Should I get a older 15" MacbookPro or a new 13"?
March 8, 2019 7:24 AM   Subscribe

I suddenly find myself in need to replace my Macbook Pro. The last 15 years I have only have 15" Macbook Pro's but now that I am spending my own money I am not sure I want to spend that much. I am considering either a refurb 15" Mid-2015 or 2016 (pre touch bar) or a refurb 13.3" 2017/2018 model.

Should I go with the the new tech or the bigger screen? Assuming both options have about the same drive, ram, etc. Most likely used for web, hobbyist photo (i.e. Photos not a ton of Photoshop) and writing.
posted by UMDirector to Computers & Internet (16 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Also any suggestions on where I should buy? Have looked at Apple Refurb, OWC and Mac of All Trades primarily. Any smaller guys you trust?
posted by UMDirector at 7:25 AM on March 8, 2019

Having used both in the past I was surprised by how much lighter and easier to carry around a 13" was.

On the other hand the screen did feel noticeably cramped for some tasks, mainly those that involved having many windows open (writing and referencing documents, etc.) 15" would have been worth the extra money if most of my time was spent on that.

But I lean towards the 13" being preferable.
posted by vogon_poet at 7:42 AM on March 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

I'd go the non-Touchbar route. I 've purchased/used many powerbooks, ibooks, and macbooks over a couple of decades. I currently have a MBP 13" with touchbar and retina display (purchased mid-2017, so an early model, and so things may have changed since then). It's a complete disaster. Some of the issues include:

- 'butterfly' keyboard is a dust magnet, and malfunctions on a regular basis (sticky keys, etc.)
- screen or graphics card appears to be giving up (funky display colors)
- increasingly unhelpful or condescending Apple support, either on the phone or in Apple stores
- quoted long repair times

It's basically unusable for any kind of focused work. Multiple design issues constantly interrupt my train of thought. The 'slim' design sacrifices functionality over looks, resulting in a strong aluminium body with fragile hardware added on. It includes plenty of narrow tolerance gaps everywhere, that seem just wide enough to admit dust that then gums up the works. If you use it in any way like a laptop should be used, it breaks, and to replace the fragile hardware requires extensive and expensive maintenance.

There are many lengthy discussions online (e.g. at Apple forums), regarding what these issues.

Bottom line: It's a fundamentally flawed design. I think that if Apple offered to replace it with an earlier re-furbed non-touchbar model, I'd go for that. Another model on my radar is the Lenovo ThinkPad X1. The Huawei Mate has good reviews.
posted by carter at 7:43 AM on March 8, 2019 [5 favorites]

Concur with what people are saying, no touch bar and 13" is fine. I've always owned the Air lines from Mac and when I decided to buy a laptop last year I went with the 13" and the older model with the older ports and I feel good about my decision. However I have an iMac at home so this is not my main axe. I use the big screened computer for stuff where I really need to SEE stuff. I find the Buyers Guide over at Mac Rumors is good for giving me a general idea of what laptops are going for. Apple really doesn't have a wide range of buying options. I got my laptop from Best Buy just because they were having a sale and I got a competitive price that, a year later, still hasn't been matched, so it can help to wait for sales and the Mac Rumors site can help you with that.

If I am buying something where I don't need the rock bottom price, Small Dog is hands down the best in terms of having knowledgeable people and a good website.
posted by jessamyn at 8:28 AM on March 8, 2019

With those choices I'd go for the 2015 model because of what carter says: Apple's laptops are in the doldrums right now, and the bad design choices since 2015 (keyboard, ports, tolerances) outweigh any improvements.
posted by holgate at 8:30 AM on March 8, 2019 [1 favorite]

I just bought a 2015 13" MacBook Pro off Swappa. I've been using a 13" for years for work, so it felt like I'd already been doing a dry run. I like it. I'm using it for pretty much the same things you intend to use it for.
posted by loriginedumonde at 8:37 AM on March 8, 2019

I know someone struggling with their older macbook because it can no longer be upgraded to the newest OS and their software packages are dropping support one by one. Going with a newer model somewhat insulates and future proofs you. If you aren't using any specialized software and don't anticipate doing so, this may not be a consideration for you.
posted by stoneweaver at 8:52 AM on March 8, 2019

Previous gen Macbooks are notorious for the keyboards failing due to dust ingress. I would not buy a refurb for this reason, unless you’re happy to spring for a 3-year warranty & accept that it might be unusable after the warranty runs out.

