Considering new computer: Feedback on MacBook Pros from last couple years.

Adam LaddAdam Ladd Posts: 214
edited October 2018 in Font Technology
My day-to-day is mainly type design and graphic design, and I'm using an iMac (Late 2013 model, non-retina) right now. 21.5" with 16 GB ram. 2.9 GHz i5. 1 TB Fusion drive.

It's been a good computer and overall still works well, but I do lack flexibility to travel with it and work if needed.

So I'm considering a MacBook Pro (15" as I'm thinking a 13" may just be too small unless I hook up to an external monitor) but I've heard mixed reviews on the 2017 and 2018 models (some don't like the keyboard, arrow keys, Touch Bar, USB-C ports, dongle/hub needed, etc.) but it's getting harder to find older versions available and that won't date themselves too quickly.

The larger trackpad seems like it would be useful as well, I'd guess.

Any recommendations or positive/negative experiences?



  • I have the 2017 15" macBook Pro.

    The only real complaint from my side are the arrow keys. 
    Typing altogether is good. You might need a few hours to get used to. 
    I have occasionally problems with sticking keys. That can be fixed by trying to lift the key a bit with a fingernail.

    I LOVE usb-C. The first time that a mac has no proprietary ports. Yes, right now you need some adapters. But having the same cable type for everything is a good idea.

    I miss Magsafe a tiny bit but the usb-charging cable gets torn out quite easily. It is not as safe as the magnetic connector.

    And you can charge your phone from the same power brick so you have one item less when you travel. 

    The larger trackpad is too large. The previous was perfect. I hold my left thumb over the Command key and once in a while the trackpad registers it and triggers a multi touch instead a single cursor movement. 
  • Adam LaddAdam Ladd Posts: 214
    Thanks for the thorough feedback with your experience @Georg Seifert that is really helpful. Those were some of my concerns.

    Hmm... sounds like the larger trackpad would take some getting used to. I'm pretty much only a mouse user right now and have been for years. But did have a MacBook years ago for design work.

    I was also comparing a mid 2015 model (a little cost savings too, but not much) that has the smaller trackpad (and still retina), but lacks some of the other newer features. I'd have to weigh out the trade-offs.
  • Type design is one of the very few fields where having a Mac can make more sense. It's a shame, and I hope it gets fixed.
  • Christian ThalmannChristian Thalmann Posts: 1,653
    edited October 2018
    I agree that the trackpad is too large. Even now, having used it for a long while, I occasionally find the cursor skipping to another place in the text while I'm typing, presumably because I brushed the trackpad with my thumb root.
    I originally loathed the touch bar for being gimmicky, but I admit the stepless sliders for brightness and volume are pretty nifty. I still wish the esc key actually clicked. I hate tapping a glass plate and hoping I hit the right spot, rather than depressing a key and knowing.
    Overall, I'd still recommend going with the times, or you'll run into forward compatibility issues at some point. There are also some other subtle improvements — for instance, the whole trackpad can be depressed to click, whereas older models have a hinge on top and insist on being clicked at the bottom. I recently had a contemporary MacBook Air in hand and found the keyboard and trackpad annoyingly clunky.
  • Mark SimonsonMark Simonson Posts: 1,358
    edited October 2018
    I had a 2016 15" MBP and recently replaced it with a 2018 13", mainly because it is better for on-the-go use. (I also have desktop Mac.)

    The 13" model is about a pound lighter than the 15", about the same as a MacBook Air, so it's better for portability, which I realized is the main reason I have a laptop.

    If it were my only computer, I'd probably opt for the 15", but even that I would connect to an external monitor for desktop use.

    That said, the size of the 13" hasn't been as much of an issue as I expected it would be (compared to the 15") for working on type. Performance-wise, the latest 13" is closer to the 15" than it has been in the past, which was also a factor for me.

    The keyboard on the new MBP is noticeably better than the 2016 model I had, but I still don't like it as much as the older full-travel ones. Seems more prone to typing errors for some reason. I've gotten used to the arrangement of the arrow keys.

    The larger trackpad is good and the larger size isn't a problem for me. (Maybe I have smaller hands than Georg.  :) )

    The Touch Bar is handy sometimes, but, even after having one for two years, I often forget it's there and forget to use it when it's supported by an app.

    The ports haven't really been an issue, but it's a drag that you have to have adapters for common things like USB 2. I did have trouble with USB 3 for audio (noise and interference) on my 2016 model, but I think that was mostly related the the LG 5k monitor I was using with it. (What a lemon that turned out to be.)

    Apple is probably announcing some new Macs next Tuesday, but probably low-end models mostly.
  • Adam LaddAdam Ladd Posts: 214
    Thanks so much Christian and Mark. Really great insights that are helping me weigh this out!

