Macbook Pro MKII: Future Artifact

Posted by Scott

DSC_2472.jpgDSC_2513.jpg DSC_2485.jpg As you may have already guessed, I caved in and got a new Macbook Pro (MKII, Unibody….whatever it’s called) last weekend. Since there’s no sense in beating around the bush with this one, I’ll come right out and say it: This is possibly the most beautiful, functional, and elegant piece of hardware I have ever owned (or been in the same room with for that matter). Obviously it’s a looker, there’s no denying the aesthetic appeal; it feels as if you’re in the presence of some artifact transported back from the future. It’s almost impossibly thin and the weight is perfectly balanced, it feels almost like a solid brick of aluminum. The most incredible part is the power hiding beneath that sleek skin, it’s hard to believe Apple crammed it all into this svelte form factor. I think the real key to the success of this design is the fact that it feels and looks like one solid object. All laptops I have used until this point sort of felt like a loose collection of disparate components shoehorned into a flimsy shell. The new Macbook feels like a single unit; a rugged, seamless, integrated tool. As it should, the body is carved from a single piece of aluminum.

The battery life is also great, I have been squeezing around 4 hours out of a single charge which blows away my previous HP laptops. I Would have to say my favorite part though is the new trackpad. It’s huge, lacking a button (actually, it’s just one big button), and very responsive. The gestures are genius: four finger gestures activate expose functions, three fingers handles navigation (fwd, back, etc..) and the old two finger scrolling is intact. This is the first laptop I’ve used where I wasn’t constantly wishing for a mouse. The keyboard is great too, very nice tactility with a solid feel. A great improvement over previous versions in my opinion. Bottom line: Believe the hype, this thing is a winner.

Ok, so enough gushing, everyone knew the new Macbook Pro was going to be an amazing machine before it even came out. It does have two potentially major weaknesses, and while they pale in comparison to the upshots, I feel compelled to list them here in case any are deal breakers for those of you considering buying one. First up: the infamous glossy screen. A lot of people have lamented the death of the matte screen option which was available on the previous incarnation of the MBP. But to tell you the truth, it really doesn’t bother me like I thought it would (and kind of gives me a nostalgic feeling for my old CRTs). The glossy screen was originally a deal breaker for me, I was planning to wait until they released a matte version (which is supposedly in the works) as my previous HP gloss screens were absolutely terrible. But after comparing the new MBP with an old matte MBP, I definitely prefer the new screen. Given, it is an LED so the brightness and contrast are better than the old LCDs to begin with, so perhaps a matte version of the new LED would win out in the end. But honestly, this has turned out to be a non-issue for me; I have yet to encounter a lighting situation in which I had a big problem with glare. I took a shot of the MBP doing it’s best mirror impression (below). Keep in mind that the screen was turned off for this picture and I was running some very bright photo flood lights, so it really amplifies the effect a bit more than a normal usage scenario. That shiny screen is a fingerprint / scratch magnet though, I can’t imagine it still looking very pretty in a year or so.


