A month with my new notebook

1st November 2008 – 11.43 am

When I bought my new notebook last month I was fairly certain that Apple were going to update the product line soon afterwards. Nevertheless, I also knew that the notebook had much more capability than I needed, and so was suitable for any task I had planned for it, and that buying so soon before an update would be an opportunity for personal growth by having to deal with having out-of-date hardware so quickly. Sure enough, the notebook update came from Apple and I have had to resist thinking that I had an obsolete chunk of useless metal, which I've done quite well.

It helps that the update was relatively minor, I suppose. It would be interesting to see the quality of the new screens, because the biggest flaw with my Mac Book Pro is its horrible screen. The viewing angle for the LCD is puny, with the possibilty of colours and tones changing when I as little as shift in my chair, and using it standing up to check something quickly whilst passing is terribly disappointing. The screen needs to be tilted far too precisely to get good colour reproduction. The only reason I tolerate it is because my personal use of the notebook doesn't require good colour reproduction and I effectively bought the computer for the operating system.

Apart from the awful screen the only other update to the line that I desire is the new keyboard. I have got quite used to the slim-line desktop keyboard and I nearly bought a standard Mac Book to get something similar. The keyboard on the Pro model is good enough and I allows for quick and easy typing, although it feels rather more flimsy than the slim-line model. What steered me away from a Mac Book towards the Pro were the back-lit keyboard and the mutli-touch touch-pad, which seem like minor features compared to the difference in price. However, having used the notebook for a month now I can safely say that both features are fabulous.

The back-lit keyboard allows for easy use of the computer in low-light conditions without any groping for the right key. It is quite simple and most effective.

The multi-touch track-pad interested me in other ways. I feel I must confess that I hate mouse wheels and almost never use them. It is purely personal taste. I don't like the way they feel, I don't like that they get in the way of a comfortable position when holding a mouse, I don't like the silly noise they make. I just don't like them. The only mouse I have ever owned with a mouse wheel is Apple's Mighty Mouse and only because it came with the machine. It helps that the 'wheel' on it is a fake one, being tiny and easy to ignore. I still rarely use it. However, I find the multi-touch track-pad to be wonderful.

It is so convenient to touch a second finger to the track-pad and drag both fingers to scroll a page on-screen that I now occasionally wonder how to scroll a page on my desktop machine, it is just that quick and easy to achieve on the notebook. There are undoubtedly other gestures, like the pinch or rotate, but the ability to scroll effortlessly and without having to change hand positions is an enormous benefit.

I was quite surprised to read along with Steve Jobs's keynote announcement when he said that, paraphrasing, 'we gave you two finger gestures, three fingers gestures, and now we present four finger gestures'. I'm sure there were plenty of people who were already lining up jokes based on razors with ten blades but my reaction was more along the lines of 'there are three finger gestures?' Sure enough, I found that holding three fingers on the track-pad and moving them left and right triggers Safari to go backwards or forwards in the browser's history. That's nifty!

The hardware is pretty cool, then. It also lets me do everything I had hoped and wrote about previously, which is not much of a surprise considering I wanted it to be little more than a glorified typewriter that can connect to the internet. An added bonus is that it is powerful enough to run EVE Online. Whilst I haven't tried playing the game whilst in a fleet roaming low-sec I have performed courier missions, travelling and hauling, and have switched skill training with no problems.

Well, there was that incident when I lost my Drake battlecruiser to a gate camp, and then got podded, after I accidentally entered low-sec space during my relocation to a new region. But even though I made that journey on the Mac Book Pro whilst concentrating on playing World of Warcraft on my desktop I'm pretty sure the notebook wasn't to blame for the loss. In fact, the Mac Book Pro coped with the one-sided battle without a hitch, showing me in splendid detail just how quickly my shields and armour were being depleted, even as I tried futilely to escape.

Changing skill training in EVE Online is hardly a calculation-intensive task, but the ability for the notebook to run the game and switch skills is actually a nifty feature. It means that I don't need to power-up my desktop machine only to change skill training and turn it off again, as the notebook can perform that task with far less time overhead or power consumption. And, when I'm paying attention to what I am doing, the notebook makes travelling or simple missions a more casual event, allowing me to perform the tasks in the comfort of an armchair instead of at the computer desk, should I so desire. Running EVE Online is a drain on the battery and the notebook gets quite hot, but the machine is certainly capable of running the game well.

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