Price: 1130 . 1300 . 1699
The announcement of Apple's latest line of MacBook Pros includes one un-Apple like surprise -- a price drop.
In the past, Apple's MO has been to add features, bump up processor speeds, and boost RAM and hard drives in its new hardware -- usually while holding the line on prices. This time it did all those and cut the bottom line. The top-end 17-inch MacBook Pro dropped from to £1,690, for instance, and the entry-level 15-inch model went down to £1,130.
Now, that's a deflationary spiral I can appreciate -- almost as much as I appreciate the new 15-inch MacBook Pro that Apple passed along for review purposes.
The lineup: Lots of 'Pro' options
There was none of the old wait-a-few-weeks-for-delivery delay this time; the updated 15-inch and 17-inch MacBook Pro models, and the newly rechristened 13-inch MacBook Pros, were available for sale right away -- at least from Apple's stores.
The 15-inch model now comes in three varieties, all of them with 4GB of RAM -- which you can double to 8GB for a hefty £695 -- and hard drives with between 250GB and 500GB of space, or solid-state disk drives of 128GB or 256GB. For £210 more, the 2.8GHz model can be ordered with a 3.06GHz chip -- the first time Apple has offered a processor beyond 3GHz in a laptop. It's also an option on the 17-inch MacBook Pro.
For those who plan to take their laptop on the road, the 15-inch MacBook Pro weighs in at 2.5kg, about a bag of sugar less than its big brother and a pound more than the newly renamed 13-inch MacBook Pro.
The most obvious change to the MacBook Pro line is the loss of the ExpressCard/34 slot. It's been replaced by an SD card slot to make transferring pictures from digital cameras easier, according to Apple officials. (You can even install Mac OS X on an SD card and use it to boot the computer, according to an Apple Knowledge Base document explaining the SD slot's use.)
The only Pro model that retains the ExpressCard slot is the 17-incher, and I wouldn't be surprised if the next generation of this model drops the slot as well. Why the change? Apple says its research shows customers are interested in more easily transferring digital pictures from their cameras. The SD slot means no fumbling for cables.
The slot works exactly as you'd expect. Just slide an SD card in -- metal contacts side down -- and an SD card icon pops up on your desktop. When I tested it, iPhoto promptly launched and quickly imported my photos. I then dragged the icon to the trash can to 'eject' it, and pulled it out of the slot. There's no spring mechanism; you just slide it in and pull it out. If you don't see an icon show up on the desktop, you may have to try again as Apple recommends inserting it with a smooth sliding motion.
Another minor change -- one you'd have to look for to really notice -- is that the Mini DisplayPort video port is now sandwiched between a FireWire 800 port and two USB ports. All of the ports are on the left side of the case; the SuperDrive for playing and burning CDs and DVDs is on the right. Otherwise, the new MacBook Pro sports the same unibody aluminum-and-black look as before. The glass-coated one-piece trackpad/clicker button is back unchanged, and the laptop feels comfortably solid -- a credit to the unibody design.