Next up is Apple’s new Mini Display Port format. It’s a very, very small port that handles all of the video output duties on the new Macbook. I’m all for innovation and moving forward, but this seems like too much too soon. It also seems like Apple is just trying force it’s customers to adopt it’s own, proprietary format. My issue with the Mini Display Port isn’t that I had to buy $100 in adapters just to make it work with my existing equipment (although that wasn’t exactly a plus), my problem is that, for the time being at least, there is no TV out for the Macbook Pro. The old full-sized DVI ports had four analog pins that allowed for an S-Video or Composite adapter to be used. Even the mini-DVI ports, which would have fit fine in this new form factor, supported analog output. You might say that S-Video and Composite are old formats and worthy of deprecation in this day and age, but a lot of video professionals still rely on these formats for live performance. For most VJs, DVI or VGA just isn’t an option as a lot of venues don’t supply them on stage and most video mixers still run off S-Video/Composite only. I know this isn’t an issue that will effect the masses (clearly who Apple are shooting for), but the word “Pro” does appear at the end of this laptop’s name and I’d expect it to have all the “pro” features included. And even if you aren’t a pro, it’s always nice to be able to hook up to an older (sans-HDMI/DVI) TV in a pinch. I was really caught off guard by this issue since at the time of purchase I was told that TV out was possible and the nice salesman even sold me a TV-out adapter (which of course didn’t work considering It’s only compatible with the old MBP. Something I didn’t learn until I got home). There is hope though, I read somewhere that the new Nvidia chip does support analog out, it’s just a matter of Apple taking advantage of this ability and offering an adapter. But since they don’t currently offer such an option, I’ll have to go plunk down another $100 for a TV scan-converter which will further degrade the already poor S-Video/Composite signal I’m trying to output. (See Peter Kirn’s Create Digital Motion article for more info on alternatives to TV-out on the Macbook.) And if all that’s not enough, those who invested in Apple’s flagship 30″ Cinema display have to purchase yet another $100 adapter just to make Mini Display Port work with their monitor. So to sum up, that’s a potential $300 extra just to get your shiny new Macbook to play nice with all your existing gear/formats. (And that’s not counting a Firewire 400 adapter.)

Obviously, neither of these relatively minor issues were enough to turn me off to this otherwise incredible machine. But I guess when I see something so near perfection and the only things holding it back are such simple fixes, I tend to fixate on those problems. The bottom line is that this is a huge leap forward in mobile computing and would serve any creative well. $2000 gets the base model and $2500 will get you the beefed up version (4GB ram / larger HD / 512MB vram). The student discount will knock off around $200.

So what say you? Anyone else scored one yet? Any thoughts / issues? Sound off in the comments.

48 Comments Leave A Comment


Karl Peterson says:

November 10, 2008 at 2:04 am

Looks great Scott. I’m debating whether or not to upgrade from my old MacBook CoreDuo (Black) to a new MBP. I don’t think I’m quite to the point of needing more power. Most of the work I do is at low resolution (web) so Photoshop still runs like a gem, but I’d like to get some better performance out of my music software.

Good to hear that you like it. The new video output is a drag though, considering I’ve got 4 adapters for mini-DVI.

By the way, is this your first real Mac? Welcome to smooth computing.


Jerry says:

November 10, 2008 at 2:12 am

A matte screen is in the works? Where did you get that rumor? You’re getting me all hopeful, here. ;)


Scott says:

November 10, 2008 at 2:40 am

yeah, if I had the old MBP I would have a hard time justifying this too. it’s a slam dunk for people who are getting their first mbp, but if you already have an intel, you can probably squeeze some more time out of it. I would suggest waiting until next year when they’ll inevitably come out with a slightly improved version of this latest one. and yes, this is my first official, *real* mac. I retired my hackbook pro back to windows XP land to handle media center duties. although it ran really smooth, so I already had an idea of what was in store.

yeah, that’s a very questionable rumor… it’s floating around the mac rumor blogosphere / message boards. I don’t think it would be too hard though. as far as I know, all LCD/LED screens start out glossy by nature but are then coated to be matte.


Simon Jakobsson says:

November 10, 2008 at 3:10 am

I too got the new MacBook Pro, and I agree with every single point you wrote. As of today, I haven’t really got to use it properly, I still have my intel imac 24″ for another two weeks, and I haven’t got a external screen just yet (the mbp ate all of my savings).


derek anson says:

November 10, 2008 at 4:27 am

firstly, it looks fantastic but… I have a matte MBP and i really don’t like these glossy screens. I’ve used a gloss screen laptop before on a photo shoot and it really was hard work. Not a good experience. I’m hoping the new MBP’s don’t suffer from the mirror effect out in the open or Apple start offering a matte option.


Alvaro says:

November 10, 2008 at 5:37 am

When I think of the glossy screens, the iPhone comes to mind, which for me is perfect, so I only see the benefits of having an LCD behind cristal, glossy or not, so somehow as long as it doesn’t affect the colors I’m fine with it.

