4 months with the new MacBook Pro

It's been nearly 4 months since Neowin reviewed the new, 2008 15" Apple MacBook Pro. So, how's it been doing? My initial review was very positive, and I was optimistic on how the unibody enclosure felt, as well as the sturdiness of the machine. Unfortunately, my opinion has changed slightly since then.

Don't get me wrong, this laptop was worth every penny for me. It runs all of my applications blazingly fast, and balances size and weight with power very effectively. But as with all first generation Apple products, there have been some small issues, and I've already sent the laptop in for repair twice.

So, what have I experienced, and should you be aware of the issues if you consider buying one? You can be the judge, but I'll provide my experience for you.

The paint

I'll start off with a small issue: the paint on the outside of the laptop, and most importantly, on the back of the screen. Within a few days of owning the laptop, I could already see some black spots showing through the silver lining. They aren't incredibly noticeable, but there is no denying that they are there. I didn't have these problems for quite some time on my earlier-generation MacBook Pro, and I was surprised at how quickly the paint quality deteriorated. Still, the laptop has not dented, and the aluminum feels much more solid than the last generation. It's a fair tradeoff.

The screen

I was never too happy with glossy screens. Brightness does largely compensate for the glare, but I have a different issue: glossy screens attract oil off the keys of the keyboard. These oils are nearly impossible to get off without some very heavy rubbing, in my case using a glasses cleaning cloth (I find these to be most effective and least damaging).

There is a fix, which is to simply keep a piece of paper between the screen and the keyboard when the lid is closed. But I can never remember to do this, and it's not a perfect solution anyway. Similar problems happen with matte screens, sure. But they aren't nearly as noticeable.

The trackpad

I'm in love with the trackpad. Yes, love. It took some getting used to, but I've really fallen for the full-trackpad button and extra panning space. There are two issues with it, however. First of all, you will never be able to use a regular trackpad effectively again. It takes using a large trackpad to realize how puny regular trackpads are, and how inconvenient the separate buttons are.

Second of all, the trackpad wears out. After four months, I recently called Apple to report that my trackpad had loosened up, to the point that even panning around became difficult unless I was very gentle. The button would click, and stay clicked, meaning that I would end up selecting text on a page instead of scrolling or simply moving the cursor. Clicking on a different part of the trackpad (the bottom right on mine seems fully intact, so I usually go there) solves the problem temporarily, but I will be bringing the laptop in for its second servicing very soon (the first servicing was because the SuperDrive died, and made very unattractive noises doing it. A simple replacement drive was issued).

Conclusion

All in all, these are minor issues to overcome. The screen problem is common across all glossy-screened laptops, and the paint is only a minor cosmetic issue. The only real, unpredictable issue was the trackpad. I'm hoping I was simply given a faulty trackpad, and the new one will permanently solve the issue, but I'm not yet sure.

These issues are enough for me to reduce my original rating, however: while I originally gave the machine a 4 star rating, the little things have forced me into downgrading that into a rating of 3 and a half. I hope the little issues don't continue piling up, but this is a first generation product: hiccups are, unfortunately, expected.

One advantage to Apple's product model is that they always build on a design similar to what they had before, until they replace the product entirely, and start from scratch, in 2 or 3 years. This contrasts, for example, Dell and Toshiba, who put out new designs almost daily. Each of these has little problems, and when they fail, a whole new design is often brought in.

Simon Andrews is a Neowin developer and guest writer.

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Does any of you guys notice that wi-fi signal is worse in those unibody macbooks than in previous plastic ones?

I agree with 9UnknownMen. The apple lovers talk about how great these machines are but I've heard nothing that would make me shell out for an over-priced machine lacking the basics. I remember when they first came out there were articles about the drives failing and owners having to send them back in (just as the author experienced). Hope all those apple fanboys had backups!

I am NOT saying that Toshiba, Dell, or HP has got their act together but then again you're not paying the "Apple Tax" on them either. No thanks, I'll keep my money. I could care less about being "Apple cool" and spend my money on a real beemer!!

Its amazing you need a MBP for essentials we take for granted and then it still sucks. From the baseline No BRD Playback/Burning, No MMC readers, No HDMI or VGA, No Biometrics, No #$#! Right Click, No F/W, No Expansion.

And you guys call these Beemers of the Laptops? GTFO

Blu-Ray isn't really needed in a laptop, and it only raises the price. VGA's not a problem, there are adapters for it. Biometrics are cheap and gimmicky, and not really needed in a laptop. There is a way to right click on a Mac, dammit. Ctrl + click. There is expansion. There's the ExpressCard Slot, and the hard drive can be changed, as well as the RAM and battery. Get your facts straight before you criticize.

I said Baseline. MBP is the model that gets you these "features" that $700 Win Laptops take for granted. Unless you think I should be grateful for F/W and Expansion Slot and doing finger acrobatics to accomplish whats been done for the last 30yrs with L/R click.

