Can a US$6,000 MacBook Pro ever be worth it?

For a 15-inch laptop, it's pretty svelte and easy to carry around. — Pictures by Erna Mahyuni
For a 15-inch laptop, it's pretty svelte and easy to carry around. — Pictures by Erna Mahyuni

KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 12 ― When Apple refreshed its MacBook Pro line, I’m pretty sure some Mac users shouted, “Finally!”

I’d never paid that much attention to the MacBook Pro line as the laptops were so far above my paygrade I thought it would be more likely I’d buy a secondhand BMW.

And I don’t even drive.

But then I got to test drive the highest spec model of the new MacBook Pro line. Here is a story about a very, very expensive laptop and why it may or may not be worth someone’s money.

Hello, DHL guy

When DHL showed up at my doorstep I wondered what Apple decided needed reviewing next. New watch straps? I hoped they weren't pink.

Instead it was a MacBook Pro. The first thing I did was head over to the official Apple site to check out the price of this particular unit.

Then I had a (minor) heart attack.

This was the highest-end laptop, with the most RAM (32GB) and the most storage (4TB) and the most powerful processor available (an Intel 8th-gen i7) with a dedicated graphic card (Radeon Pro 560X).

How much was the most tricked-out laptop Apple has so far?

Upwards of RM28,000 ringgit.

I was holding the equivalent of a new car deposit in my hands and had to control the urge to look out the window to check for either thieves or Apple-appointed guardians making sure I didn’t exchange this for a one-way ticket to Aruba.

Once I got over my shock, I did the logical thing: unwrapped it and turned it on.

This is where the story takes a disappointing turn: for a computer with so much high-end hardware it took a while to boot.

My PC desktop at home with an i5 processor and a 256GB SSD probably boots faster than this laptop and after fiddling with it a while, apparently it’s not a hardware issue but software start-up processes.

The solution is really what most MacBook Pro users do anyway: don’t turn your laptop off. Ever. Just let it go to sleep when you close the lid.

My last Mac was the 2012 13-inch MacBook Pro. You know, the one that ordinary people like me could afford before the current line cost the equivalent of my needing to eat instant noodles for maybe 18 months.

As a daily work machine it provides a lot of power without adding a lot of bulk to the design.
As a daily work machine it provides a lot of power without adding a lot of bulk to the design.

A very expensive friend

Naturally I decided to incorporate it into my daily work routine. If all you do, like me, is check email, surf and look at cat photos, then this particular MacBook Pro is probably overkill.

But one thing remains brilliant: the touchpad. Apple still makes touchpads that make the need for a mouse unnecessary. It’s sheer joy to glide a finger across its surface and use the standard gestures, and no other PC laptop has ever come close.

The keyboard? I miss the old keyboard, who doesn’t. But Apple has tweaked it so there will be less noise and you’ll be less likely to gum up keys.

What of the polarising Touch Bar? Honestly, I use it a fair bit. It’s nice that it changes icons according to whatever app I happen to use and once in a while I touch the Siri icon to tell Siri to play me some Kpop.

Why do so many people hate it then? Well, the thing is MacBook Pro users, the really “pro” ones have specific shortcuts they like using and customising the Touch Bar is just one more thing to add to their workflow they don’t need.

I get why people don’t like it, really. But I like the convenience; I especially like the Touch ID that I can use to login instead of typing in my password.

Just for kicks I downloaded trial versions of Adobe products more advanced users will use – Premiere, Photoshop  and Lightroom. Having taught Adobe classes in another lifetime, it was fairly easy to set up and despite the usual Adobe bloat that comes with its software, the MacBook Pro felt zippy.

My Mac will go on, and on

Battery life? Well. If you’re just casually surfing or typing, you can get the battery to last a good six hours or more. But anything more intensive? Like photo editing, with music playing in the background, the odd video and maybe a game of XCOM 2 for 30 minutes ― you’ll see that going down to 3-4 hours. Which really, on the whole, isn’t bad.

Once I got over the crippling fears of being mugged while using this too-expensive-to-be-real laptop, I took it around. To cafes. To the airport. While travelling.

The 15-inch model is actually really light in comparison to its size. I get it, why a working media professional would like this. It’s light, well-made and yet powerful enough to endure hardware-intensive work and has decent battery life.

I am not so fond of how much a fingerprint magnet the display is ― but it remains a good example of how Apple’s laptop displays are pretty great. Great brightness, colour reproduction and also now supporting True Tone tech ― the laptop can detect ambient light and adjust your display accordingly. If you work with graphics though, you might want to turn it off as it will affect the accuracy of the colour you’re looking at.

The change I was least comfortable with was the absence of any port besides a headphone jack and four Thunderbolt 3 ports. While it makes the laptop sleeker and lighter, it means you need a dongle or two to use things such as a portable drive or gaming mouse.

To buy or not to buy?

So, should you buy it? The new MacBook Pro line is still the line to get if you work primarily on Mac OS but to be honest you don’t need all the extra add-ons. To save yourself a few thousand ringgit, choose less storage and bring around a portable hard drive instead and also use Cloud backups. The 32GB RAM will only come in handy for graphics and video editing so if that’s not your bread and butter, you can scale it down too.

An older, non-Touch Bar 13.3-inch model starts at RM5,659 while the base 15-inch Touch Bar model starts at RM9,999 with 16GB of RAM and 256GB of storage.

Sadly only the more expensive line comes with a discrete graphic card so factor that in when you make a buying decision.

Think you can live without the Touch Bar? That'll bring down the price a fair bit

Formfactor-wise, Apple gets a lot of things right (and consistent) with the latest 15-inch MBP. Excellent build quality, really loud and decent speakers, a display that is easy on the eyes and very colour accurate and a keyboard that isn’t terrible but makes you miss the original ones.

If you’ve left off upgrading your MacBook Pro for years, this model is worth the upgrade. Just decide what you can really live with or without. While you might pay more upfront for a MacBook, they last on average longer than their competitors (I still have a 2011 model kicking around the house) so you could consider it an investment.

But if you (like me) are poor, you will probably have to settle for a cheaper PC equivalent or perhaps consider a secondhand Mac instead. Also note that higher-end PC ultrabooks also cost about the same as mid-tier Macbooks, and many do not offer the option to upgrade to the maximum RAM and storage that Apple does.

Basically, this is a great laptop. It’s also really expensive but if you want one anyway, choose one with the specs you can afford while making allowances for future needs. In the end, it’s all about buying the best computer for you and for media professionals, the new Apple MacBook Pros just might be it.