So, let's start this post out by saying I am an Apple nerd through and through. I think their devices are well made, well designed, and I am so deep in my love of MacOS that I don't see myself ever changing. The other thing that will continue to tie me to the Apple ecosystem is how well their devices work together. I can't imagine having devices from different companies and not having things cross over from my various devices like iMessage, AirDrop, and Universal cut and paste.
With that being said, I know the new MacBook Pro's (late 2016 models) have taken some heat for their design. Haters look at them and don't like the keyboard, the lack of slots, the battery life, the giant trackpad, and I have heard a host of other complaints. In fact, my favorite tech podcast, the VergeCast, routinely talks about buying a new computer yet skipping this generation of MacBook, and that is from a crew that traditionally uses Macbooks.
I can see their point of view on a few of the complaints. I LOVE this MacBook Pro! It's everything I was looking for on a computer, and it has some new tricks up its sleeve that make me like it more and more every day. After being on it for a few months, I thought I would take this blog post to write what basically amounts to a review. If you are thinking of buying a new laptop and considering the new MacBook Pro's, this post is for you.
I think a right starting place is to tell you what I use it for. As many of my blog readers know, I am an Education Technology Specialist with Kennesaw State Iteach. Our group is a group of instructional technology coaches that work out in the field with teachers. With this job, I need a machine I am comfortable building and delivering presentations on, something I can communicate with, and something I can use to co-plan and build technology-rich resources and lessons. What I don't need is something that does heavy photo editing, video production, or coding. I use all of those tools from time to time, but I don't get so thick that I am connecting cameras, hard drives, or I am trying to type terminal commands. What I am trying to say is that for my use case, this laptop is fantastic. That may not be the way for everyone else.
With the new MacBook Pro's, you have your choice of 3 basic models. There is a 13 inch without the TouchBar, a 13 inch with the TouchBar (this is the one I have), and a 15 inch with a TouchBar. I chose the 13 inch with the TouchBar because I believe in the TouchBar concept and because I want something portable. The 15 inch is just too big to be an on the go laptop.
Let's start this off by talking about the design. It's not a significant change from the metal bodies of previous MacBook Pros and MacBook Airs. The laptop looks great, and the darker colors available make it stand out even more. The one thing on the outside aesthetics that I miss though is the glowing Apple logo on the outside. That was just a cool aesthetic that made Apple Apple, and it does not make much sense as a design change. The only thing I can think of is that the actual internal components of the screen prevent it, or it could be Jony Ive is just nuts.
The one thing I really like about the design though is the size. I had been working off a MacBook Air for a couple of years, and I had grown to love the small stature of the device. This machine gives me the same little stature with the insides of a MacBook Pro. I like that.
With the screen, I am by no means a screen snob. I am not one of those nerds who is obsessed with resolution and HD. I want a beautiful screen, but I also want a practical screen. I can genuinely say this is the first laptop where the screen was noticeably impressive. Apple is going somewhere with their Nits obsession.
The next thing to look at is what's on the opposite side of the screen in the clamshell, and that includes the TouchBar, Keyboard, and mouse pad. The keyboard is something that is a mild annoyance, but I have gotten used to it. Apple is obsessed with taking the travel out of the keys. That is the amount a key depresses when you push it. If you change it, it changes the way people type. They tried to make it almost no travel with the 2015 MacBooks, and they faced backlash for it. They have been attempting to find the happy medium with this machine, and as I said earlier, it's a mild annoyance. The keys travel just fine, but they are loud! Once you get past the sound though, you get used to it real quick.
The mouse pad is giant, but I don't have many issues with it. It might because my fingers are a bit longer and I can rest on the sides, but I have had little to no problems with it reading my palm as its resting. The one issue I have had though is that dragging has become a bit tougher. At times, I have to use a three-finger gesture to do it, and that is just not practical. Hopefully, Apple can fix that at some point with software.
Then, of course, there is the most talked about add, the TouchBar. Basically, the idea is that they replaced the function keys with a touchscreen to add more functions. My overall impression is that it could be much better, but at this point I like it. The main reason I love it, is it helps me as a presenter. I present out of Keynote, and it lets me go to any slide with just a simple touch. It also allows me to control Spotify while Keynote is playing which I love. I don't have to do that awkward switch over to turn it off.
Presenting is my primary use of the TouchBar, but I do like other things. Having a trash icon where I don't have to right click is also great. The TouchBars could be so much better though. If more apps su[ported it, it could be amazing as a way to pull the standard functions people use out. I know its a pipe dream, but I use some Mac store apps to give me access to Google Calendar, Gmail, and Drive. If those apps supported the TouchBar, it would be AMAZING.
The next thing to discuss with hardware is ports. With the ports, Apple did what Apple does. They adopted a new standard and people have struggled with it. All of this Macbooks ports are USB-C ports. I have heard many struggles with the fact that it does not have things like an SD card slot or regular USB for all of the components folks have already purchased.
I love the USB-C ports. I think it's the future, and I believe component makers will eventually get caught up. I am also someone who does not plug in tons of components or by a whole bunch of third-party components. I love the fact that all the ports are the same. I can plug my charger into any of them, and it works. I can connect my HDMI and VGA dongles into any of them, and they work. It makes it much easier to organize cables. I also think it charges a bit faster.
The one thing that is a bit annoying is the fact that the standards ports are different on IOS. Both my HDMI and VGA dongle have USB ports, so I can always plug in external components that way. What I wish I had was a better way to connect my IOS devices without having to buy new cables. Apple is usually fantastic at things crossing over, but I think the difference of ports presents an issue. My guess is that the MacBook will connect more and more with IOS devices wirelessly.
