Falling back to an older MBP

I just recently switched from a 2018 15″ MBP back to my 2015 13″ and I thought I’d share some of my reactions to the change. My meandering and unstructured thoughts follow.

Unexpectedly, on returning to the 2015 MBP, I didn’t suddenly go “omgomg the keyboard is amazing again”. The older style was never amazing compared to any good mechanical keyboard. I adapted to the new keyboard just fine, even though my hands never really were big enough for it to be truly comfortable.  Yes, the older keyboard’s keys really are less of a stretch but it wasn’t that much of a hardship either way.

The basic truth for me is that both keyboards are fully usable and that having the dedicated escape key (or not) was never a big deal. The virtual one did the job just fine. That’s something I never expected to admit but it’s true. I may not love MBP keyboards but they work.

I will admit the older dedicated function keys are slightly better, especially given how I’ve rebound them using Keyboard Maestro, but not an order of magnitude more usable. Just…better. Not way better.

The trackpad feels old and quaint in comparison to the newer one. I miss the 2018 trackpad more than I expected, especially given how I’m an admitted trackpad hater. Moving documents has become again slightly more difficult on the older MBP, so there’s that.

My 13″ screen now feels cramped and tiny, as expected. But I once again appreciate how clean and beautiful the Retina display is, as I compare it to my one-older-purchase, the non-Retina MBA. The 2015 13″ is a great laptop, even if it feels chunkier and less streamlined than the 2018. You can tangibly feel the design differences between the 3 years as well as the battery improvements.

On the other hand, moving back from USB-C to all these wonderful ports is delightful. My 2018 was always an octopus, and I had to carry around a bag of hubs and adapters. (I even have one on my keychain, which I probably don’t need anymore.)

Yes, I still use some adapters like my HDMI to Thunderbolt 2, so I can have two monitors running from the 2015 laptop, but that lives on the HDMI cord, not with my laptop.

I have a bunch of extra file space with the built-in SD card reader with my computer-flush reader adapter so it looks built in. The two standard USB ports are so convenient. I have an entire bag of USB-C gizmos that I’d carry around with the 2018 machine that I dumped into my USB box-of-everything for now.

On the other hand, I do miss the fingerprint reader. My experiences unlocking with my watch are hit and miss. Sometimes it works great. Sometimes it doesn’t. I can’t really figure out when it will and won’t: it’s not just after restarts or a long time between use. In contrast, the fingerprint reader absolutely rocks on the 2018, even if I had to remove a bunch of items from the touch bar because sometimes I’d turn on Siri or mute my audio when I thought I was still unlocking.

Speaking of the touch bar, I don’t miss it at all. As a touch typist I was always a little stunned to discover that it had relevant information on it that I never looked at. If the touch bar had important stuff, it should have been on the screen and my screen should have been touchable all over. As someone or other said (I forget exactly who — sorry!), it’s a keyboard when it shouldn’t be and a touch screen where it shouldn’t be. I’m paraphrasing from memory.

Every one of you who develop content for the touch bar, bravo. I am glad of how you are helping the user, especially the user who can see the touch bar and interacts with it. I don’t want you to change a thing. Instead, I want Apple to step up and get that material integrated with the main display so I can take part too.

I’m holding off on upgrading a lot of things right now. I’m still using my iPhone 6+, my 2012 Mac mini, my 2015 MBP. They all work and get the job done and nothing yet has really given me the motivation to push forward to new hardware. The iPhone 11 is lovely but I don’t really take many pictures. The new mini isn’t self serviceable (at least to a klutz like me) and I honestly don’t want to leave Mojave on it and lose my 32-bit apps. The 2015 (running Catalina) is still a really great laptop.

I’m waiting to fall in love again, the way I did with the 5th gen iPad mini, which swept me off my feet early this year. I adore the mini. Revised and supporting the pencil, it gave me new ways to use it, better user experiences, and a solid beautiful form factor making it a natural upgrade from the 2nd gen.

I want my next hardware purchases to have that same passion instead of incremental utility.

What are you buying and what are you holding onto waiting for the right moment? Let me know.

12 Comments

  • I’m going to buy the 2019 MacBook Pro to go along with the 2018. Honestly, I kind of wanted a Mac Pro but I’m tired of waiting for it and the cost…ouch. As far as the 16″ MBP, we may be waiting until WWDC 2020 for that!

  • Like you, I have a 13″ MBP, early-2015, but with Retina screen. I use a 15″ 2018 MBP at work.

    For me, the 2015 version is better. Unlike you, I far prefer the keyboard for typing on as it responds to what I do. The 2018 version feels stuck, like there’s something jammed under the keys. Even the clicking sound annoys me.

    I never use the 2018 touch bar except to turn up the volume. I think it’s a truly awful bit of design as it puts an extra _thing_ to figure out _in_ the keyboard.

