Wednesday, July 27, 2011

My Favorite Portable Backup: My MacBook Pro 15" Continues To Impress Me!

The Good: Light, Good software, Nice monitor, Easy to use, Security
The Bad: Battery strength unimpressive, Extra space up front, Color choice, Price.
The Basics: I might not demand as much of my 15" MacBook Pro, but it keeps up and offers durability and reliability better than any PC-based laptop I've used!

As those who read my many reviews know, I have been doing a lot of traveling the last few years. The result of this is that I am away from my primary computer terminal quite a bit. And I love Cecil (yes, I name my computers, don't judge me!) and I have a MacBook Pro with a 17" monitor (reviewed here!) which I have been very happy with. However, my 17" I tend to use a lot for the film applications and reading my books and short stories to disc for forthcoming audiobook presentations. It's great for that and with the sheer amount of information and work I do on it, I've stopped risking it as much as I initially did. So when I received a severance check from my last job, I decided it was the perfect time to invest in another computer.

I chose the MacBook Pro Notebook (Z0ET-65B) for several reasons. First of all, I wanted something I'd feel safe going on the internet in any of the many places I ended up while traveling. My intent with the second notebook was to have a portable word processor, DVD player, and internet connection. I was saving the draining apps and moviemaking storage and rendering for my 17" and frankly, I'm glad I did.

Second, I went for an Apple because I knew one of the primary functions of my MacBook was going to be connecting to the internet while traveling. This meant I was looking for a computer with a WiFi connection ability and I decided to start and end my search with Apple because of virus protection. Quite simply, no one writes viruses for Apple based computers. Having been satisfied since buying my 17" MacBook Pro, the rumor of Apple's greatness in this department has been amply proven to me. Using a MacBook has effectively mitigated much of the risk of tapping into weird wifi networks around the country.

The other thing that made me start out with choosing Apple and the MacBook was that with all of the attention on iPods and Apple's peripheral products, as I've begun to move off compact discs for traveling, I wanted to be sure I was buying something that was 100% compatible with whatever mp3 player I eventually purchase when I enter the 21rst Century (I still have not). In all seriousness, burning c.d.s and extracting music from my physical music collection to make into digital copies is becoming more important to me. Because Apple is arguably the leader in technologies that work with multimedia sources, it made sense for me to give the MacBooks a serious look. Actually, my 15" MacBook Pro has become my storage depot for my music collection and the thing that continues to impress me is that there is so much space on the hard drive for storing so much music! I have a hundred c.d.s in my collection and at least a hundred random tracks I've ripped from c.d.s I've borrowed and the hard drive's capacity is not even 1/4 full from that!

As for the 15" monitor, I wanted something I could enjoy DVDs on while on the road, but I didn't need the kind of detail that the extra couple of inches provide with a 17" monitor. For the price difference, I found I could save some money and be functionally no worse off. That theory has proven to be true. And unlike the 17" I have, this does not have a glossy display. The Z0EY-065B has an Active Matrix and all I honestly know about that is that things look real good on the monitor! It produces very vibrant, realistic colors with shading and depth that is much more lifelike than my home computer's monitor. As well, it makes it very easy to see in low light or darkness. The standard displays I saw did not seem as bright or vivid, especially in low light. The nice thing about not having the glossy screen is that in normal light or fluorescent lighting, there is no glare.

The MacBook Pro is the top-of-the-line Apple laptop computer and, as such, should remain relevant and usable for at least the next two years, which considering the $1800 price tag, I'm hoping it lasts quite a bit longer than that! My experiences with the 17" have shown almost no wear and I've not had any problem with any parts breaking down, lending to the theory that the MacBook Pros will endure well over time. After months with my 15" MacBook Pro, I'm seeing no wear.

The Z0EY-065B comes standard with the actual laptop, an adapter/recharger, the battery, software CDs to install the software, and the books for the computer and its software. For those concerned about style, this product only comes in the aluminum standard color. I was disappointed that it was not available in black and joked that when I'm at home, the only room it would be appropriate to use it in is my kitchen, whatwith all of the other stainless steel appliances. These MacBook Pros all look the same, as a result, making it very important to pay attention to which MacBook is your when out with others with the same model.

The MacBook Pro is quite light, just under five pounds and as someone who is in shape, I've never had any problems toting this around for days on end. It does not come with a carrying case and there is no built-in handle either. It is intended to be carried like a textbook. The 15" refers to the diagonal measurement of the monitor. The actual measurements of this MacBook Pro are approximately 14" long (left to right when facing the monitor), 9 1/2" wide (front to back when facing the closed laptop) and 1" deep, when the laptop is closed. This makes it very portable and light, which are the ideals for a laptop computer. Like most all laptops, the computer has a slightly thicker base portion and a thinner monitor portion that flips up from a back joint, like opening a book.

