Review: Three weeks with the Macbook and some Surface Pro comparisons

Discussion in 'MacBook' started by zhenya, Jul 7, 2015.

  1. zhenya, Jul 7, 2015
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2015

    zhenya macrumors 603

    zhenya

    Joined:
    Jan 6, 2005
    #1
    I've now spent several weeks with the Macbook and thought I would give some feedback. For context, I also own a Surface Pro 3 (work), a Lenovo T440s maxed out in every way(work), and my wife owns an 11" Macbook Air. I purchased the Macbook as my personal computer after using a string of iPads (I also currently have an iPad 4 and an Air 2) and my work computers for my needs for the last several years. When I first started looking at what laptop to buy, I was gravitating towards the 13" Pro, but when I honestly assessed what I needed from this laptop, it was clear that I would get much more value out of portability than the extra ports and horsepower of the Pro - both things that would sit idle and unused the majority of the time. I also realized that if I was going to travel with this device, it would often be in addition to one of my work computers, so small and light was again an advantage.

    I opted for the 512GB/1.2 version. The space will likely be overkill but I wanted the freedom to put whatever I wanted onto this device - I also tend to buy the largest space available on iPhones and iPads, and regret it when I don't.

    Initial impressions:
    It's a lot smaller than I'd anticipated. Even compared to my wife's Air, it's noticeably smaller. Especially in thickness, where with the two placed side-by-side, the Air in places appears close to twice as thick. The weight is a bit less obvious in handling, but still there, especially when you add the heavier power brick to the equation. The fit and finish is quintessentially Apple. Even though the Surface and the Thinkpad I own are considered two of the nicer PC laptops you can buy, they still pale in comparison to how the Macbook is put together, and how the details are considered.

    Performance:
    Unlike a lot of you, I was never really worried about the performance and so far it has been no issue for me at all. I know my routines, and I do almost no work that is bound by the CPU's performance. In that respect, Core-M is what I've been waiting for. Fast enough in burst to do what it needs to do - in a power envelope that is much more friendly to my battery. I also know well from experience the importance of tight integration of hardware and software, and trust that Apple will have this dialed. My Surface Pro also does this well, and as a result, its own relatively modest hardware often seems to perform above its weight. I appreciate the benefits of a fast hard drive, and adequate RAM a lot more than a high-end CPU. No complaints here. What lag I do see should be attributable to Yosemite, or just plain bad code on certain websites. I would rather see that code fixed than rely on overly powerful processors that allow developers to get away with sloppy and bloated programming. Many of the native issues will be fixed with El Capitan, the other stuff will only be fixed when consumers demand it. The popularity of Core-M and other chips that push efficiency over horsepower will hopefully be the market force that drives that improvement, just the way mobile did 5-8 years ago.

    The fact that Core M is fanless is another big selling point to me. We've largely become accustomed to it, but computer fan noise is a distraction caused by an engineering problem that has not been solved. All of the above-mentioned computers have significant fan noise - the Surface does it nearly all the time unless I stay in Metro. My wife's Air is often loud enough that it keeps me awake while she works before bed. Silence, in this case, is golden (well, Space Grey)...

    Update July 12: I have come to be a bit more aware of the places where the UI lags with this as I spend some more time comparing with my wife's Air. Some web pages do have a bit of lag as I scroll them (Facebook, perhaps most noticeably) and triggering some gestures like Mission Control with a bunch of windows open has some dropped frames. It's not slow - which is why I think I wasn't particularly aware of it at first, it just drops the frames and the windows appear in a new location without the smooth animation it's designed to have. My earlier comments regarding both of these stands, however. There is no reason that this computer should lag here - Facebook is plenty smooth on many devices that are far less powerful. This is just a case of code not being optimized for new hardware. As an early adopter, I can live with that knowing that it will be improved in due course.