    The thing is, Apple chose to go for looks and sleekness over use in the newer MBPs, which IMO is a *really* poor decision. MBPs are work machines; at some point you’ll need to plug the thing into a monitor, slot in a memory card or attach an older USB device. Having to buy an absurd, multiported dongle is nonsense for me.

    Luckily, the 2015 was really well built. It has a few more years in it yet. After that I think I’ll go for a better laptop and put Linux on it.

  • I have a 2012 mini which runs like a champ, after replacing the dead HDD with an SDD. The idea was to use it for running multicore science simulations at the command line, but my son has been using it to do artwork, and I think it gets used to run games, but I didn’t specify not, so let’s not go there. It’s a great little machine, and if I hit the lottery, I would get a new one, now that they stopped stuffing the motherboard to a MBA in it. But since my access would have to be via VNC or SSH, I can’t justify the purchase.

    iPad Pro 9.7″, the first that size to use a stylus. This is great, I take handwritten notes at work all the time, document lab set ups, and drag around a bucketload of academic articles. And it serves me nightly to read ebooks. Much as I like the new stylii (flat side so it’s doesn’t roll, who thought of that 😉 )I’ll keep using the one I have until it croaks, long live the Queen!

    2015 15″ MBP-I found the 512 GB drive constraining and last year I put in a 1TB drive. It was a bumpy ride, as there was some timing mismatch on wake-from-sleep => kernel panics. The vendor finally replaced it with their newer model, which has worked like a charm (despite being considerably less expensive, not that I got a refund…). My next machine will have to have a 1TB drive built in, as I use Parallels to run certain Windows and Linux apps for work, since my employer thinks the Office suite is all anyone needs-not true in the sciences. But in Federal Government, IT runs YOU!

    As my primary machine, it has to run the apps I throw at it, so minimum need is a quad-core processor. I lust after the 6- and 8-core processors they stuff in the MBPs,I am not crazy about the loss of “hard” function keys. My eyes are aging, screen size is important, so I’m pretty well stuck at 15″. Apple’s policy is soldering the drive and the RAM in, so my old-time strategy of upgrading later to spread the cost over time is busted. I don’t need a great graphics processor, but I don’t get a choice Meeting those requirements boxes me into a machine that is getting pretty darn close to $3K. To do that, I would have to forgo unimportant items like replacing my broken washer and dryer, or replacing my broken couch.

    In other words, the only way I will get to upgrade is if something breaks. Or I win the lottery-and I never buy a ticket because I’m good at practical statistics. All my elderly relatives have passed on, so no help from inheritance either. I suppose if my husband passed on, there would be insurance. But I’d have to spend it on psychiatrists, because he’s what keeps me sane ;-).

  • I have a 2014 MBP 15 and bought a refurbished 2015 MBP 15 which I use for work. They’re both great machines and I have no interest in anything later until the known issues are fixed. I shop regularly for my unicorn: a t2015 MBP 15 with AMD Graphics, 2.8 Ghz CPU and 1 TB of storage.

  • I have been holding on for 7 years and just bought iMac Retina 4K. Moved on from still working MBP mid 2012. It was worth the wait!

  • I had the unfortuant situation of having no working Mac, which is a problem for a Mac/iPhone developer, so I ended up buying a nice 2019 15” and while I’m not in love with the keyboard (I find the Model M too mushy for my tastes 😉 ), I warmed up to having a retina screen, amazing performance (i9), and I may be one of ten, I actually use the Touch Bar, and did, in fact, add it to my app. I appreciate it’s not really in the line-of-sight, but if you “train” yourself to look at it, depending on the app, it does actually have a lot of useful shortcuts (I think I use iTerm’s themes on the touch bar most of all, it gives a nice quick preview).

  • I’m still running a MacBook Pro 2015 at home — it does what I need very well, and I don’t worry about the keyboard. (I may upgrade if the new 2019 one seems good, but maybe not? I’m still running 10.12, because every OS update since 10.8 seems to have annoyed me in some way.) I’m also holding on to my iPhone SE — all the modern iPhones are too big (the SE is too big, really; the 4S was the last comfortable iPhone), and I’m dreading the day I have to give up smart phones.

  • I have a 2018 MBP, and the great irony is that a merely mild irksomeness of the virtual escape key triggered a personal sea change: I found and started using the Control Escape plugin for Hammerspoon. It’s based on the observation by Steve Losh (iirc) that the Control key is held while the Escape key is momentary, so with clever software you can put both on the same physical key. In my case that key is Caps Lock! Touchbar or no, this setup is just divine. I’m really broken for conventional keyboard setups now.

