I hate my Macbook Pro

Don’t misunderstand me: I like OS X, I like the build-quality, and I like the look But there are some things I just can’t stand; and they’re ruining the whole experience for me:

  1. anti-social speakers (delayed headphone detection)
  2. poorly-positioned DVD-drive (and it’s region-locked!)
  3. badly laid-out keyboard (particularly the European models)

Headphones

My last laptop was a Thinkpad, with a physical volume control; this made it easy to check the volume was off and avoid annoying fellow train-passengers when booting-up the beast.

In contrast, there’s on volume-control on the ‘Pro. The volume-level is set using function keys when the machine is already powered-on. Fortunately, it remembers the volume-level between reboots. Unfortunately, it also remembers whether you had headphones plugged in. This is what’s really annoying.

When you turn on the ‘Pro, it likes to shout about it: making a long bonggggg noise. If you had headphones plugged-in the last time you turned off the laptop, it doesn’t make a sound. But if you didn’t: well, it doesn’t matter whether you plug-in headphones before powering-on or not, the ‘Pro will use it’s internal speakers to make the bonggg noise… That’s really annoying in so many circumstances (libraries, trains, planes, quiet offices…)

DVD drive

There are two things wrong with the DVD drive in my ‘Pro. Firstly, it’s a region-locked POS with no multi-region hacks available. Secondly, it’s in a really stupid position. Picture the scene: there I am, crammed in my train seat; I’ve just retrieved and unwrapped a new DVD from my bag, and I’ve got easy access to pop the DVD in the side of the laptop. But no… that’s not where the DVD drive is; it’s in the front. There I am, stuck between Joe Random and the window, and I’m writhing about with my 17″ laptop trying to find the right angle to slide the DVD down my gut and into the Macbook’s annoying rubber slot. It’s annoying, and unnecessary.

There’s a reason every other laptop has the DVD drive in the side: it’s accessible. Apple are supposed to be good at this stuff; it’s supposed to be their strong-point. They’ve obviously forgotten.

European Keyboard

This just kills me: I’d always avoided Apple computers with their one-button-mouse-freak operating system. Then OS X came out, and everything changed.

As a developer, all I do all day long is think and type. That’s it, that’s all I do. Think, and type. Think, and type.

I need to concentrate: anything distracting or frustrating can break my concentration and stop me working. This is my main gripe with the Macbook Pro: it has the most annoying keyboard I have ever used.

I’m a ‘switcher’, trying the Mac after ten years using PCs. I don’t want to decode cryptographic symbols on my keyboard, and I don’t want to hunt for essential keys. Why did you hide the hash-key Apple? It’s nowhere to be seen! (UK keyboards don’t have # printed on the ’3′ key like US keyboards; in fact, they don’t have it printed on the keyboard anywhere. The manual is CD-insert thin, and omits any useful keyboard information, leaving the user to search the Internet for the mystical ‘Alt + 3′ keyboard shortcut. In the age of HTML, why would anyone do something so stupid? On a unix-based operating system, why would you be so stupid? For god’s sake: the Apple home page uses the ‘#’ symbol 59 times – try writing that when you’ve no idea where the bloody hash-key is!

Then there’s the cursor keys, stick-thin and dual-function, with labelling that’s inconsistent with the rest of the keyboard. There are lots of keys to perform special functions: screen brightness, volume control, number lock etc. In every case, the special-function is labelled on the left, and the normal function is labelled on the right. In every case, except the cursor keys. The labels on the cursor keys aren’t left/right aligned; they’re centrally aligned. And the special-function isn’t always on the left: the ‘home’ key breaks the rule – putting the special-function (home) on the right. The home-key should have it’s arrow right-aligned pointing left, and ‘home’ should be left-aligned on the key. It may not look perfect, but at least it’s consistent: without consistency you lose the only visual-cue that tells you that to go ‘home’ you have to press ‘fn’. Not ‘shift’, not ‘alt’ or ‘option’, not ‘meta’ ‘command’ or ‘apple’; and not ‘ctrl’. You need to press the function-key (fn), and only the function-key.