    Keyboard:
    The keyboard was a big question mark for me. I'm a fan of good keyboards - part of the reason I have the Thinkpad - and I generally type on good mechanical boards when seated at a desk - my primary being a modified Happy Hacking Keyboard. The poor keyboard is one of my chief complaints with the Surface Pro. After a couple of weeks with the Macbook, yes, I still prefer more key travel, but for the class of device that this keyboard is contained in, it's hard to see how they could have done a better job. The key actuation is sharp and crisp - important for signaling to your fingers that a key has been pressed, and there is no play whatsoever in the key assembly. A little bit to my chagrin, while writing this review I went and spent a bit of time at typeracer.com where I compete fairly regularly. I am no slower in general on this keyboard, and in fact, for some of the quotes I set personal bests on this keyboard. I find that I have to change my style in using it a bit - it takes a bit of a lighter touch lest you bottom out the keys too hard, but when you do that, the activation point feels good to the touch. It's not as pleasing or as comfortable as the best mechanical boards, but I have no complaints with it considering the device it's contained in.

    Going back to the Air's keyboard, yes, the travel is nice to have, but the keys feel loose and mushy, and the backlight appears scattered everywhere haphazardly; the new LED lighting is focused and contained much better. The Air's keyboard looks and feels a bit outdated now. Apple should adapt this technology to their other keyboards, while giving it longer travel. Knowing Apple though, they will use the opportunity to slim down those other devices!

    Track pad:
    Not a whole lot to be said here. The best of the best as we all know. As a heavy Windows user, I will say that when you only use Windows trackpads for a while, they can seem to perform pretty well. It's when you are used to a Macbook trackpad and go back to Windows that they are truly maddening. I actually have defended the Surface Pro's trackpad in the past but going back to it now, it's a piece of junk.

    Force Touch is phenomenal as well. This alone would be a huge selling point to me over a Macbook Air or any refurbished model you might be considering. Finally a trackpad where the pressure required for activation is exactly the same no matter where you click on it! This effectively makes the trackpad a lot larger as there is no need to stay in the bottom half of the pad to remain in the sweet spot for clicking. I have turned off tap-to-click which I've always used in the past, as with Force Touch the click response is much more predictable, and requires less finger movement. This is especially important when trying to do fine detail work with the trackpad as you no longer have to lift your finger to trigger a click, and it doesn't matter where your finger ends up on the trackpad when you need to make the selection. I still find myself unconsciously expecting to have to reposition my finger when I find myself at the upper boundaries of the pad, and it's a pleasant surprise when it still works perfectly. Force Touch makes for another area where the Macbook Air now just feels outdated.

    Overall, this keyboard and trackpad combination redefine what's possible in a 2lb device. Microsoft made a Type Cover for the Surface that was adequate, but it doesn't push the boundaries in any way; it took the conservative, easier path, and it shows. The Surface would be a much more compelling device if it had a keyboard and trackpad of this quality to pair with.

    Screen:
    On the Surface, the high-dpi screen causes all sorts of compatibility issues because of the way that Windows handles scaling of elements. It works fine if you always use the device stand-alone, but if you want to connect it to external monitors, your choice is pretty much to shell out for a 4k monitor if you want any consistency to how things are sized. I dumped two perfectly nice 1200p monitors for a 4k to make the Surface perform right in my workflow. Apple's method is much simpler from the end user's point of view, even if it requires some performance overhead and has the potential for things to not be quite as sharp. In practice, at any of the suggested resolutions, and even driving it up to 1680x1050 and beyond, I find the screen and performance to be adequate.

    The screen is also bright enough for even direct sun outdoor work, and has Apple's newest anti-reflective coating which is a considerable improvement over even other relatively recent devices (again, my wife's MBA is considerably behind in this department). The Surface is almost unusable outdoors, as the screen becomes a perfect mirror, and worse, becomes completely unusable in some orientations with the use of polarized sunglasses which I happen to generally be wearing when working outdoors.

