I wasn’t expecting to be buying the 16-inch MacBook Pro this year. To me, it seemed too small an upgrade to justify replacing a three-year-old machine, so I’d planned to stick to my usual 4-5 year upgrade cycle for Macs.
That was before experiencing three separate failures in my 15-inch MacBook Pro:
- Butterfly keyboard issues (bouncing and unresponsive keys)
- Swollen battery
- Logic board fault
I did, incidentally, manage to deduce exactly what the logic board fault was…
Diagnosing the fault myself
I noticed that the machine never shutdown when running on power and connected to an external monitor. It did so when on battery power and then started doing so when on power but without an external monitor.
The sole variable that would explain that was the integrated GPU.
In my work environment, connected to power and external monitor, and with Photoshop running, it would be using the dedicated GPU.
In the evening, running on power but using the built-in display, with no pro apps running, it would be using the integrated GPU.
And running on battery, it would, by default, be using the integrated GPU.
I tested this by going into System Preferences > Energy and unchecking Automatic Graphics Switching. With that unchecked, the crashes didn’t happen even when woken or restarted on battery power. The failure, then, was in the integrated GPU.
This was a purely academic exercise, of course: none of the logic board components are serviceable, so Apple just replaces the entire board. But it satisfied my curiosity.
The four options
I considered the four options I’d have once the logic board is replaced.
First, hang onto it, and take the risk of further failures. A second logic board failure seems unlikely. Then again, so did a first one. The keyboard is covered by the quality program for a further year, so I wouldn’t have financial exposure for that but a second failure seems much more likely, so I would still face the hassle involved in being without the machine while it’s repaired.
Second, some suggested a switch to a Windows laptop. That’s not really an option for me. I like macOS, I love the ecosystem and I write about this stuff for a living. But I include it as it might be a viable option for some.
Third, I could stick to buying older Macs, once they have a proven track record. If I wait until they’re old enough that no widespread issues have emerged, that ought to reduce the risk of failure, and would also mean reduced financial exposure as the replacement cost might potentially be lower than the cost of repair.
Finally, the radical plan: boost my upgrade cycle from 4-5 years to 3 years, and to buy AppleCare+. That would mean my Macs would always be in warranty, and I’d have some protection against accidental damage too without a claim on my home insurance (though AppleCare+ does exclude ‘catastrophic’ damage, so seems to be geared to covering repair but not replacement).
If I weren’t a gadget guy, option three might be viable. My MacBook Air experience has proven that even a much older machine can meet my needs perfectly well most of the time, even though the time taken to open apps is quite noticeable, and a quick video edit test showed that would now be super annoying.
But I am a gadget guy. My Mac may be mostly a tool, but I do still want to enjoy using it, and that really means buying ones with new features. So that pointed to option four, which at this point means buying the 16-inch MacBook Pro. I thus spent half an hour playing with one in the Apple Store after I dropped off my machine for its second repair.
First impressions of the 16-inch MacBook Pro
Ok, technically second impressions, as I had a brief play with one last time, but this was the first time actually considering whether or not I wanted to buy it.
My initial impression had been that the screen didn’t feel very different, but spending longer using it, it did actually feel bigger than the 15-inch. Not as dramatic a difference as it had been with my old 17-inch, but the longer I used it, the more I appreciated it. The smaller bezels as well as the size.
I don’t mean to say it feels like a huge difference; it definitely doesn’t. There’s no way the slightly bigger size would justify an upgrade on its own, but it’s certainly nice to have.
The speakers are impossible to meaningfully test in an Apple Store. Partly because I don’t want to be annoying people around me by listening to them full-blast for more than a few seconds, and partly because there was a Today at Apple presentation going on nearby, so there was no way to judge the quality of the speakers over that. However, I can say they are loud!
Then we get to the keyboard – and let’s start with some context…
I’m a very adaptable person when it comes to keyboards. My first love was always mechanical keyboards with quite a lot of travel and very clicky action. For the few of you old enough to remember, the original IBM PC keyboard was the gold standard at the time, and these days it’s Cherry MX Blue switches. If I could have that all the time, I’d be a very happy man.