For the record I hated the first iterations of the glossy screens on the MacBooks.

One of these days I would get one of the solid macbook pro, but first the iMac.


Harley Turan says:

November 10, 2008 at 6:14 am

Yeah, mine should be arriving sometime this week. It was a no brainer after my sister’s new MacBook arrived last week. It just feels so solid, as if it will last forever.


ralph fisker says:

November 10, 2008 at 7:40 am

I’ve been trying to buy a new MacBook Pro 15″ for the past 4 weeks and haven’t been able to get my hands on one. They’re either slow in shipping them to Belgium (Europe) or slow in making them over here (does anyone know btw?). All MacStores have one on display now (it took at least a week after the keynote for the first MacStore to have one) but they don’t have any in stock. Which is frustrating seeing three of our pc’s broke down about a month ago and we thought the new releases were right in time. But converting everything to Mac is no way near yet. I’m actually very tempted to buy a whole new set of PC’s for our office and get it over with. Fiddling with these “in between PCs” is frustrating and who knows when it’s Europe’s turn? Bad Mac strategy, I think.


mdoane says:

November 10, 2008 at 7:57 am

The glossy screen really doesn’t bother you anymore? REALLY? Because that’s the only thing stopping me from buying one. Everything else about it is perfect for my purposes. I’m going back to school in the spring for photojournalism, and I’ve assumed that the glossy screen would kill me out in the field. Maybe I’m wrong. Have you used yours outside much?


Allan says:

November 10, 2008 at 8:09 am

Everything is awesome about this machine except for the trackpad. Both the button and the trackpad itself are randomly unresponsive. At first I thought it was just because I needed to get used to not having a button, but there are moments when I’ve needed to repeatedly press the buttons upwards of 5 times just to get a response. Sometimes the mouse just doesn’t recognize my finger gestures. Its pretty frustrating. Apparently it’s a software issue that Jobs is working on, so we’ll see what happens.

The glossy screen which I thought would completly annoy me is actually really nice. Even when I’m working on a darker graphics or watching the night scene in a movie, you don’t really notice the reflection of yourself in the glass. It’s there but the on screen action seems to vidually overide the reflection.

Another thing that I didn’t expect any improvements on was the internal speakers. These things really crank out a lot of sound for laptop speakers anyway. Much louder than the previous MBP.


howie says:

November 10, 2008 at 9:07 am

Hey Scott, I’ve been trying to reach you via myspace- sorry to post on your blog, but I’d like to speak with you about designing an album cover. Could you pls email me at



Andrew says:

November 10, 2008 at 9:11 am

Karl – you could get a Macbook. the main difference is the lack of a full dedicated graphics card. Gizmodo has some great benchmarks where it shows that the Macbook isa pretty powerful machine on its own.

I’ve got a 2006 MBP, and I’m just itching to upgrade. I’ll see if I can justify it, I do a lot of traveling by bike with it over my shoulder, so the solid construction would be nice.

But my MBP has a glossy screen. I got it as a refurb so I didn’t have a choice, but I don’t mind it. I never liked the looks of the matte screens, they looked too washed out and fuzzy for my tastes. So I’m very happy about the glass screens.


steven wade says:

November 10, 2008 at 9:18 am

i have the (still very good, i keep having to remind myself of that) previous incarnation of the macbook pro. i will however confess that i am a mac geek. so here in chicago i moseyed down to the apple store to check out the new MBP a few weeks ago. it’s a wonderful design, but i just couldn’t get past the glossy screen. i would imagine that with as firmly as apple has their finger on the pulse of the creatives that use their products, that they have to realize that a matte option is only going to help them sell more units.

if (when!) that happens i will be down there with two grand in my pocket!


Kevin Crawford says:

November 10, 2008 at 10:07 am

Congratulations, and welcome to this side of the fence. Once you’ve gone Mac, you’ll never go back ;)

@Ralph Fisker
I really, really recommend trying to find a previous generation MBP on clearance or refurbished. Refurbished it’s as low as $1300 I believe – what a steal!