The last thing to discuss it the battery. I know some folks have also had issues with that, but I have found the battery to be good. It is quite a bit better than my Air was. I also love the fact that I can now charge it with external batteries. The machine pulls so much juice that plugging into a battery won't improve your percentage much, but it will give you bit more time to finish something. All you have to do is get a USB-C battery or get a USB to USB-C cord. I love Anker products, and they will always be my choice to fill this.
I think overall it comes down to Apple making some interesting choices. Some of them panned out, and some of them did not. I think people are always tied to the familiar, and when you make big choices, you risk upsetting those folks. I also think this machine is a little bit of a let down for a particular group. For instance, if you are a photographer the lack of an SD slot is an issue. Many time those folks are the loudest voices.
For me this machine is incredible. It gives me the power of a Pro with the form factor an Air. That makes it worth it from Day 1. The TouchBar has also added functions that help my presentation flow. For me, the price of the machine is worth it (even though I did not pay for it). You just have to decide if that price is worth it to you.
What are using the technology for? That's the open question classroom's today. Many schools and district are filling their classes with laptops and other technology, but how schools are using those devices is different in almost every district and classroom you go in. Many are using the devices at a very low level, and the benefit is just not evident. To get that benefit, we need to up the anty, and the best way to do that is to use our classrooms to teach skills for the future.
So, what skill can help prepare students for the future and can also be part of almost any curriculum? Several answers might fit, but for this blog post, we are going to focus on coding. Coding is an essential skill. It's a skill that almost guarantees a job. It's a skill that nearly every modern business needs, and if you look at the five big companies of tech's job boards it becomes super evident. All of them have hundreds of engineering jobs that remain open because they can't find the folks who have the skills.
This post is going to be one of a couple of posts. Coding is just like learning a foreign language. It becomes easier the younger you start, and if that's the case, why not start with pre-readers! Yes, you read that right. You can start coding with kids as little as pre-school.
If so, how do we do that? It all starts with the coding concept of putting in a digital input and getting out a digital output. For pre-readers, that goes down two paths: drawing lines or punching in arrow combinations. Both hit on the concept that a user inputs some commands to get an electronic response. Thankfully, there are significant tools for both!
The Top 5 Coding Options for Pre-Readers
1. Dash Robots (makewonder.com)
Unlike some other robotics companies, Wonder Workshop is the one that is focused on education and computer science. They are also the only coding robot in my mind that is a complete thought. They hit the pre-reader category all through their companion app Path, but there is also more coming on that front.
Dash is a Blue robot built on what looks like three circular module constructed together with another circular module on top. The module on top has an eye that gives the robot life by making it a character! Dash has a load of sensors within it that make it responsive, it has sound, and it has several apps that allow you to control all of its character and movements through joysticks, linear coding, and block coding.
It's the linear coding that makes it a standout robot for pre-readers, and that all happens through the Path app. Path allows users to draw lines to make the robot go, and then they can drag specific effects icons into the track to make the robot respond. This gives kids practice both inputting a command and having an electronic output as well as adding other commands that can then help them transition to block coding.
2. BeeBots (bee-bot.us)
There are several different versions of coding robots out there that work on arrow commands, but my favorite is the Bee-Bots. They are a bit more expensive than ones like the Blue Mouse, but the hassle of changing batteries in those compared to the Bee-Bots rechargeable battery makes the Bee-Bots worth it.
Bee-Bots very simply are little robots shaped like a bee with arrows at the top. Pre-Readers simply punch in the commands and hit go. The Bee-Bot then will follow whatever commands the student has punched in.
The power of these comes from what you can put under them. You can have tracks, mats, number lines, and a host of other learning materials that can make pre-reader learning content standout. They are also helping kids learn coding concepts by having them input a command and then watching the Bee-Bot do it. To prepare them for block coding, have them string a couple of commands together.
3. Kodable (kodable.com)
Getting software right for pre-readers to learn coding is not easy. It's much easier to hold their interest when there is a tangible way for a child to play. The software also has to be the right combination of learning activity and child-friendly, which can be a hard mix to achieve. There are tons of coding sites out there, but to me, it seems the only software site to get it right is Kodable.
Kodable is a level based directional coding site that asks kids to get what amounts to a cute furball through a course. Kids complete the task by putting the right combination of arrows in to tell the little furball which way to move. It teaches kids coding through the input of commands and having to solve if you made a mistake.
4. Osmo Coding (playosmo.com)
There are two Osmo coding sets, and for pre-readers, I like Coding a little better than Coding Jam. Osmo plays right into using tangible play for pre-readers to learn, and Osmo Coding can even become the first step to the next level of block coding.
The Osmo is a stand for an Ipad with a piece that goes over the Ipad's front-facing camera. That piece reflects whatever you do in front of the stand on a table to the camera. The Ipad then gives you feedback on what you are doing.
Coding uses little bricks to input actions that tell the character of Awbie where to move on the screen. The goal is for Awbie to both finish the level and get as many strawberries as possible. Most of the bricks correspond to some time of movement (like a walking step or jump step, have arrows to tell Awbie the direction to go, and can be completed multiple times based on adding a number to the brick.
This is great for pre-readers because once you give them a small tutorial, they should be able to get Awbie moving quickly. All the bricks are pictures and arrows, so there is no reading required, but by doing this they are learning some the principals of block coding that will let them move to the next level.
5. No Tech
One of the most significant concepts of coding is putting in some command input and getting some command output. For a pre-reader to learn this idea, they don't necessarily need technology. You can do it with just people!
The idea is to make an obstacle course. Then you blindfold one student. Another student then becomes there programmer as they verbally say commands to get them through the obstacle course. They input the arrow commands by merely verbalizing them! It's the first step in coding, and sometimes we just don't have the technology to make it happen!