MacBook ProThere are plenty enough reviews of the MacBook Pro that talk about gigahertz (2.26, in this case), memory (2GB), and tech specs like the LED backlit display.   Like most actual users, I’m much less interested in that stuff than I am in how well it works as a daily driver laptop.  Also, like many people who are considering purchasing a MacBook, this was my first experience with Apple laptops.  I’ve been a Windows guy for a long time and I was curious to see if the MacBook would be an adequate replacement for my Windows laptop.

The build quality and industrial design is first rate, as you’d expect from Apple.  The unibody aluminum construction makes this thing feel solid, and details like the tiny beveling on the edges makes for a very elegant, very well designed feel.  More than once, I found myself stopping my work for a moment to examine an edge or the way a USB port was cut from the aluminum.  It’s really nice work, and brings out the design geek in anyone.

One of the first things I noticed with the MacBook Pro was how different the multitouch trackpad is.   It’s a bit of an odd sensation, after all these years of using a forefinger to drive the mouse and a thumb to click.  But after some use, the multitouch and clickable-everywhere trackpad is one of those “Aha! Why hasn’t anyone done this before?” innovations.   It’s just so… easy.  After a few days, I was using two fingers to scroll documents and three fingers to swipe backwards in browsers instinctively, albeit with a bit of a grin.  The large trackpad size is also welcome, and the way the multitouch system supports the trackpad edges is very intuitive.  My only slight complaint is that the clicking motion involves the trackpad hinging at the top, so clicking towards the bottom of the pad has a very different feel than towards the top (where it takes much more finger strength).

The Macbook Pro’s display — a 13″ LED-baclkit LCD — is absolutely top notch.  It’s sharp, with vibrant colors, and it’s really a pleasure to use.  I’m not a fan of glossy displays in general, but I found the apparent sharpness and general aesthetics to be a worthy tradeoff for increased glare.

One interesting experience I had was with Microsoft Office.  Like many people, I was fairly down on Microsoft’s new “ribbon” user interface in Office 2007 for Windows.   It still takes me some time to find features I want (why are Headers and Footers under Insert, rather than Page Layout?).  But after using Office 2008 for Mac, I found myself pining for the ribbon.  I’m sure it’s a familiarity thing, but the way Office 2008 floats palettes (like Photoshop) and relies on drop down menus was really counterintuitive for me.  It’s usable, and you get used to anything, but as a switcher this was definitely a drawback.

Another thing worth noting is the machine’s battery life, which is excellent.  With fairly heaving network usage, including video playback and compilation of programs in Xcode, I was seeing at least four hours, and sometimes five.   That’s pretty remarkable; the Dell E4300 I looked at a while ago could achieve that kind of battery life, but only with the large 9 cell battery that protrudes from the back of the case like a hunchback.   The Macbook Pro’s MagSafe power adapter was also an overall plus, being really easy to attach and remove.  Although it was sometimes too easy to remove — it was hard to use the laptop on my lap with crossed legs, because my left knee kept knocking the MagSafe connector off.

As it turns out, after living with the Macbook Pro for about a month, I’ve mostly drifted back to using a Windows 7 based laptop.  In addition to my discomfort with Office 2008, I really missed having a docking station for the MacBook Pro. the Windows laptop I’ve been using has a docking station that provides a DisplayPort output that I use with a 1080P monitor, and I have a DisplayLink USB device pluged into a USB port on the docking station to drive another monitor.  I also have a real keyboard and mouse, an iPhone dock, a Neat Company receipt scanner, and a Dymo LabelWriter plugged into the docking station.  And Gigabit Ethernet.

So when I plunk down the Windows laptop into its docking station, I end up with three monitors, a very fast network, and a host of USB devices.   The prospect of manually dis- and re-connecting all of those each time I leave the house for work was just too much of a hassle, so the MacBook has largely been relegated to being an extra machine rather than my main computer.

On the whole, the MacBook Pro is a good, solid machine.  Its build quality, the relative attractiveness and stability of OSX, and the innovative touchpad all make it a pleasure to use.   But the lack of a real docking solution is a dealbreaker if you find yourself traveling with your computer with any frequency.  Hopefully Apple will address that in a future hardware refresh.

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