I prefer the previous generation anyways, because of the DVI & matte screen :) but I do envy that new graphics card!


Kevin says:

November 10, 2008 at 10:47 am

I grabbed one also, and it is also the best piece of hardware I’ve ever used :) I was worried about the glossy, but ended up feeling the same, it doesn’t bother me at all and I’ve actually started to love it. As for the ports, I’m kind of a minimalist anyways, so the mini port works great for my one external monitor. Since niether of your 2 small problems have effected me, I’d say this thing is perfection. Reignited the passion to design.


deroit says:

November 10, 2008 at 11:02 am

I will never ever find it possible to own one of these as it is SEVERELY lacking in ports! Not only is the mini display port a total bummer (as you describe very well) but only having one USB and one firewire is beyond ridiculous. It’s a macbook PRO, not a macbook lite, and shouldn’t be a functionality downgrade.


Rory says:

November 10, 2008 at 11:12 am

Nice mini review Scott.

I don’t think Im sold on the look just yet. What gets me most is the black outlined screen. And it seems the black outline is a little wider than the previous Macbook Pro line -making the screen look smaller.


Rory says:

November 10, 2008 at 11:19 am

Sorry for another post but I just saw “deroit’s” message.

I agree 100%! Especially since I upgraded to Mac OS X 10.5.5 my usb hub doesn’t work. Apple are showing no signs of sorting out the problem either, there have been iPhoto, iTunes, Security and Final Cut updates since 10.5.5 and not one mention of the USB hub problem -and there are a lot of people who are experiencing it.

I have an early 2008 Macbook Pro with only two usb ports -and only having two is a major problem for me… never mind just one.


Kev says:

November 10, 2008 at 11:20 am

The stupidest thing about this notebook is that apple promotes it having instant full screen brightness. This is the last feature it is worth buying it. Nobody needs an instant brightness. Why not having the 2 seconds after opening it? This is no benefit at all.

I bought the reduced matte MBP few days before the launch of the “brick” because i did not want to see my keyboard twice simultaneously. Or people or windows behind me.


joe says:

November 10, 2008 at 11:46 am

Nice mini review, Scott. Just got one last night and thus far am loving it.

Couple gripes I have are:

The screen hinge is a little loose. if i place the laptop at a 40+ degree angle it starts to close.

Coming from a PC world, I miss the home/end keys bunches. Gonna take some time to get used to the hot keys.

And to echo a few other people… 2 usb’s just aren’t enough. erg.

Thought the gloss would bug me more but it hasn’t been much of an issue.

Overall it’s a pretty fantastic machine.


jefta says:

November 10, 2008 at 4:04 pm

i bought my macbookpro soon as it was in stores. I bought the cheap one. I needed it really bad, being a part of a media department in a ministry and just gave my old mac away. I stalked the apple pacific store for 3 days, asking if they already had the new books. By not having a computer and being in the mediateam did bring me back to sketches and writing ideas, instead of just rocking with photoshop.

i too was wary of the glossy screen. Still, if there was a matte with the birghtness and quality of a glossy, i’d buy it right away, but working with glossy is not that bad. But yeah, sometimes its annoying when your in a very light area.

The speed is nice too, although i’ll probably upgrade my 2gb memory to at least 4gb, to keep photoshop fast as i am working on big files.

As far as looks go, i love it. I love the smooth case, it feels like a baby. Im not that fond of the black keyboard and black screen. I just absolutly love the powerbook g4 design, single color and just communicated STYLE to me. If i put my new side to side with a old macbookpro, i prefer mine, but still crave that wonderfull single color look. It made it a little more disctict from other notebooks out there.

Trackpad is really awesome. Even with my old powerbook, i’d never use a mouse, i love trackpads. But now coming from a new mpb trackpad going back to the old ones feels extremly akward and foreign.

the video output has not been a problem so far, but i’d like to connect a projector sooner or later, so it’ll be someting i’d have to look in to.

