MacBook Pro Review

25 March 2022 by Lincoln Ramsay

This is my review of a MacBook Pro 14″ (2022). I’m coming from a MacBook Pro 13″ (2011) so that’s my reference for how a machine should be.

The laptop was certainly expensive. I considered getting an M1 Air or MacBook Pro instead but I didn’t want a touch bar, and I figured if this laptop lasts anywhere near as long as the last one did, the cost won’t matter all that much. I certainly didn’t care about the extra heft compared to an Air.

The laptop itself is great. Performance seems fine. It has definite moments when I notice it being faster but mostly it’s just fine. There have been a few unexpectedly slow times. I wonder if that’s because the system is trying to stay off the big cores, or if it’s just a Rosetta thing?

There’s a distinct lack of heat, and the battery seems to last forever. That’s true even though I make this machine work. The old laptop’s battery wasn’t in great shape, but I’d use Power Saving mode in Android studio if I wanted any kind of runtime on battery. That doesn’t seem necessary on the new laptop.

It’s been an interesting progression. My first laptop (the first x86 MacBook Pro) got 3-6 hours of battery life. The last laptop got 3-10 hours of battery life, with heavy workloads draining the battery just as quickly as the first laptop, but light workloads lasting for longer. My work laptop is an 11th gen i9 and the difference between idle and loaded is so extreme I had to put clock speed limits on it to avoid thermal shutdown. This new laptop feels like a return the older times, with heavy and light not seeming to make as much difference to battery life, but maybe that’s just because the battery lasts so long? Or maybe it’s because I don’t properly stress the whole system (eg. I don’t hit the GPU much).

I’m still not sure I like glossy screens but I haven’t got a matte cover for this one yet.

The screen itself is fine. It’s got way more pixels than the old one but I guess I just don’t care? I notice the physically larger screen much more than all the extra pixels. I do notice the inky blacks. I had to use gamma adjustment when playing videos on the old laptop sometimes because anything “dark” would just turn into gray mud. That’s not a problem anymore.

The auto brightness seems to be spot on. Maybe that’s true tone as well? I haven’t found the need to adjust the backlight the way I did sometimes on the old machine.

The keyboard is nice. Different to the old one… I’d almost guess it’s got more travel? Definitely a bit more bouncy. I feel like they need a little more force to depress too. I’ve had no trouble adjusting.

The escape key (and row) is full height now. Seemingly to fit the fingerprint sensor in? That “button” replaces the power button, which is slightly annoying because power is a button I used, while the fingerprint sensor is not something I’ll ever use.

The trackpad is nifty. Unlike the old machine’s hinged clicker that made clicking near the top really hard, this one doesn’t actually move and “vibrates” to emulate a click feel. It’s like magic. But of course, I don’t even like clicks so I’ve turned on tapping. I have found a bunch of places that seemingly don’t want to let me tap though. Luckily I can just click in those places. I have had some trouble dragging files too. It’s something that happened on the old system sometimes, but it seems worse somehow. Even the trusty “click and hold, then drag” method is not helping. Resorting to using 2 hands (instead of a thumb and finger) seems to help.

I turned off all the fancy new “gestures” (since I don’t use them) and set the firmness slider all the way up because I kept accidentally triggering a “firm touch”, which would invariably interrupt whatever I was trying to do (often dragging). It helps, but I still need to avoid pressing on the trackpad too hard even though there’s no “firm touch” gesture enabled.

The dock has a bit below it where the wallpaper shows, but the mouse cannot get to. It’s like they wanted to make the dock “float” above the wallpaper, but (thankfully) decided the infinite height targets were too useful to break. But it looks odd to see a place I cannot click.

The notch. It really is something. It’s not always a problem, but sometimes…

I tried the notch-hiding apps to see if I liked that, but I don’t like having a black menu bar. Actually, I don’t even like the translucent menu bar newer macOS has since it makes the text so unreadable and most of the time the wallpaper can’t even be seen (behind the app below the menu bar), making the effect pointless. So I’ve turned off transparency, which feels like overkill but it’s seemingly all I can do for now.

When I first got the laptop, I set it one size larger than default scaling, which felt closer to the old machine’s screen. But the notch removes enough real-estate at the top that I had to try and minimize the number of status icons, and some particular apps (Android Studio) just filled up the whole menu bar. I ended up moving back to default scaling just to try and fit more menus across the screen.

The only thing worse than the notch is dongle hell. I have a bunch of USB cables and none of them are type-C. Right at the start, I needed to connect the backup drive. I tried the type-C to type-A adapter that came with my Pixel but it’s only USB 2 (ie. slow). My son had an unused type-C to 4x type-A hub so I’m using that. It got me fast backup disk access. It lets me plug my Pixel in for debugging sessions. It lets me use my USB sticks. It’s annoying that it hangs off the side, but I guess that’s my life now. I got excited when I saw a “MacBook Pro Dock” that plugs into the side and gives a bunch of full-sized ports, but it was clearly designed for the M1 model, since it’d block the MagSafe connector on this machine.

I went looking for replacement USB cables but it’s so confusing. It looks like there are 2 general categories, “charge” cables that can do power delivery but only USB 2 speeds (or even no data), and “data” cables that don’t do power delivery but do the full USB 3 speed? Since this hub works, I’ll probably just stuck with it and hope that over time, I’ll end up with type-C USB cables for things, but I’m not holding my breath on that, since most companies that aren’t Apple are still including type-A ports on their machines.

Since my old machine had an Ethernet port, I bought a type-C to Ethernet device so that I can get fast connections to the other machines on my desk. Wifi is great, but it’s not gigabit Ethernet.

An unexpected issue I’ve noted with the type-C ports is that they’re seemingly too small. I never had an issue plugging in a USB type-A cable before, but I have lots of trouble finding the type-C holes. Holding the cable to the side of the machine, scraping it on the case trying to find the opening. Leaning over to see the sides of the machine would probably make it easier but there isn’t always room to even do that. Maybe it’s because the opening is too flush? Maybe a bit of rounded/angled edging to the holes would help? I don’t have the same problem with the headphone jack or the magsafe cable, only the type-C ports.

One final bit of dongle hell came courtesy of my Kobo Glo. I don’t use it online, so it’s software is way out of date. Which means that plugging it into the laptop, or the type-C hub, or the pixel USB adapter makes it charge only. It only lets you do data transfers when it detects a “PC” I guess? Apparently newer software fixes this problem, but I found a workaround while I consider if I want to risk significant changes to the device. It turns out the Kobo will do data transfers if it sees a USB 2 hub, and I just happen to have an ancient, crappy USB 2 hub (that looks like a cassette tape no less). So I have Laptop -> type-C hub -> ancient USB 2 hub -> Kobo.

I don’t know when it arrived, but the new macOS seems to have had a massive security overhaul. There’s now a separation between the files I can write on the disk, and the “unified” view of the disk (including read-only system parts and writeable parts). It made Time Machine write all the files again (since it can’t handle when files “move”).

Oh, and there are security prompts now. Everywhere. It’s like when Microsoft added UAC to Windows. Open an app, error. Use the context menu, allow opening anyway. App wants to read a file? another prompt. Some things don’t make any sense at all to me. I had to allow Terminal access to my Contacts so that I can do a find?! I don’t mind extra security in theory, but I’m not sure these prompts are actually saving me from anything.

All in all, I’m loving this machine. I hope it lasts as well as the machine it replaced, but so far it certainly feels like it could achieve that goal.