    Battery life, charging:
    This is a critical spec for me. I have found that if a device can give me a reliable 9-10 hours of battery, it completely transforms how I use the device. I no longer have to worry about where the charger is at all times, lugging it around with me just in case. This was one of the things that originally drove me to an iPad, and it's something where the Surface and all Windows laptops really seem to lag behind. On the Surface I generally get about 5 hours of battery, even when aggressively managing power consumption. If I run ONLY Metro apps, I can sometimes get up to 7-8 hours, but it's not reliable, and it's a second rate experience due to the lack of Metro apps. Further, the device is heavily hobbled by its reliance on what Microsoft calls Connected Standby which is their attempt to make Windows computers operate more like a mobile phone. The problem is that only Metro apps can use Connected Standby, and there are no Metro apps. So a simple thing like streaming music to a speaker while on battery becomes impossible!

    So far the Macbook battery is exactly what I'd hoped for. I am generally getting between 8-10 hours of use, and charging it just every 24-48 hours depending on the days usage. And hey, just like my phone, I can stream music and it just goes into a reliable low power mode and can play all day!

    Charging is also surprisingly fast - it seems to be much faster than the Surface despite using a much smaller charger. I have ordered a couple of usb-c to usb-a cables and will be using them as spare chargers with the surfeit of 12w iPad chargers I have around the house. When traveling, I will be able to charge my iPad, iPhone, and Macbook all from the same charger with 2 cables and the small usb adapter. Not bad! I no doubt miss the magsafe, which is just so elegant (and again, so much better implemented on Apple's laptops than Microsoft's attempt on the Surface line where you still end up fussing with the connector every time) but given the advantages of USB-C, I'll take it.

    Connectivity:
    If this were going to be my primary work computer, the single port would be a concern for me - although largely because of the lack of accessories currently available - not strictly because there is only one port. I've lived with the Surface Pro for a while now, and it has its own significant limitations due to its single USB port - primarily due to the low power it provides. On the Surface Pro I can connect an Ethernet/USB hub, but it can't power two drives at the same time in order to move data between them, for example. The bigger issue for me, now that I have a 4k display, would be the inability of the Macbook to drive that at a high refresh rate, but I have lived with 30hz on the Surface Pro for periods of time and it's not untenable for Office work (I generally run it at 50hz but it takes a bit of a hack that gets wiped out whenever Microsoft updates the video driver). Once USB-C matures, speeds up, and especially gets integrated with Thunderbolt, this is going to be a great technology, and with a single port connection, will finally bring the simplicity of docking to the Macbook lineup.

    As it is, for how I use this computer today, it's a minor irritation. I never ever have a need to have anything connected long-term while charging, or to really have multiple devices connected. In fact, the only thing I've been connecting regularly is my Nike GPS watch, which I do daily, but it's really no hassle to wait until I'm sitting near where I store my adapter, or just let it go unsynchronized for a few days. The single-port is a non-issue for me.

    Update: July 14
    I just recently picked up the Apple digital multiport adapter as I've been using the Macbook on my desk next to my work computer, and there it is nice to have it plugged into some things during the day. There is some possibility that I may move to doing some of my work on this laptop if it won't be a hindrance in any way and if I can do so without letting work stuff take it over too much. My Best Buy reward certificate came through from the purchase of the Macbook, which paid for nearly half of the adapter.

    The adapter is bigger than I anticipated, although still plenty small for me to keep in the small bag I carry with me in my backpack for electronics parts and connectors. It's typical Apple design, but I can't help feeling that with a few small tweaks, they could have made it a lot better. The cord is too short to allow you to hide the bulk of cables that will be attached to it on your desk. If they had made the cord a bit longer, or detachable, with some sort of wrap-around storage, it would be a lot more elegant. I am currently testing it connected to my Dell P2715q 4k monitor running at 1920x1080 resolution. At that resolution things are extremely sharp and crisp, and there doesn't seem to be any lag apparent, so I believe it is running at 60hz. I am having a bit of trouble with flicker that comes and goes. Trying to isolate whether this is related to some of the other peripherals I have connected via the usb-port. Using this changes my mind as to whether a 4k monitor is usable with this device. If you just want the retina sharpness, but don't mind only getting 1920x1080 pixels worth of workspace, a 4k monitor is a good pairing with this laptop.

