After Apple's release of the 15 inch Retina MacBook Pro, I've been bouncing back and forth between finding good reasons why I need one, and why I don't. As I said in a previous post about my laptop lust:
After the WWDC event was over, the online Apple store returned to life with the new Retina MacBook Pro prominently displayed, which is basically a blend between the old MacBook Pro and Air. That's the laptop I lust for. But my pocketbook wonders if an Air would suffice.
I priced three options of the new models, with each including 8 GB of memory, a portable superdrive, and AppleCare: (1) a 13 inch 2.0 GHz MacBook Air with a 256 GB flash drive was $1,927; (2) a 15 inch 2.3 GHz Retina MacBook Pro with a 256 GB flash drive was $2,625; (3) a 15 inch 2.6 GHz Retina MacBook Pro with a 512 GB flash drive was $3,327.
But even though most reviews of the Retina MacBook Pro have been highly positive, some negative opinions are starting to pop up.
Josh Duglin spent several days with the Retina MacBook and ended up giving it a "not recommended." He wasn't wowed by the retina display and found other reasons to prefer an alternative Apple laptop. Jason Stewart bought a Retina MacBook, played around with it for a while, then wrote "5 Reasons I Hate My New MacBook Pro: A Geek's Critique."
These guys have helped spur me to consider a fourth option: go with the newly upgraded basic 13 inch MacBook Pro -- which is the computer I've known, and loved, for the past three and a half years.
It dawned on me that the basic MacBook Pro can be bought with a SSD (solid state drive) like the Air and Retina MacBooks have. That was one of the main reasons I wanted an Air or Retina machine. But for $500 a 256 GB SSD can be swapped for the standard 500 GB hard drive. I've been using a 256 GB hard drive on my 2008 MacBook Pro, so that's plenty of storage for me, especially considering how online storage via the Cloud is available.
Then I started thinking about how often I use my laptop's DVD drive: a lot. I regularly peruse ballroom dancing instructional videos, finding them quite a bit easier to watch on my MacBook Pro than on the DVD player attached to our TV.
Sure, I could get an external SuperDrive. But then I'd have to carry it around with me whenever I wanted to watch a DVD. Likewise, neither the Air nor the Retina MacBook Pro have an Ethernet port. Our favorite Hawaii vacation spot only offers Internet access through wired Ethernet. So again, I could get a USB Ethernet adapter, but then I'd be carrying that around when I needed it.
The recently refreshed basic MacBook Pro still has a SuperDrive and an Ethernet port. It has much faster USB 3 ports, just like the Air and Retina MacBooks. A 13 inch 2.5 GHz basic MacBook Pro with 8 GB of memory, a 256 GB SSD drive, and AppleCare would cost me $2,048, about a hundred dollars more than an Air (however, after adding in an external DVD drive and Ethernet adapter, the price for the Air is about the same).
So I don't see much reason to buy an Air over the new non-retina MacBook Pro. I'm fine with the weight of the laptop I've been carrying around for three-plus years. Dropping a pound isn't worth the inconvenience of not having a built-in SuperDrive and Ethernet port.
The retina display is what keeps my head turning toward the new 15 inch flagship of Apple's laptop line. Before the end of the month I'll visit the Apple Store at Bridgeport Village, south of Portland, and see how much Wow! I feel from the retina display. It'll have to be quite a bit to overcome my current feeling that getting another basic MacBook Pro is the way I should go.
Then there's the Wired post about the Retina machine: "The New MacBook Pro: Unfixable, Unhackable, Untenable." Kyle Weins is not at all happy with Apple after he and his FixIt team tore a Retina MacBook Pro down.
The Retina MacBook is the least repairable laptop we’ve ever taken apart: Unlike the previous model, the display is fused to the glass, which means replacing the LCD requires buying an expensive display assembly. The RAM is now soldered to the logic board — making future memory upgrades impossible. And the battery is glued to the case, requiring customers to mail their laptop to Apple every so often for a $200 replacement.
He goes on to say:
The design pattern has serious consequences not only for consumers and the environment, but also for the tech industry as a whole.
...Once again, with another product announcement, Apple has presented the market with a choice. They have two professional laptops: one that is serviceable and upgradeable [the basic MacBook Pro], and one that is not [the Retina MacBook Pro].
They’re not exactly equivalent products — one is less expensive and supports expandable storage, and the other has a cutting-edge display, fixed storage capacity, and a premium price tag — but they don’t have the same name just to cause confusion. Rather, Apple is asking users to define the future of the MacBook Pro.
Weins argues that if people keep buying Apple products that are impossible or at least highly expensive to repair, and can't be upgraded after being purchased, we're going to keep getting more of the same. Another reason to keep me leaning toward replacing my basic MacBook Pro with... a refreshed basic MacBook Pro.
We have consistently voted for hardware that’s thinner rather than upgradeable. But we have to draw a line in the sand somewhere. Our purchasing decisions are telling Apple that we’re happy to buy computers and watch them die on schedule. When we choose a short-lived laptop over a more robust model that’s a quarter of an inch thicker, what does that say about our values?
Every time we buy a locked down product containing a non-replaceable battery with a finite cycle count, we’re voicing our opinion on how long our things should last. But is it an informed decision? When you buy something, how often do you really step back and ask how long it should last? If we want long-lasting products that retain their value, we have to support products that do so.
Today, we choose. If we choose the Retina display over the existing MacBook Pro, the next generation of Mac laptops will likely be less repairable still. When that happens, we won’t be able to blame Apple. We’ll have to blame ourselves.