    As far as wishlist, I’m just waiting for the next-gen iPad Pro. I want the upgrade to the new-style Apple Pencil, which will be super useful for so much that I do, especially the new Pencil’s multiple tool support. I’m a screen real-estate addict. I’d love the size of a mini, but “bump against the sides” way too much on anything but the 12.9” screen.

  • Much of this post and the other comments resonates a great deal with me; all of my Apple hardware and software is out of date to some degree, mostly deliberately, and I too dread being forced to use newer stuff.

    On my desk at work I’ve been using a 2016 15″ MBP (touchbar, retina screen, running OS 10.14) and my personal 2012 15″ MBP (matte, non-retina screen, running OS 10.9) side by side. To me, the difference continues to be night and day. The touchbar constantly confounds my typing, more because the escape key is shifted half its width to the right compared to every other keyboard, than specifically because of the lack of tactile differentiation (although if I could feel the key I would at least know when I miss it). The 2016 screen is nicer in that it is brighter, but for indoor use I rarely use it near full brightness anyway. The higher resolution and wider color gamut are completely undetectable to me, while the highly reflective glass is a source of endless annoyance, compared to the matte plastic. I have never used and do not ever intend to use the fingerprint reader. For the newer machine i have to use an external Belkin ethernet adapter, which gets alarmingly hot at times, and sometimes apparently needs to be reset by unplugging and replugging it. (which assumedly cycles its power). The trackpad on the newer laptop is annoying both because it does not physically move (and so cannot be pressed with fingernails, for example), and because it frequently invents spurious gestures, including one in Safari (for some sort of within-window tab Exposé mode) which I have never been able to identify and disable. The keyboard on the older laptop is also markedly more pleasant to use, as while I am no great typist, I make many fewer mistakes when using it than when trying to mash down the newer, flatter keys hard enough to be certain that I have fully depressed them. The newer laptop, with its non-removable SSD, is nonetheless markedly slower at operations like waking from sleep, displaying the password prompt, and accepting the password than the older model, even though I am temporarily using a 5400 RPM spinning disk again in the older one. The headphone jack on the newer model is placed as distantly from the user as possible, on a back corner, leading to me being brought up short more often by by my headphone cable. The battery life on the 2016 laptop is markedly better than the 2012; I’m not sure exactly how the ages of the two batteries compare, but I think that a fair amount of this effect is probably a genuine effect of a larger designed capacity and more efficient power use.

    As an entirely subjective concern, I consider OS 10.14 cartoonishly ugly compared to OS 10.9. The changes to the document model and the loss of being able to press Command-W followed quickly by Command-D to discard temporary scratch documents, particularly in TextEdit, trips me up daily on the newer machine. Command-Shift-S duplicating the document comes in a close second for the amount of trouble it causes me.

    There are definitely some clear advantages to both the newer hardware and software, yet they feel like they bring such weighty disadvantages that I am consistently lead to prefer to the old.

  • Right now I am working on my 5K iMac (first retina generation late 2014) with 32 GB RAM, 128 GB SSD, and a 6 TB HDD (after the old 3 TB one failed earlier this year). I’m gonna stick with macOS Mojave since I use several 32-bit applications like Adobe CS6. My other Mac is a late 2011 17″ MBP with 16 GB RAM, 1 TB SSD and 1 TB HDD, which will stay at macOS High Sierra indefinitely. So far this combination suits me fine. No need for a newer iMac, not wanting any of the newer MBP hardware. My iPhone is quite old, too – a 6S plus 128 GB which is also sufficient for me. I fancied a new phone when the 11 was released but the usage advantages do not justify the price in my opinion.

    Only my old and seldom-used iPad (3rd gen) was replaced one year ago by a nice iPad Pro 11″ with a Pencil (2nd gen). That was a really good decision and a big advantage in usability. I now have a lightweight tool for taking notes at meetings (using Notability even with a synchronised audio recording) but can still use my old MBP for work that needs screen real estate like graphics or IDEs.

    To cut a long story short, in my experience it pays off to invest in well-equipped hardware that can be used for quite a long time. Also, usabilty and power somehow seem to asymptotically approach an optimum that does not need a significant increase any more, only fancy details being used as sales arguments. Plus, of course, obsolescence caused by incompatibilities in the combination of software, hardware and cloud services finally will disable usability of certain devices.

    We’ll see what Apple will release in their Mac line in the next years. Perhaps there’ll be some nice hardware (16″ MBP?), maybe not. If not, ultimately I will have to see if the Apple walled garden will continue to be my home.

  • Your iPhone 6/6+ doesn’t have high-speed LTE cellular bands that are commonly used by all the major carriers at this point.

  • Retina MacBook 12″ love it. I like to program in different place like café, etc . I was waiting for the same form factor with a larger screen, maybe next year it. Sadly with the new Xcode and SwiftUI everything seems very slow, and I might go for the 1.4GHz 13″ MBP.

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