    Charging with the adapter does seem to be slowed by a fair amount, as I presume it is sharing the power for all peripherals. Not an issue generally for desktop use where it will be plugged in for a long period of time, but if you want the fastest charge, disconnect this device. I have not yet tested transfer speeds over the USB port, but will update if I have a chance to do so. So far I am running a small hub off the single port with 4 peripherals connected and operating no problem.

    Update July 16:
    Comparison with the iPad:
    With the purchase of the MacBook, my usage of my iPad has decreased dramatically. I still have the iPad and have no plans to get rid of it, and it will be interesting to see whether my opinion and usage patterns change as the 'new toy' syndrome wears off. Still, I am using the MacBook over the iPad for good reason; the MacBook is the laptop I could only have dreamed of when I switched from a laptop to an iPad as my primary personal device nearly 5 years ago. At the time of the original iPad, laptops were generally heavy, loud, with crummy screens and poor battery life. The software was not well optimized for casual use. Today the horizon has changed, and the MacBook is the pinnacle of this change. The screen is every bit as good as an iPad's. The battery life is nearly on par, and it's light and silent. I have access to my messaging services just like on my iPad and iPhone, and I can stream music to my airplay devices with low battery consumption. Airplay to video sources is still limited, but improving.

    The things I miss from my iPad are the more convenient casual use on the couch (I don't have to support it on my lap) and the better reading experience for the many magazines I subscribe to. I travel a lot, and tend to download a lot of reading material for the flights, and I can see the iPad remaining the best device for that scenario. If the iPad could retain its form factor while adding native stylus support, it could become the perfect companion device. For now though, most people will see these devices as either/or rather than complimentary.

    Summary:
    Apple has put together a fantastic device in the new Macbook. As usual, despite not being the first to market with a Core-M ultralight, they have really pushed the boundaries of what defines a laptop, and how that laptop can be constructed. I was originally driven to the iPad because of the limitations of laptops at that time. Poor battery life, most of them large, heavy, hot and loud. Software that wasn't well optimized for casual use, screens that were generally sub par. In the 5 years since my first iPad, tablets and phones have really changed the market space for laptops. High quality screens are more widely available. Size, weight and battery life have become engineering priorities. Core-M is Intel's acknowledgement of this reality. It took them long enough (and we may have Microsoft in part to thank for driving them down this path), but it's a future that was worth waiting for.

    Whether the Macbook is right for you or not depends on exactly what you value from a computer. If you usage is cpu light (which describes a rather large portion of users, in my experience) and especially if you are coming from a laptop that is a bit dated now, the Macbook is a worthy consideration. I have to vehemently disagree with The Verge's recent verdict that the Macbook Air is 'the best laptop you can buy.' The Air just feels too outdated in too many important ways for it to deserve that crown. I might award it 'best budget laptop' at the low-end, but for most buyers, I would strongly urge you to expand the budget a bit more and buy the 13" Pro if you need a more fully-featured machine, or the rMB if you want something small, light, and absolutely cutting-edge.

    Cross shopping with the Surface Pro is inevitable, and for most users the decision will be driven by which operating system they require or prefer. I didn't go into the stylus aspect of the Surface Pro here because this wasn't really intended to be a direct comparison - however it's obviously something the Surface has over the Macbook and that alone will sway many buyers. However for those just looking for a thin and light laptop, I find the Macbook to provide a significantly more polished experience, and if I had to personally choose, it would be the Macbook by a fairly wide margin.
     