This doesn't sound like minor issues to me, it sounds like you are trying to justify spending that much money on a product that has several issues. I would be upset if my Dell laptop had these problems.

Like others have stated already, if I had to send in my expensive laptop for repair twice in the 4 months since I bought it, I would look elsewhere when the time comes for an upgrade. And I would most definitely not feel like "it was worth every penny".

Since macbook pro is for professional, every time you send a notebook for a service then you are losing money or even worst, you are losing customers.

I am a macbook pro user and i am scared to death about the amount of issues about the notebook, specially the problem involved with the nvidia gpu.

I'm not sure I agree with any of that, actually. :S

And I've owned and heavily used a MacBook Pro nearly daily since release.

- Paint hasn't come off in "black spots" here.
- Screen is easily cleaned like I clean usual LCD's; with isopropyl alcohol. It's like new just when I recently cleaned it, actually. And I often even eat dinner by the laptop, not to mention chocolate and greasy potato chips. ;)
- My trackpad has shown no change in feel or behavior since new.

*shrug*

Personally I'm very happy with mine. I'm not saying this is false, but I am saying that report should be taken with a grain of salt as it really sounds like an exceptional number of issues, and is likely to heavily deviate from the norm. I have also not read widespread issues with these things online elsewhere either.

Sounds to me like whoever wants to upgrade from a previous generation Macbook Pro is better off waiting for an update in the coming 3-5 months where a majority of those build quality kinks (trackpad, paint, etc.) will be fixed.

Complimentary Applecare takes care of those things. My experience with Applecare has been great, especially in-store. If you don't act like a prick, they'll take care of things that no other computer maker would cover. They don't give you a hard time about "petty" things either. I always get applecare for laptops. Every 6 months or so, there's bound to be little annoyances here and there that have built up. I bring it in, they keep it for a day or two, and all annoyances gone. I've had hinges fixed that were my own fault and even been given entirely new laptops.

I'm more than happy to deal with kinks here and there if Applecare continues to work like this.

To be honest, it's never wise to buy a first-generation Apple product. I feel you pay too steep a price to be "cutting edge." A couple of examples:

1) iPhone - the original one was great, but the iPhone 3G has faster download speeds, GPS, better WiFi reception, all with a marginal decrease in battery life. And I feel that it's successor will be even better.
2) Macbook Air - great that it was "cutting edge" but refurb prices are dramatically lower compared to a new model. Plus this last update has brought a huge bump to GPU processing power for where the 1.6Ghz CPU just couldn't cut it. Plus, the SSD is far cheaper the second go around.
3) Early 2006 MacBook Pro - rampant with CPU and GPU problems, from processor whines to overheating laptops and bad batteries. Heck, the GPU had to be underclocked to compensate! I think it was rushed. Plus it left out Firewire 800!
4) AppleTV - it's due for a hardware update that brings 1080p support, and I think it costed too much out of the gate at $299 for what it did (and probably still does to be truthful).

A revision is almost always better than the original. Even the same concept could be applied to software (iPhone Firmware 1.0 vs. 2.0), granted that is a bit unfair. But Apple has a long record of not really getting things truly right until the second time around.

They may get things better the second time, but by waiting you aren't really future proofing yourself. Most of their products have incredibly short life-spans before they are outdated and replaced with a newer, better product. I mean, whats the default for waiting to buy an Apple product when the better one is just around the corner? I know its the same in almost any market, but with Apple, since they make a big press conference deal about every new feature, it just seems they are rubbing it in their customers face.

Finally, on your original comment, Apple is lucky to have such a dedicated support base. Most companies don't have the leisure of "getting it right on the second try" before they are lynched by the press. Take the Blackberry Storm for example. The hardware is fine, it just suffers from software bugs. However, most reviewers slammed RIM. Its very unusual for Apple to take heat for messing up on a first-gen product. (Mobile Me may be a glaring example to the contrary, however).

BigCheese said,
I'm sorry, how is this a first generation product?

It's the first to have unibody construction and a single clickable trackpad.

Chrono951 said,
They may get things better the second time, but by waiting you aren't really future proofing yourself. Most of their products have incredibly short life-spans before they are outdated and replaced with a newer, better product. I mean, whats the default for waiting to buy an Apple product when the better one is just around the corner? I know its the same in almost any market, but with Apple, since they make a big press conference deal about every new feature, it just seems they are rubbing it in their customers face.

Finally, on your original comment, Apple is lucky to have such a dedicated support base. Most companies don't have the leisure of "getting it right on the second try" before they are lynched by the press. Take the Blackberry Storm for example. The hardware is fine, it just suffers from software bugs. However, most reviewers slammed RIM. Its very unusual for Apple to take heat for messing up on a first-gen product. (Mobile Me may be a glaring example to the contrary, however).


