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Before I begin, I warn you that I have a lot to say. I will try to be succinct (as always), but there's a very good chance I'll fail. For your information, I am writing this review on my shiny new Mac! I should also warn you that I have exams starting on May 28th, and it's now May 15th (though frankly this will take several days to write!). I really have no idea when I'll actually upload it - if it's now August, I do apologise!
MacBook Pro (MBP)
I've always had PCs, so I've never known anything other than Windows. In fact I've used everything from Windows 3.1 to Vista, but I've always been disappointed. They seem to provide me with a great chance to practice my already overdeveloped frustration skills and in the end I just get annoyed. And so, the tale of the Mac begins.
I'm going to break this review down into sections that will help you make an informed decision before buying, to illustrate the various aspects of the laptop which you might like.
The model I have has a 15.4" screen with a 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo processor, 2GB of RAM and a 200GB hard drive. They're lovely numbers aren't they? Manufacturers use these numbers in an attempt to impress you, to make you part with more money than necessary. I tell you this because Apple try to "screw you over" somewhat, as they offer three different models of the MBP. Let me explain.
There are two versions of the 15.4" model, the second one having a 2.5GHz processor and a 250GB hard drive. The other difference you might notice if you look closely is that the processor cache size is 6MB not 3MB. Six is a bigger number than three, so the smaller one must be rubbish! This difference had me confused for quite a while before buying, but I realised, luckily, that it makes no difference. This version is much more expensive, and frankly pointless. You don't need another 50GB of storage space for the operating system and such, so if you do need more space, get an external drive which is much better value for money. The third model is a 17" model, which I don't know anything about really. I've been quite happy with the size of my 15.4". No jokes, please. So, if you want a 15.4" model, get the cheaper one. I'm also fairly certain that a 17" laptop would not fit in most bags, and if you want to do certain graphics related things, you'd probably be better off getting a decent external monitor anyway. That's enough gratuitous Apple bashing for now, I think. Most Apple products are expensive, but in this case I believe it really is worth it.
All the applications are fast to run. It boots up quickly, shuts down quicker, and goes to sleep (and wakes up again!) in a well behaved manner. I've never had any problems with it running slowly, or even crashing for that matter. It comes with 2GB of RAM, which is plenty. If, like me, you can't bear not to have MORE POWER, don't get the extra 2GB of RAM from Apple when you buy it. They charge you over £200 for what you can get for £60 online (from www.crucial.com/uk), and install yourself. I've actually spotted no real difference since I've upgraded to 4GB of RAM, so you probably need not bother! I'm just greedy for those numbers.
The battery is very good. Obviously it depends what you're doing with it: running Photoshop, playing music and burning a DVD will kill your battery in no time. Right now I'm sitting on the train writing this, and I have a healthy 5 hours battery life left. I'm sure I could improve this if I decreased the screen brightness more and turned off unnecessary programs. The charger is very clever as it features Apple's fantastic magnetic system. The plug that goes into the laptop is attached magnetically and, if yanked, will come out rather than dragging the laptop along with it. The transformer doesn't get too hot, and it only draws 85W, as opposed to many PCs which draw hundreds of watts (for the energy conscious among you).
The Operating System
The MBP has Apple's brand spanking new OS X - Leopard - installed. If you're familiar only with Windows then there will be a learning curve before you can fully immerse yourself in the Mac experience. OS X is slightly strange to use at first, but with a little practice you'll find yourself zooming along in no time! To be honest, if you can use iTunes, you can get to grips with all of OS X pretty quickly.
I'm not going to go into much about this as it's a bit beyond the scope of this review. My best advice would be to go to an Apple store and play with one of them. Sit there for as long as you can just navigating everything, pressing buttons and such. This is really the only way you'll get a feel for it before buying. It will feel strange at first, but it becomes second nature before very long. And it looks great!
There is one feature that I must mention, though: if you press F4, all the open windows move around the screen so you can see them all at once, then you can click on the one you want. This is the main way I navigate between windows, and I'm completely hooked on it. It's little features like this that so subtly change the way you use a computer that make OS X so great.
Unlike the MacBooks, which come in black or white, the MBP is a silver aluminium (oxymoron there, I know) box. It's just like all other Apple products in its design simplicity; you won't find any unnecessary buttons or switches. The keyboard is full sized and feels comfortable to use. There are two speakers (which produce excellent sound quality for a laptop) on either side of of the keyboard, and on the right hand side is the on/off button. There's a trackpad below the keyboard with a single large button. For those of you who can't do without a right click, Apple have thought of that, and tapping the trackpad with 2 fingers will act as a right click.
There are quite a few design classics going on here as well. The letters on the keyboard are transparent and backlit when the ambient light levels drop. There are light sensors in with the speakers which automatically adjust the brightness of the screen and of the keys, and even the brightness of a Apple logo on the back of the screen!
Because it's an Apple, you won't feel ashamed to be seen it public with it. I'd go as far as to say that the MBP is the epitome of elegant technology.
There are rather a few of these. Clearly there are more than I could ever go into and do justice to, so I'll tell you the most important and also my favourites! I'll start with the trackpad. It's a feature known as "Multi-Touch" and frankly it's really changed the way I use a computer. You can now use more than one finger on the trackpad and do lots more than ever before. One finger still moves the cursor around as usual. Two fingers move the display around your document, for example moving two fingers up the trackpad will scroll up your document. Three fingers will (in Safari, Apple's web browser) move you back and forward between pages. It doesn't stop there, though. You can do so much more with two fingers than you can with one (you're inventing your own jokes, now)! If you're manipulating JPEG images, you could rotate your two fingers around the trackpad, and the image will rotate accordingly. You can even zoom in and out by moving your fingers apart or together (like the display on the iPod Touch and iPhone). As I mentioned previously, you can also tap with two fingers as a right click. This really is an excellent feature.
