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New MacBook Pro: Wireless Sucks

I just bought a shiny new 15" MacBook Pro. I'm not a Mac person; I dabbled in the platform when the original Mac Mini came out, but found the hardware underpowered and the software awkward and unlikely to displace Linux as my preferred desktop OS. I still think OS X is clumsy and inefficient to use, but so well executed that I find some joy in that inefficiency every time I flick the multitouch gesture for Expose and watch the pretty animation. I'm not convinced I can adapt to this keyboard, at least without some remapping, as one day of very light hacking has already induced a case of emacs pinky due to the lack of a Control key on the right side of the keyboard, a sensation I had not experienced in years since adjusting to rely on the right control modifier when hacking with desktop keyboards and Thinkpads. On the other hand, I continually resolve to give up emacs "sometime soon" due its terrible ergonomics, so I'll look at this more as an opportunity to finally do something about that.

I like the machine, or really want to. It's gorgeous, it feels very solid (contrast with a brand new Thinkpad T410 I tried at a store the other day, which audibly creaked when I rested the weight of my hand on it to type), and is plenty powerful. Part of me wants to complain that glossy displays are brain-damaged and 16:9 aspect ratios are the work of the devil, but that seems like a lost cause at this point. It's a bit frustrating that this 15" machine, which feels ridiculously huge compared to the 14.1" laptop it replaced, actually has less pixels in the display, and even fewer usable pixels when working due to the widescreen format (versus my Thinkpad's old 1400x1050 4:3 display). I fail to see what's "Pro" about a machine with a glossy widescreen display and a keyboard that omits basics like "Delete" (forward delete, that is), "Page Up" and "Page Down", but I shouldn't complain. I won't go in depth into my disdain for PC laptops. I'm not sure anyone makes one worth buying anymore. Older Thinkpads, up through the T60-series, are great. The newer models rub me the wrong way. Switching to the Mac seemed like the rational choice for a previously diehard Linux user with no patience for playing russian roulette with hardware purchases. It's nice knowing things like wireless, 3D acceleration, and suspend/resume will Just Work.

There's lots of things to love about his machine:
  • Multitouch is awesome
  • Gorgeous screen with great viewing angle
  • Speakers sound good
  • Fast CPU,  great graphics, plenty of RAM
  • Doesn't run Windows
Unfortunately, I have one minor gripe, and one huge show-stopper:
  • (minor gripe) Too much friction on the touch pad. Swiping a finger vertically upward causes my finger to grind and skip against the surface. This is excusable in cheap laptops where they want to make the touchpad surface out of the same material as the surrounding enclosure and can't be bothered to press some texture into the material, but on a laptop in this price range there's no excuse for screwing it up. Imagine Mercedes Benz making a car where the steering wheel was uncomfortable to hold.
  • (major WTF) The wireless reception is terrible. Horribly, laptop-returningly terrible. I'm less than twenty feet from the access point in the hallway, with one wall between me and it, and the reception is spotty. The MacBook Pro will drop in and out while the piece of crap Lenovo netbook sitting next to it, at 1/6 the cost, happily continues browsing with no interruption. The whole time, The Macbook will claim four bars of reception, even as it reports that I'm "not connected to the internet". When a website takes suspiciously long to display, I've observed that moving the laptop a few feet to the left or turning it 90 degrees will cause it to instantly kick in and begin loading. I've had to rearrange my furniture just to access the web with this machine, because moving ten feet further into the room where I used to sit, the wireless becomes completely unuseable, struggling to load anything from the web even as it reports nominal signal levels, while the crappy netbook and my old Thinkpad worked perfectly fine.
The wireless reception on this machine is so appallingly poor that I don't understand how they could release it as a product. I'm operating on what I think is a reasonable assumption that this is typical of these machines (rather than mine being defective), which is even more distressing, because in any sane world these machines would've uniformly condemned by reviewers on account of the wireless being unusable in most situations that don't involve sitting in the same room as the access point. I can't imagine this machine being useful in hotels, universities, or any other place where you aren't in control of the AP location. For a laptop, this is fundamentally broken and inexcusable.
The wireless issue is bad enough that I'm tempted to return the machine, and the only reason I don't consider doing so more seriously is that I can't imagine what I'd buy to replace it. A vanilla MacBook? An overpriced plastic Thinkpad? A dowdy Dell with a useless Fn key strategically placed to sabotage Emacs users? Some glimmering HP full of stupid gimmicks that will probably break in six months? The mind boggles. I'm fond of abusing the term "lemon market" in reference to computers (laptops in particular), but I had held out faith that paying the premium to enter the Apple club was a safe way out. Apparently not. Maybe Mac owners really are brainwashed.

While I'm ranting, why the hell does Backspace (sorry, "Delete") in Safari unpredictably navigate me backward, away from this page, instead of performing its expected text editing function? Very frustrating.



( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
Apr. 27th, 2010 02:58 am (UTC)
It sounds to me like you don't want a machine this small but I have a Thinkpad X200 and couldn't love it more. Of course, I insisted on having a linux-friendly machine with a *real* dock and great battery life. It also couldn't be underpowered (aside from graphics). That narrows down your options pretty quick.

Anyway, all that is just an excuse to say that this is an awesome rant...and you should rant more. Oh, and sorry about your MBP woes.
Apr. 27th, 2010 07:12 pm (UTC)
I don't know, I think I managed to work all my standard rant topics in there. Now I'm short on material.

I spotted some X200 variants today - X200s, X200e, something like that. They looked like nice machines, but yeah, a little smaller than I had in mind, and I don't think I could live without a touchpad. I must not be a true Thinkpad devotee; I never use the TrackPoint. These looked like stripped down models with weak CPUs compared to a straight X200. The higher-end X and T models are uncommon in stores around here.
Apr. 27th, 2010 11:46 pm (UTC)
Delete Key in Browsers on Macs
In Safari and Firefox (the two browsers I use) the Delete key does in fact work as the back-to-last-page key UNLESS the cursor is in a text field then it will function as a delete (back) key. Also, if there's a function key (lower left corner "fn" key) then if you hold that down, the delete key will delete forward.
Apr. 28th, 2010 06:44 am (UTC)
Re: Delete Key in Browsers on Macs
Maybe it's something screwy with LJ's text editor field. It only happens when I'm near the bottom of the entry, trying to delete the excess blank lines at the bottom.
Apr. 28th, 2010 07:16 pm (UTC)
Re: Delete Key in Browsers on Macs
It's a convention copied from Windows. Unfortunately.
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )