Reviewed by Tyler Gold (Currently owns)
The early 2011 15-inch MacBook Pro may not sport a fancy redesign or any major new improvements upon its predecessor, but is nonetheless the best laptop I've ever owned.
The stock 15-inch, 1440x900 glossy display is top-notch, but that's not to say it doesn't have a few problems. While the viewing angles on the display are great, using it in (particularly direct) sunlight remains a pretty glaring (pun intended) problem.
The aluminum unibody body is absolutely beautiful and brilliant and perfect in every way. I couldn't possibly ask for a better designed laptop. Despite coming in at a little over five-and-a-half pounds, I can lug my MacBook around my college campus or on my commute to New York with relative ease.
The backlit chiclet keyboard is great, but it can get a little loud if you type vigorously enough. I can't sing enough praise for the trackpad. Multitouch gestures work so well I've been rendered incapable of using any other trackpad. The speakers are surprisingly decent, and work fine for casual listening.
OS X is wonderful as always, although Lion still has a few kinks. No surprises there.
Battery life is solid but not amazing- I usually eke out just over five hours (two short of Apple's promised seven) before reaching for the MagSafe charger, which is one of the best ideas to ever come out of Cupertino. The one catch is that my battery only lasts this long when I'm exclusively using the integrated graphics, not allowing the machine to swap between that and its discrete card. Plus, when using the discrete graphics the aluminum body can get toasty, particularly around the top-left corner.
The upgraded internals in my MBP work wonderfully for even moderately-hardcore gaming (using Bootcamp to run Windows 7, of course). I've managed to max out Call of Duty: Black Ops and can smoothly run Modern Warfare 3 with reasonably high settings, albeit at the expense of putting the fans hidden under the display's hinge into overdrive.
The early 2011 models were the first generation of MacBooks to support Thunderbolt, a new port capable of data transfers at speeds as ludicrous as 10Gbps, or a blistering 20 times faster than USB 2.0. My one complaint about ports is that Apple neglected to include an HDMI-out. I can also count how many times I've used the disk drive on one hand, and plan on swapping it out for an SSD.
The Early 2011 MacBook Pro fits all my needs wonderfully, and I have no regrets about buying it. But I wouldn't recommend buying this model now unless you're short on cash and get a refurb. If you're in the market for a new and reasonably powerful laptop, I can wholeheartedly recommend the newer late 2011 15-inch Macbook Pro- the same machine, but with a more powerful processor and graphics.