Apple MacBook Pro with Touch Bar: Another dilemma arises
Two computers — one on the desk back at base, one in the bag for travelling. Or one computer — a fast, competent laptop that will serve at all times. It’s always been a dilemma for me. In the past I’ve worked for a year or two with a powerful laptop as my only computer. At other times I’ve favoured a desk-bound Mac Mini or iMac with twinned with a lighter, less competent notebook such as the original 11in MacBook Air or the latest 12in MacBook.
The announcement of the MacBook Pro with Touch Bar and, perhaps more significantly, Apple’s decision to replace the old Cinema Display with state-of-the-art LG monitors, has set me thinking. It comes at a time when my computing set up is due for upgrade but, even so, taking the plunge is a difficult decision.
Make a list of pros and cons of the one computer versus two and you soon start to get confused. One of the big hassles with the single-computer solution is the plethora of cables that must be attached to the portable when working at the office or at home. To a large extent, though, this has been eliminated with the new MacBook Pro which can be tethered with a single power-and-data USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 cable. At the same time the inconvenience of having to keep two computers synchronised has more or less disappeared, thanks to our increasing reliance on cloud services.
Since its announcement on October 27, the new MacBook Pro with Touch Bar has received rather mixed reviews. Some think the Touch Bar is a gimmick, others love it.
Others complain that the current Intel processor family, as fitted to the new MacBook Pros, is to be updated within months and the successor will bring more efficiency and longer battery life. Some, including me, are worried that memory is topped out at 16GB when power users normally settle for no less than 32GB (this top limit is in the interests of battery life, apparently).
Yet there’s no doubt that the MacBook Pro is a tempting proposition, even without waiting for the processor upgrade and even with its 16GB RAM. For the past two years I have been served by a late 2014 iMac which I specced up with the 4GHz Intel Core i7 and a useful 32GB of memory. Despite this, I have been annoyed many times that I elected to save (at the time £600) by opting for the Fusion Drive (a hybrid of small SSD for fast tasks and large HDD for storage) rather than going the whole hog with a 1TB SSD. In the long run it has proved to be false economy since the hybrid Fusion Drive clearly holds back performance.
To complement the iMac I’m running an early-2015 12in MacBook, a portable I love for its small size, low weight and overall cuteness. If I’m being honest, though, the 1.2GHz Intel Core M processor combined with 8GB of RAM is competent but uninspiring. It is slow, especially when Lightroom is at full chat. On many occasions, when travelling, I’ve been frustrated by the time it takes to import and process my photographs. I noticed this especially last September in Cologne where I was reporting on Photokina.
The new MacBook Pro, therefore, is banging at an open door. The attraction of having one fast do-all computer that can double as desktop and portable is very real. There’s a certain comfort in having just one machine to bother with, despite all the advances in synchronisation.
Yet my mind is by no means made up. As a precaution I have already ordered a top-spec MacBook Pro 13in which, including Apple Care, will ring the till at just short of £3,000. There’s also the small irritant of needing a 27in monitor, with the new Apple/LG 5K monster costing a further eight or nine hundred pounds. It’s a lot, but not quite so much if it is regarded as the only computer you need.
I suspect that, whatever I decide at the moment, I will eventually move to just one computer and a super monitor for desk use. So, the choice is between doing it now and getting used to the new arrangements or waiting another six months to see if the MacBook Pros are updated again.
One thing is for sure, I believe I have bought my last iMac. The arrival of an approved alternative to the venerable Apple Cinema Display in the form of the LG range makes it illogical to buy an all-in-one computer. My last Cinema Display lasted nearly six years and I have no doubt that a new LG would serve for a similar time. But the innards of iMacs don't last that long before becoming outdated. So, instead of buying a new monitor with every new computer, iMac style, I will certainly settle for the powerful portable computer as a one-stop shop.
Yet sitting here in front of the iMac, with its more than adequate 27in 5K monitor (this was the oh-ah, just-look-at-that display only a year or so ago), and casting glances at the cute little MacBook sitting to the left, I do begin to waver. It's a neat set up and, despite its ultimate slowcoaching, the little MacBook is a delight to carry and use. It could last a bit longer, I am sure.
I have time. The MacBook Pro is not scheduled to arrive until December 19 and I can cancel at any time. The LG monitor is not yet available for pre-order but, just to muddy the waters, is on a 25% discount until the end of the year.
The heart tells me to get on and make the change, get it over with and become used to the new set up. Logic, on the other hand, pleads for a stay of execution. Wait until next year when the new MacBook Pro has received its processor upgrade, bide my time. Think things through....
The decision will have to be made within the next two or three weeks and at the moment I am not sure which way it will go.
Updade December 1: After lots of thought I decided to cancel the order for the MacBook Pro. I'll revisit the project in the first half of 2017. In the meantime I have a serviceable iMac and MacBool to keep me in check.