    I found myself leaning towards something like a 2015 because some of the features on the newer models (with the negative reviews) were making me hesitant... but you're right, I also didn't want to find that future compatibility could become an issue.

    The 13" is also intriguing for those reasons, it was just a matter of not feeling too cramped for type design (and multi-tasking) at that size and lesser performance. But those gaps seem to be narrowing. And it makes sense to have an external monitor if needed.

    Would be a nice surprise if new MBP's were in the announcement.
  •  you'll run into forward compatibility issues at some point.
    In theory...

  • Christian ThalmannChristian Thalmann Posts: 1,653
    edited October 2018
    As for monitor size: I've never had anything smaller than 15', and wouldn't want to. A laptop doesn't have to be as small as possible, only small enough to fit in your backpack. (And you might want to buy your backpack to fit your laptop rather than the other way around.)
  • Mark SimonsonMark Simonson Posts: 1,358
    edited October 2018
    Regarding the display size, I forgot to mention: I've almost always had 15" models in the past because the bigger the screen the better for working on type. But the 13" hasn't been as much of a difference compared to a 15" as I thought it would. Pre-retina, I think it would have been a bigger factor.

    That said, I do 95% of my type design work on a 30" retina screen. If you expect to work without an external monitor a large portion of the time, the 15" would probably be a better choice.
  • Adam LaddAdam Ladd Posts: 214
    edited October 2018
    Thanks for the additional feedback and your history with the screen size Christian and Mark. Yes, the laptop alone is where I think I'll spend most of my time and will not always be hooked up to an external monitor, so the 15" may be the better route.
  • Adam LaddAdam Ladd Posts: 214
    Thanks, James. That is helpful to hear. I'm still torn; benefits to both sizes. I've been doing research online, but I'll have to go into the store soon to sit with them for a while. I'm glad the feedback is coming in that a 13" is a contender though.
  • Regarding touchpad control, you can improve VERY much its usage and resources with BetterTouchTool. It also allows you to improve the mouse and record keyboard shortcuts for sequence of operations.
  • About screen size. I started Glyphs on a iBool. If I remember correctly that had a screen resolution of 1024/768. So I spent some time on keeping the UI as small as possible to leave room for the edit view. 
  • Adam LaddAdam Ladd Posts: 214
    Appreciate the care to maximize the design space Georg, thanks. And thanks for the tip about BetterTouchTool Igor. Will check it out.
  • Adam LaddAdam Ladd Posts: 214
    edited October 2018
    So, I went to the store today and sat with a (2018) 13" and 15" for about a half hour, side by side. It's not enough time, but my brief experience did echo some of the comments from others above.

    Right now, my takeaway was that the trackpad, especially on the 15", is indeed really large (less so on the 13"). It was a little awkward to rest part of my palms over the surface of it while typing, but I didn't notice any accidental drag of the cursor in that little bit of time.

    The edges are sharp. It was kind of uncomfortable to rest my hands on it because they almost dug in. Especially positioning my hands on the lower part of the keyboard where I use the arrow and control/option/command keys so much, it was not pleasant.

    The arrow keys (and keyboard response) were a little strange feeling too. I'm used to more space between the keys and deeper compression/response.

    The 15" did seem to present a noticeable amount more breathing room in screen real estate, but the 13" seemed doable too.

    A few other observations here and there. But all that said, it'd just be a matter of getting used to a different setup. Overall, they were nice. Kind of just sorting out my thoughts and comparing them to all that's been shared by others.
  • While I have been contemplating an upgrade myself, I have a MB Pro that is just a year younger than yours (mid 2014). The main difference is a retina display which I definitely would not want to miss, but all in all it is still entirely sufficient for all my type design, design and coding related tasks, including concurrently running virtual Windows. With all the reviews for recent year’s MBs ranging from negative to underwhelming I really do not feel like dishing out 3k+ to upgrade from this model when you can get 2014/15 models for 1/3 of that.

    Also, personally, 13" is out of the question. Even on 15" you end up app switching all the time instead of being able to view side by side. In my own setup, I also use a small tablet whenever I can, and a reasonable small sized Wacom pushes the form factor of whatever bag I carry to the 15" form factor either way.

    Happy shopping ;)
  • Adam LaddAdam Ladd Posts: 214
    Appreciate your feedback and experience @Johannes Neumeier :) Good points.

    It is tough to commit to getting a new computer when the desktop still works sufficiently overall, but I'm just running into more situations where the portability of a laptop would make a difference.

    Also, the retina display would be nice (don't have it currently).

