MacBook Pro: Warts and All

by Chris Howard Aug 13, 2009

The MacBook Pro is a beautiful machine, but do Steve Jobs and Co. actually use it for anything more than checking email at their desks? Seriously, I use my MacBook Pro (MBP) for real work, not just as a netbook, and I wonder, is it really designed to be a workhorse?

Non-Removable Battery

Despite all the hoopla about the wonderful seven-hour battery life, in my real life usage that has been more like 3.5 hours. Take now for instance, I've been sitting here for about half an hour and the battery's already drained 14% with 2:57 remaining. Even that wouldn't be a problem if I could easily swap out the battery.

With the load I put on my MBP its battery life will be much shorter than quoted no matter which laptop I use.  Afterall I have tried trimming down the menu bar apps I have running but even so three of them are big juice suckers: Safari, Firefox and Parallels. The cheap solution is to shutdown apps. That works now, while I'm only using it to type this. But normally I am either doing web development or design, and I need these applications to run at once.

Next week I have to make a seven hour train trip (3.5 hours each way). I had been hoping to use the time productively. Looks like I'll be reading a book for half of it.

I understand Apple looked at the figures and saw only a small percentage of folks were buying second batteries. But today I upgraded my hard drive, and really, it would have been a piece of cake for Apple to make an on-the-go replaceable battery. It wouldn't have made it any thicker. If you doubt, take the back off your MBP and have a squizz.

The battery in the MBPs can be swapped out but it requires a screwdriver and a bench. It's not really something you want to undertake on a train. And I do wonder how you can pre-charge the battery anyway.

So I'll share the blame for the short life of my battery, but it's Apple's fault that I can't carry a spare.

Glossy Screen
Opinions about the glossy screen tend to be polarized. I used an iMac for all of last year with a glossy screen and had no complaint. But it was always in the one place so reflections could be minimized permanently, but I think more importantly, with its large 24" screen, reflections didn't affect as much area of the screen.

The same reflection on an MBP, eg. a window, can cover up to a third of the screen, whereas on the iMac, it might only be a tenth of it.

Getting back to battery life, the glossy screen sucks battery life too. I know it shouldn't, but when the reflections are a problem, you have to turn the screen brightness up.

Ironically, just today, Apple added matte as an option to the 15" MBP. But the Apple folks just don't get it, do they? Do they really use their own products or just use them as pretty props? The laptop that needs the matte option the most is the 13" MBP. It is the one that is most likely to leave the desk, to be used out and about, where reflections will be everywhere.

The 17" MBP will leave the desk least, yet it got the matte option first. That is because the professionals made the most noise.

I'm not a professional but I want to make some noise, because in some circumstances the glossy screen renders my 13" MBP almost unusable. I don't even bother trying to use it outdoors or with my back to large windows. The only time it's not a problem is when I'm at my desk. But the rest of the time I'm tilting the screen or the computer, trying to minimize reflections. And when I try to show people something on my screen, we all have to get pretty much directly behind it, because it acts as a mirror when viewed at an angle. The matte option should be available on all MacBooks, but especially the smaller ones.

Sharp Edges
When you use the MBP as a laptop, it quickly becomes evident that the edges are sharp and uncomfortable to rest against. In a perfectly ergonomic environment you should be able to use it with resting your hands. But as a laptop, where you could be at any old angle, it's nigh impossible.

Hot Hottie
If Steve Jobs sat with his MBP on his lap for any length of time he'd have to call the fire brigate — it gets damn hot! It's winter down here and parts of the MBP get almost too hot to touch, and certainly too hot to rest against bare skin for any length of time. So I shudder to think what it will be like in summer!

Despite all these inconveniences I do love my MacBook Pro. At 13" it's an excellent size—exceptionally portable, but the screen is still plenty big enough to do serious work while on the go, at least as long as I can see around the glare.


  • I find my MBP’s to be exceptionally useful in a full work environment. With the exception of the battery life, it works flawlessly running day in/out supporting a 23” monitor, running Terminal server to a M$ SBS, Windblows XP under Parallels, VPN etc. My first MBP was declared dead by Apple after being doused with coffee (it works as my “Office Computer connected to a Windblows LAN & 23 ” monitor) and my second MBP was run over by a car and was revived after a replaced running fine now. Its funny that no one wants to lend me their MBP…..

