I've been using 13" MBP with an external monitor for ages.
It's perfect for pretty much any task, including iOS development as well. The external monitor is absolutely lifesaving when dealing with UI Storyboards of an iPad size.
By the middle of 2018, I started to doubt if I needed an external monitor. I lacked mobility and ergonomics, and mobility once again.
Does an external monitor make sense?
Most of the time, I work remotely, and I want to jump between home, co-working space, and coffee shop and I also want to work effortlessly during travel.
What kept me from doing that is that I felt totally helpless without an external monitor since I got used to it.
TBH, bare 13" MBP with an external monitor has never felt too ergonomic for me.
I've tried using monitor stands to stack screens, either vertically or horizontally, and it has never been something my neck was happy about.
It looks like a separate keyboard with a mouse or a touchpad is the only way of using an external monitor comfortably. With a laptop fully closed or put aside on a separate stand.
For ergonomics, it has to be kinda desktop-laptop setup that was quite the opposite from anything that could ever accomplish my mobility goals.
My laptop use case
I've analyzed my laptop use cases carefully.
- I could often catch myself staring at my MBP's screen instead of the external one, making me doubt its necessity
- The single screen is usually enough for an IDE or any other app, except probably a video editing apps that I hardly ever use.
- Furthermore, a huge monitor is an overkill for most of the apps I use. I can't imagine dealing with 500-chars-length lines of code or editing 5 files opened simultaneously.
- UI development. Luckily I haven't used Xcode's Storyboards for ages. SwiftUI's preview is more like a playground than a professional tool now.
- I usually keep several simulators on a detached desk as they never fit in a single screen with IDE anyway.
- It feels like a compact screen with a full-screen single app brings much more focus.
- CMD + Tab jump feels much faster than arranging apps windows on a large external screen.
I decided to get rid of an external monitor. I suffered for some time, then I got used to 13" and then got entirely lost on a big screen at the end of 2018 when moved to 15" MBP.
I've been using my 15" MBP for almost 3 years now.
The screen size is perfect for all my tasks, but the device size itself has always felt a little bit larger than perfect.
- It's not very comfortable to land on a tiny table at almost any coffee shop as it doesn't even leave any space for a cup of coffee.
- It has no chance to be used during travel. No matter if it's an aircraft, car, bus, train.
- It's not very comfortable to carry it in one hand.
- It's not even comfortable to carry it indoors in an open state as it always feels like it's gonna be smashed into a door or table or something right in the next moment.
- It fits into my backpack easily and is not heavy.
15" MBP natural habitat is a large comfortable table. Working space that can be good enough even for a desktop setup. In that sense 15" MBP is like a significantly cut-down replacement of a desktop setup, that you can carry around.
The 15" MBP keyboard has always felt rather strange to me compared to my old 13" MBP. It's not even related to butterfly or scissors mechanism. It's related to its size. On 13" MBP keyboard felt like a solid continuation of my own hands.
Perhaps my fingers are simply not large enough. The size of the keyboard with a large touchpad makes me keep my hands in some unnatural position.
It's hard to explain, but it's like the touchpad is too large, leaving no comfortable space to land hands while typing.
13" vs 14" vs 15" vs 16" MBP
I'm going to move to M1 chip MBP soon, but I'm still struggling with the choice. Luckily, the size is not a question of hardware power anymore. Otherwise, it would have been even harder to get chosen.
13" is definitely too small with less powerful hardware, and I don't even consider it.
16" is a no-compromise task killer and the perfect choice for work by all means. Unfortunately, it's way heavier than my current 15" MBP, which is already a bit oversize for me now. The new 16" is also VERY fat.
Perhaps 14" would be the proper choice for me, but I'm still in doubt because I got used to 15" and don't want a smaller screen.
Furthermore, the notch looks rather large on 14". Not sure if it will irritate me or not.
Here is 15" vs 14" thread on Reddit