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MacBook Pro Diary

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Ben Lovejoy’s diary series are an attempt to provide a real-life review of Apple devices. Not just first impressions of them as gadgets, but the role they perform in everyday use, and an evolving view over time. 

Read the diary entries from the bottom up to read them in date order.

MacBook Pro Diary: My 49-inch monitor has re-enthused me about video editing (and flying)

A 49-inch monitor has re-enthused me about video editing

One thing that was immediately clear to me when I got my 49-inch monitor was that it was going to be a joy when video editing. But I didn’t appreciate at the time just what a massive difference it was going to make.

I should say that I’m no pro video editor. I occasionally create short clips for inclusion in reviews, but most of my videos are basic ones designed to relive memories of fun experiences. I created three short videos this month, and working on such a wide monitor truly was a delight…

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MacBook Pro Diary: The Dell UltraSharp 49 review begins – first impressions

Dell UltraSharp 49 review – Desk

After explaining my thinking last time, it’s time for my Dell UltraSharp 49 review to begin in earnest.

I’ve been wanting a new monitor ever since I got my 15-inch MacBook Pro way back in 2016. The problem was, my perfect monitor didn’t exist then and – one Mac later – it still doesn’t.

But the Dell UltraSharp 49 looked like it would tick a lot of boxes. Thin bezels, single-cable connection, and the ultra-wide format I fell in love with a couple of years ago.

And, at four feet wide and 49 inches of diagonal screen, I was certainly expecting to be wowed by it …



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MacBook Pro Diary: Pressing the button on the Dell UltraSharp 49-inch monitor

Dell UltraSharp 49 monitor

The Dell UltraSharp 49 is, by any standard, a fairly ridiculously-sized monitor. With a diagonal size of 49 inches, and a side-to-side width of four feet, it’s huge!

But … I’ve lusted after it ever since it was first announced. Today, I finally decided to press the button despite the fact that it doesn’t tick all of my boxes – but we’ll get to that …



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MacBook Pro Diary: My 16-inch MacBook Pro review begins, albeit a little late

My 16-inch MacBook Pro review begins

If I were writing a conventional review, my 16-inch MacBook Pro review would be a little late to the party. But my Diary pieces are all about how my impressions build over time with real-life use, so it’s less important in this case that I took delivery of mine exactly a month after it first went on sale.

I hadn’t initially planned to buy it because, on paper, it simply didn’t seem to be enough of an upgrade:

  • Very similar physical size
  • Slightly larger, slightly higher-res screen with thinner bezels & custom refresh rates
  • A completely redesigned scissor keyboard
  • New CPU, GPU, RAM and storage options
  • Better speakers and microphones
  • An extra hour of claimed battery life

Playing with it for about half an hour in an Apple Store hadn’t really changed my mind: this was still something of a distress purchase for me…



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MacBook Pro Diary: A glitch with the restore, but an informative one at least

MacBook Pro migration

My MacBook Pro problems had one more episode in store for me: after getting the repaired machine back from Apple, there was a glitch after restoring it from a clone.

I cloned the original SSD to an external drive using Carbon Copy Cloner. When I got the repaired machine back, it was effectively a brand new one, as it had a new logic board with new SSD.

I plugged in the clone drive and used a CMD-R startup to boot from the clone, which worked fine…



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MacBook Pro Diary: Buying the 16-inch MacBook Pro, mostly for the wrong reasons

Buying the 16-inch MacBook Pro

I wasn’t expecting to be buying the 16-inch MacBook Pro this year. To me, it seemed too small an upgrade to justify replacing a three-year-old machine, so I’d planned to stick to my usual 4-5 year upgrade cycle for Macs.

That was before experiencing three separate failures in my 15-inch MacBook Pro:

  • Butterfly keyboard issues (bouncing and unresponsive keys)
  • Swollen battery
  • Logic board fault

I did, incidentally, manage to deduce exactly what the logic board fault was…



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MacBook Pro Diary: A third failure, and a potentially radical solution

A third failure in my MacBook Pro

To add to the faulty keyboard and swollen battery, it turns out my MacBook Pro has a third failure: a logic board fault.

There was some good news when I went to collect my MacBook Pro today: the top-case replacement had been done. It had a shiny new keyboard, and non-swollen battery.

The bad news, however, was that the machine still immediately shutdown when run on battery power…



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MacBook Pro Diary: A forced repair leading to a rethink about my next Mac

Keyboard issue lead to a rethink on my next Mac

I’ve finally been forced into arranging the keyboard replacement I’ve been deferring forever, and that has led me to think about my next Mac. But let’s start at the beginning…

My 2016 MacBook Pro has long been suffering from the infamous butterfly keyboard glitches. I get double-characters for B and P, and both spacebar and CMD keys are unreliable.