    Robert Patterson had this to say on Aug 13, 2009 Posts: 1
  • So you really find the edges uncomfortable? I plan to upgrade my white 13” macbook to a 15” pro, but there were quite a few situations where I used in on my lap for real work. Does it get hot even if the CPU is not at full capacity? If so, I will hang on to my whitebook for a while longer…

    ediediedi had this to say on Aug 13, 2009 Posts: 6
  • The edges on the non-unibody MBPs are less than comfortable too.  I can’t imagine that the unibody edges are worse.  Definitely food for thought.  That’s one thing that’s always annoyed me about my 15” MacBook Pros.

    I do think the glossy screen is a very personal preference.  I’ll happily trade glare issues for the seemingly sharper picture, superior contrast and better astethics of the glossy display.  My first MacBook Pro had a matte display (bought it refurbished) and having used a glossy machine prior to that, I always found it to be washed out and grainy looking. 

    As far as the battery life is concerned, you’re shooting yourself in the foot running Parallels while using the battery.  Hardware abstraction requires CPU cycles, plain and simple.  If you really use Windows that frequently, I’d strongly suggest spending some quality time looking for Mac replacements for your Windows software.  I can think of few programs that don’t have an (often superior) Mac alternative.  Also, I use Firefox and Safari on battery all the time and don’t find them to be a drain.  In fact, I get a solid 4 hours of battery life on my 15” early-2008 MacBook Pro, even with a battery that’s got over 100 cycles on it.

    cwa107 had this to say on Aug 13, 2009 Posts: 15
  • cwa107. I can’t get Mac versions of IE6/IE7/IE8 - fortunately!

    I am going to have to streamline what apps I run when on battery. Last night (without Parallels running) but did have Photoshop, Illustrator and Dreamweaver open, I got just TWO AND HALF HOURS OF BATTERY!!! That’s just nuts.

    kenscottphoto: Thanks for the link. Very useful.

    ediediedi:I put a thermometer on it on the top near the hinge an it it 46C. That might not sound that bad, but it is winter here, and if that was on your lap on bear skin, it’s probably the most you could bear. I have hot showers compared to other people I know, but 41/42C is the hottest I can handle. So in summer 46C (or greater is going to be quite uncomfortable).

    Of interest, I came back to the MBP after leaving it idle for a couple of hours and that CPU was still at 84C. I image though if I sht down all apps,that would drop a fair bit - I hope.

    Chris Howard had this to say on Aug 15, 2009 Posts: 1209
  • Ok. I owe Firefox and apology. After spending a day alone with the MBP (on that train trip) and minimizing as much activity as I could, I found Safari sucking battery. It turned out to be the web page I had open which was running some cycling javascript (jquery cycle plugin the most useful plugin ever)

    So, switching back to Firefox I found it didn’t suck battery quite as much as Safari.

    So, any browser on web pages with constant activity is going to suck your battery life. So when on battery, avoid those types of pages unless they’re necessary.

    All that said and done, it doesn’t change my point that a non-removable battery is an issue.

    Chris Howard had this to say on Aug 18, 2009 Posts: 1209
  • BTW Apple says it doesn’t sell enough second batteries to justify continuing them. But have they seen how much they cost?

    There’s heaps cheaper places than Apple to buy a second battery.

    So their argument is flawed as it only considers those buying batteries from them

    Chris Howard had this to say on Aug 18, 2009 Posts: 1209
  • The 13-inch MacBook Pro now features a 2.3GHz Intel Core i5 processor or the fastest dual-core processor available — the 2.7GHz Intel Core i7. With Turbo Boost speeds up to 3.4GHz, these processors allow the 13-inch MacBook Pro to perform up to twice as fast as the previous generation.

    Yochanan Berkowitz

    Ana had this to say on Aug 16, 2011 Posts: 76
  • Not removable batter is the worst thing in this model.

    Alpina had this to say on Aug 29, 2011 Posts: 154
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