The latest Macbooks have had design changes to the keyboard which might make them less susceptible to this failure mode, but it’s too early to tell for sure.

Personally, I would either spend the money for a brand new Macbook (with the warranty to match), or buy a decent PC laptop (if you want something equivalent to a Macbook, then Dell XPS or Thinkpad X1) but I'm happy to install Linux on these machines & use them to run glorified 1980s unix text editors. YMMV :)
posted by pharm at 9:02 AM on March 8, 2019

I'd only get the 13" if portability was a major, overriding concern. There are too many complaints to ignore about the post-2016 keyboards and repairability. I regularly switch between a 15 and a 13 inch, and it feels more dramatic to switch between the different sizes than two inches would sound.
posted by meowzilla at 11:22 AM on March 8, 2019

Thanks all. Super insightful. Was leaning 13" but think I am leaning older 15" now.
posted by UMDirector at 11:37 AM on March 8, 2019

I've used a 15" Mac in the past, and switching to a 13" Macbook Air was an enormous leap forward in portability. I walk to and from work and carry my laptop every single day - it made a very big difference.

I'm on a 13-inch 2017 Macbook Pro with a TouchBar now.

* I appreciate having four ports, two on each side - I couldn't live with ports on only one side.
* The TouchBar is meh - it's great for context-dependent sliders but I'd trade that for an escape key in particular.
* The keyboard feel is something I actually really enjoy - it suits me - but I've had at least three keys get stuck for a while, which is bullshit, come on. Luckily, I use an external keyboard with my monitor at work most of the time, so I could wait for whatever was trapped to dry out and work its way out. The keys are all fine right now, but I hate the unreliability in principle. I never had to worry about this with my previous Air.
* Everything else about the machine has been great. The retina screen is amazing, and SSDs are a huge step up from spinning disks - I'd treat those two as non-negotiable at this point.
posted by RedOrGreen at 2:14 PM on March 8, 2019

The aforementioned butterfly keyboard issue kept me from replacing our creaky old 15" MacBook until last year (as in, it died and I replaced it with an even older 13" rather than buy a new one). The new keyboard is supposed to fix the problem. It was a relief to get back to 15 inches. I seldom use the Touchbar.
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 5:49 PM on March 8, 2019

Will chime in and say I like the touch bar on my current MBP, have never had a keyboard problem, and think the use of only USB-C ports is surprisingly good (mainly because i never plug in anything else anyway). People who hate the new models really, seriously hate them, but only you know for yourself if you are one of those people.
posted by vogon_poet at 6:45 PM on March 8, 2019

Just a note on older MBPs -- the configurations that have an nVidia 650m GPU are compatible with Mojave. I've kept my mid-2012 15" MBP on High Sierra, but it appears to be eligible.
posted by snuffleupagus at 6:23 AM on March 9, 2019

Thanks for all the notes!
posted by UMDirector at 9:03 AM on March 9, 2019

I would avoid any MacBook with the butterfly keyboard even the most recent redesign. Reliability is terrible. This is not anecdotal. Last weekend I tried to work with three sound designers on a project. All three of them had MacBook Pro computers out of service due to issues with keyboard. No joke I gave one a 2008 Mac mini to complete a live recording.

I purchased a used 13” 2015 MacBook Pro, the last version before the new keyboard and Thunderbolt3/USB C and it works wonderfully.

If you get an older MacBook and need to upgrade later they still have incredibly high resale value.
posted by sol at 12:28 PM on March 9, 2019

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