Dan Newcome on technology

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First thoughts on the 13″ Retina Macbook

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I recently got a new retina Macbook Pro for my main work machine. I had been using a Thinkpad X200 and then a 13″ Macbook Air. I’m very opinionated when it comes to computing devices and the Thinkpad X series is actually one of my favorite laptop designs of all time. I know it isn’t that pretty but it doesn’t get much more functional.

After having used a Thinkpad for so long, the hardest thing I’m having to get used to is the keyboard. To put it nicely I’m not a fan of the new Mac keyboards. I think that Apple could have still made a beautiful chiclet-style keyboard that feels better under the fingers. Lenovo actually went to a chiclet style keyboard for the X230 and they defended it from their loyal fans as being one of the best keyboards that they have ever produced. I haven’t actually used it but forgive me if I have a little bit of blind trust in those designers after having produced my favorite laptop keyboard of all time.

There does seem to be a slight difference between the Air keyboard and the Retina keyboard. The keys feel ever so slightly taller, which is an improvement in my mind. This difference might also be just the fact that my laptop is newer and the keyboard hasn’t been broken in yet. I don’t have a caliper handy to measure the key heights, and visually the difference isn’t really discernible. There is the possibility that there is more key travel, I’m not sure.

One of the most common typos I make as a result of the low-profile keys is that I miss the space bar with my thumb. I also accidentally miss the n and v keys and hit the space bar by accident. I’m still adjusting to the option key placement and the page up/down arrangement (which I submit is a superior design to the common PC keyboard layout where the “big six” are placed somewhere above the arrow keys).

The touchpad is one thing that I think is great. I don’t think it’s better than the Trackpoint on my old X200, but it is certainly on par. Really, I love three-finger drag and tap-to click (neither of which are enabled in the system preferences by default, unbelievably). I miss not having to move my fingers off of the home row keys though. This is one advantage that the trackpoint had that is not likely to be replicated by any other pointing device. I have to admit that there are some times when I accidentally nudge the pointer when typing but it is extremely rare once you get used to the keyboard.

So it kind of seems silly to judge a laptop so harshly on the keyboard and pointing device, but unfortunately that’s a big part of how my laptop gets used. The display and IO devices are very important to me.

Speaking of the display, of course the retina display is really amazing. However, some legacy software doesn’t display well with it. One of the biggest issues I have with this is VirtualBox. When I’m running my Windows virtual machines the emulated display is kind of fuzzy. The VirtualBox guys will probably address this soon, and it’s not a show stopper for me, as it’s still very usable.

The new retina design doesn’t include a DVD drive so the body is a little thinner and smaller than the regular 13″ Mac. It’s also something like a full pound lighter. I weighed mine and it came in at 3.6lb, 0.2lb lighter than my old X200 (which was amazingly light, even with a 9 cell battery).

I had some WiFi speed issues that turned out to be caused by my router, rather than the Mac. I’m not sure what the problem was, but the Air had the same issue. When I switched from the wireless access point provided by my ISP to my own D-Link router, the speed problems went away. I spent a considerable amount of time trying to fix this issue so hopefully this saves a few of you some time.

The other surprise for me was that like the Air, nothing is upgradeable on the Retina. I was hoping to use my new 256GB SSD instead of the 128GB drive that I got, but it turns out not to be possible. In making the body thinner, they have foregone the traditional laptop drive form factor. My understanding is that there are some third parties out there making SSD modules that will fit the Retina, but they are expensive and won’t help me use my existing SSD.

This isn’t intended to be a full review, just my initial thoughts, so I’m not going to get into any details about speed or other hardware. I’m just interested in noting the differences between my beloved Thinkpad and the Air (which I really wish was powerful enough to be my main machine – maybe in the future).

Written by newcome

January 2, 2013 at 5:19 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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