2018 MacBook Pro Impressions

I’m currently sitting in the lobby of a hotel in Detroit, Michigan. I’m here for a work trip, and it’s the first time my new 13-inch MacBook Pro has served as my primary machine since I purchased it.

This is not intended to be a full review of this machine, but rather my impressions of it so far. However, I do think I should share the specs of this particular model up front, as it does help contextualize some of my thoughts. So, my 2018 MacBook Pro came with:

  • 2.7 GHz Intel Core i7 (Turbo Boost: 4.5 GHz)
  • 16 GB RAM
  • 1 TB SSD

… all in a Space Gray enclosure.

I initially purchased the entry-level 13″ TouchBar machine with the i5 and 8 GB of RAM, but very quickly realized doing so was a mistake for the types of work that I do. My notebook is my secondary machine, but when I travel with it, I am very often recording and editing podcasts and, with increasing frequency, editing video as well. Running applications like Audio Hijack Pro, Logic and Final Cut Pro is just as likely for me as running Safari, Mail and Messages. The i5 / 8 GB machine just wasn’t up to those tasks in the way that I had hoped it would be.

Thankfully, my local Apple Store had this particular machine in stock before my trip, so I returned the cheaper one, paid the painful difference in price, and was on my way.

There is a lot about this machine that is unchanged from two 2016 MacBook Pros I had used previously. The four Thunderbolt 3 ports can still be frustrating to use in the real world.1 The arrow keys on the keyboard are still confusing to identify by feel. I still wish the headphone jack was on the left side of the machine, and that the bezel above the display could be as narrow as the ones along the sides. The trackpad is still enormous and can still lead to accidental input while typing. Lastly, I still love Touch ID on the Mac and wouldn’t miss the Touch Bar if it went away forever.

However, two revisions into this design, Apple has made several nice improvements.

The first is to the screen and Touch Bar in the form of True Tone. Like on iOS devices, this is a feature that is so subtle, you don’t realize how much you enjoy it until it’s not there. I fully expect it to come to the entire Mac line in the near future. I already wish my iMac Pro had it.

The performance Apple has been able to pack into this chassis is mind-boggling. While I think there is room in the MacBook Pro family for a machine that isn’t a thin and light, a quad-core 13-inch laptop is something I have wanted for a long time. My previous machine was a 15-inch 2015 MacBook Pro. I had the larger size solely for the core count. Now, I can use the size of laptop I want without giving up the performance that decision once required. Don’t get me wrong; if a notebook was still my primary laptop, I would have saved my pennies and purchased a 6-core 15-inch machine, but this 13-inch feels like a better balance for my particular needs.

Having the extra cores is great, but where this MacBook Pro really shines is in disk speed. The T2 and new SSD modules inside this machine allow for crazy fast data transfers. This makes everything from importing video into Final Cut to bouncing long podcasts feel faster. It really is remarkable.

Of course, no conversation about the Thunderbolt 3 MacBook Pro is complete with the keyboard. As has been widely reported, the 2018 machines ship with a keyboard that is quieter, thanks to the silicone membranes under each key cap.

While I still wish for more travel, the membranes have definitely changed the keyboard’s sound. Some of the high-end clicking is gone, making the sound less hollow and less … cheap. Another side effect is that the bottom of the key press is slightly less harsh, making it a tad more comfortable to use if you are a heavy typer like I am.

Of course, the real reason for the tweaked design is to help keep crumbs and debris from damaging the switches underneath, which can lead to expensive repairs. This is the reason I sold my 2016 machine, and I’ve got my fingers crossed that my new one won’t fail the same way. I am hopeful Apple has resolved the issue.

So, all in all, my new MacBook Pro is fast and hopefully more reliable than the ones before it. It still has the trade-offs that have defined this generation of Mac notebooks, but three revisions in, I think it’s time we all accept that this is how MacBook Pros are now, and for me, getting to use macOS on the road is well worth the cost.

  1. I am still carrying quite a few dongles around, but I did go ahead and purchase USB-C versions of the common cables I use when doing things like recording. Cutting down on adaptors does make this machine less annoying to use, and the prices on most cables has come way down. Even though these ports are Thunderbolt 3, I am only using them as USB-C connectors; I don’t have any true Thunderbolt 3 accessories. I’d like to see how fast something like a Thunderbolt 3 SSD could be, but I can’t justify the expense knowing that USB-C drives are plenty fast enough for my needs.