However, that kind of key travel is completely impractical in a laptop. And as someone who switches back and forth between an external keyboard, the built-in MBP keyboard and a Brydge keyboard with my iPad, such a huge contrast between keyboards would get annoying.
So, I use a number of keyboards and adapt easily to each.
I have to say that while I was initially horrified by the butterfly keyboard when I first tried it on the original 12-inch MacBook, I did turn into something of a convert. Were it not for the reliability issue, I could very happily continue using it. Although the key travel was very limited, I did like the clickiness.
All of which is a long-winded way of saying that my first impression of the 16-inch scissor keyboard is it felt a bit spongy in comparison. However, it didn’t take long before I started to appreciate it. It’s more comfortable on the fingertips, and even though the keys are not quite as stable as the butterfly keyboard if you catch the side or corner of a key, they are certainly stable enough: I wasn’t getting any missed presses. So I quickly adapted to this, as I do generally.
Mostly, of course, I appreciate the fact that I (hopefully!) won’t have to worry about it failing.
So, overall, this would not be a big enough upgrade to justify itself in normal circumstances, but these are not normal circumstances. I decided to go ahead with the radical plan.
Buying the 16-inch MacBook Pro
Mostly, then, I’m buying the 16-inch MacBook Pro for the wrong reasons. I’m rewarding Apple for its lack of product reliability by giving it more money. A lot more money.
But I decided to make the best of it. While I wouldn’t have pressed the button just for the differences between old and new machines, that doesn’t mean I won’t appreciate them. I’m hoping for a similar experience as the 15-inch model: I didn’t expect to love it, but it turned out that I did.
I did, though, follow through on my rethink: I’ve ordered the base spec on everything but storage.
Considering how undemanding my normal usage is, I do think that next time I’ll abandon my policy of maxing-out the machine. I do like having lots of on-board storage for convenience, but where CPU, GPU, and RAM are concerned, my needs are simple and I’ll have my next specs reflect that.
The future-proofing I used to do is less relevant when I’m only planning to keep the machine for three years.
I did make one decision which I know some readers will consider insane: I opted for the 4TB SSD. There are two reasons for this.
First, we are a very long way still from an always-connected world. Coffee shop WiFi, plane and train journeys, and just the general annoyance of having to wait for stuff to download. For that reason, I like to carry a lot of stuff on-board my laptop, including all my photos.
I find I can just never predict what I might need. For example, as part of my planned upgrade to Catalina, I decided to shift my travel blog from my own website to a WordPress site. Once I began that process, I realised I wasn’t happy with my photo editing efforts from many years ago, so I’ve been reprocessing the photos as I do it. Which means I’m regularly accessing photos from ten or more years ago. Thanks to having everything on board, I was able to get some of that done on a recent flight.
I find the only predictable thing about what I might want to access is, if it’s not on my built-in storage, at some point I’m going to wish that it was!
Second, I want to feel like I’m getting some concrete value from the upgrade. Doubling my storage from 2TB to 4TB is that very concrete value. For example, I can now put back all the video footage I offloaded, some of which I’m again going to want to re-edit at some stage. Again, it just means I can put unexpected free time to good use when travelling. I appreciate that kind of flexibility even though I absolutely acknowledge that it’s a relatively expensive luxury.
But I’m definitely not going to drop below my current 2TB, so the upgrade cost to 4TB is £540 ($700), which is $233/year. That’s worth it to me.
The two-stage upgrade plan
My new machine won’t arrive until 17-20 December, so I’ll be going via my repaired machine for now (which I’ll be collecting this evening).
I’ve created a clone of the drive, so I’ll do a straight restore from that. Since that will restore absolutely everything, that should be 100% painless.
I’m still running the latest version of macOS Mojave as I’m yet to complete the last few remaining things I need before a subsequent upgrade to Catalina. My plan is to get that done before my new machine arrives, as that will obviously be running Catalina.
Once my new Mac arrives, as that will be a different model, I won’t risk a clone, but will instead do a Time Machine migration. That will be more painful, as there are things that don’t get restored, but I can live with that every three years. I will also have the luxury of having both old and new machines around for a couple of weeks until I sell the old one in the new year.
I’ll of course be continuing the diary once I take delivery of my new machine, so you’ll get real-life impressions from late December. In the meantime, check out Jeff’s detailed video review.