Chrono951 said,
They may get things better the second time, but by waiting you aren't really future proofing yourself. Most of their products have incredibly short life-spans before they are outdated and replaced with a newer, better product. I mean, whats the default for waiting to buy an Apple product when the better one is just around the corner? I know its the same in almost any market, but with Apple, since they make a big press conference deal about every new feature, it just seems they are rubbing it in their customers face.

Finally, on your original comment, Apple is lucky to have such a dedicated support base. Most companies don't have the leisure of "getting it right on the second try" before they are lynched by the press. Take the Blackberry Storm for example. The hardware is fine, it just suffers from software bugs. However, most reviewers slammed RIM. Its very unusual for Apple to take heat for messing up on a first-gen product. (Mobile Me may be a glaring example to the contrary, however).

Oh dear! We are running, amongst other macs, two 17" G4 iMacs which are about five years old & used daily. The G5 may have replaced them, but I'm happy to live with these lovely machines which have never let us down once. They were custom built with high specs., so are still faster than many out there, but the build quality really shines. The newest iMacs admittedly are more powerful, but these have a good few years life left in them! (and they are lovely to look at!).
You don't need the latest every time (just bought a new Macbook Pro 'though, must have the bug) and if you think that you do then you must be missing the point a wee bit!
Thankfully, we have a choice, so be grateful!

It seems as Apple gets bigger and produces more products, they forgot to upgrade their QA department. A large amount of their products have defects and problems when they first launch. iPhone 3G, Mobile Me, and now the Macbooks, just to name a few, all within a short span of time. Even the original white Macbooks suffered from that "orange staining issue".

I think it's the same % of quality as before, but since the userbase has grown, more people have affected products.

Also, I tend to believe that people who have problems, especially with Apple I noticed, will tend to write like a whole blog letter about it, or a whole new topic in the forums, or something really bad about Apple.

But yeah, they need to up their criterias when they do the quality tests and everything, because the more they grow, the more people will be affected and the more it will ressemble other (classic) companies. Apple needs to demark itself by having higher quality stuff, and there's work to do in that area.

Only owned it 4 months, and have already sent it in twice? Yikes, so much for the so-called Apple quality...I mean I have a Mac too (a Mini), but to already have sent in a laptop that costs a minimum of $2000, twice, seems short of....well, it just doesn't sound like a very solid machine.

Even on a sub-$1000 laptop, I'd be ****ed about paint rubbing off and a wonky trackpad, but the author just brushes it off slightly, because it's a first gen Apple product.

I'll definitely have to agree with you. People made a huge deal about the Xbox 360 when they had to send it in for repairs. Granted, this may be situational or just natural wear but... the sheer cost of the machine is what upsets me. And natural wear after such a short time seems also a bit ridiculous.

Now, before I get jumped by any fanboys here, I would like to add that I'm not bashing Apple. I'm stating that a general consumer paying a good deal of money for a product (especially at that price) shouldn't have to be sending it in for repairs.

Paint chipping. Ugh. That happened shortly after I got my M1210. They were nearly unnoticeable, but after a year it looked like as if the area was scribbled in with pencil graphite.

Also with the keys hitting the screen: the problem is greatly magnified if you've got books pressing against your laptop's screen.

Why are your keys hitting the screen in the first place? That would be worth looking into. I have an early '08 MBP and the key/screen issue isn't there - is the unibody that much different in terms of the screen pressing on the keys?

I honestly might have excessively oily fingers. But I've seen it on other laptops too, including the regular white MacBook from back in the day.

simon360 said,
I honestly might have excessively oily fingers. But I've seen it on other laptops too, including the regular white MacBook from back in the day.

My screen never gets oil off the keys, though I do try to always keep my hands clean often. I can't stand my figures being even slightly oily. lol

As for the paint chipping -- what? I've never had that with my old or new MBP and I've owned mine since October. I just did a quick once over and haven't found anything to that effect. The only "problem" I have is the scratching that occurs around the power adapter, but that's nothing to complain about and is my own doings.

As for the track pad -- do you usually press it (like, physically press it)? Mine is still firm and very loud. lol

I use mine all the time at school and home and haven't had a single problem with mine and would give it more of a 4.5 stars. It lost 1/2 because when it's a sleep for 2 hours it can use 10-15% of it's battery, which is just bad, and also the hinge needs tightening, though it's not a big deal.

The problem I have with my keyboard isn't the keys touching the screen (the slipcase I use came with a keyboard protector to counter that), but the "shiny keys" issue. After 4 months (this is a launch machine), the keys have very noticeable shine marks on the "sweet spots". Annoying, yes, problematic, no.

As for the reliability: this is my second UniBody MacBook (it was replaced almost instantly due to having the infamous "flickering screen" issue. My friend has the 2.5GHz MBP, and he's had it replaced once, and it's being sent in for repair to have the upper casing changed because they cannot tighten the trackpad enough. Welcome to what I like to call "1st Rev Product Syndrome" :).