Back from a short but cold business trip to Wisconsin. It may not have been that frigid to the locals, but to a Florida native highs in the 20′s with constant snow is one of the undiscussed circles of Dante’s hell. A couple of quick observations while spending time in airport terminals waiting on connecting flights:
Half of all the laptops I saw in use were Macbooks. A bit surprising, considering that the majority of users were business travelers.
I saw as many iPad Minis as regular iPads. Not that surprising given the news of the Mini’s popularity, even without a retina display. Pundits that like to echo the mantra that Apple can’t be successful without Steve Jobs should stop and consider that he was firmly opposed to the iPad Mini.
I saw a few of the latest Samsung ‘phablets’ (the Galaxy Note). Good god are they huge; forget about carrying it anywhere but a purse or backpack. If you own one and enjoy it, rock that party my friend; I can’t imagine any informed consumer picking up something so ungainly.
Something awaiting me when I landed home and was able to take my iPhone off Airplane Mode was another request for help from a coworker looking to switch to a Mac instead of buying into the bag of hurt that is Windows 8. While my knee jerk answer would be to just head over to your local Apple Store and talk to one of the associates, not everyone has this option.
So for the Mac curious lacking any informal help on choosing the right model, let me humbly offer the advice I gave to my coworker. As with just about any major purchase, the right choice depends on your needs. While I’ve been using an iPad with a keyboard (currently a Brydge) for all my mobile purposes, it’s not idea for everyone. There are some tasks that call for a full fledged laptop, and many that are possible on an iPad but require a change in your workflow that not everyone will find acceptable.
For general computing use, your best choice is the workhorse model of Macbook Pro, the 13 inch base model. The most recent model offers a powerful Intel i5 processor, adequate memory and hard drive space, and very good battery life (up to seven hours) coupled with the lowest price of the Pro lineup. As with all of Apple’s laptop line it sports a unibody aluminum case, making it very durable. The large trackpad (considerably bigger than most competitors) is perfect for OSX’s multitouch controls. Should you need more memory it’s easily upgraded; I’d recommend for all but the technophobic to do so themselves rather than ordering extra memory from Apple as they tend to charge considerably more to preinstall it.
If you need more horsepower or screen space then move up to the 15″ Pro. The entry model sports a quad core processor instead of the 13′s dual core (four ‘brains’ on the chip rather than two, providing more stability and multitasking prowess). The larger laptop also comes with a discreet graphics card making it a much better choice for the amateur photo or video editor, or those that want to explore the Mac’s growing gaming options.
If you plan on using your laptop on the go and/or don’t need an optical drive (Apple’s Superdrive, the DVD and CD slot on the Pro model) I’d recommend the Macbook Air. The 11 inch model is small enough to fit in a large purse but still sports a full sized keyboard and trackpad. Both the 11 and 13 inch models are ridiculously thin and light, but still offer a considerable amount of power for just about any everyday task. Other than screen space the primary difference between the two is battery life; the 11 advertises five hours, the 13 matches the 7 hour life of it’s Pro sibling. While they lack in internal DVD drive, if you truly need one but covet the Air’s portability you can always pick up an external drive like Apple’s own USB Superdrive (matching the aesthetic and slimness of the Air). The biggest caveat of the Air (other than lack of optical drive) is that they aren’t user-customizable; you are stuck with what you purchase. All the components are permanently affixed to the motherboard, and none but a professional should attempt to access the Air’s internal workings. That being said, even the first generation Macbook Air that I’ve owned was capable of just about any task that I had without a complaint.
I wouldn’t advise opting for any of the new retina display models of Macbook Pro unless you truly need the higher resolution or have some extra cash you don’t mind parting with. Much like the iPad Mini beside a full iPad, you only notice the difference in resolution when you place a non retina screen beside a retina one. While the visual clarity of the retina Macbook Pros is stunning, it’s an expensive upgrade unless you truly will exploit it. Bear in mind, all of the retina display Pros lack optical drives like the Airs.
For those of you that are shopping for both a desktop and a laptop, allow me to make one last suggestion. Your new Macbook (regardless of model) sports an important and versatile technology- the Thunderbolt port. Via this port you could easily connect to one of Apple’s beautiful (but pricey) Thunderbolt displays, instantly transforming your laptop into a desktop (along with your choice of bluetooth keyboard and mouse/trackpad). For those of you wanting a less expensive method of docking, there are multiple options. You could simply connect directly to a third party monitor via a Thunderbolt to HDMI or mini DVI adaptor and control your laptop via USB or Bluetooth inputs. If you’d like something a bit more elegant there is Belkin’s new Thunderbolt Express Dock. One cable to your Macbook connects it to a wide range of ports and inputs: Gigiabit ethernet, USB, audio/mic, and two serial Thunderbolt connectors.
While you can’t go wrong with an iMac or Mac Mini, unless your budget isn’t constrained you would be well served by a Macbook running in clamshell mode if you really need the desktop experience at home as well as a full laptop on the go. There are many accessories to optimize your experience as well, like 12South’s BookArc, Raindesign’s mTower, or Just Mobile’s clever AluRack (hiding your laptop behind your desktop monitor!).
I’ve owned and built a lot of Windows computers, but there’s nothing to rival Apple’s Mac lineup. When I considered the quality of construction, power and ease of use of OSX, and Apple’s top notch customer service there’s no other computer I’d recommend. While they do cost more than your run of the mill $500 Dell, you get what you pay for. For long time Windows users looking to purchase a new system I urge you to give Macs a look; Windows 8 will require you to relearn how to interact with your computer and may have a steeper learning curve than a better constructed, more stable and more secure Mac would.