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MacBook Pro i7 Ergonomics and Usability

Last updated 2010-04-20 - Send Feedback
Related: ergonomics, laptop, MacBook, MacBook Pro, Macs, usability

The 17" MacBook Pro (or 15") is a gorgeous unit, elegantly designed and visually attractive. Be sure to get the optional matte screen unless you like glare.

The MBP17 doesn’t feel heavy, and it feels slim in the hands. There is everything to like here except the larger rectangular footprint(for travel).

The 133dpi screen shows ridiculously small type in applications like Apple’s Aperture— unusable for some. You’d better have keen eyes with Aperture and similar. Other programs aren’t so obnoxious in their use of small font sizes.

The Mini DisplayPort has been standard for a while, but I consider it a step backwards, since most photographer-grade monitors today, like the NEC, still use DVI, which demands an adapter, an expensive one for a 30" dual-link display (about $100).

Glossy vs matte and color gamut

The glossy screen or matte screen can be chosen with the MBP17. Anyone working in mixed lighting is strongly advised to avoid the mirror-like glossy screen, and choose the matte screen at a small upcharge.

Photographers should go with the matte screen; the matte screen is more accurate for color and brightness, at least with respect to making fine-art prints. Photographers will appreciate the screen: color gamut seems very good. You can use an external monitor, see Wide-gamut Color Display.

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Form factor and pixel density

The larger screen offers a resolution of 1920 X 1200 and is 14.5 inches wide, which means a pixel density of 133 dpi! That’s fine for photos, but some users will find reading text more of a challenge, and for some, this is a serious usability issue, especially for programs like Apple’s Aperture, which assumes all users have 20-something year-old eyes!

The exceptional screen quality helps matters, but there is no getting around the very small type (text). Other Macs and screens run in the range of 72 - 100 dpi, much larger and easier to read. You can always attach a lower density screen, see here.

The larger form factor of the MBP17 is a significant drawback when traveling on an airplane. I’ve carried a 17" MBP on many photographic expeditions. It barely fits into the carry-on camera bag, and it’s rather awkward to use in today’s cramped airline seats. The 15" model is more convenient for such travel. However, the 17" model does fit easily into my LowePro DryZone 200 photo backpack.



The battery of the MBP17 is built-in and cannot be swapped as a practical matter. Road warriors might be perturbed at this; there are use cases (eg photography) where lugging along several extra batteries is the only way to power a laptop for use over several days, at least if you like wild places ( leave the stinkin' laptop at home!).


Most of the same usability issues apply to the 17" model as with the 15".

The Mini DisplayPort is a hassle in general for connecting to monitors and projectors, because you must carry an adapter. Even in 2010, most monitors and projectors still use DVI.

All the ports are on the left side. Try using a wired mouse without an extender cable when you are right-handed! Note to Steve: it’s just plain bad design to not have one right-side USB port.

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