These things would have long since driven me nuts but for two factors…



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MacBook Pro Diary: The upgrade to macOS Catalina is going to involve a lot of work

Why I won't upgrade to macOS Catalina on day one

If I didn’t write about Apple-related tech for a living, I’m honestly not sure whether I’d upgrade to macOS Catalina. For me, the loss of 32-bit app compatibility could potentially be both a major hassle and a significant expense.

A hassle in part because there are several small utility apps I use which are 32-bit only. All are old, and the developers have long since lost interest in updating them, so I’m going to need to find suitable alternatives…



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MacBook Pro Diary: The rumored 16-inch MacBook Pro would be hard to resist

16-inch MacBook Pro rumor would make for a compelling machine

The rumored 16-inch MacBook Pro could be the one thing that would have me change my usual upgrade cycle for Macs.

My MacBook Pro is my most important Apple device, and I normally work on the basis of keeping them for five years. I max them out with that kind of longevity in mind.

Five years suits me well for several reasons. First, they remain extremely usable for that length of time, even for demanding work. I configured this one with 4K video editing in mind even though I did very little of it at the time, as that was a good benchmark for a machine capable of keeping up for years to come …



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MacBook Pro Diary: A worsening keyboard issue, with no easy way to get it resolved

MacBook Pro keyboard problem

I haven’t had the best of times of it lately with Apple kit. I managed to leave my iPhone out in the rain – something it thankfully survived. A couple of days ago, I knocked my Apple Watch off a bathroom cabinet onto the tiled floor, badly smashing the screen. And now the sticky keyboard problem with my MacBook Pro is getting worse.

I first experienced a sticky spacebar almost a year ago. At the time, I viewed it as an embarrassing quality control failure by Apple, but thought demands for the machine to be recalled were over the top. Reader comments did, however, convince me the problem was greater than I’d appreciated …



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MacBook Pro Diary: My dream monitor still doesn’t exist, but ultra-wide ones wow me

Back when I bought my 2016 MacBook Pro, I was kind of tempted to get all the expense out of the way in one hit and upgrade my monitor at the same time. The problem, as I wrote later, was finding someone to take my money.

What I really want now is to replace my existing two-screen setup – 15-inch MacBook Pro on the left, 27-inch Apple Thunderbolt Display on the right – with a single monitor.

That means I need something substantially wider than 27 inches and 2560 pixels. My colleague Jeff tested one candidate back in 2016, LG’s 34-inch UltraWide. But that didn’t tick all of my boxes, so I held out …



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MacBook Pro Diary: Higher power output turned my Mac into a charging hub for my holiday

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As someone who prefers to travel handbaggage-only, gadgets can often prove a challenge. As I like to keep up with photo editing as I go, I generally travel with my MacBook Pro as well as iPad, iPhone, Apple Watch and a compact camera. Not only do I need space for the gadgets themselves, but also the associated cables and chargers.

But for a trip to Havana last week – a destination I finally managed to check off from my bucket list – I decided that I could get by with two camera batteries and use my MacBook Pro to charge everything else …



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MacBook Pro Diary: I’m one week in, and it turns out my first impressions were wrong

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The main reason I’ve adopted this Diary format for reviewing Apple kit is that first impressions can be misleading. The iPad, for example, launched to very mixed reviews. I won’t embarrass my fellow tech writers by naming names, but the Guardian did a round-up at the time.

Then there’s my own Apple Watch experience. Going from clear smartwatch skeptic – wondering why anyone would want one – to a complete convert. With the new MacBook Pro, my impressions from the keynote were that I would like it but not love it.

It looks like a very nice machine. I’m fully expecting to enjoy the smaller form factor and the new features – even if I will really miss the larger screen – but I’m not expecting to love it. It doesn’t excite me the way I feel that a new generation ought to after four years of more-or-less stagnation.

It turns out I was wrong …



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MacBook Pro Diary: Real-life use reveals a few minor niggles, but I absolutely love it

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Having got my maxed-out 15-inch 2016 MacBook Pro set up yesterday, I’ve now been using it for a total of around 12 hours – so I’m calling this one my first real-life usage impressions.

Impressions of the form factor will obviously vary depending on whether you’re coming from a pre-Retina machine – as I was – or a later one. The new machine is smaller, slimmer and sleeker either way, but the difference is of course much more dramatic from a pre-2012 model. And in my case, I’m also moving from a 17-inch machine to a 15-inch one.

For me, then, the form factor is in a completely different league. The base unit is much thinner, and the lid is almost unbelievably so. It’s also significantly lighter. I said before that I think I may be able to switch from two Macs to just one. This one feels portable enough that having a separate MacBook Air now feels like overkill …



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MacBook Pro Diary: Temporary dongle hell as I migrate from my old machine …

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My shiny new maxed-out 15-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar finally arrived yesterday, and it was time to migrate everything from my old Mac.

