Beware of MacBook Boxes

I just received my brand-new Retina MacBook Pro, and I couldn’t be happier. The insanely crisp screen, speedy SSD, and hours of battery life make my old 2007 MacBook look positively ancient.

Having never ordered a laptop online before, I was sure to check the box for any signs of rough handling when it arrived. I examined both the brown external box and the internal white one for any scuffs, dents, and scrapes and was satisfied with their condition. But then I became so absorbed in transferring my data and playing with the new hardware that I neglected to give the entire laptop a detailed once-over. It wasn’t until the next morning that I noticed a problem: the Apple power adaptor had pressed a nice square dent pattern into the MacBook Pro’s bottom case during shipping.

​Four dents in a perfect square – a dead giveaway.

​If you aren’t familiar with Apple’s laptop boxes​, here’s a photo:

The white power brick is held directly under the laptop’s back corner.​

​Thankfully, the Genius ​Bar replaced the bottom case for free, but it’s a little disconcerting to see how far Apple’s trend of minimizing their shipping boxes has gone. There shouldn’t be any way to apply that much pressure to the MacBook during shipping, but the tiny box can’t provide enough protection. I’m curious to know if this is a common issue; both the Genius and Applecare technician claimed they’d never heard of it before. So if you have a Retina Macbook Pro, or possibly a MacBook Air or older Pro, check the bottom! While I can’t be sure, it’s possible that the aluminum bottom case of the Retina MacBook Pro is thinner than the older models.

​Interestingly, the Genius did hear of something similar happening to Mac Pros a few years ago. Apparently many customers were coming in with scratches all over one side panel of the Mac Pro, claiming it arrived that way in the box. Upon investigation, the factory worker who lifted the Pros into their boxes wore a large metal belt buckle that scraped against the computers.

Maybe this time a wayward employee in China is sitting on laptop boxes?


Which car is your Mac?

It’s an overused analogy to compare Macs to car brands. I can’t even describe how many times I’ve seen “Macs are Mercedes, PCs are Kia” from blog commenters. It’s pretty rare to take things farther than that, probably since most tech blog commenters are simply trolls looking for attention.

But, Ben Brooks specializes in looking at things differently and in greater depth. He published an excellent article today comparing Mac models to their equivalent car. For the most part, his points are dead on. Almost no one truly needs the power that they buy, whether it be a pickup truck, SUV, or Mac Pro. He wisely leaves off the lowly and outdated MacBook, since there really is no reason to buy one anymore. He justly lavishes praise on the 13″ Air, but he also gets a bit too harsh on the 13″ MacBook Pro:

MacBook Pro 13″: It’s a Geo Tracker. Ok, well it’s really not that bad, but it is stuck in the same rut that the 17″ model is. You get all the bad things of the “Pro” line (size and weight) without the benefits of the “Air” line. It truly is the mini-SUV of the Mac line-up — far too small to be supremely useful, with limited power and a funky size class.

I like the 13″ Pro for those exact reasons. It’s not as minimal as the Air, giving you an optical drive, more capacity, and longer battery life. At the same time, it’s smaller and lighter than the majority of PC 13″ laptops.

I doubt that Ben hangs out on college campuses, but I can tell you that the 13″ Pro far outstrips any other computer model at my university by a very wide margin. Part of this is undoubtedly the newness of the 2nd generation MacBook Air, but I do think that the 13″ Pro is better for the everyday student (and likely most consumers as well). Many still need the Pro’s optical disc to install software like Office – it’s not the best suite available, but it is unquestionably the standard. Even those who, like Ben and I, opt for something like iWork, Office is still necessary for some things. And Office, in its conservative way, cannot be installed without an optical drive. Sure, you can get an external, but try explaining why that’s a better option when a regular user asks.

