13 July 2012

MacBook Pro "Retina" Quick Review - Or How I'm Learning To Stop Worrying And Love The Mac

Today I finally picked up my new MacBook Pro "Retina" (2.6Ghz/16GB/512GB). I have to say that it's the first Mac I've ever truly wanted; I've used others in the past (the original "60s-tv" iMac, the white iBook, a few G5s and occasional MBP), but they were bought by other people for other people. So I'm not really a "Mac person": since 2002 I've mostly used Linux at home and Windows at work, and kinda abandoned Linux last year for Windows 7.

The first thing I noticed, and a big reason for the switch to The Land Of Steve, is how thin and light this MBP is. It's roughly half as thick as my Dell Latitude E6510 (which is powerful and packs a nice screen, but by God is it bulky), and probably about 35% lighter.

My second thought was about silence. I don't think I've ever owned a laptop this quiet, let alone one with an i7 CPU on board. You can't really appreciate it in a chaotic Apple Store, but when you're all alone at night, the lack of noise is incredibly refreshing. Note that I live in a quiet residential suburb; for any city-dweller this MBP can be considered completely silent.

Most things you've read elsewhere are also true: it boots faster than a phone, and you don't really need to actually shut it down unless forced by installs/updates; the screen is gorgeous (as long as you stick to updated apps like the Developer branch of Google Chrome, avoiding sucky ones like the official Twitter client) and it feels faster than any laptop I've ever used.

I have to say I couldn't notice any lag on my model until now, although I did feel it was a bit sluggish when I first tried one at the Store. I suspect the 2.3Ghz/8Gb configuration (which is what you get there, and what most reviewers have tried) is not enough to smoothly drive the ├╝ber-screen; but I don't think I'll regret the choice not to shell out another £200 for the 2.7Ghz model, which comes with a larger cache (8Mb vs 6Mb).

And this is all that separates this particular Mac from other Macs out there. But what about differences between OSX and Windows? Obviously there are zillions of flame-threads on this subject, but these are my first thoughts as a switcher:

  • The damn keyboard layout. I must find a way to REMAP ALL THE THINGS!
  • No PgUp/PgDn/Del/PrtScrn (update: for PgUp/Dn use Fn-ArrowUp/ArrowDown). I'm wearing a black armband to mourn them right now.
  • Shortcuts are all fucked up. If you minimize a window and you want to bring it back, you have to Cmd-Tab back to the program, keep Cmd pressed, then press Alt before leaving Cmd. This is just Wrong. To maximize a window without going fullscreen, you have to invoke the "Zoom" feature, which often requires a custom shortcut. And so on and so forth. There is a steep learning curve for keyboard monkeys.
  • Trackpad gestures become necessary to survive. This might not be such a bad thing.
  • Any non-Apple peripheral will require an Internet connection to automatically download a half-decent, probably-uncustomizable driver. But, of course, why would you ever buy anything not Made By Steve?
  • Some DMG files, you launch them and they launch the app right there. Others will show a funny "drag app from this icon to that icon" screen. Others will open a window and expect you to know what to drag where. In comparison, Windows installers look admirably consistent.
  • Many developers (VmWare, Ascendo...) make you pay twice for the same product on a different platform. This is not nice. I should be able to deactivate a product on computer A and activate it on computer B with the same license. I'm still one person using one program.
  • gfxCardStatus, Little Snitch and iTerm2 are lovely. GPlus Tab and Facebook Tab suck.

More to follow in a few weeks; until Mountain Lion is officially out, I'm not going to deploy the full barrage of developer tools -- I'll probably format the disk anyway to install the new OS, so there's no point in wasting time now.