I wrote in the first piece that I was wasn’t overly concerned about the port situation, though did recognize that it wouldn’t be an entirely painless transition.

I’m pretty relaxed about the all-USB-C ports. Leaving older standards behind always involves a certain amount of pain, but I’m a pragmatist and a gadget guy. When a better standard comes along, it makes sense to use it, and as Apple isn’t the only company going all-in on USB-C, there’s no shortage of accessories for the new standard.

You could argue that a mix of ports would be useful, but that would be true for maybe the first year of ownership. After that, we’d be moaning about the fact that we have only two USB-C ports because there’s space taken up with those huge, ugly, old-fashioned USB-A ones. I think Apple made the right call here.

That pain did kick it on day one, however, when I attempted to migrate my data, apps and settings from my old MacBook Pro …



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MacBook Pro Diary: First impressions in the metal and glass

macbook-pro

While some in the U.S. have been fortunate enough to take delivery of their shiny new MacBook Pro with Touch Bar models, those of us in the UK are getting a rather more gradual unveiling. Most Apple Stores don’t even have display models yet, and even in the Regent Street store they only had one of each model, tucked away inside a perspex tube running demo loops.

My MacBook Pro Diary series is, then, getting a rather more drawn-out ‘first impressions’ treatment than usual. But there is an upside to that: there’s actually quite a lot to discuss with this new machine, and so far the focus has been very much on the specs. The loss of ports, whether Apple should have waited for Kaby Lake, whether the Touch Bar is a useful innovation or a gimmick … plus the ‘has Apple lost touch with its professional user roots?’ debate.

Those are all issues worthy of discussion, but I do feel the machine has perhaps missed out a little on the more usual (admittedly superficial) first impressions of its design …



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Comment: Given the ultra-low repairability of the new MacBook Pro, I’m getting AppleCare this time

applecare

I don’t generally bother with AppleCare. My usual view is that, like any other extended warranty, it offers poor value for money. You’re paying a lot of money upfront for coverage you’ll likely never need.

Most Mac faults are going to make themselves known well inside the first year of standard Apple warranty coverage. The likelihood of a major fault occurring in the interval between the standard warranty expiring and AppleCare doing the same is very low. (There’s an additional factor at play in the EU, which I’ll get to later as it won’t be relevant to U.S. readers.)

But I am opting for it this time. Because the MacBook Pro with Touch Bar is not only non-upgradable, but also pretty much non-repairable …



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MacBook Pro Diary: I’ve come to terms with the fact that it’s the end of the line for upgradable MacBooks

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I’ve always upgraded my MacBooks. Usually, I would spec out my machine with the best processor and GPU, and couple that to the bare-bones RAM and drive, then upgrade those components myself to avoid the Apple premium. Sometimes I’d upgrade more than once during a machine’s lifetime.

My Late 2011 17-inch MacBook Pro, for example, was bought with 8GB RAM and a 750GB hard drive. I immediately upgraded the RAM to 16GB – a ten-minute task – and swapped out both the hard drive and optical drive for two 1TB hard drives. Later on, when SSD prices fell to more sensible levels, I swapped out the spinning metal drives for a couple of 1TB SSDs. In this way, the 17-inch machine I was reluctant to give up has remained remarkably usable even five years on.

That approach is no longer an option. The RAM has long been soldered on in MacBooks, and the past couple of days confirmed what I suspected about the new MacBook Pro with Touch Bar when I maxed-out my order: the SSD, too, is soldered on and thus non-upgradable



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MacBook Pro Diary: My take on some of the criticisms being levelled at the new models

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The new MacBook Pro models have been coming under a fair amount of criticism on the Internet. Many are saying that the new machines just aren’t wowing them, especially just after Microsoft demonstrated that it is still possible to do so even in the boring old desktop PC market with the new Surface Studio.

That criticism is absolutely fair enough, and echoes my own views when I said that I was buying it despite not being excited by it.

But some criticisms being directed at the machines seem to me to be misplaced …



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MacBook Pro Diary: Why the new model doesn’t wow me, but I’m buying the most expensive one anyway

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So, the wait is over and the new MacBook Pro is official. I said yesterday that what we knew then didn’t seem quite enough to justify the ‘hello again’ hype, and I hoped there might be a ‘one more thing’ feature we hadn’t heard about. Alas, there wasn’t.

I also held out just a tiny hope that perhaps the leaked image was a placeholder, and the bezels would be thinner in the real thing. That too wasn’t to be.

However, my late-2011 17-inch MacBook Pro was looking a little long in the tooth despite all its upgrades. The lack of Bluetooth LE, for example, meant no AirDrop and no Apple Watch unlock. Nothing major, and if I didn’t write about Apple stuff for a living I might have held out another year, but I decided I really ought to have the latest and greatest machine even if if didn’t wow me.

And, to be honest, the new MacBook Pro doesn’t …



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