Review: GelaSkins 15" MacBook Pro skin

My house may be full of junk, but the stuff that's actually mine is mostly just books and bits of computer. I'll admit that I often choose one product over another for aesthetic reasons (blinkenlights!), but I can't think of anything I own that has fundamentally decorative purpose.

Until, that is, the GelaSkin I bought to cover my work MacBook Pro. This really is a product that doesn't do anything but change the appearance of your laptop. I'm a fan, though.

I'd read about these things ages ago in ars.technica, though at the time they were for iPods. They sounded pretty hard to put on, and they were super-ugly. Not just a little ugly, but really deliberately in-your-face ugly. Expensive mall ugly. Versace furniture ugly. So we kind of got off on the wrong foot. Being labeled "ugly expensive tat" is not a way to find yourself on my shopping list. The ars.technica article was sufficiently effusive in their praise that I visited the web site anyway, and even found that there was one design I actually liked. Even so, I didn't really see the point. Why would one bother? Part of the beauty of the iPods is that they're small and inoffensive. And it looked pretty tricky to line the wrap-around sticker up.

In their coverage of MacWorld 2008 ars.technica again mentioned GelaSkins, and specifically noted that they were showing off their laptop equivalents. Unlike the iPod skins, which wrap around and cover the whole iPod, the laptop "skins" are basically just big stickers that cover the lid of the laptop.

I've never really liked the look of the MacBook Pro. I accept that aluminum is a better laptop material than titanium was; no peeling paint here, and it feels pretty nice and rigid. I just happen not to like the way it looks. When it's open and I'm using it, it's fine, but when it's sat on my desk next to me, I'm not a fan. And being a big fast computer kind of person, laptops spend most of their time with their lids closed, sat on my desk next to me.

I've also never really liked the big glowing Apple logo on the lid. I don't wear t-shirts with logos on them unless they're free, and even then I'm somewhat choosy about what I'll advertise. I feel like I should at least get a discount for carting a big glowing Apple logo around.

So, for USD30, GelaSkins will sell you a big thick sticker to cover the lid of your laptop. It's thick enough that you can't see the Apple light through it, though if you look closely and the light's just right, you can make out the indentation around the edge of the logo.

The sticker also lets you choose how you think your laptop should look. Sexy robots? Check. Over-used pieces of popular fine art? Check. Sexy cartoons? Check. Fractals? Check. (When is this? The 1980s?)

And if, like me, you've always wanted wooden computers, you're in luck. That perversion is catered for too.

It's hard to tell from the web site how the things will actually look in real life. And since I've only tried one, I can only offer anecdote, but the one I have looks pretty good. If the light's right, it actually looks like highly-polished veneer. If the light's wrong, it looks like one of those textured stickers you see on the back of buses in some countries. I was also curious about how it would look given that it doesn't actually extend to the edges or wrap around, but it looks fine to me, and better than I personally imagine it would look if it did extend further.

It was easy to apply, though I'm not sure that wasn't just good luck.

Theoretically it's a "protective skin", but I'm not sure you'd really notice. If you have a habit of keeping metalworking tools on top of your laptop you might find yourself saved a few scratches, but it's hard to see it making much difference in the pocket of a laptop bag. What the sticker does do is make fingerprints and salty sweat marks less obvious. I no longer find myself rubbing the damn laptop clean every time I use it, though the areas to the left and right of the trackpad on the inside remain problematic.

There are wrap-around MacBook Pro skins available from other companies, but I've yet to see one that didn't look about as good as something you did yourself in 2 minutes with a roll of duct tape. The corners in particular are deeply unsatisfactory. I never see the bottom of my laptop, though, so it can look out for itself. The wrap-around skins don't address the inside of the laptop either, so unless you carry your laptop round in a bag of gravel, I don't really get the point.

In summary, although this product doesn't really do anything, I still like it. I can recognize my laptop at a glance, it makes it look better in my opinion than it did out of the box, and I no longer have to see (or show) the big glowing Apple logo. I also don't have to rub sweat marks off the lid on a daily basis. Would I feel silly walking around with my decorated laptop under my arm? Possibly, but I'd feel silly walking around with any kind of laptop anyway (just add bluetooth headset for the complete knob-end experience). Would I feel silly if everyone with a MacBook Pro read this and rushed out to buy one? Only one way to find out...