All in all, i love the new mabookpro, but i already knew that before i bought it.


Joaquim Marquès Nielsen says:

November 10, 2008 at 4:08 pm

“That shiny screen is a fingerprint / scratch magnet though, I can’t imagine it still looking very pretty in a year or so.”

But isn’t the screen covered in glass now? Making it virtually un-scratchable?


Scott says:

November 10, 2008 at 10:13 pm

yeah, it’s really not bad, the colors really pop, and I don’t mean in an artificial way, they seem pretty accurate. I am going to calibrate this week and I’ll get back to you on how color correct is actually is.

my trackpad hiccups here and there, but nothing like you’ve described. although, I mostly use it docked on my desk with a mouse, so I haven’t been working with the pad that much.

yeah, I missed the home/end at first, but now I really prefer the ctrl/arrows for navigating…when you combine with other modifiers like shift for select they become very powerful. now I find myself annoyed with home/end when I work on the PC.

yeah, somehow I managed to get a nice scratch on the far left side already , luckily it’s on the bezel so it doesn’t mess with the image. I honestly don’t know how I did it, I only noticed it when I was taking the pics for this article last night.

I hear you. 2 USB ports is a joke. I feel like apple too often puts form before function….but perhaps that’s why every lusts after them so much. but seriously, they could have squeezed in a couple more somewhere. anyways, a simple usb hub solved that problem for me.

a couple of you mentioned taking issue with the black elements…seeing as how this is my first mbp, I am not used to any particular look. I actually like the black, kind of cool when you open it up and there’s a whole different vibe inside.


NAVIS says:

November 10, 2008 at 10:30 pm

I’ve had my 24″ iMac for about a year and a half. I used to be pro-PC but like people say… once you go Mac…

But so far I love it. Except the screen has some odd glitch in it near the top where it looks like the colors are diffusing oddly. Kind of like a sun burst sort of thing. It doesn’t bother me too much but… that shouldn’t happen on a screen like this and I hope it doesn’t get worse. I also need more RAM and USB ports. I’d love to own a laptop but I gotta pay this beast off first.

I remember being obsessed with Best Buy ads in the Sunday newspapers back when Packard Bells were hot. And I’m still convinced that to this day, NO system can properly run the game Mega Race.

Kudos for having the Thompson book. Great read.


Melvin says:

November 11, 2008 at 1:45 am

It seems like its a bit to soon to purchase the new macbook pro ( i did purchase it though) the trackpad is absolutely brilliant, every time i work on an older macbook i do the four fingers and go ow wait… i think its the most beautiful laptop ever made. smart use of the videocards as well, it only works when it has to work wich saves you some battery. I’m happy with my new macbook but if you can wait to buy it i should wait, it has its flaws

great review scott!


Rory says:

November 11, 2008 at 1:52 am

Hey Scott, do yourself a favour(if you haven’t already).

Download and install “Quicksilver”!

Number 1 Mac app for integration with OS X hands down. The get “Adium”.


Serj says:

November 11, 2008 at 8:24 am

I have an early 2008 Macbook Pro with only two usb ports -and only having two is a major problem for me… never mind just one.


André says:

November 11, 2008 at 8:37 am

Hey Scott.

Could you send me some high-res pictures from your macbook pro? They would be looking really nice on my desktop :-)


a fan from europe :-)


Dave says:

November 11, 2008 at 11:03 am

Great review Scott. I wonder if you considered the MacBook Air at all? It’s so light and while it doesn’t have all the bells and whistles power-wise as the Pro, it seems like a great machine for beginner/moderate users on the go.


Shane in Seattle says:

November 12, 2008 at 12:06 am

Really nice to hear everyone’s perspective on the new MBP. I picked up the 15″ less then a week ago. I’d have to say it is the single best machine I’ve purchased so far. I am an online student @ Academy of Art University and do a lof of design work and freelance doing photo retouch. I have to say this machine can handle all of it no problem. I don’t care much about the glossy vs. matte screen anymore. I actually like it a lot. I do all my work indoors in strict low-light – so it was not a factor in making a decision of purchase.
That all said – the track pad has certainly come a long way. I get a kick out of using it. It is an extreme time saver. Speed is top notch. Very low fan noise and almost undetectable.
This machine was worth every penny. It will serve me the way a computer is intended to.


