I have returned my 2018 MacBook Pro. I have owned almost every generation of laptop that Apple has released since about 1992. This is the first one I ever thought was a stinker.
For me the decisive problems with the machine were the Touch Bar and the track pad. These problems caused me to feel that I was constantly fighting with the hardware interface — that the MacBook Pro was constantly misreading or frustrating my intentions.
The touch bar has multiple serious problems.
1. The buttons on the touch bar are much too easily triggered. I've found that I often move my left hand to the left side of the keyboard and let it rest or hover there while I use the trackpad. With a real keyboard, this never caused a problem. With the 2018 MacBook Pro, again and again I've accidentally made contact with the esc "key", which of course isn't a key at all but a touch sensitive spot on the Touch Bar that is labeled "esc". More than once this happened while I was filling out an important dialog with a cancel button — and I found myself canceling out of something that I did not intend to cancel out of. When I first got the MacBook Pro ten days ago, it took me a day to figure out why I was hearing a dull bonk bonk bonk bonk noise again and again: my left ring-finger was lightly touching the esc key in some context where esc doesn’t do anything except provoke a bonk. I had similar problems with some of the other touch bar virtual buttons. The keys on a good keyboard provide some resistance that helps you keep from pressing them accidentally. The buttons on the touch bar do not. The problem here isn’t implementation. The touch bar is plain and simple a bad idea.
2. Because the touch bar is constantly changing, you never know what's in it, which means you can’t really use it without taking your eyes off the display and looking at the touch bar. That’s just dumb. I’m not a huge fan of touch screens, but they make more sense than the touch bar.
3. Perhaps I could learn to live with the touch bar if it had some strong benefits, but it does not. The touch bar is wholly unnecessary, otiose, superfluous, supererogatory, and pointless. Does not make anything possible that isn't possible on my 2015 MacBook Pro. As Michael Hyatt says in his excellent review of the 2018 MacBook Pro, the touch bar is “a solution in search of a problem.”
Maybe the touch bar could work in a way that would make users wonder how they ever lived without it. But I doubt it, and in any case, it ain't there yet, not even close. Search the reviews online. Even reviewers who are enthusiastic about the machine's hardware specs are luke-warm about the touch bar. If there’s a review out there that says “the touch bar is awesome and it’s going to revolutionize laptop design!” I haven’t found it.
It's way too big. It's twice the size of the trackpad on my 2015 MacBook Pro and I cannot understand why. A developer friend suggested that they're trying to make it easier for users to use "gestures". Maybe, but I used gestures extensively on my 2015 MacBook Pro for three years and never had a problem with its less-large trackpad. And the 2018 MacBook Pro’s expanded acreage causes a problem: it's difficult for me to rest my hands on the "free space" in front of the keyboard without touching the trackpad. The MacBook Pro's big trackpad is not as good as the trackpad on my Dell XPS 15 at distinguishing between a casual ball-of-the-thumb touch and a deliberate touch or tap.
The only reason I can think of to have the trackpad this big is so that it can be used for a bit of occasional "drawing", for example, to make a signature. I wonder if Apple's interest in both the touch bar and the huge trackpad is part of its desire to avoid making laptops with touchscreens. And that I imagine is motivated by a desire to protect the iPad. I think this is a foolish idea that will fail in the long run. The 2-in-1 PCs are have their problems, but I'd describe them as growing pains. Ultimately, the idea of working with a single device that runs a single OS but has the ability to be either a desktop machine or a portable machine seems to me destined to prevail. The touch bar is a novelty, not a true innovation. Apple is fighting a rear-guard action, just as it has for a long time in the web apps vs desktop apps fight (which Apple is destined to lose).
I mention this mainly because the 2016 and 2017 MacBook Pros were notorious for the problems with their keyboards. I will admit that I prefer the keyboard on my Dell XPS 15 or my 2015 MacBook Pro. But compared to the problems with the touch bar and the track pad, the weakness of the keyboard is a minor issue.