    I'm mainly running type and design software on it, and while there is cost savings to go 8 GB ram / 256 GB storage, I'm hesitant that it may run out of room too quickly (current setup is 16 GB ram). What does your 2014 have that has allowed it to handle your design tasks well?

    I opened the "About this Mac" on the 256 GB laptops to see how much room was left out the box, and while I don't know all that they have installed on the display models, there was only like 80 GB free space. That seemed a little tight. (I do have an external hd, but only for backups.)
  • Retina makes a huge difference for type design, IMO. (Although I did talk to one type designer recently who preferred seeing non-retina, aliased, black and white pixels. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ )
  • I really would not want to use a 13" MBP. I can work ok on my 15", although I prefer the 4K screen in my office.

    But I still have not quite seen enough value in upgrading from my late 2013 (!) MBP. I've upgraded the storage to 1 TB a year ago, and replaced the battery this fall. I would benefit from more RAM than my current 16 GB, but not massively—not enough to make it worth the upgrade. And then maybe I would go to 2 TB as well at the same time. But wow, is that ever an expensive laptop, at $3400–4200 USD.

    Not even counting however many adapters I might need!  :weary:

  • In general, you don't need the latest Macs to run current software. The most recent OS, Mojave, runs on Macs going back to 2012 (and earlier, in the case of the Mac Pro). Used or reconditioned Macs are a viable option, especially for type design, which doesn't place high demands on processor speed, memory, or even disk space necessarily. I wouldn't recommend anything that doesn't have both a retina screen and SSD for storage, though. (Although it's often possible to replace a spinning hard drive with an SSD.)
  • @Adam Ladd Back when I bought my retina MB I picked essentially the most potent options, 16Gb ram, flash drive, dedicated graphics and the more powerful processor. It’s payed itself back by now, and not any one of those would I consider an insignificant choice in this regard. Of course, Macs being Mac, you can hardly upgrade anything, so that’s the downside; you get the same hardware for half the price for Windows machines — but then again there is a strong software lock-in to Mac for type designers anyway.

    Again, I second the retina screen at 15" — really that is the most essential difference. Type design per se does not need much computing or graphics power at all.
  • Adam LaddAdam Ladd Posts: 214
    edited October 2018
    Appreciate the additional feedback, all. Really helping me weigh out the options. I don't want to regret not spending the money where needed, but also not overdo it (as Thomas mentioned, it can add up quick).

    I hoped type design/software would be a relatively small pull on the power, but I also use the Adobe apps quite a bit and have gotten used to 16 GB ram in my current setup (and have not really had any major performance issues)... was hard to tell if going backwards to 8 GB would make a noticeable difference. Sounds like 16 GB would also be a minimum.
  • If you use type design software PLUS Creative Cloud apps like me and @Adam Ladd, I have the same experience: 16 GB is a good minimum. Although unlike Adam, I do find I occasionally run out of memory, so more would be nice. 16 GB is also the maximum on older MacBook Pro models, so that may simplify your choices.
  • I have 32GB of RAM in my iMac (first generation 5K) and 16GB in my MacBook Pro (15" 2016) and I don't really feel a difference. 
  • FWIW, Apple did announce a new MacBook Air today. A big upgrade from the previous models. For anyone considering a 13", it would be a cheaper option than the MBP.
  • Don't settle for less than 16GB RAM. And even modest use and routine storage/accumulation of files will eat up 256 GB of hard drive space pretty quickly.
  • For me, 13" is a totally fine screen size to work on. I definitely prefer working in a large screen environment like I have at my office at home, but the point of the laptop is portability. My standard is that I want to have a laptop that I can carry around with me all day without feeling it overly heavy.

    My old 15" laptop *definitely* did not fit that requirement. It was far too heavy. The 13" MacBook Pro I use when traveling now is a pretty good balance, but I might even consider the Air when I someday need to replace this machine. 

    Like the adage about cameras, 'the best laptop to work on is the one you have with you'. So get something that you can carry. Or get something that will only live at home. 
  • John HudsonJohn Hudson Posts: 2,178
    I'm pretty happy with my 15" MacBook Pro, but I'm generally not very mobile. If I were lugging a laptop around on a regular basis, I might prefer something lighter.
  • Adam LaddAdam Ladd Posts: 214
    edited October 2018
    Good arguments about portability, and to that point Apple lists the 13" MBP at 3.02 pounds and the 15" MBP a full pound heavier at 4.02 pounds (as noted, maybe after lugging around for a while this difference would become increasingly noticeable). The new 13" Air comes in a shade lighter than all at 2.75 pounds. The Air is also slightly thicker than the 13" MBP at it's thickest point, but tapers much thinner at the end.
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