Switch: ergonomics and hardware

Dec 19, 2006

One thing that’s really difficult to argue with is that Apple computers, including my silver MacBook Pro, are simply beautiful.

Simplicity, aesthetic appeal and initial user experience are key here. The box contains very little and is easy to unpack. There’s no question where to start. There isn’t a whole lot of junk bundled, just the essentials that get you going.

Pros

Compared to my other/previous computers, this thing is QUIET. This actually means several things. First, the sound hardware is really good and well isolated from the rest of the hardware. All you get from the sound output is sound that you need, and nothing more. On PC-s, I very often get noise from hard disk or network traffic, which is kinda annoying. Doesn’t exist on Mac.

Secondly, the whole thing is quiet also in the room. You can barely hear the hard drive. When there’s some ambient noise in the room, it safely blocks the hard drive noise, so thing is really very quiet. When the fan kicks in, though, it’s a different story, but that doesn’t happen to me too often at all. Another noisy component is the CD/DVD drive, but I don’t use it too often, maybe only to rip audio CD-s or DVD-s or install something.

The CD drive quality is good. I had a problem with an audio CD that just wouldn’t rip with Thinkpad T41 (using the same version of iTunes). It only ripped half of a song. Haven’t yet had any rip problems on OS X.

I didn’t really know how to approach the large support surface below and next to the keyboard. I’ve had laptops and keyboards where the keyboard area has been really packed with keys, and there isn’t really any palm support space so you’ll need to support your palms simultaneously on the computer and on the desk. Whereas in case of MBP you can fully support the palms on the large empty space next to the trackpad. And it’s cool when you get used to it.

Automatic keyboard backlight and auto-dimming screen and keyboard backlight based on ambient light… nice stuff.

And finally the trackpad. I was really wary of it and thought the only way I can work without a real mouse is the red knob that Thinkpads have in the middle. I couldn’t use the trackpads on previous laptops, and thought that was because I was motionally retarded and just incompatible with trackpads. Guess what – no. I couldn’t use my previous trackpads because they all SUCKED. They were simply too inconvenient. Either too small or too unresponsive or too sunken into the rest of the form factor or who the hell knows what else.

Well, the MBP trackpad is a marvel. And I get along with it just fine. It’s responsive, it’s very very convenient for the fingers to use, the button is large enough to not need to twist your fingers in weird ways every time just to click a button. And the two finger scrolling… oh my oh my oh my, this is very very sweet. It’s going to be very difficult for me to ever use another laptop that doesn’t come from the fruit company, since the others just don’t have all this sweet stuff.

Cons

Don’t get me wrong. This is definitely NOT an ideal piece of hardware and there are plenty of things to be improved.

The wifi system on MBP is a goddamn princess. Wifi areas good enough for PC-s are not good enough for it. I actually had to upgrade my home router because the MBP just didn’t connect to its signal despite seeing it fine. It didn’t do WPA, WEP, unencrypted, nothing. Looked like it was some low-level signal incompatibility. True, it was an old and crappy router, but the PC-s had always worked fine with it.

This thing gets HOT HOT HOT. And no, it’s not because I have a battery from the exploding series, I checked. It’s not just the battery that gets hot, it’s the whole unit. You can’t really hold it in your lap as you’d toast yourself. And it’s just annoying. When I need a heater, I use a heater, I don’t need a stupid laptop to heat my room.

Why is the screen tilt angle limited? Sometimes I work with my laptop in really weird positions. I could tilt my Thinkpad screen to 180 degrees if I wanted to. The MBP one seems to be limited at around 120 degrees, just won’t go further. I appreciate the lessons of teaching me to work with my laptop in proper positions, but I’d like to have my own final say, thanks.

Only 2 USB ports???? COME ON! What if I need to plug in my mouse, headset, maybe PSP to experiment with something in Parallels, and my digital camera? That’s already 4. (At least I won’t need a webcam, as it’s built in…) Sometimes it’s really annoying to play these plug-unplug games. Mouse and headset are two permanent connections when working in home or office, and anything beyond that requires me to switch out of work mode and think of whether I want to work without mouse or without sound. STUPID.

I tried to look for a USB hub the other day in London. One that wouldn’t suck, that is. I didn’t find any. Either they were too big and bulky, with a UFO-like base station and tons of wires, or they were just ugly. When I need to replicate USB ports, I don’t need a goddamn UFO on my desk, I need a simple gadget that plugs in the port and just replicates the goddamn ports right there. There was a nice one by Belkin that was exactly that, without any base station or wires, just half-a-matchbox size thingie that has one USB connector at one end and four sockets at the other end, but… it did only USB 1.1. ( So not good for all these high-speed gadgets.

Still, even with all these shortcomings, it’s a nice laptop. :)