I did notice one thing about the 2018 MacBook Pro keyboard that I never quite put my finger on (so to speak): It seemed to me that the physical keys were touch sensitive, that is, that the keyboard sensed that I was simply touching a key even without pressing it. I think this was the reason that I sometimes found that my ability to tap on the track pad, say, to trigger an on-screen button wasn't working. I got the sense that touching a key was somehow preventing the trackpad from sending its signal. The net effect of the whole thing was that I felt that the 2018 MacBook Pro was demanding that I sit up straight, raise my hands off the keyboard half an inch and not make a move until I was ready to do so carefully and responsibly. To hell with that.
But I did not return this machine because of the keyboard.
Ports and Power
1. The magsafe connector used in the previous generation of MacBook Pros was a brilliant idea—truly one of the best ideas in the history of laptops. Why in Heaven's name did Apple abandon it? My friend wondered if it wasn’t a cost issue. I’d pay $50 extra to have the MagSafe feature.
2. The elimination of any normal USB ports is also hard to explain.
3. It annoys me that there's no SD card slot on this machine.
The retina display is nice, but not a whole lot nicer than the retina display on my 2015 MBP and not as nice as the 4K display on my Dell XPS 15.
I can't figure out what I think about the true-tone feature. As a photographer, I don't much like the idea that my computer is monkeying around with the display of colors in my photos. But there's a basic problem here with color on an electronic display that is hard to avoid. It's one of the reasons I am so fond of black and white. Nevertheless, TrueTone is optional, and I’m usually okay with any feature that I can disable (assuming I didn’t pay a great deal extra to get it).
The 2018 MacBook Pro offered one advantage that I appreciated more in theory than in practice. It has a higher maximum resolution than the 2015 MacBook Pro. This means more content. When both machines are set to maximum resolution, the 2018 machine gives me more "room" for a debugger on the right side of the screen than the 2015 machine does. But there's no free lunch. The 2018 MacBook Pro provides higher resolution in pretty much the same size physical display. So higher resolution means everything gets smaller. If you're not following me here, let me use this analogy. Image that the two computers's displays were simply equal sized pieces of cardboard that I was going to use to make signs. Say the 2015 MacBook Pro allowed me to write twelve big words on the cardboard. The 2018 MacBook Pro allows me to write fifteen words — but I have to fit them on a cardboard the same size. That's more content, but obviously, the letters are going to have to be a little smaller to fit more of them into the same size sign.
The right way to get more content on screen and still be able to view it at a comfortable size, is to put the laptop down and move to my 27" iMac.
But other than that, Mrs. Lincoln....
But other than that, is there anything that I like about the 2018 MacBook Pro? Well, compared to what?
Compared to my 2015 MacBook Pro, yes, exactly one thing: touch ID. This works great and it is convenient. Otherwise, not so much. The under-the-hood specs of this new MBP are either similar to my old one (same storage capabity, same RAM, very similar display) or better in ways that frankly don't mean a great deal to me (processor speed). The new machine is a little thinner and lighter. That's nice, but I wouldn't pay $2500 for it. Other than touch ID, the only practical advantage the 2018 MacBook Pro has over my 2015 MacBook Pro is that it's newer.
How about a different comparison: the specs on my Dell XPS 15 are superior in most respects to this MacBook Pro: better keyboard, better display (and a touch-screen to boot!), more flash storage. And the XPS 15 cost a lot less. (I paid a little over $1000 for the 4K XPS 15 with a 1 TB SSD! Granted it was a restock item, but the original price wasn't twice what I paid.) As hardware, the latest Dell laptops are simply superior to the latest Apple laptops.
The problem with the Dell machine? It's running Windows 10. I am reasonably comfortable with Windows 10 and actually like some things about it. I have a real religion so I don't look to technology or politics to find meaning in my life, which is perhaps a snarky way of saying, I have zero brand loyalty and would switch to a different system this afternoon if it were to my advantage. I can’t quite imagine myself giving up on Apple completely and switching to Windows, but five years ago I couldn’t imagine abandoning Google completely, but I did it, and I have lived a happier life without Google for over a year now. I’m pretty disappointed in Apple at the moment and it may be time for another change.