Macbook Pro 2016 – 1 Year Later from a Dev’s Perspective

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My previous opinion 1 year ago, here.

I’ve recently started doing more machine learning and data stuff, and noticeably less of iOS development. So, my needs have kind of changed over the year and I’m starting to see new perspectives of the Macbook Pro 2016 as a developer machine.

The Good :

  • Hardware : Apple’s machining is top-notch, and it feels svelte and “high-class”.
  • macOS : I prefer macOS over Windows 10 due to the Unix-ness of the OS.
  • TouchID: It’s a nice way to log in without typing my password.
  • Battery Life: The Macbook has pretty good battery life. It lasts me throughout the day when I’m doing non-intensive tasks like taking lecture notes. Apple doesn’t exaggerate too much when they advertise their battery life. Pretty sure it’s the OS-Hardware integration as there are many reports of bootcamp Windows 10 taking a battery hit.

Complaints:

  • “Butterfly” Keyboard : I simply cannot get used to it – the click-clack noise and low-key travel just doesn’t do it for me. It’s near to impossible to not disturb others in quiet places like the library with me click-clacketying away when I am typing.
  • Touchbar : I have it on F1-F12 mode all the time now, and I hate not being able to “feel” say, the F9 button and having to look at the touch-bar to look for it. It’s ironic that a new feature actually represented a step backward in (my) reality. Developers who use F1-12 shortcuts for building, running code in python console, etc in IDEs will find this cumbersome.
  • Dongle Mess : My desktop looks really messy due to the two unwieldly dongles I have dangling over several wires. Plus the other two USB-C cables, one for charging and one for my iPhone.
  • No NVIDIA graphics : I knew this when I bought the mac, but still… it’s a downer when I want to run Tensorflow in GPU accelerated mode. No NVIDIA == No CUDA == no cuDNN == Neural Nets that run on CPU == slow.
  • Linux Unfriendly : I wanted to install Ubuntu as dual-boot, to test out Tensorflow’s OpenCL experimental implementation, only to be dismayed by the various hardware incompatibilities documented here. https://github.com/Dunedan/mbp-2016-linux Wifi not working in Ubuntu? That’s a serious downer for me. 😦

 

At the point of this writing, I actually really feel like getting a Dell XPS 15 because it has the NVIDIA card for deep learning, and a better (IMO) keyboard. But the guilt of just recently buying an expensive machine is stopping me from doing so.  The Dell XPS 15 would work for Ubuntu, according to this. I would miss macOS though.

NCD: 2016 Macbook Pro 15″ Review! (refurb)

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Got me a 2016 MacBook Pro 15″. Got it refurbished but it is really looks good as new. I really couldn’t justify paying the full price for what you get. No complains here, Apple’s refurbished stuff is top-notch.

Here are some of my thoughts on it after the one month honeymoon period.

Pretty

Apple knows how to make desirable, beautiful hardware. And the new MacBook Pro is no exception. Apple stuck to the brushed aluminium feel and the whole package looks elegant. Not much to pick at regarding looks.

Keyboard

The new low-travel keys take some getting used to – I’m actually still not used to them. I like chiclet keys, but these are even lower travel than those. It almost feels like they are trying to steer you in the direction of on-screen keys on a digital screen by introducing these. Perhaps such keys are less failure-prone?

They do work functionally, but give off a clickety-clack sound when you are typing. Those with mechanical keyboards may like this “feature” that it has. Overall, I still prefer the feel of the keys of previous models.

On the plus side, this

Touchpad

The 15″‘s touchpad, or trackpad as Apple would like you to call it, is slightly too big in my opinion. It has built-in palm rejection to prevent accidental triggering of the cursor when you are typing, although I still do mange to trigger it, once in a while. No major complains here, and Apple’s gesture integration with OSx is top-notch, as always.

Touchbar

And here comes the latest gimmick from Apple’s stable. The touch bar. I have to admit, when I just got this machine, I wanted to use the touch bar so much that I was on the look out for stuff appearing on it. But as time went by, I realised that I never actually look at the keyboard when I am typing, let alone look at the touch-bar. In this respect, the touch bar doesn’t serve its intended purpose. It isn’t a selling point for me. If I could get the same model for 200USD less without the touch-bar, I would.

Dongles, Dongles, Dongles!

USB3.1 is excellent technology. You can interface lots of things to it – HDMI / power / just about anything you can think of.  It has a transfer speed of up to 5GBits/s, which translates to 625MB/s. This is comparable to a SSD’s write speed. What this means is that you can expect to write to an external USB3.1 SSD drive with the same speed as you would to an onboard SSD, with both drives being the same.

Apple loves USB3.1, and they loved it so much they put nothing but USB3.1 connectors on the laptop. Even the power adaptor is USB-3.1, which is a shame – I loved the MagSafe laptop power connector on older models.  On the flip side, it also means that you don’t have to lug a power adaptor around, any wall power with usb3.1 socket and be used to charge your Macbook.

The problem is : These ports are ahead of their time. There really isn’t a lot of USB3.1 devices out there at the moment. So for now, we will have to use dongles to convert these connectors to the intended connector type. In time to come, I don’t see why devices not all converge to USB3.1 as a standard connector. It just makes everything easier – but currently it is a case of the real world needing to catch up the the tech.

Last Words

The real reason I got Apple’s laptops is that I make iOS apps – there isn’t a real alternative  that doesn’t involve tons of hair pulling when all I want to do is to be productive.  Regarding this, I got what I wanted. No more waiting for Xcode to load interface builder, or web-page freezing up when I too much is going on in a web-page. Rendering stuff is much faster than on my late 2011 MacBook Pro.

I got six good years out of my 2011 MacBook Pro, and it is the only computer that I can profess to use the term “love” on. In my opinion, OSx is a better OS than Windows. It feels as stable as a Linux-based system, with the software that I need to do my stuff. It is an added bonus that you can plug in a USB keyboard and have it play music software with little latency immediately. The Microsoft lovers will say, but windows runs on all PCs, so it inevitably has to do more heavy lifting compared to OSx. I don’t care. I just want to get things done, and the machine that allows me to do that is my weapon of choice.

I’ve recently updated my opinion here.