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2016 Apple MacBook: Overview
Related: backup, iPhone/iPad, laptop, MacBook, MacBook Pro, Macs, SSD, USB, USB-C, video
MPG tested the top-end Apple 2016 MacBook Pro Retina:
- 1.3 GHz Intel Core m7 Dual-Core
- 8GB of 1866 MHz LPDDR3 RAM
- 512GB PCIe-Based Flash Storage
- 12" LED-Backlit IPS Retina Display
- 2304 x 1440 Screen Resolution
- Integrated Intel HD Graphics 515
- USB 3.0 Type-C Port
- 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0
- Force Touch Trackpad
- Mac OS X 10.11 El Capitan
The Space Gray finish is much darker than it appears in web pictures, a handsome tone, but one that shows marks and smudges much more easily than the lighter traditional Silver finish.
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The MacBook is gorgeous in the Space Gray finish, sleek and beautiful. It is a wonderful device for web and email and to putter around, and pressed into duty, it can do some solid work, but the tiny screen and limited performance is not lovely for very long (certainly not digital camera raw files over 200MB). Were it $900 and not $1800, I’d probably buy one just for its diminutive size/weight for those core purposes.
But the MacBook beauty is skin deep and forces form-before-function to the fore, because it has only a single USB-C port, and this port is required to charge/power it (two ports would have hugely improved it). It is a “toaster”—meaning that its a specific tool good within a limited domain. Which is as it ought to be, the disappointment being mainly that it could be more without having to carry a full-size Apple MacBook Pro.
One port and only one port
The one USB-C port is required to power/charge the MacBook. So nothing else can be used while charging unless the Apple multipart adapter is also carried along. A single port is the antithesis of elegance; it is actually a clumsy design that forces carrying other parts for even basic use (consider something as simple as a SDXC card reader). A 2nd port would only make make the MacBook better. And yet the 2nd generation MacBook still has only this single port.
For example, system setup warns to connect AC power when migrating from another machine—but this is tough that port is occupied by the USB SSD from which to migrate . So the Apple multipart adapter or the OWC USB-C Dock becomes a requirement for any kind of operation with an external drive! At the least, Apple should include the Apple multipart adapter given this severe usability limitation.
The charging issue might not seem like a big deal (“charge it later”), but with card readers and backup drives and iPhone all sucking charge power from the laptop, keeping it charged is a big deal in the field. Versatility is next to nil without the OWC USB-C Dock and that requires all power.
Dock or not, the single USB-C port also has only the shared bandwidth of a single USB3 connection—not very fast—good for the performance of one external SSD and that’s it.
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Soldered-on flash drive
The internal flash drive is soldered on and thus non-upgradeable, which is why MPG recommends only MacBook models with 512GB SSD. It is ironical that an ultra-portable device becomes a dead-end solution should the 256GB or 512GB internal flash drive fill up—ruling out products like the OWC Aura. If/when it fills up, user files have to be removed, or an external drive carried.
With that single USB-C port, the MacBook cannot use an external anything and be powered/charged at the same time. So the multiport adapter then comes along too... soon the 'carry' is the MacBook + dongle + drive + charger—something to think about for road warriors vs just carrying a MacBook Pro.
Why the MacBook is a 'FAIL' for my photography field work
If you need an SUV for rough dirt roads, it’s not fair to buy a Prius and then criticize it for not being able to handle the road! And so it is with the MacBook—it’s superb at what it was designed for (light portable duty), but the MacBook sucks rocks for tasks that are no issue at all with a Macbook Pro.
My field days: it’s night after a long hard day in the field (up at dawn and shooting all day, repeat for a week or more). I need to get a lot of things done in a hurry: download the day’s images from 2 or 3 cameras, back them up, check email, handle subscriptions, review images, blog, etc. Because I really would like to eat and sleep too.
To do these things on the MacBook Pro, it is smooth sailing: I download using the built-in SD slot, backup to a USB3 backup drive (while simultaneously downloading still more images), the iPhone (personal hotspot) is plugged into a port for email and internet. Charger attached via power inverter in car, both USB ports used, SD card slot used (4 ports). All is good—I can work just like at home (one wrinkle is CompactFlash cards for which I need an external card reader, so those get downloaded first, I defer the backup drive). All the while, the laptop can be powered off an inverter in my car, so its battery is not sucked down by usage and the attached devices.
Enter the MacBook with its single USB-C port: it serializes this entire process, utterly destroying any efficiency: I can download images OR backup OR be connected to the internet OR charge the MacBook. And the battery gets sucked down while doing most of this. One can use Bluetooth for internet from the iPhone, but it’s not as good as wired, and it won’t charge the phone. The Apple multipart adapter solves only a portion of this challenge; it’s not enough.
It’s a pity to see such a beautiful device crippled in function. One more USB-C port, an SD slot and built-in cellular would address most of these issues. But that might have made it 0.1 inch thicker. I’ll be sticking to the MacBook Pro for all my usual field work.
Since the MacBook forces you to carry extra stuff to get the job done, it only makes sense to not do to the job, that is, the MacBook is fine for some types of travelers, but its limitations in field use for photographers on the go are just too great.