My Dysfunctional MacBook Pro & a Lesson in Humility

Since the first week I had my MacBook Pro, it had a peculiar, intermittent problem: it would spontaneously turn off, and getting it back on was hit or miss. Pressing and holding the power button didn’t do anything. Tapping the keyboard did nothing. Once, I reset the SMC and it came back to life – but that trick never worked again. Other times, simply leaving it alone for 5-10 minutes would bring it back to life. What was odd was that it would only happen when I was away from home – it never exhibited this behaviour while it was used in my home office. I didn’t think heat was a factor as it didn’t happen after extended uses of heavy load – in fact, it often happened before I even started doing any real work.

This issue, when combined with the lackluster battery life, combined to leave me with a feeling of frustration and regret and having spent so much money on this product. No longer being a professional tech blogger, I am much more judicious about my technology purchases – this was my only laptop for the next 3-5 years, so it had to be a great purchase…and it sure didn’t seem like it.

The sixth time this happened (while I at my kid’s Taekwondo class), I finally got fed up enough to bring it into the local Apple Store Genius Bar. That time, it blinked off just after I logged in, which was a new behaviour. Normally it simply wouldn’t turn on.

In truth, I am still a neophyte with the UNIX underpinnings of macOS, so the “deep in the guts” troubleshooting methods aren’t part of my skillset yet (and might never be if I’m honest). The particular symptoms my MacBook was having were difficult to search for – I couldn’t find any online resources that were applicable. I thought since I paid the Apple premium – which includes the benefit of taking it into an Apple store – I’d see how the premium tech support experience worked. I already had decades of experience calling tech support lines in India for Dell and HP laptops, arguing with them about the problem, so I’d try the Apple way.

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MacBook Pro 13 Use Outdoors: This is One Bright Screen

There are some things that drive me nuts about my MacBook Pro 13 (mainly the battery life), but the outdoor view-ability of the screen is top-notch. And, interestingly, cranking the screen brightness doesn’t hurt battery life as much as you’d think. At minimum (one-notch) brightness with the MacBook Pro being passive, using iStat Menus, power use was a mere 1.94 watts. That’s pretty incredible and shows how dramatically the overall system scales down power usage.
On the flip side, if I crank the screen to it’s eye-searing maximum brightness – which Apple says is 500 nits – it uses up 8.11 watts. That’s a 4x increase in power consumption, yes, but 8 watts is still not a massive power drain. The screen Apple used is both bright and efficient.
Unfortunately, the scenario where I crank the screen brightness up to maximum to use it outdoors yet do nothing that uses the CPU aggressively is a rare one. Maybe if you wanted to watch a movie outdoors in the daylight? That’s not a scenario I’ve found myself in just yet.

MacBook Pro 13 Battery Life: The Ugly Truth

I’ve had my MacBook Pro 13 for about two months now, and based on all the initial furor around battery life I wanted to wait until I had sufficient hands-on time with it to make my own determination. After two months of use, the truth is really simple: Apple put in a tiny battery because they felt people wanted a thinner/lighter MacBook more than people wanted long battery life. This is simply a laptop that was not designed for all-day battery life. There’s nothing more to this story than that.

People can talk about software optimizations, Chrome vs. Safari, etc. all day long – but the reality is that there’s no software tweak in the world that will make a tiny battery into a bigger one. The battery in the 2016 MacBook (49.2 Wh) holds about 38% less power than the 2015 MacBook (79.2 Wh) .

I’m a little upset that this machine I spent $2600 on has worse battery life than the last laptop I owned (which was 60% less expensive I should add). I am trying to come to terms with that reality; the only thing that helps is that the battery is so pathetically small it charges fast, and that the USB-C ports give me charging options I didn’t have before – I now carry a 10,000 mAH battery pack with me to top up the MacBook when needed. It’s worth pointing out though that I need to put the MacBook to sleep to get any real charging – most battery banks don’t put out enough power to charge the device while in use.

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First Thoughts on the 2016 MacBook Pro 13

A week ago Monday, I unpacked my new 2016 MacBook Pro 13. It took 57 days from day I ordered it until the day it showed up at my door. Why so long? I’m glad you asked friend. 🤓 I didn’t order it right away – I wanted to see a few reviews because I was so shocked and dismayed at some of the decisions Apple had made regarding the ports and the small battery size. As I waited, the build time went from 1-2 weeks to 4-6 weeks. Since I wanted to avoid Washington State sales tax (which would have added $260 to the final bill), I ordered it from ABT. It was considered a custom order since I got the Core i5 2.9 Ghz / 16 GB RAM / 1 TB SSD version. I didn’t want to make the mistake I made with my 5K iMac having only a 512 GB SSD, especially since I was planning on using Final Cut Pro on the MacBook and it needs tremendous storage to make it’s powerful mojo work.

The final price was an eye-watering $2600. I remember paying $2500 for several of my first laptops – I’m looking at you, little Fujitsu P5010D – but my 2015 Dell XPS 13 purchase was only $1151, so this was a big step back up to the pricing stratosphere. I am agog at the people who max out the 15″ version and pay over $4300! Cost is a relative thing though of course – back when I was a single guy with no real bills, a $5000 computer every two years was a regular occurrence. My how things change!

Presented to you stream-of-consciousness style, here are my first impressions of my 2016 MacBook Pro 13.

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