still, I'll go to my grave swearing by the design of the 2006 17-inch MacBook Pro as "Peak Mac". Put a new CPU in that, and I'd be in heaven!

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