Everybody that knows me was shocked when they heard the news… I bought a Macbook. I’ve been a long time user of Windows (and Linux) and loudly voice against the purchase of Apple computers. Yet here I am typing on a 2015 Macbook.
Before I review it, I want to say that my opposition to Apple computers has never been OSX itself. I think OSX is a great operating system, arguable closely competing for the best. My opposition has always been Apple’s stance towards hardware pricing (brand tax), and their locked in eco-system policies. My philosophy remained: I’d love a Macbook, if I could get one for free".
My work computer had a battery life of a few hours and struggled with Linux. My tower, was not portable for obvious reasons. My tablet is a media only device. I
wanted needed a laptop I could use for scientfic and academic purposes on the goand while travelling. For this reason, I wasn’t look for anything with insane computer power, I can always use SSH to my tower if I need that. I wanted something with excellent portability. I looked over a lot of machines and this was my basic criteria:
- Had to *easily *run a UNIX based OS. I didn’t want another HP disaster.
- R and Rstudio must run seamlessly (at least for basic statistical analyses)
- Run PyCharm with minimal lag.
- Preference for it to run Word, PowerPoint, Excel, in addition to LaTeX.
- LIGHT less than 1.5kgs
- 8GB of RAM, with a 256GB+ SSD
- 7-10 hour of battery life
- Backlit keyboard was a preference
- Good resolution screen
At this stage, all the apple users out there are probably screaming at their monitor wondering how this decision was so hard. Well it all comes down to one thing: PRICE. However, the 2015 Macbooks’s (still great hardware) were on sale for $1300 AUD. Sometimes, logic comes first, and this was a strikingly good deal. Moreover, I was aware that MacOS tends to boot very very fast – which would be very important for me.
Review of Base Model
I got the 2015 Macbook 1.1ghz model (base model). There are hundreds of reviews out there, so this review will focus on ergonomic issues and how I have found it for academic usage. I’ve only had it for week at this stage, so I will update if things change.
Keyboard and Trackpad
The idea that people will “like it or hate, but not love” the new butterfly switches is plain wrong. Yes some people will hate it. However, I believe people that hate it are people who are poor typists, or have unrealistic expectations for laptop keyboards. I was warned by multiple people to try the new keyboard before buying, but I ignored these warnings entirely. I am a mechanical Keyboard enthusiast so was apprehensive about this decision.
I find the keyboard excellent! I love it, and I would say it is probably the single best laptop keyboard I have ever used. It does take a little while to get used to (6 – 18 hours of usage), but I find the small travel distance isn’t much different from learning not to bottom out on cherry browns. Of course, I definitely wouldn’t write my whole thesis on this keyboard, and it isn’t the most ergonomic layout I’ve ever used. The tactile sensation of a quick bottom out can strain your figures after a few hours… However, if you are a good typist, it shouldn’t take you longer than a day or two to get used to the keyboard.
The trackpad is absolutely amzing. I have to give it to Apple, they designed the track pad very very well for mobile usage. Again, I would suggest you google other reviews to see the full features. I’ve found the force touch preview and definitions has saved me from opening a lot of tabs, and the gestures make multi-window control much easier with a small screen.
Display and Form Factor
The retina display is absolultely beautiful, if you haven’t seen one before. I have found the base model has been totally fine at even running at increase scaling (more screen space at performance cost). I notice the occasional bump in GUI performance when I am running *a lot * of processes (30+ tabs, email, spotify, Rstudio, several terminal apps, installers, skype at once etc), but most of the time it runs very smooth. The ease of using virtual desktops with gestures makes it a lot easier to make good use of the small screen space and form factor.For writing, simple programming, and analyses – this will serve you well. However, if you were wanting this to be your main computing device, then you would be better off looking elsewhere. This isn’t for you.
I’ll also add that this device is very light. At 900grams, it is no trouble to chuck into your bag. It does feel quite sturdy as well, and I imagine it would survive a few drops – but I bought a Booq Viper 12" Hardshell Case to go with it for peace of mind.
Yes, Apple was cheeky. The Macbook has 1 single USB-C port (come on Apple, not even 2?). Whilst this is a little annoying, when you look at the form factor on the device, I don’t think they could have even fit on a standard USB port. I have not this limitation annoying at all in my first week of use. Perhaps the only moment I was a little frustrated was when I couldn’t connect to my lab network as I didn’t have an ethernet adapter. However, I knew in advance I would need to get one of these. Most adapters are pretty reasonably priced if you look to the 3rd party products.
If this was your primary work machine, I would say it could be a deal breaker. However, I everything I do is sync’d between Git or Google drive anyway. I am using this for on the go usage.
Most reviews target performance towards video rendering and Photoshop, I do nether of these tasks. I wanted something in which I could have an instance of Rstudio running, perhaps a few python scripts open, 10-15 tabs in chrome/safari, email, spotify… You know the academic drill. For these purposes, I have found the 2015 base model to be more than adequette, and it runs smoothly with minimal stuttering even at the increased space scaling mode.
Again, the same message here: this would not work well as a primary computer for scientific purposes. However, if you want something light that you can take with you anywhere and run the basics – this will serve you perfectly.
I’ll also add the speakers on this laptop are supurb!
I won’t provide a full review of MacOS, instead, I’ll point you to a list of awesome software which has made MacOS one of the best operating systems I’ve used so far. Without such software, OSX wouldn’t be quite as favorable.
- For RSS reading, Vienna has been amazing
- Homebrew for package management similar to Linux
- iTerm2 terminal replacement
- Atom editor
- Clementine Music Player to replace Foobar2000
- Cyberduck for FTP
- Transmission for P2P
If you are looking for a lightweight, ultra-portable secondary computer for research/academic use that you will use on the go – then this is for you. Is it worth $2000+ (original asking price)? No. However, if you see one of these going for anything less than $1400, I can vouch for the decision to dive into MacOS.