The next feature I'll talk about is the webcam, or "iSight". The camera sits in a little black square above the screen, with a small LED that comes on when the camera is on. The quality is really excellent, and you can use it for everything you'd use a regular webcam for. You also get great software bundled with the MBP that allows you to take full advantage of the webcam. I should also mention that there's an excellent microphone hidden away (also with the speakers) so having proper video calls on Skype has never been easier. I have managed to overload the mic by singing at it rather loudly (who'd have thought Apple didn't design it for Opera [not the brower]?!) but clearly it's fine for day to day use. I recorded a mock podcast and the quality was crystal clear - you'd have been forgiven for thinking I was in a studio.
The MBP is fully wireless enabled, with the newest "802.11n" Wi-Fi system. This will work with all previous versions and it's much faster. Apple make all kind of wireless peripherals, including hard drives and a great feature called "Time Machine" which automatically backs everything up to a separate wireless connected hard drive. I haven't tried this yet, but it seems worth looking into. I'm delighted with the whole wireless home idea, and am eagerly looking forward to getting a wireless printer!
Like most new laptops, the MBP can be controlled by remote control, to control iTunes, say. The remote is not included, and I know I have one somewhere but I've yet to find it! I assume you can control volume, fast forward and so forth. I believe you can also turn the MBP on and off.
For those of you who don't feel you can part with windows just yet will be pleased to hear you can dual boot windows with "Boot Camp". Boot Camp guides you through installing a second operating system, but it's not perfect in that you have to choose what operating system you want to start with before you restart. You don't decide as it boots up. I've since installed Windows Vista under "Parallels 3.0 for Mac", which allows you to run both at the same time, running Vista (and Ubuntu in my case!) in a virtual machine within OS X and I prefer it.
"It Just Works"
At the risk of sounding like an Apple fanboy, I will say this: many of the things that normally take hours on a PC barely take seconds on the Mac. In my early days with my Maccy, I decided to print something. I plugged the printer in, pressed print, and lo and behold, my document printed. I didn't have to put any cds in to install drivers and software, I didn't have to restart anything and, most importantly, I didn't have to wait. It even came up with a little animated icon of my printer that looked just like my printer! I tried again with the other printer (different design) and the same thing happened again but with a different icon! "It just works" is a phrase you'll find yourself saying without realising, because it does.
I connected to my wireless network within seconds. It connects to the network in about 5 seconds after OS X has booted up, and all those little things that you'd hope are just taken care of in the background are just done.
Oh noes! A complaint! Yes a complaint. The MBP is notorious for getting ridiculously hot. I frequently see the temperature hit 70 degrees, and clearly at this point a laptop is no longer a laptop but a slightly less common form of contraception. When you're watching a DVD or doing other memory intensive activities, I'd advise you to leave it on a table! There is a way around this, though, and current MBP owners who don't know about this, take note: download a programme called "smcFan Control". This programme tells you the temperature of your MBP, but more importantly allows you to manually override the fan speeds. You can manually set the fan to spin at say, 6000rpm rather than the standard 2000rpm. If it's on your lap or you're analysing climate models (as you do), you can set the fans higher to cope with the extra activity. The MBP is supposed to do this automatically, but I find that what it considers a high temperature is far higher than my opinion.
Students Take Note
Apple know that students have less money than real grown ups, and offer sizeable student discounts. You can buy online via an institutional IP address (so through a networked computer or VPN connection) and you'll have access to all the higher education discounts and prices. You can also do this in store if you have valid ID. There are two forms of discount, for those in schools and those in higher education (University). Also, if you are a student, you get a massive discount on the Apple aftercare which will essentially insure your MBP for 3 years. Do get this. It's normally £300 but for students it's £55 or so. Just get it. If you're paying over a £1000 for a laptop, you can fork out £55 to make sure it'll be repaired for free in three years.
*I'd just like to say that's it's becoming darker now, and my keyboard is glowing nicely*
It's a lot, I'll admit. You'll be looking at at least £1200, really. The main reason I decided to just do it was that I needed a new computer anyway, and all previous PCs had always let me down in the end (normally sooner rather than later). I figured I'd take a chance, and I still don't regret it, months on. If you want a Mac but don't want such a large price tag, I'd advise you to look at a regular MacBook.
If you can't tell by now that I think the MBP is an excellent product, then I've failed. I still have a working PC upstairs but I never use it, the MBP is all the computer I need. My advice, as with all expensive purchases, is to go to the shop and play with it. Sit there all day if you have to. Badger the staff for help with every little thing until you're entirely convinced, after all it's your money, you should be sure before parting with it. I don't think you'll regret buying it, but then again it clearly isn't for everyone. If all you want is something that will let you write documents and surf the web, get a Dell, or something like that.
I'm going to wrap it up there. I hope your conversion to Macdom goes well!
Thanks for reading.
*edit: I've just noticed that this is in the wrong place, but only ever so slightly. The category this is under is the old MacBook Pro which is only slightly different. If you go out to buy a new one, you'll get one of these. The new MBP is listed, but frankly it seems like this is the place everyone will come, and since I want my review to be of some use to people, I'm going to leave it where it's likely to be found. The differences between the old MBP and the new one are minimal, so this shouldn't cause a problem and I assure you I'm not trying to subvert the system! My review is of the newest MBP (as of 29/05/08).*