And how about the Mac’s option and command keys? How do you recognize them? They’d be the keys labelled ‘option’ and ‘command’ wouldn’t they? Don’t be silly. Why does Apple label UK keyboards with icons while US keyboards are labelled with words? Why does a US keyboard have a second enter-key labelled ‘enter’, while UK keyboard are labelled with a sideways ‘next track’ icon? Even the help pages for Apple’s keyboard shortcuts use words. What use are meaningless icons? (Come to think of it, what use is a second enter-key?)

rotated-L shaped return-key
European Macbook Pro
Photo: Sonic Julez

Finally, we get to the most annoying key; the key that stops me using my ‘Pro for any real work: the return key. I use the return key a lot when programming. Much more than when writing – writing only needs a return-press at the end of a paragraph; but programming: that needs a return-press at the end of every line. And a ‘line’ often contains nothing more than a single curly-bracket. So, the return-key is important to me. If it’s badly shaped or awkward to press, it becomes frustrating, breaks my concentration, and stops me working.

brick-shaped return-key
US Macbook Pro
Photo: Justin Roselt

So why did Apple give burger-fingered Americans a brick-like return-key, and lumber the Europeans with a Tetris-block from Soviet Russia? Look at the surrounding keys; they’re the same on US and UK keyboards, just placed differently. Why would Apple do that? I find the return-key to be the measliest stupidest most loathsome key I have ever had the misfortune of using. I’ve tried to get used to it, but I simply can’t. “Plug in another keyboard” you say… Reasonable advice if I used my laptop on a desk. But if I wanted to work at a desk, I’d have bought a Mac mini and saved myself a thousand pounds (~$2000.) No… I bought a laptop to use on my lap, and I use the built-in keyboard. I’ve learnt my lesson: if the keyboard’s wrong, there is no alternative – you have to buy a different laptop.

Dear Apple:

Please make these fixes to your Macbook Pros:

  • when headphones are plugged in: don’t make a noise
  • move the DVD drive to the side: so it’s accessible with the laptop on our lap
  • use an unlockable DVD-drive (you may not be able to supply multi-region or region-free drives,; but you can use drives with the capability to be unlocked)
  • use English on English keyboards
  • change the shape of the return key

I’m not buying another ‘Pro until they do.

Update: Following up leads from the comments, I’m happy to recommend a few pieces of software:

StartupSound.prefPane
Allows you to set the volume level (or mute) the startup-sound
Deep Sleep
(So far) more reliable than standard sleep, and doesn’t use any battery power while sleeping. Basically, the equivalent of ‘Hibernate’ on a PC

Just as I was about to try remapping my keyboard with Ukelele, I noticed the International option in System Preferences… Choosing the “U.S.” option in “Input Menu” and selecting “Use one input source in all documents” I now have Shift-3 producing a ‘#’ character instead of a ‘£’. My at-symbol (@) and double-quote (“) are still reversed (compared to PC), but I can live with that for now…

Posted Friday, February 16th, 2007 under Rant.

63 comments

  1. Even though I don´t agree with everything you say (I´m on the exact opposite with regards to the headphone issue), I agree that the PB G4 and the MBPs have terrible keyboards. I recently went back to my 12″ Thinkpad X40 for some work, and I can type sooo much faster on that, even with the smaller footprint. The solution for me is that I was smart enough to buy a MacBook, and somehow the keyboard there just works better. (I was always getting strange looks from the mac gurus at work when I blabbered on about the gruesome return-key of the Mac laptops. But now, finally, a soulmate…-)

  2. Dude I know how you’ve felt about the keyboard, I went trough the same path of sorrow. I’ve ordered MBP with English International keyboard expecing that I get the same laytout as in other laptops sold with International keyboard.

    It was too late I’ve found your page and other references about ugly Enter key – the laptop was already paid and shipped by Apple.

    I was very upset about this especially Apple doesn’t provide ANY reference about the keyboard layout directly in the webshop, you need to dig it yourself somehow to know.

    Yet I didn’t surrender, I’ve called my local Polish (I’m Pole) authorized Apple service asking for chaning the keyboard to US one… and after 1.5 weeks of waiting for answer and parts (the replecement took 1h) I got NORMAL US keyboard.

    Finally it has costed me nerves, some money (79$.. so not so much) and time.
    Huh I’ve learned my lesson too…

    So, have you finally changed your keyboard too ?

  3. Hi, I am a new Powerbook user and have been disappointed. The lack of a decent delete key that deletes going right is a problem. The computer even with 2 GB of ram is slow at handling powerpoint and keynote presentations. And I have not been able to find a compelling reason to use keynote over powerpoint. Even iMovie 08 is hardly impressive. It seems that while the MS products have buttons that I can find the Apple programs are all hotkeys and hidden menus. I haven’t been blown away.

