Laptops

Is MacBook Pro perfect? No, but it's worth $3,000 to me

Commentary: Complaints about the USB-C-only ports and the butterfly keyboard aren't enough to lead a photo-obsessed Mac user to Windows.

I'll take the MacBook Pro's Touch Bar over a touch screen.

Sarah Tew/CNET

There are no traditional USB ports. The keyboard is lame. The Touch Bar is a gimmick. There's not enough memory. And worst of all, you have to buy a bunch of expensive dongles to match what your old laptop could do easily.

Those are some of the complaints dogging Apple's new high-end laptop, the MacBook Pro. The detractors have fair points, and yet I just bought one without even physically handling it first.

Why? Not because I'm a fanboy. I considered my choices carefully. Your needs and preferences likely will differ. But if you're in the market for a new laptop, perhaps my reasoning will help you make your own decision. Keep in mind, this is a personal take. Here's CNET's official MacBook Pro review.

This is my background so you can understand where I'm coming from. I stress out browsers with dozens of open tabs and edit hundreds of photos, sometimes on a tight deadline. Given that I expect to spend at least 40 hours a week for three years behind its screen, I'm willing to pay for an eye-wateringly expensive high-end 15-inch model with the fastest Intel processor and AMD graphics chip Apple offers.

Sticking with a Mac

I'm open to other operating systems -- I also use a Google Chromebook Pixel and Dell XPS laptop daily -- but my main machine is a MacBook Pro. It's the only one I bring on vacations, business trips and daily train commutes between my home and office.

That's because despite Windows' considerable progress, I still find MacOS better at staying up and running, especially with countless wake-sleep cycles as I open and close the laptop lid. Also, I have yet to find a Windows machine that can match Apple's trackpads, especially three-finger drag, an option I adore.

Last, the Apple unibody chassis is unbeatably sturdy when it comes to enduring the abuse of travel. My four-year-old 15-inch MacBook Pro, the model that brought high-resolution Retina screens to personal computing, has been a tank despite my dropping it several times, cleaning its screen with a wet paper towel in the airport and scattering trade-show sandwich crumbs on its keyboard.

I like how well ​Apple packs powerful innards into a rugged chassis.

I like how well Apple packs powerful innards into a rugged chassis.

Apple

Other Macs aren't for me. I want the large screen and processing horsepower for my photo and video editing, a major hobby as well as a professional need. The only potential showstopper was the butterfly keyboard that Apple debuted last year with the ultraportable MacBook and refined for the new MacBook. After spending a morning with a colleague's MacBook, I decided it was adequate, though my accuracy seemed to suffer a little from the diminished tactile feedback.

That left two choices: Get the new MacBook Pro or wait a year or more for something better from Apple. But I need the new Macs' expanded 16GB of memory and faster processors now. Some pros need 32GB or more memory, but Intel hardware constraints make that hard for now. And in any event, I don't do enough video editing to justify what would doubtless be a big price premium.

USB-C and donglemania

I'm a big believer in USB Type-C, the smaller new version of the ubiquitous port. USB-C is smaller, faster, more versatile, easier to use, and on Apple's new Mac, supports Intel's higher-speed Thunderbolt 3 technology, too. It carries power and video, letting your laptop send juice to an external drive or draw from an external monitor's plug into the wall socket.

But my biggest MacBook Pro complaint is that it lacks traditional rectangular USB-A slots as well. USB-C devices will become common, but even five years from now, there will be plenty of old-style USB devices in my life.

I'll miss many of the ports on my 2012 MacBook Pro, but USB-C is great technology.

Stephen Shankland/CNET

Apple was in a bind. USB-C is the future, if not yet the present, and I suspect Apple will keep this laptop design for a few years. Also, adding USB-A ports would have made it harder for Apple to make the new a half pound MacBook Pro a 0.1 inch thinner and 0.4 inches narrower -- improvements I appreciate. Another option, sacrificing two of the USB-C ports for USB-A, would have hobbled the laptop's power, Thunderbolt and video options.

That's why I just bought five dongles for connecting to my three Thunderbolt external drives, my Ethernet cable, my camera flash card reader and assorted USB devices. It's a pain, and I'll doubtless lose or forget one during a crucial moment, but given that I want a Mac, what choice do I have?

USB-C also pushed aside Apple's MagSafe power connectors, which harmlessly detach when somebody trips over the cord. I'm not weepy about this change, though. The thinner MagSafe 2 version already enfeebled the magnetic link, and over the next decade, laptops will get even slimmer. And I can't wait for airport lounges, car chargers, Windows laptops and the rest of the world to standardize on USB-C power supplies so I don't have to shell out $79 for an Apple charger.

Touch Bar vs. touch screen

Any laptop without a touch screen is living in the past, according to Brian Hall, corporate vice president of marketing for Microsoft Surface and other devices. Perhaps, but after nearly four years using the Chromebook Pixel, I still find its touch screen nice but not necessary. It's handy for scrolling and online forms with lots of buttons, but not much else given my motor-skills limits when moving my finger around at arm's length. I have no need for a pen, though certainly artists and students in lectures might see things differently.

​The Touch Bar is more convenient to reach than a touch screen.

The Touch Bar is more convenient to reach than a touch screen.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Given that touch screens penalize cost, complexity and power consumption, I'm willing to side with Apple designer Jony Ive for this round.

I'm reserving judgment on the Touch Bar until I see how well it works with my escape-key muscle memory and with third-party software like Google Chrome and Adobe Systems Lightroom. But my instinct tells me it's not a mere gimmick, and I'm confident controls above the keyboard will be more conveniently accessible than a touch screen.

Bye-bye SD card

The loss of the SD Card slot will make my life harder, too. With so many of us relying on phones that sync photos wirelessly when it's time manage our photos, it's no surprise Apple removed it. I'll miss it, though: my SLR doesn't support Wi-Fi, and wirelessly networking often is a hassle for cameras that can.

For now, I'll cope with dongles to transfer my photos and videos.

But my next camera will have Wi-Fi built in. Because even though it's inconvenient sometimes, Apple does push us all into the future a little faster.