  2. RUGGLES99 macrumors 6502

    Joined:
    Feb 9, 2015
    #2
    wow, lots of words to repeat what others who like it have said, and what detractors complain about. reads like apple gave you a review unit and your pay back was positive. the whole professionally-written piece raises questions.
     
  3. zhenya thread starter macrumors 603

    zhenya

    Joined:
    Jan 6, 2005
    #3
    I assure you that I'm no professional and paid for this unit entirely myself. You can see that I'm a long-term member here and can even search my post history to follow my experiences both positive and negative with the Surface Pro, and my early reactions to the announcement of the Macbook before I ever thought it would be something I'd buy. I'm just a technology enthusiast who tends to be wordy. Pass on by if this thread isn't for you. :)
     
  4. fisherking macrumors 601

    fisherking

    Joined:
    Jul 16, 2010
    Location:
    ny somewhere
    #4
    good review, thanks. and don't mind the usual whiners, conspiracy-theorists, etc. this is an internet forum, sigh, so goes with the territory.
     
  5. RUGGLES99 macrumors 6502

    Joined:
    Feb 9, 2015
    #5
    they are only whiners and conspiracy theorists if they don't agree with Big Brother. I like the rmb and will buy one eventually when the price becomes realistic. That said, I stand with my assertion. No need to reply.
     
  6. aristobrat macrumors G4

    Joined:
    Oct 14, 2005
    #6
    Out of curiosity, what price-point do you consider realistic for a line of machines that start with 8GB of RAM and a 256GB NVMe SSD?
     
  7. fisherking, Jul 7, 2015
    Last edited: Jul 7, 2015

    fisherking macrumors 601

    fisherking

    Joined:
    Jul 16, 2010
    Location:
    ny somewhere
    #7
    not sure who Big Brother is in this case, but you accused the OP of a compromised review (with no evidence), so...i stand by my earlier post. & no need to reply... :cool:
     
  8. Weaselboy Moderator

    Weaselboy

    Staff Member

    Joined:
    Jan 23, 2005
    Location:
    California
    #8
    Wow. That was pretty rude. zhenya had been a forum member here over ten years and has 3,200 posts. It seems pretty unlikely he has been lying in wait to shill Apple products.

    OP >> Nice comparison. Thanks for taking the time to write this up.
     
  9. Macalway macrumors 68000

    Joined:
    Aug 7, 2013
    #9
    I have both. Both are seriously awesome.

    Nuff said :D
     
  10. Flunkyturtle macrumors 6502

    Joined:
    Dec 20, 2011
    #10
    Absolutely love mine - I opted for the 256 model as they didn't have the 512 in stock, not the end of the world. I've been using a 128gb macbook air for the last 4 years and never really struggled.

    I do keep my music collection on a harddrive seperately but that's because it's close to a TB.

    I've not had it hang for anything yet, i've ran my usual stuff on it and dealt with some massive libraries.

    Next test is using Photoshop which i'm sure it will handle just fine as well
     
  11. Gav2k macrumors G3

    Gav2k

    Joined:
    Jul 24, 2009
    #11
    Very very rude! What your reading is a review from a long standing member that's not dumbing down to the common internet speak.

    Op. My thoughts exactly on all points. Nice review!
     
  12. freitz macrumors member

    Joined:
    May 25, 2015
    Location:
    Ellicott City MD
    #12
    Excellent review. Well written and the time and effort put into it is very much appreciated. I think someone should sticky this.

    I do think you should add ergonomics. I went with the rMB over the SP3 and one of my reasons was I found the SP3 to be an uncomfortable "lap" top. Great hardware and nice product but when I was sitting on the couch or in bed, or even in a chair with in on my lap. It wasn't for me. I think you should add a section talking about your comparison between the two because to me that is also an important factor. Much like when choosing a camera the best camera is the one you have with you and you like to use. Same thing goes for this laptop.
     