When set up properly, the MacBook Pro may be plugged in using an adapter that comes with the computer. This also recharges the battery. The keyboard is on the base potion of the laptop opposite or below the monitor. The keyboard on the 15 inch MacBook Pro is just big enough to not frustrate users who are used to wider keyboards. On the MacBook Pro, there is the option for a backlit keyboard (no additional charge). Again, because I work in low light or darkness frequently, I took this option. This lights up the letters on the keys so one may see the keyboard even with the lights off. A shorter companion of mine had a problem with this function when we were driving; she was hunched over and the screen was catching the reflection from the backlit keyboard. As a taller person, when driving, I find I am often looking down on the computer and in order to see the monitor properly, it's angled back away from the keyboard (so the MacBook Pro is opened over 90 degrees) and I have never had that trouble. The backlit keyboard is convenient, though it does result in faster draining of the battery.

There is also the trackpad below the keyboard. The trackpad takes the place of a mouse and after using my 17" MacBook Pro for over a year, I am finally used to these things. I'm used to speeding through multiple web pages at a time, often involving moving forward and back between web pages. The track pad is far less convenient than a conventional mouse in this regard because the active field used to move around the cursor is not as large as the monitor's field. In simpler terms, if the cursor is in the bottom right corner of the screen, it takes at least two finger-swipes of the keypad to get it to the upper left corner. This is a bit irksome to me when surfing web pages because that is precisely the type movement I need to make when moving between multiple screens. Outside that, the trackpad requires a period of adjustment for those trained previously on a traditional mouse. It took me a long time to get used to that type of movement and let me just say that anyone intimidated by the process just needs to tough it out; I became adept at using this by reloading my 2000+ item eBay store with items! This required a LOT of patience, but it taught me how to navigate using the touchpad well. The touchpad mouse on the 15" MacBook Pro has great responsiveness and actually seems a little more precise than the one on my 17" MacBook Pro!

On either side of the keyboard, there are little speakers. The speakers produce reasonably good stereo sound, though obviously they will not be the best speakers you've ever heard music from. Given the size, angle, and relative quality of the speakers, they are adequate for basic communications - i.e. receiving voice files/playing media clips results in no serious loss of range - and simple music appreciation. The full range of musical clips will be somewhat muted as compared to, say, car speakers or a home stereo system. In short, the speakers are adequate for listening to music while you're on the go, but it won't be like having an opera on your lap. As well, there is a headphone jack in the computer for when projecting your sound would not be appropriate.

As well, the microphone for recording sound for video clips is housed with the left speaker. I'm not sure how that works, but it seems to work fairly well. As a matter of fact, I noticed no significant difference in recording sound with the MacBook Pro as opposed to recording the sound on my Digital Voice Recorder and uploading it to the MacBook. Because the MacBook Pro's microphone has decent range - it captures voices at normal volume up to six feet away and theatrical projecting to camera from about ten feet away - this makes creating messages easier and less time consuming than with the multiple steps of creating a soundtrack and trying to integrate it with a video message.

I am told the monitor has millions of colors and it looks pretty lifelike, but I've never tried to count all of the colors. There is nothing I've yet seen on the monitor that did not look good (or at least as good as the source material). The MacBook Pro has the ability to present images simultaneously on screen and on a connected screen or monitor, though I've never done that so I am unable to speak to how well that works. The monitor has a built-in display has a native resolution of 1440 by 900 pixels and in practical terms this means that virtually anything played on it will look as good as what a standard monitor produces. When I play a DVD on my laptop the picture looks great and as good at least as good as my mother's 30" non-HD tv when sitting twelve feet away from it. More importantly, the MacBook Pro seems to have no problem with presenting film quality digital images from movies when I render them on the MacBook Pro. The monitor's look and graphics capability should be enough, more than enough, for basic users and most moderate moviemakers. In fact, I have found that while I need the detail on the 17" MacBook Pro for making movies, the 15" is more than adequate for watching movies from DVD or videos I (or others) make.

I do not play computer games, so how this handles graphics from video games I cannot speak to.

As for the battery, battery life on the MacBook Pro can be a real pill. After months of use, I've found that my MacBook Pro has enough juice to operate for four and a half hours in daylight, three and a half hours at night, before the battery goes dead. Those times are based on consistent use - the MacBook Pro has a wonderful standby mode that offers genuine powersaving options and can extend that time -, usually attached to a wireless network, with me operating at least two applications (usually Safari, the Mac internet access program). The battery recharges to full capacity within six hours without use or eight to ten hours while plugged in and I am operating programs. After a few months, the battery has illustrated an ability to retain charge without problem even when it is recharged cold back to full capacity.

