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A New MacBook Pro

October 28th, 2008

When I wake up early several mornings in a row, my body clock becomes used to it and I wake up at the same time for a while thereafter, until something (like my usual tendency to stay up way late) interrupts it. So I woke up early enough this morning that the hyper-early takkubin (Japan’s FedEx) didn’t wake me up. I knew the MBP was coming sometime soon as Apple sent an email to that effect last night, but didn’t expect it quite so fast after notification. But Japanese express mail is like that–almost always next-day delivery.

Setting up the computer just seems to be getting easier and easier. No problem getting on the WiFi network. The printer was recognized and driver auto-installed in seconds. My iTunes account gave the computer basic registration info, and logging into my Mobile Me account got most of my important data; my calendar, address book, browser bookmarks, and other stuff got synced, and all my email accounts are subscribed to. All that in just the first fifteen minutes or so. Apple knows how to make it painless. Most of the rest of my data I transferred almost as easily, hooking up my new MBP to my old Powerbook via an 800-to-400 Firewire cable. And it’s nice to have 250 GB (well, 230 GB in fact) available on a laptop.

Now, the screen. It is a mirror. Not a full-blown one, but a mirror nonetheless. If I want to check my appearance before a Skype call, all I have to do is turn the brightness on the monitor down all the way, and I can see myself perfectly, albeit a bit darkly.

So, is it a deal-killer? Not quite, but it is worse than I had gathered from looking at display units. The reflection is muted by two factors: first, there is a different focal point for the screen and what is reflected in it; if the reflection is far enough away, just focusing on the screen contents helps filter the reflections out (closer reflections can be more distracting). And second, the full brightness of the LCD screen washes out most non-bright reflections. Additionally, I think that your mind will, over time, learn to disregard the reflections–I found myself not noticing them after a while.

Facing away from the windows; the new MBP’s screen is quite notably brighter.

Facing toward the windows; the MBP actually seems brighter still, but more washed-out–and note the reflections.

In the right place, and at full power, and with practice, the reflections won’t bug you at all. That said, there are situations where those conditions can be nullified. For example, when you unplug the MBP from the power cable, the screen immediately darkens, and the reflections pop out at you. For this reason, you should probably switch the dimming feature off in your Energy Saver preference pane, and just take the hit on battery life.

Outside, the screen is barely usable–but it does outperform my old Powerbook’s screen. Let’s face it, laptops rarely have screens that are usable in direct sunlight; even in the shade, you stand to suffer from some setback with any screen, and you just have to work around it. As it happens, I almost never use my laptop outdoors, so it makes little difference to me in any case.

As for performance, this thing rocks. Maybe it’s just because it’s a brand-new Mac, but everything ran incredibly fast–especially web pages, which seemed to load lightning-fast. It could be the faster CPU (the 2.4 GHz Core 2 Duo is faster than my iMac’s 2.16 GHz chip), the 1 GHz+ Frontside Bus, or the 4 GB of DDR3 RAM; the 7200 rpm HDD probably doesn’t hurt, either. We’ll see how performance does over time.

The trackpad: I love it. It’s huge. I was already addicted to the 2-finger swipe for scrolling–I find myself trying to use the gesture on every other computer I encounter and realizing with annoyance that it doesn’t work. I never scroll using the scroll bar anymore. The new gestures are at least as useful, if not more so. The three-fingered swipe for “next” and “previous” is more universal than I thought–it works with browser windows and Finder windows, not just your photo albums. It essentially is a way to active the history arrows in any app that recognizes the gesture. The four-fingered up- and down-swipes for Exposé I know I will use a lot–but I have to re-train myself, as I am too used to using the F-keys I assigned for the task. I still don’t use the trackpad for zooming in and out as much as I should be. And I had forgotten that swiping four fingers left or right activates application switching.

In fact, I have gone a step further and have activated, after a long time avoiding it, the trackpad touch-click. Not because I don’t like the click-anywhere trackpad feature–I found myself using it without even thinking–but I have come to really like not having to apply as much pressure. And a two-fingered tap for a pop-up menu is just too hard for me to pass on, now that I am aware of it again. I tried this out before and didn’t like it, but I think that Apple has improved the software over time, and it’s now a lot better at interpreting your intentions.

The keyboard is as good as I recall from trying out the display model at stores last week. I find myself making a lot fewer errors, primarily, I think, because the keys are spaced; most other keyboards have the keys adjacent, which leads to all kinds of mis-strikes. There is also a nice, soft, responsive feel to the keys. If you’re thinking of buying a laptop, try out this keyboard.

I have yet to try out a lot of stuff–for instance, connecting to television sets (Apple says it won’t work, but I at least want to try) and external monitors, using the Superdrive, trying out the higher-performance graphics chip, testing WiFi vs. the old Powerbook, and so on. Heck, I’ve only had my hands on the thing for a few hours now, and most of that has been transferring files.

More later.

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