17-Inch MacBook Pro: Mini-Review and Video
If you’re going to spend your day staring at a laptop screen, as I did, it may as well be the new 17-inch MacBook Pro, which arrived in our office bright and early this morning. We’re gearing up to post our full review shortly, but in the meantime check out our hands-on video and first impressions. Gorgeous Display Although it has the same sleek, aluminum Unibody design as the 13-inch MacBook and 15-inch MacBook Pro, its 1920 x 1200 display is brighter and more vivid. In fact, Apple says it has a 60-percent greater color gamut than the 15-inch Pro. In a word, it’s stunning. It’s arresting in its own right, but particularly compared to the 15-inch MacBook Pro (whose screen we praised in our review, by the way), it looked brighter, with punchier colors. Keyboard In addition to the seamless aluminum chassis, the 17-inch Pro shares its younger siblings’ black island keyboard, with its separate chiclet keys. The keyboard itself isn’t larger than the 15-inch Pro’s, but the speakers flanking it are wider, as is the palm rest. The keys have a soft finish and barely make any sound, and were easy to type on. However, having to crane our hands over a wider palm rest made it slightly less comfortable than the 15-inch Pro. Multi-Touch Trackpad Like the rest of the MacBook and MacBook Pro line, it has a glass, multi-touch trackpad, which responds to multi-fingered gestures including pinching, zooming, rotating, scrolling, and launching certain applications, such as Expose. Although the two-finger scroll works in any app, the other gestures only work in Apple programs, such as Safari or iPhoto. Those inherent limitations aside, the trackpad is responsive. When we scroll, for instance, it scrolls just enough, whereas other gesture-enabled trackpads we’ve tested are too sensitive, scrolling far down in the page with just a tap. Likewise, when we used our fingers to zoom in on pages they resized themselves fairly smoothly. Finally, like the rest of the MacBook line, the trackpad has no buttons to accompany it; rather, the touchpad itself is one giant button. It took a few minutes to get used to having both our index finger and our thumb, which we usually use to press the button, on the trackpad at the same time. But because the trackpad is large enough to accomodate all those fingers, we soon got used to using it as both a navigation and input device. Switchable Graphics Also like the 15-inch MacBook Pro, the 17-inch version has switchable graphics: an integrated Nvidia GeForce 9400M card and a discrete Nvidia 9600M GT card. Switching is as easy as clicking on the battery icon on the desktop, clicking preferences, and then choosing either “Better battery life” (integrated) or “Higher performance” (discrete). Once you click a new option you’ll automatically be prompted to log out and back in, which takes just seconds. As with the 15-inch Pro, we didn’t see as dramatic a shift in graphics benchmark scores when we switched from integrated to discrete graphics. For instance, in Cinebench it scored 5,842 with integrated graphics and 5,855 with discrete graphics.So, if our early tests suggest anything, it’s that the graphics performance is strong, but that the differences between integrated and discrete graphics are smaller than Apple would have you believe. Battery Claims The other big news about the 17-inch MacBook Pro is its non-removable battery (the 15-inch Pro lets you change batteries). On the one hand, users have to go to a Genius bar or mail their notebook in (and pay $179) to replace the battery. On the other hand, Apple claims it lasts 8 hours with integrated graphics enabled, and 7 hours with discrete. Moreover, it promises about 1,000 full charges, which Apple says translates to about five years of typical usage. For some people, not having the freedom to swap out the battery will be a deal-breaker. Others might see it as a worthy sacrifice, given how light the machine is (more on that later). Either way, we’ll tackle those battery claims in our full review, with battery life scores for both the integrated and discrete graphics cards. World’s Thinnest, Lightest 17-Inch Laptop Apple also claims it’s the thinnest and lightest 17-inch machine on the market, and we believe it. At 6.6 pounds, it weighs as much– or less– than some 15 or 16-inch notebooks. Carrying it around the office was surprisingly easy. The Unibody design, as promised, gives it a durable feel. Even with the magnetic close (as opposed to a latch) it felt sturdy in our hands. So, for people who think they need to buy a 14 or 15-inch notebook to get the fewest compromises between portability and screen real estate, think again. Specs and Upgrade Options The problem with the 17-inch Pro is that it’s expensive as all get-out. Our review unit is the starting configuration, which costs $2,799 with a standard warranty. It has a 2.66-GHz Core 2 Duo processor, 4GB RAM (upgradeable to 8GB), and a 320GB 5,400 rpm hard drive. In our hands-on testing so far, it felt zippy, taking just 37 seconds to boot up. Everything else– downloading, installing, and launching programs, and multi-tasking– feels like gravy. Have an even larger budget? (Actually, don’t answer that). You can double the RAM to 8GB for $1,200, upgrade to a 2.93-GHz CPU for $300, swap in a 7,200 rpm drive for $50 or a 128GB or 256GB solid-state drive for $300 or $750, respectively. For $50 you can add a non-glare display. We suggest starting with the AppleCare Protection Plan ($349), which extends the warranty and phone support from one year and 90 days, respectively, to three years. Early Verdict The 17-inch MacBook Pro impresses on all fronts: design, mobility, performance, and even battery life. But thanks to its price, it’s not for everyone. Creative professionals who need it– or at least have the cash to justify it– should seriously consider it. But we suspect the rest of you are going to settle (horror of horrors) for the 13-inch MacBook (or at least the $1,999 15-inch MacBook Pro or a more reasonably priced multimedia notebook, such as the $1,804 Dell XPS 16). Check out our hands-on video below.