2015 MacBook Review

When the 2015 MacBook was announced, I watched the video online on Apple’s site and thought “Okay, but what they aren’t telling you is that it’s slow, lacks the MagSafe charging connector, and costs more for something about the same size as the 11 inch MacBook air”.  To put it bluntly, I just didn’t have much interest.  

To me, the MacBook Air was already nearly perfect and this new laptop seemed to be more of a toy.  After all, the MacBook Air has an i7 processor!  It’s fast!  It may not be as much of a speed daemon as some other machines, but for something that small, it’s super fast, it’s still super light and portable, and as an added bonus, it doesn’t run Windows (by default).

Whereas the 2015 MacBook is a bit smaller and lighter, it’s not very expandable, and it’s slower.  

Yet, come to think of it, back before the MacBook Air came out, when I used to have a small laptop (Sharp Muramasa 20, also known as Actius outside Japan), which people made the very same claims about.  It was anemic and made a lot of compromises, but it was small and light weight - yet it was usable and ran a standard operating system.  The Sharp laptop had a slow 1.8 inch 20 GB hard drive, and ran on the novel Transmeta chip.  It wasn’t particularly fast and it didn’t have a lot of memory or anything else - but it was portable and the battery lasted long enough for it to be usable.  I used to take it outside with me to a cafe and do my homework on it for hours while I slowly ate sandwiches and bagels and sipped my coffee.  

One of my friends around the same time took the opposite strategy.  He bought a beast of a machine - one that used a desktop hard drive!  It was huge and heavy - it has a big screen, and a fast processor.  It also lasted about 15 minutes on battery.  He would bring it with him sometimes, - but in a large hiking back pack.  The first thing he would do was to set about finding an outlet.  It was more of a luggable than a laptop.  It could be moved from place to place, but hardly used on the go.  He went on about how it was good for gaming, and could run visual studio and all that.  I questioned why one would need to have hard core gaming systems outside of their home, but… whatever makes you happy.  

This all changed one day when a group of us took a trip from Philadelphia to New York by bus.  We spend some of the time sleeping, and some of the time talking.  Then when it quieted down and I got bored, I pulled out my laptop and fired up the 3G card and hopped on AIM to chat with some of my other friends.  This was before iPad like tablets were invented, and before smart phones were popular, but it worked well with that laptop.  As I was chatting with my friends, the guy with the luggable admitted to me “I guess having a laptop that small does have advantages!”  I had brought it with me on a whim, because it was small and light enough to not be a burden.  I slipped it into my tote bag without the power adaptor and headed out the door.  Had he decided to bring his laptop, it would have been a major effort - and he wouldn’t have realistically been able to open the 17 inch behemoth inside the bus anyway.  

Not only that, but it’s not as if it was only good for chatting.  it worked perfectly well for Office and other things I needed for school.  Yes maybe it took 30 seconds to open Office instead of 10 - but it worked - and because it worked anywhere and everywhere, I got a lot of use out of it.

Then the MacBook Air came out.  Although it was a bit larger than I wanted (there was only a 13 inch model at the time), and although their marketing claims seems to be… well… lies (they claimed it was the thinnest laptop, but I already owned a thinner and lighter one!) - there was no doubting that the Core 2 Duo chip in that laptop crushed my Transmeta chip, the hard drive was bigger (Flash was available as a very expensive upgrade option), and it had a supported Unix system and backlit keys.  So I was onboard.  I bought the very first model of the MacBook Air in the first week after its release - and I loved it.  Actually I hated the way that it would stutter on YouTube videos - that seemed a bit sad for a laptop costing over $1000 - but it worked much better for most other things.  The fact that it has only one USB port, well, sucked, but as long as you didn’t want it to be your only machine you were mostly okay.  My main problem was that the lack of PCMCIA card slot put a dent in my 3G card usage.

In fact, a lot of people would have been okay with the original MacBook Air as their primary machine - assuming they didn’t like YouTube.  (Just kidding, that particular bug was mostly fixed with later firmware updates).

Over time, future models of the MacBook Air improved, until it was no longer a machine with serious compromises.  New models have 2 USB 3 ports, Thunderbolt, AC WiFi, multi-core i7 chips, and can play YouTube like a champ (Sorry).  Seriously, though, with 512GB of flash and 8GB of RAM available as a stock option, you can dual-boot or run VMWare reasonably comfortably.  This doesn’t just mean you can run Windows, it means you can use the machine for development, etc.  The newer MacBook Airs have grown up.  They’re not toys anymore, and not limited to light tasks like instant messaging and word processing.  They’re still light and portable, with an 11 inch model available now (thank you, Apple!)  They’re faster, and…. they’re cheaper too!  Apple usually s not focuses on low prices, but they systematically lowered the prices and raised the specifications of the MacBook Air line over the years since it was introduced.  The newer MacBook Air models can do pretty much anything any laptop can do.  In fact, the MacBook Air line pretty much killed the regular MacBook line.  Why would you want a bigger machine then a smaller machine can do the same thing at nearly the same price?  So it actually made sense when Apple decided to stop producing the MacBook.  

Then they announced the new MacBook.  Yet the roles are reversed.  The MacBook Air is now the old clunky big size model, while the MacBook is the premium portable model with compromises.  The new MacBook is the new Sharp Muramasa.

So let’s take a look at the compromised and see how bad each one is:

a. Speed - The laptop is not slow in usage - not at all.  The SSD is very fast - faster than the MacBook air.  They didn’t skimp on RAM either, so it shouldn’t be swapping a lot in normal usage.  The slowest part is the processor - but even that can hit quite high speeds (above the advertised speed) with Turbo Boost.  It can’t stay at the high speeds continuously, which means you don’t want to use it as a heavy duty application server, compilation server, for video conversion, or any other processor bound tasks.  For normal stuff, though, it’s perfectly fine.

b. Ports - This will be the biggest noticeable compromise for most people.  You have a new, strange charger.  No more Apple MagSafe.  This is both good and bad.  Apple owns the MagSafe Standard and hasn’t played nice about licensing it to other players.  As a result, third party chargers have been in short supply and power supplies have cost more than they should have.  Also, because the MagSafe connector is uniquely Apple, you couldn’t just borrow someone else’s charger at the office (unless they had a Mac).  Even then, lately you have had to worry about the difference between MagSafe and MagSafe 2.  

Enter USB C - The down side is that you no longer have the MagSafe trip protection - but the upside is that you can now use a standard connector for charging.  Right now USB-C is almost Apple specific, but really it’s not.  You can even charge the new MacBook with batteries meant to charge iPads (with the right cable).  Apple going with the standard here is a good thing.  

The only down-side is that Apple has decided to include only one port, which is a new standard not supported by (almost) anyone else yet.  Honestly, with a laptop like this, you charge it at night and take it out during the day (without the charger) - you shouldn’t really need to plug anything else in - but if you do, you will probably need an adaptor.  In fact, you will need an adaptor not only for normal USB 2/3, but also to plug in any kind of display.  

Oh, and one final thing - the screen really is gorgeous.