Why I nearly returned my 16 inch MacBook Pro.

November 2019 saw the release of the 16 inch MacBook Pro. Finally, a device to end the polarising MacBook Pros that preceded it. Listeners of my podcast will know, I have long awaited the arrival of this device, and in November, after a long and draining Twitter campaign, it was here.

The YouTubers got their review units, and the videos came in droves.

“Apple nailed it!”

“The one you’ve been waiting for”

“The best Mac in years!”

I ordered one, and in short - it’s fantastic, it’s the iMac-Pro-ification of MacBook Pros, it looks mostly the same as the last one, but so much better under the hood.

But it’s certainly not without its “quirks”, some of which brought me close to returning it:

Coil Whine

I first noticed this a few minutes into using the device. I would liken the sound to a hissy spitting sound. It seems to be most noticeable when the machine is under heavy load, which would make sense why I first noticed it during the initial setup run. As an unboxing experience goes, this was poor.

The good news (if you can even call it that) is that when the machine is under heavy load, the fans will spin up, drowning out the coil whine. Hurrah!

Speaker Pop

Out of all of the issues discussed here, this is the one that I recall reading about the most. You mostly hear this when pausing or scrubbing through a video or song. I heard it from day one, and honestly, it didn’t bother me at all. The speakers in this MacBook Pro are seriously good and if this is the price we have to pay to get that, I’ll take that.

Apparently it’s a software issue, not a hardware fault. Rumour has it that masOS Catalina 10.15.2 went some way to fixing the issue. I have 10.15.2 installed and thought my issue was fixed, however I occasionally still hear it.

Display Ghosting

This was the issue that brought me closest to returning the device. Once you see it, you can’t un-see it. Seeing a display ghosting (something I thought was a non-issue in 2019) on a device that starts at £2399 left a very bad taste.

Dragging a window around at just the right speed will leave a smeary trail. I remember reviewers talking about ghosting when LCDs were new, but in 2019, I figured we were past that. Obviously not.

In the run up to Christmas I was fairly certain I was going to return it, but decided to take the Christmas period to cool off and consider my options. In doing so, I had a chance to visit a store and check out other MacBook models. It seems that other modern, retina MacBooks suffer with the same issue. Interestingly, an old non-retina MacBook Air I tested didn’t seem anywhere near as bad, and neither did my outgoing 2010 MacBook Pro. A sign of the retina era where colour accuracy and high resolution are put ahead of response time?

Why I’m Keeping It

For the most part, I’ve been able to “un-see” the display ghosting. Oddly, knowing that other models are affected makes me more forgiving of the 16 inch. Crazy logic, I know.

Thinking about it now with a clear head, coming so close to returning the 16 inch MacBook Pro was the result of cumulative disappointment.

If I had experienced just one of the issues discussed above, I could have looked the other way. But stack them all up, and you can’t help wonder if you have a bad unit - one of the early ones that are never quite right.

I have now come to realise that my expectations were unreasonably high. The sheer amount of money that this laptop cost weighed on me somewhat during the first two to three weeks of ownership, which I suspect played a key role in my unreasonable expectations of the device.

The absurdity of spending so much money on what many see as “just a laptop” isn’t lost on me, especially when it isn’t tied to my income (yet!). As such, I suspect there was a teeny-tiny-little-bit of buyers remorse / imposter syndrome at play here and I was taking that out on the laptop by picking faults with it.

This isn’t supposed to be one of those insufferable “The TRUTH about the 16 inch MacBook Pro” posts where I expose the device in some dramatic fashion, more a reminder that these devices aren’t perfect and that’s totally fine. The device is wonderful and is by far the best laptop I have ever owned, I just needed to calm down and allow myself to enjoy it.

Dave Nott @_davenott