Not only that, but the drive space probably wouldn’t be enough to accommodate most students. From what I’ve read and heard on his podcast, Ben deals mainly with text files, so the lack of space probably isn’t a big deal to him. I wouldn’t say the same about the general consumer though. Between movies, music, and backlogs of important files, I barely scrape by on my ancient 120 GB internal drive, and the Air’s base 128 GB capacity would seem appallingly low to most people today. I know it’s an incredibly fast SSD, but again it’s tough to persuade someone that 128 GB is enough in the days of incredibly cheap and spacious drives on most other computers. An external drive solves my woes, but that’s also a foreign concept to most.

I’m using students as my primary example, but that’s because I know the most about that demographic. I don’t think I’m wrong about their needs being similar to the general population, but of course there will be exceptions. I personally would welcome the opportunity to switch to an Air since I know how to use external hard drives and delete old files to leverage my space as best I can. Obviously Ben can too. I’m just not convinced yet that the everyday consumer should take the plunge. Wait about a year, when SSD prices fall a bit and big-name software is more widely distributed online, and that’s a different story. For now, the 13″ Pro seems like the best all-around choice to me, and the students here seem to agree.


Batteries

The new MacBook Pros have gotten universally positive reviews around the web. Well, if you don’t count the regular neckbeards on Gizmodo and Engadget comment boards, that is. And who really listens to them anyway? There is one part about the new machines that might disappoint buyers though, and that is the stated battery life.

After last year’s models claiming 10+ hours of battery life, a mere 7 hours seems so 2008. But, as usual, there’s a good reason. Apple, alone among computer manufacturers, actually uses normal activity as its metric. No longer are its estimates based on idling with the screen at its lowest brightness, but rather internet surfing of popular websites while playing music and videos.

This kind of honesty, presenting a lower number on paper while actually giving a more honest result, is what sets Apple apart. I know of no other major company that would make its product look bad at first glance and then follow that with a frank explanation of why.


MacBooks, iPads, and Lion – Oh My!

As you’ve probably heard, today marked the release of new MacBook Pro models with various enhancements as usual. The machines are turning into quite the little powerhouses, sporting quad-core i7s and spiffy new AMD graphics. Not to mention Thunderbolt! USBB 3.0 had better be on the lookout with Apple and Intel teaming up – these aren’t the days of FireWire when Apple was a tiny minority. Besides, Thunderbolt is in every way a better product (except the fact that it doesn’t use the standard USB jack). I do think LightPeak was a better name, but I’m not Apple’s marketing department.

Unfortunately, I was a little let down by the unveiling (who isn’t after all those crazy rumors). Steve was quite insistent last October when he declared the MacBook Air “the future of notebooks” and declared the company’s intentions to pursue similar designs with its other products. Realistically, it looks like this just isn’t far enough into the future yet. Without an SSD drive, the Pros will just be a bit faster than last year’s, and they aren’t any lighter either. I’m still hoping for a major redesign before I cave and get one of my own.

New laptops not exciting enough? Well, how about an iPad 2 and iOS 5? March 2nd will see Apple at its traditional Yerba Buena venue, talking about “what 2011 will be the year of.” If that doesn’t sound supremely confident, I don’t know what does. An iPad 2 almost goes without saying at this point, but the new model doesn’t thrill me either. Gruber may be on to something with his “iPad 3” theory, since this seems like a minor update to say the least. I can’t really argue with thinner and faster though.  I haven’t seen any leaks about iOS 5, but that might not mean anything. iOS versions are usually previewed right around now, and the release is usually kept safely under wraps until the last second. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see a tantalizing new mobile OS revealed next week.

For me, the big story of the day is OS X 10.7 Lion. OS X is really the reason I love Macs so much, and 10.7 is shaping up to be the best release since Tiger. Gestures galore, a new Exposé and Dashboard, full screen apps perfectly suited to smaller laptop screens…all good but old news. There’s a developer beta out now, throwing all secrecy to the wind. I can’t wait to see what everyone uncovers about the update – so far everything I’ve read is overwhelmingly positive. Let’s hope that more details leak onto the internet soon, since I can barely wait for WWDC to see the finished thing. I’ll have to write more about the beta soon because I just can’t fit it all at the end here. It definitely deserves its own post.