  13. anthonymoody macrumors 68020

    Joined:
    Aug 8, 2002
    #13
    So...you're presented with a fair deal of evidence that runs directly contrary to your assertion, and yet you stand by your (completely unfounded) assertion? Sheesh. I wonder what other facts you're immune to.

    Oh yeah - OP, great write up, and thanks! Wondering - what tools/workflow do you use to manage content across all the devices you use?
     
  14. kahkityoong macrumors 6502

    kahkityoong

    Joined:
    Jan 31, 2011
    Location:
    Melbourne, Australia
    #14
    You sound like you have a screw loose. So Apple gave this guy a unit to write a positive review on macrumors forum? Yes sounds really plausible. :rolleyes:
     
  15. Dark Void macrumors 68030

    Dark Void

    Joined:
    Jun 1, 2011
    Location:
    Cimmerian End
    #15
    Nice review, thanks for your time to write it up.
     
  16. zhenya thread starter macrumors 603

    zhenya

    Joined:
    Jan 6, 2005
    #16
    Thanks all. I actually sat on this for several days as I did feel like it was a bit over the top, but writing about tech is something I enjoy doing as a hobby, so I wrote it for myself more than anything else. I posted it here in case anyone else finds any use from it.

    I do agree that is some situations the ergonomics of the Macbook's more conventional form-factor is a plus, although I can't say I am really that unhappy with the Surface - in some situations I actually find it better than a traditional clamshell. Overall though, if you don't want the tablet form factor, the Macbook is really a phenomenal device as far as portability goes. I know that is a contentious issue in some threads here, but like the battery life, where the jump from 5-6 hours to 8-10 hours really makes all the difference, I feel the same way about the drop down to 12" screens and 2lb devices - somehow they just fit into so many more places in my life than machines that are even 3lbs or just over.
     
  17. freitz macrumors member

    Joined:
    May 25, 2015
    Location:
    Ellicott City MD
    #17
    Nice you should add that to the original post. I think ergonomics is an important factor when selecting a device. I am sure other will agree. I just opened mine as the UPS guy just showed up and I am happy with my choice.
     
  18. Dark Void macrumors 68030

    Dark Void

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    Jun 1, 2011
    Location:
    Cimmerian End
    #18
    I did the same recently. Writing reviews is actually quite a bit of fun!
     
  19. Queen6 macrumors 603

    Queen6

    Joined:
    Dec 11, 2008
    Location:
    Enjoying Better Things
    #19
    Have owned pretty much all of Apple`s portable Mac`s at one time or another, now with multiple rMBP`s and the Retina MacBook. Nice post Zhenya appreciate your time and effort, irrespective of content. Far too many here, only look to criticise and bring nothing to the "table"

    "if the cap fits, wear it"

    Q-6
     
  20. wowee macrumors member

    Joined:
    May 23, 2015
    #20
    UGH. Another person who is able to get 8-10hours out of their macbook. I'm lucky if i can squeeze 5 with all the power saving features going, ublock, click to flash, reduced transparency, 75% brightness. I just don't get it. What am i doing wrong????
     
  21. Gav2k macrumors G3

    Gav2k

    Joined:
    Jul 24, 2009
    #21
    I'm running default out of the box setting and I've been exceeding 10 hours easily.
     
  22. wowee macrumors member

    Joined:
    May 23, 2015
    #22
    how????? This is great (for you and everyone else) but I can't help but feel i've been gypped.

    When u say 10 hours, do you mean you are ACTIVELY using the computer for 10 hours or it is just ON for 10 hours?? If i am browsing safari and doing emails consistently, the LONGEST i can get is just under 5 hours.

    WHat exactly are u doing for 10 hours?

     
  23. Gav2k macrumors G3

    Gav2k

    Joined:
    Jul 24, 2009
  24. wowee macrumors member

    Joined:
    May 23, 2015
    #24

    the entire time??? Actively 10 hours?
     
  25. Gav2k macrumors G3

    Gav2k

    Joined:
    Jul 24, 2009
    #25
    Yep
     

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