The MacBook Pro is Bluetooth compatible (there is something built in) but as I refuse to join the Matrix enough to have a cell phone, I have no idea how well it works. My tumor-free body suggests there's someone else out there better able to evaluate that function.

My PC is about three and a half years old and running on one of the chips that is equivalent to a Pentium IV with a 74.5 GB hard drive that is less than a quarter full. My MacBook Pro has 200 GB storage space, 2GB RAM, and a Core 2 Duo Processor. The Core 2 Duo does not have any significant processing leaps over the Core 2 processor for my 17" MacBook Pro. Graphics load far quicker - about the same speed as my neighborhood library's broadband - and sites that are becoming much more graphic intensive for their basic operation, like eBay, load and reload far quicker on my MacBook Pro than on my home PC.

Those who make movies and use computers for editing and rendering digital images know that video cards are very important. This system can be upgraded to increase the amount of RAM on the video card. It comes standard with 256MB of video RAM so it's not incredibly fast with rendering images from a digital video camera, but it does seem to be very fluid when it comes to playback and editing. Because I do not use this MacBook Pro for the sophisticated rendering that I use my other one for, I think most users will find the standard 256 MB more than adequate for functions like using the Web, watching movies and using most applications.

For average use, I am driving around, connecting to wifi networks and using the internet when I'm driving. This computer works amazingly well for that and I've had no problems with things like crashes (the Microsoft-based laptop I used a long, long time ago was constantly crashing or freezing up). At worst, I may lose my internet connection because the wireless network the computer was on has been interfered with or I have gone out of range.

As for the software, as a PC user, the Mac OS is exceptionally easy to use, probably because Microsoft Windows and its descendants have all been trying to emulate what Apple had from the beginning. As a lifelong PC user, I found the platform very intuitive and easy to navigate around. I was able to adjust my MacBook Pro's file sharing capabilities, firewall settings and other security features without having to look anything up in the help menu. As well, I was able to do things that I don't even know how to do on my PC - like make my MacBook Pro invisible to other people on the network - within hours of first getting the computer. This MacBook Pro comes standard with the Mac OS 10.5, which is where Safari (the internet access program), Quicktime, Spotlight, the DVD player, Dashboard, Mail, Address Book and Xcode Developer Tools are. As well, there's iLife, which I haven't gotten into as I don't have any other Apple products yet, Photo Booth and Front Row. As with any computer, more software can be added and loading software onto the MacBook Pro was at least as easy as loading it onto my PC (though it was arguably quicker loading it onto this newer system!). The .1 difference in the OS (my 17" was on OS 10.4) illustrates no significant changes to usability or functionality for the basic tools I use the 15" laptop for.

The MacBook Pro does have DVD/CD/CD-ROM drive that is like a car's c.d. player. It's trayless and that was something I've not worked with outside my car's c.d. player and my other MacBook Pro. None of the discs I've put in have been scratched or damaged as a result, so it seems all right by me. DVDs play fine without skipping or delays and I've had no problems with CDs or extracting music from CDs and making them into MP3s (again, the system is remarkably intuitive with graphics that makes sense). Burning c.d.s is a surprisingly quick process from this MacBook Pro and I've been able to burn c.d.s for friends in less than three minutes, which impresses me considering the burner on my PC and how slow that can be.

There are three USB ports for connecting printers, scanners, digital cameras and the like. The MacBook Pro comes with a one-year limited warranty and 90 days of telephone customer support, neither of which I've had to exercise yet. I was surprised that there was no modem in the computer, but with the prevalence of wifi networks and ethernet connections (it does have an ethernet card), I found opting against the expense of having one added did not significantly alter my experience, save that now people can reach me when I'm on the computer at home.

The final aspect of the MacBook Pro that I found worthwhile was that Apple seems to be going out of their way to market their products toward those of us with an environmental conscience. The MacBook Pro is Energy Star rated and rumor is that at the end of its life, I'll be able to recycle it. My hope, of course, is that that is something I will not do for many, many years. Indeed, when I bought the MacBook Pro, I told the salesperson that I was looking for something that might last me ten years, at least. The response was that while this will - naturally - get outdated by then, the basic product ought to last at least that long and provide me with a reliable, efficient system that can be upgraded in the future.

Macintosh seems to be well ahead of the curve with its whole MacBook Pro line and the Z0EY-065B is another trendsetter and it is ideal for students, businesspeople on the go who need reliability and people who want to save shelf space by putting their c.d. collection into deep storage!

For other Apple products, please be sure to visit my reviews of:
iPod Touch
iPod Shuffle (4th Generation)


For other electronics product reviews, please visit my index page on the subject to see all I have reviewed!

© 2011, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

| | |

No comments:

Post a Comment