Scott says:

November 12, 2008 at 8:53 am

Having tried one out for a few hours at the Mac Store I will most definitely stick with my MBP 17 of the previous generation. I for one prefer the all silver aluminum look, the feel of the new case is great but I have feeling many stil want black as well. Also with my 17 I have full DVI, which I can plug directly into any HDMI input on any new monitor, the new Mac interface is a very Microsoft move that pisses me off no end. Also the reduction of ports in the name of looks instead of the name of the pro user is also going to kill them. Just because macs are selling better than ever is not an good enough reason to ignore your core market that has been loyal for eons.


Jason says:

November 12, 2008 at 12:04 pm

Scott, I’d love it if you would do a follow-up post about the color calibration, specifically as it relates to print work. I really want (need!) to get a new machine, I’ve been waiting for this one and now I’m unsure if I can get it because I do print design (sometimes) and I’ve heard a lot of people complaining about the accuracy of the colors on screen vs. printed proofs. You’re color work is always top shelf, so I’d love to hear your thoughts.


Shane in Seattle says:

November 13, 2008 at 9:12 am

Good idea Jason. I was using a Huey Pro (nothing special) to calibrate the monitor. For some reason it did not calibrate as expected. I have had no issues calibrating on my iMac (matte screen). Perhaps I’m missing something. It would be great if anyone has a good idea on getting a perfect monitor cal.


moni says:

November 15, 2008 at 7:03 pm

Congrats on the new machine.

I still prefer the previous model MBP for my needs. In my current workflow, I often use all my ports. Taking those away is a nono. Same with the connections. It’s also pretty damn solid… moreso than anything else I’ve used… the new one probably bests it in that department, but not by much.

Hopefully in the next go-round, they bring the pro back to the macbook pro.

– m


Marco says:

November 20, 2008 at 10:13 pm

Re: Display Port to Composite – if you had the old apple DVI to Composite adaptor couldn’t you just attach that to the Mini-Display Port to DVI adaptor?


Andrew says:

November 24, 2008 at 5:21 am

As mdoane stated, the glossy screen as the only option is a major turn off for me. I’ve used Macs before, and was a previous owner of a first gen MBP 15″ and it was awesome. The fact that Apple is trying to sell a High-End Media workhorse with a glossy screen makes me wonder if form and function were lost on a trivial detail. Glossy screens just aren’t practical to me for a professional digital media artist. Constantly dodging and adjusting to get rid of glares is just a pain, and for Apple to only give the option of glossy seems somewhat absurd. Imagine shooting with the MBP outdoors, with your camera tethered. Good luck seeing the image on the screen without half the screen covered in a glare.

Hopefully Apple will wisen up and release a matte screen. But anyway, congrats on your new MBP. Enjoy that beast machine :)



November 24, 2008 at 9:12 am

well, i’m pretty sure now that Scott will come up with new awesome designs. Right Scott ??!!


grovenstien says:

December 11, 2008 at 9:23 am

I am gutted that there is not a straight forward way to get s video out of the new MBP and no simple way to get firewire 400 in! It’s very annoying having lots of peripherals plugged into the new MBP just to make it do what the G4 powerbook did with ease! Also staff at the apple stores seem miss informed about the MBP’s abilities to output video.


Benny says:

January 4, 2009 at 1:15 pm

I just got my new Unibody MacBook Pro for a few days and I love it!! I had a Santa Rosa MBP, but it died. Well, at least, I had the black screen of death, the system is still working.

I like the glossy display, it is very nice in the evening. I have the base model and now I’m looking for good retailers for the ram upgrade. I love the design of the machine, so sleek. And the keyboard is great!