Tagged: MacBook

The 2016 Mac Notebooks Can’t Take “Crumbs in the Keyboard”

It’s been a year since Apple released the 2016 models of the current MacBook Pro and MacBook notebooks, and it looks like the new butterfly-switch keyboard suffers from a major design flaw that allows a piece of dust—or a crumb in the keyboard—to render it useless.

This is not something I’ve experienced firsthand, as I own a 2015 MacBook Pro. That was the first one to offer the new 3D Touch Trackpad, but it still used the legacy scissor-switch keyboard.

Apple blogger John Gruber has taken up this cause and rightly argues that a notebook computer keyboard should be “totally reliable. So reliable that it’s confusing when something does go wrong.” He also notes that Apple laptop keyboards have been “totally reliable” until the release of the 2016 notebooks, although I can point out a different experience with my second Apple laptop—a 15-inch Aluminum PowerBook G4, released in early 2005.

This was a great laptop, and I used it from 2005 to about 2009, when I sprung for a unibody MacBook Pro that I used for another six years. One major part of its longevity was that I was able to upgrade the RAM after a couple of years, and after running out storage, I was able to replace the hard drive with a larger one. Waiting a couple of years for these upgrades allowed the price of memory and storage to drop.

But this particular laptop did have one notable flaw: the keyboard. The keys were a bit spongy, and they lacked a satisfyingly quick “tap.” This was more or less typical of Apple keyboards before the Aluminum keyboard from the late-2000s. Another issue with this keyboard is that the key caps would break.

I experienced this on multiple occasions, but at the time, I could take my Powerbook to any Apple Store, and a Genius would replace the key cap at no charge. This took about ten minutes. As with the easy upgradability of the memory and the storage, the easy repairability of this Powerbook model made this a very long-lasting machine.

This was also true of my 2009 MacBook Pro. Because I could open the case and remove parts as needed, I was able to rescue it after I spilled seltzer on it by opening the case. And when I broke the fan cable in trying another repair, I was able to solder it back on to the logic board.

However, this is not true of the current MacBook and MacBook Pro lineup. Apparently, if a single piece of dust or a crumb gets underneath the key cap, you won’t be able to type. And removing the offending scrap of food could require replacing the entire top case.

Over the last decade, Apple has made their laptops much harder to repair in order to shrink their size and weight. Many of these steps offered other benefits. For example, when Apple stopped making batteries that you could remove and swap with a spare battery, the life of the new built-in battery increased: from three hours to about seven. Yes, the laptop became thinner, but it offered such a dramatic improvement in battery life that no one missed carrying (and charging) a spare battery.

However, these steps have now gone too far. Apple has prioritized the lightweight and thinness of their notebooks over the repairability and upgradability. At first, they made the memory permanent. Whatever memory you have for your MacBook or MacBook Pro notebook is basically all you will ever have. Upgrading the storage is also next to impossible. But those are solid-state components, and it’s unlikely that you will need to replace those under normal circumstances. As my dad told me when I was kid, solid-state parts don’t break, but moving parts do.

Curiously, the keyboard is the only part of the MacBook and MacBook Pro that moves and it is just as important as the memory and the storage. For that reason, it needs to be both functional and serviceable. Sadly, should you be eating lunch while working on your MacBook Pro might be render the keyboard to be neither functional nor serviceable.

About Apple Watch, About MacBook, About Face

Almost immediately after the Apple Event on March 9, I had formed two basic opinions about the two most noteworthy products introduced that day. First, I was ready to jettison my trusty old 2009 MacBook Pro for the new 12-inch Macbook with Retina display. Second, now that Apple had announced more details about the Watch, including pricing, I was intrigued but not convinced I could use one. I was also interested by the third big announcement, regarding HBO Now as a standalone product, but I wasn’t sure if it was going to be the runaway hit some had predicted it could be. However, in the two months since the Apple event, I have almost completely reversed my thinking on all these fronts.

The Apple Watch now seems like a must-have device

Many of my Apple-obsessed friends listed having a “Dick Tracy watch” as their primary reason for wanting an Apple Watch. They might be disappointed as some early reviews judge the sound quality as, shall we say, suboptimal. But as I wrote a few weeks ago, I realized the utility of the Apple Watch after taking a bike ride. It will save me from having to fetch my phone from my pocket or bag: something we do, according to David Pogue, over a hundred times a day.

The new MacBook seems like an overpriced and underpowered device

I have to admit that, despite keeping up with iOS devices and knowing a bit their specs and performance metrics, I am relatively uninformed about recent Mac desktops and portables. Sure, I know that these things were getting thinner and lighter. Yes, I knew that Apple had banished the optical drive and spinning hard disk from most of their notebooks. And, of course, I was absolutely convinced that a Retina display would be a must-have feature for my next computer.

However, I didn’t know exactly how much had changed since 2009. RAM has not only become more capacious, but also a lot faster. Apple has ditched SATA for a much faster PCI Express bus with multiple “lanes” for increased throughput. And for all that performance, it is now common to get through ten hours of work on a single battery charge, compared to four hours with my 2009 MacBook Pro. All of the reasons I liked the new MacBook were already available in a more powerful device: a Retina MacBook Pro. However, the most compelling reasons for getting a MacBook— the remarkable thinness, the lightweight two-pound frame, and fanless design—all come with a stiff performance penalty.

