After scouring Windows laptop reviews, deals, and new releases for more than half a year, and after buying and returning a 2018 Razer Blade 15 last summer, I finally broke down and bought a 2018 MacBook Pro (with Touchbar) late last year. I think at this point, you’ve all read reviews about these divisive Mac laptops, so let’s cover the basics in bullets and then address the meat of the divisiveness in full.
- Best-in-class trackpad. Period.
- Aesthetically pleasing design paired with Apple’s usual craftsmanship and build materials/quality*.
- Great battery life.
- Runs MacOS. Look, I like Windows. I like Windows 10 a lot, actually. But I like MacOS better. Sorry, Microsoft.
- Dongle-city if you don’t like or USB-C. This doesn’t bother me, as I rarely ever plug anything in my laptop that isn’t the charging cable.
- Bezels aren’t big, but aren’t small. Looks a little dated next to its premium Windows laptop competition.
- Price. Any way you slice it, the MacBook Pro is more expensive than the most premium Windows laptops.
- The Touchbar is indeed a gimmick that makes the whole machine cost more for no reason.
- SSD and RAM soldered to logic board.
- No touchscreen. There is no excuse for this in 2016, much less 2018. I will argue with you until I’m blue in the face that MacBooks need touchscreens.
- Thermal design sacrificed for thinness.
Most of the cons are tolerable because the pros are so huge. The price I can swallow because I realize options are limited, and if I’m spending $1500 on a Windows laptop, I might as well spend $1900 and get the laptop I actually want. The Touchbar has other cons if you actually miss your function keys (I don’t) but I’d rather not pay $300 extra for something I don’t care about. Components not being upgradeable also adds to the price both upfront and down the road if those components need out of warranty repairs or force your hand in buying a new computer because you simply can’t deal with RAM or disk space limitations from when you bought your computer four years earlier. But again, I am fortunate in being able to absorb that blow, because I buy a new laptop around every three years anyway (with a warranty).
Sometimes I go to touch my MacBook screen and then I get sad, but I deal. I don’t run into thermal constraints too often considering my workload. While tradeoffs, clearly they’re not significant enough to affect my purchase, because the pros for me are pretty big. As much as there is a host of quality, non-Apple hardware out there, Apple has the market cornered on trackpad quality. There is simply no Windows laptop with a trackpad that comes anywhere close to Apple’s. Even if the feel and tracking quality gets really close, any trackpad that doesn’t allow me to get that physical-click feel anywhere on the surface feels broken by design.
But look, you’ve read the title of this article, and you know where this is going. This isn’t about trackpads or thermal design or Apple pretending like touchscreens can’t exist on their laptops. This is about keyboards.
There are two problems with the current MacBook keyboards (and all MacBook keyboards with butterfly switches), the first of which is that they’re objectively failure prone to the point where even the Wall Street Journal is chiming in on it with a remarkably well-done article. iMore claims that overall reliability has gone up, but keyboard reliability specifically has gone down. However, you’d be wise to note that David Hansson claims (and supports with “anecdata”) in the first article linked above that he doesn’t believe Apple is capturing the full extent of the keyboard problems in their metrics.
That’s the objective problem, and while my 2015 MacBook never experienced keyboard issues after I literally wrote several novels on it, the endurance of my new MacBook Pro is yet to be determined.
The subjective problem – and the thing I think is actually keeping more “regular” consumers away from newer MacBooks – is the feel of the keys themselves. Typing on a MacBook is not an ideal experience. Some people like the butterfly switches, so people hate them, and some people are pretty much indifferent, but the problem is exactly how divisive the keyboard is when it is the only keyboard offered in Mac laptops. If I like the Dell Inspiron but hate the keyboard on it, I can upgrade to the XPS or even the XPS 2-in-1, which both have different keyboards, or I can just go buy a Razer Blade or a Surface Book or whatever. In the Apple world, if you don’t like the butterfly switches, your alternative is a Windows laptop; there just isn’t a Mac option.
I am somewhat indifferent to the typing experience on the MacBook. I don’t hate it, but I don’t like it. Keep in mind, I say this having written multiple novel-length works with this keyboard. With that much typing experience, I believe I am particularly well-qualified to say just how mediocre this keyboard is to type on.
That said, I want to make it very clear that the keyboard isn’t all form and no function. Yes, Apple made the travel ridiculously short to shave millimeters from the thickness of the overall device when there was really no reason to do so, but the stability of the keys is much improved. In fact, in that aspect, the MacBook keyboards are similar to mechanical keyboards, but they are severely lacking in every other comparable measure to a mechanical keyboard.
When I type on other laptop keyboards, I always notice how loose the keys feel, which is similar to when I type on regular desktop keyboards instead of one of my mechanical keyboards and it feels like there is a layer of mashed potatoes underneath the keys. But that key travel, ugh. If only the travel was farther, it would be the perfect laptop keyboard.
I am lucky in that I can type on almost anything. I think it started when I got a Surface Pro 3 with a type cover before Microsoft vastly improved the type cover with the Surface Pro 4. It took a bit of adjustment, but I was able to type on it pretty quickly, and I wrote something like half a novel or so on it before getting the SP4 type cover. As I mentioned, I also have several mechanical keyboards, and I’ve typed on plenty of regular old membrane keyboards in my life, including one of those split, ergonomic keyboards.
For those that are not so lucky, their typing suffers greatly on the MacBook keyboard. The lack of travel doesn’t give their brains the feedback they need to properly register when keys have been successfully pressed, and with that lack of feedback, the rate of typos is greatly increased. If I’m being totally honest, in the first 5-10 seconds it takes my brain to adjust, I probably make a few extra errors when going from my mechanical desktop keyboard to my MacBook keyboard. If your brain doesn’t adjust, then those typos are just a fixture of the device.
Apple created this super low-profile keyboard originally for its 12″ MacBook – the thinnest and lightest laptop they make. Along with the low-travel keyboard, it has one USB-C port, it has a Y-series processor, and that’s fine, because it is filling a niche where those trade offs are acceptable.
But on the Pro series MacBooks? It’s just totally unacceptable.
In a world where the keyboards on these machines weren’t failing as often as they are, we would still have a totally objective problem. Apple is the only manufacturer for MacBooks, and making design decisions that alienate as many people as these keyboards have is utterly absurd.
I can appreciate elegant form-over-function decisions. Apple makes a lot of these, and while extremely utilitarian people may not be fans, subjective things are subjective. Whatever, it’s fine. But these keyboards are anything but elegant. The MacBook Pro is functionally too thin – totally ignoring thermal design – because the keyboard is crippling this machine.
I don’t hate this keyboard. I really like my MacBook Pro. But Apple has to redesign these things.
Source: Philtered Tech