One of the perks that comes with working as a technology writer is that I get to play with all sorts of cool gadgets. A few weeks ago, I was given a loan unit of the new MacBook. Apple furnished me with the top of the range model with 512GB of PCIe on-board flash storage and the 1.2GHz dual-core Intel Core M processor.
While some reviewers have found the Core M CPU to be underpowered, for my purposes it has proven more than adequate. My main activities are writing, editing a few images, keeping up with news, email and web browsing. I use Microsoft Word, Pixelmator, Feedly, Mail and Safari for those activities respectively.
The MacBook is not perfect… for me
There are a few things that I’ve found either annoying or difficult to adapt to. For starters, the keyboard is not comfortable for me to type on for extended periods of time.
Over the last few weeks, since I received my review unit, I’ve been travelling almost constantly interstate and overseas. I’ve done long-haul flights to the US as well as visiting Asia. On a typical day, I’ll write at least 2000 words – often closing in on 5000 words on a busy day. So, I spend a lot of time on that keyboard.
The shallow key movement, necessitated by the Apple’s obsession with making its computer as thin as possible, makes for a very unforgiving typing experience. There are times when the pads of my fingers get a little sore.
And the single USB-C port is a hassle. I get how the old USB was so thick it would have made the MacBook a thicker device, but the dongle is one more thing for me to carry, and potentially lose or leave in a hotel room, when I’m travelling.
However, I have found myself changing the way I work.
New work habit
The MacBook is not designed to be a replacement for the traditional desktop computer. It’s really a complementary device that fills the niche between a traditional notebook computer like the MacBook Pro or MacBook Air, and the iPad. And if the rumoured iPad Pro, with a 12.9in display arrives later this year as expected, then that niche will become even more crowded.
Even today, if you have a desktop computer as your main system, then your mobile options, as a complementary device from Apple’s current range, are the MacBook, 11in MacBook Air or iPad Air 2.
When I’m in my main office, I use my main system tethered to a 27in LED Cinema Display, Bluetooth keyboard and Logitech T651 trackpad (I use the Logitech, as it works just well as Apple trackpad, has a rechargeable battery and costs a lot less).
When I travel or work at another site, the MacBook passes my ‘good enough’ test. I can use my main apps, sync all my data over the cloud and it’s so light I barely notice it in the bag or backpack I use.
In the past, I carried a 13in MacBook Pro everywhere. But it now stays in the office, permanently tethered to the display.
Having two systems – one for the office and one for travelling – is far more convenient given my work practices.
Is that enough for me to buy a MacBook?
That’s the big question – is the MacBook worth either $1799 or $2199 depending on which model I choose?
I’m really not sure. And it’s the possibility of the iPad Pro that has me wondering.
Now that all of my main work files live on a cloud storage service, I can easily access them wherever I am. What I’m thinking is I’m going to try to use my iPad Air 2, with a keyboard case (I have a Logitech Ultrathin keyboard case), for a week or two as my travelling system.
Like the MacBook, it’s a compromise between weight, size, ease of use, connectivity and ports. I’ve tried this experiment before and ended up going back to a notebook. However, cloud services and the applications I depend on have all improved.
Microsoft Office and Pixelmator now have native iOS apps, which means I’m hamstrung in my workflow.
The answer to that experiment will tell me whether the MacBook is the right device to complement my office system and workflow.