  4. ha haa about the keyboard you think you got it wrong welcome to finland where in the same set of keys needed to be with tree more albhabetics these”äöå”. so i got that teris enter and i’am coder and i need those curly brackets often so every time i need to press shift+alt+8 to get it shit and theres no signs nowhere in the key board it was funny to use first time when you dont know where to get brackets it took half hour to figure out how to use this.

  5. MBP owner here. In England with as US keyboard – bought the laptop in the US. Recent convert to Apple. I regret I ever switched. Terrible keyboard. My typing speed is half of what it used to be this keyboard is so bad. The macbook looks good. I am not an expert so I won’t comment on the performance of the system but as a user I tell you it ain’t easy and I regret my decision. Been using for 10 months now. My Toshiba Satellite was, in my view a far superior machine. I keep telling myself that it will get easier but so far no joy… Anybody got any similar experience? What if I gpt a wireless Apple keyboard?

  6. The reason the MacBook Pro has the DVD slot on the front is because it a desktop replacement eg you take it from office to home where there’s lots of space to use it and you can plug it in. Where as the MacBook which has the slot on the side was designed to be a true laptop as its battery was design to do a trip London to New York one charge.

  7. F**k my macbook pro 15″ and apple. I’ve had it for 5 months and here are all my problems so far:
    1. superdrive warped and does not eject cds without using other means to pry the drive open
    2. metal base casing warping and pulling away from plastic
    3. faulty usb port that cannot read anything
    4. first one I got didn’t even have the OS installed properly
    5.Genius bar is mentally retarded. They don’t even know their own software. I asked them why pages documents don’t attach to emails and they couldn’t figure it out. Drrr you can google the problem and find out that pages documents are actually a folder and that you need to export to word in order to attach files. Its so basic.

    APPLE CAN KISS MY @$$

  8. I also find little to love. Everything is difficult. Currently I can’t control the number of pages printed properly and as for the software bundle. Why is Apple so avaricious?

  9. Anthony Hocken says:

    I agree completely about the keyboard.

    I’m on the verge of buying a Macbook Pro but I just can’t get passed the aweful keyboard. I’ve been in the Apple store two or three times trying to see if I can adjust to the keyboard. I just can’t.

    Try using a Vaio (eg AR61S) and the keyboard is brilliant. Fantastic in every way. Perfect key layout, perfect key travel.

    Then I try a Macbook Pro and I’m amazed Apple did such a poor job when they excelled everywhere else. It has spongy feedback, looks cheap, terrible key layout, pathetic enter and arrow keys, weird key labellings. Everything about it stinks.

    How can Apple be so anal about this one feature that they’ve ignored customer feedback about it for several years now. It’s the ONLY thing keeping me from switching to the Mac platform.

    UK Magazine reviews continue to blast the spongy keyboard and poor key layout and yet Apple still does nothing about it.

    Apple … PLEASE pull your finger out your ass.

    If a company offered a keyboard replacement for the Macbook Pro they would make a fortune. Anything would be better than the current POS.

  10. I read what you had to say very carefully and all I got was…

    WAAAHHH WAAAAH!! I DON’T LIKE MY COMPUTER WAAAH WAAAAAH!! MY FINGERS ARE TOO FAT!! WAAAAAAAHHHH!!

    lol, keep on truckin’

  11. I’ve looked at the UK apple webpage and it looks like the keyboard is the same as mine (US)… They may use the same photos on all the pages…. Anyway I realize that it would be an extra experience but I guess you could buy a US keyboard from apple… I KNOW this is not the way it should go, but it would fix your problem…

  12. Man its simple, mute your computer until you get to the system so it wont do the bong sound, dont be stupid the DVD unit works great at least in my macbookpro(us) , well the only thing i dont is that is protected u can change region only 5 times after that stay on the last one u select, well let me tell ya something, i havent seen a DVD region-free or 1 u can change it all times, but u can do what my teacher says buy an extra DVD unit let it on 1 region, and the old one in other region, for example i live on mexico border with the usa, so regions here are 1 and 4, so buy one, let it stand in 1 and the other in 4, just like that, and i have to say eauropean keyboard sucks, so pitty, us style is ok.

  13. tomacornottomac says:

    Very interesting discussion. I’m in the UK and am thinking of getting a macbook or macbook pro. After trying the keyboards in John Lewis i realised i couldn’t get on with the stunted Enter key. Might go for the lowest spec macbook configured with a us keyboard as an experiment.