Despite sacrificing performance for portability, the pricing is not all that different between a new MacBook and a Retina MacBook Pro. Consider that the new MacBook retails for $1299 for 8 GB of RAM and a paltry 256 GB drive of storage. For $300 more, you get a more reasonable 512 GB of solid-state storage with a slightly faster processor. I would have only considered the latter model because that small storage can’t be upgraded.

On the other hand, the top-of-the-line 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro, with a much faster processor, similar battery life, 8 GB of RAM, 512 GB of storage, and lots of ports, retails for $1799. But a lifetime of computer ownership has taught me to get as much RAM. Because Apple solders the RAM to the logic board, you are either stuck with 8 GB or you have to shell out another $200 to “future-proof” your computer with 16 GB of RAM. Upgrading to 16 GB of RAM is not possible on a new MacBook.

Product Display Max RAM Storage Battery Weight Price
MacBook 12-inch Retina 8 GB 512 GB 10 hours 2.0 lbs $1599
MacBook Pro 13-inch Retina 16 GB 512 GB 10 hours 3.5 lbs $1999

Andrew Cunningham, of Ars Technica, has come to a similar conclusion when reviewing the new 12-inch Macbook:

if you want better battery life and don’t mind the screen, go with the 13-inch Air. If you want a nice screen and don’t mind the weight, go with a 13-inch Pro. If you want a Mac on a (relative) budget, try the 11-inch Air. If you want the size, weight, and screen and can live with the dongles, performance, and battery life, that’s when the MacBook becomes a viable option.

I fell into the second camp: the user who really wants a nice screen and doesn’t think 3.5 pounds qualifies as heavy. And, although I do have an elegant solution, I hate carrying dongles!

Yet, the most compelling reason for going with the Retina MacBook Pro instead of the new MacBook is that Apple quietly updated the 13″ MacBook Pro on March 9. Not only does the Early-2015 13″ MacBook Pro come with a faster Intel Broadwell U processor, faster RAM, and an improved PCI Express bus for speedier solid state storage, it also comes with that intriguing Force Touchpad. It’s hard not to get excited about this first-generation MacBook, but at this stage, I’d prefer a more mature product over a completely new one with a lot of promise.

Or at least I do prefer that with computers. I already ordered an Apple Watch, and I’m running through the first-month trial of HBO Now.

This is Why I’ve Waited to Replace My MacBook Pro

As a bonafide Apple nerd and someone who spends no fewer than five hours a day tapping away at a computer, I’ve been surprisingly passive in upgrading computers over the last decade. My current MacBook Pro is from mid-2009, replacing a late-2004 Powerbook G4 that measured 15 inches, weighed nearly five pounds, and was the object of ridicule from an undergraduate student. In the course of a decade, I’ve had only two Mac portables. That really would have surprised the twenty-year–old version of me.1

Mid-2009 MacBook Pro 13"

My Mid-2009 MacBook Pro still gets it done six years after hitting the market.

The 2009 MacBook Pro was the first 13-inch notebook in the Unibody design, and it has aged well. It not only looks like a recent computer, it preforms reasonably well. It’s responsive, and I almost never get those dreaded spinning beachballs. Undoubtedly, upgrading the RAM to eight gigabytes and replacing the spinning-disk hard drive with a solid-state drive have forestalled its obsolesce.

As I’ve chronicled here, this computer has taken some lumps over the years, and I constantly dread its inevitable demise. I’ve not only spent quite a bit of time and money upgrading this computer, I’ve also sacrificed dollars and hours repairing it, including soldering the fan to the logic board and replacing the keyboard. I’ve stubbornly continued to do so because I knew someday Apple would release something fundamentally different to my six-year–old MacBook Pro.

Yesterday, along with a cheaper AppleTV and the new HBO Now streaming service, Apple announced the new MacBook. I am almost certain it will be my next computer. It has everything I would want in a portable. It is light and thin, it has a Retina display, and it promises all-day battery life.

The new 2015 MacBook

So svelte!

Of course, there are some sacrifices to making something so light and thin.

  • The display is an inch smaller than my current 13-inch MacBook Pro and, in 2x mode, will have fewer pixels than my current 1280 x 800 resolution,
  • There is no SD card slot, which I regularly use to import photos from my DSLR and mirrorless camera,
  • There is only one USB-C port,
  • The only other connector is an audio port,
  • The Intel Core M processor is not an i5 or i7,
  • The maximum storage is 512 GB, and maximum RAM is 8 GB.

These are not deal breakers, though. I rarely work with anything connected to my Mac other than the power supply and maybe a pair of headphones. Aside from connecting my cameras or SD cards to import photos, I usually only plug-in a VGA adapter for work and my Garmin Edge GPS for play. I’m sure that in due time I will find a cheap USB 2.0–USB-C adpater to upload and import my bike ride data and photos. And as for presentations, I can go back to presenting from my iPhone or iPad until Monoprice releases the requisite VGA/HDMI adapters.

I look forward to getting my hands on a MacBook on April 10, because, unlike the Apple Watch that also ships next month, this new MacBook makes sense to me.

Or maybe I should see what they do with the MacBook Pros later this year…

Update: If you’re looking to sell your old MacBook Pro, Gazelle is offering a $20 bonus on any MacBook Pro valued at $50 or more. As an affiliate, I get a commission on your transaction.


  1. I also bought an iMac in 2009 that I sold in aftermath of my “divorce”.