Why I returned my amazing 16-inch MacBook Pro

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MacBook Pro review
Why did I return this beautiful beast?
Photo: Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac

At the end of November last year, I took delivery of the new 16-inch MacBook Pro. Around a month later, thanks to Apple’s generous holiday return policy, I returned it. You can read my first impressions, but they mostly remain the same after a month of use. In short, it’s a fantastic MacBook. But in my conclusion, I wrote this:

But really, this Mac is fantastic. My Cult of Mac colleagues tease me that I buy Apple gear, and then immediately send it back. This new MacBook is staying with me.

So, what went wrong?

It’s not you, it’s me

If you’re in the market for an Apple notebook, and you’re happy to drop $3,000 on one, xthen the 16-inch MacBook Pro is fantastic. If you’re already a MacBook user, then you’re going to be very happy.

But, as I found out, I wasn’t in the market for an Apple notebook, or a laptop of any kind. While I love the huge, beautiful screen, the not-bad keyboard1, and the Touch Bar, I found that I just don’t need a notebook any more. Every time I wanted to do a quick bit of computing, or record some music, I grabbed my iPad. And the rest of the time, I’d find myself hitting a key on my old iMac to wake it up.

None of this is the fault of the MacBook. It’s just that, for me, the role of notebook computer has been fully taken over by the iPad. I guess this is how a Mac user feels when they first try to switch to an iPad. It’s just easier to keep doing things the old way.

The idea of a MacBook Pro was still tempting. A crazy-powerful computer that I could use for music making and work, on the road, with few limitations. The reality is that I rarely leave home, and that when I do, an iPad Pro is more than enough.

But that’s not to say that the MacBook is without fault…

MacBook Pro-blems

It takes years of professional training to place MacBook stickers this badly.
It takes years of professional training to place stickers this badly.
Photo: Charlie Sorrel/Cult of Mac

In my first-impressions post, I noted that the MacBook runs hot. I put this down, in part, to the new-Mac stuff it needed to do — indexing photos, syncing iCloud and so on. And that was spot on. After the first week, the computer ran cooler, and the battery estimates stayed higher for longer. But compared to the silent, cool-running iPad, it was still far too warm.

Now, the MacBook Pro built to run at these temperatures, so I want worried about that. But using a hot, relatively-noisy portable computer after years spent with the iPad just feels primitive. It’s like going back to a huge CRT television set after using today’s slimline LCD models.

And macOS is also showing its age. It may be more flexible than iPadOS, and more powerful in some areas, but it feels a little cobbled-together in comparison to Apple’s modern OS. For instance, the iOS share arrow may still take too many taps to use, but it is an almost universally adopted way to get data between apps. On the Mac, this is so rarely-implemented that it isn’t worth using.

Better than iPad

There are parts of the MacBook Pro that are way better than the iPad though. One is the built-in trackpad and keyboard. You can use a mouse and keyboard with the iPad, but it’s still a glitch-prone activity. Also, the speakers on the new MacBook Pro are amazing. And I had gotten so used to only having one USB-C per on the iPad that I was constantly surprised that I could plug in four things at once.

What next?

This debacle made me realize how much I love the old iMac that’s still humming along on my desk. But it has also made me realize that Intel Macs must surely be on their way out, to be replaced by Macs that use Apple’s own A-series ARM chips. A MacBook running an A15, or whatev it may be called, will be slimmer, lighter, cooler, and more powerful that current Intel-based MacBooks. And stuff a bank of those chips into an iMac-sized computer, where there is space to cool them efficiently, and I imagine that it would just scream.

My plan, then, is to pick up a replacement 27-inch iMac, eventually. Buying right now seems crazy, as the current models will be a year old in March. If nothing else, I expect new iMac models to adopt the more sensible RAM and SSD upgrade pricing of the new MacBook Pro. But perhaps there will be an iMac redesign, with less ridiculous bezels, and more easily-upgradable RAM and storage. So for now, I’m waiting it out.

  1. It’s good, but I prefer the actual Magic Keyboard that comes with desktop Macs.