2017 MacBook For Travel Review
All right, road warriors, this one’s for you. I picked up a new MacBook for the office and I thought I would share some of my insights.
What’s the best computer for travel? What’s going to get the job done and keep from weighing you down while providing a decent typing experience? I’m told it’s the MacBook! Here’s the deal, if there were one computer for everyone’s travel needs this would be a nice easy write up. I would place the best computer for travel on my desk, wax poetic about how wonderful it was and how it fits everyone’s needs and the clouds would part and a rainbow may come out my A…..
The point here is that this fantasy is about as real as the Easter Bunny or having two good choices for president. It’s just not going to happen in this lifetime and the world is full of compromises. What you wish to compromise on may be different than what I think is best compromise and while I may have my opinions about the new MacBook for purposes of this article it may, or may not be your winner.
Before we get to deep into this…
Credentials: Who the hell am I and why should you listen to me. Honestly, you probably shouldn’t. My wife hasn’t listened to me in years, my kids generally don’t know care when I’m talking to them and I can’t get my employees to do anything I ask. BUT! That doesn’t mean I don’t know what I’m talking about. My first two years of college were in computer science. I read up on the topic regularly and can hold a conversation on any of the hardware portions of a computer. The software on the other hand is basically magic. If I opened up a chip and found a unicorn on a treadmill instead of the requisite transistors I wouldn’t be shocked. Honestly it would explain a lot. Anyway, I spec, build and trouble shoot various computers for several offices. And while I may be rusty I’ve built a few servers in my day, a slew of desktops, and for some god awful reason I trouble shoot their laptops. My point here is I know my way around a computer from a technical standpoint. (No this is not rocket science and no I’m not a tech blogger I just thought you might like some background)
Back on topic: Unfortunately there’s no such thing as the perfect travel computer. You are all going to have different needs, wants and desires. Some of you need a strong processor or a ton of ram. Some of you write while some of you Photoshop and some of you use the computer for presentations. Of course all these use cases require different things from your computer so I’m going to try and accommodate all of these for the road warriors.
Ultra lights are the new “in” thing in travel computers and, of them, I think the MacBook is the best.
The MacBook, is a fine little computer. It has a 2 Core M processors to choose from. I wouldn’t waste my hard earned money on the faster one because whatever you’re going to do with this computer isn’t going to necessitate a faster processor but the cash difference will buy a LOT of red wine which will do wonders for your sanity. If you are reading this you have children, and thus you drink lots of red wine because you know, it’s good for your heart or something. To be honest these processes are low power units, so low that they don’t even require a cooling fan, and won’t be doing anything taxing anyway. If you want to do something taxing you’re barking up the wrong tree with this one. They are however, designed to maximize battery life, yay! There’s nothing worse than running out of battery life on some ancient American Airlines tin can from 1978 with no plug for your computer but an ashtray under your forearm. The onboard graphics are…adequate. That said, I have used Photoshop on a considerably slower MacBook Air 11in from 2011 and while it wasn’t the most gratifying experience it did get the job done… eventually.
This new MacBook is quite a bit faster than that old MacBook air of mine and quite a bit more pleasant to use with its high resolution “retina” display.
I’m going to list the specs here you can get from apples website as I’m pretty sure it adds nothing to this review. What I can add that other people haven’t is an honest real world review which seem to be lacking in a LOT of apple product reviews.
For Traveling: The MacBook is just fine for sending emails and browsing the web. However, I find that if all I’m doing is sending emails and browsing the web then I’m just as happy using my iPhone 7 Plus. I can text nearly as fast as I can type, plus it makes for fun conversation when I don’t catch some of the “interesting choices” that the iPhone auto-correct makes. I will say however that for writing reviews I much prefer the MacBook. That said the keyboard on this thing is an abomination. Apple designed a new butterfly system to attach the keys, which enables a shorter throw allowing for a much thinner keyboard and thus a thinner overall laptop. Congratulations Apple, your engineers have succeeded in fixing something that wasn’t broken. I am currently typing this review on the MacBook and the keys are actually beginning to hurt the tips of my fingers. There is very little give and the keyboard is quite a bit louder and clickier (hell yes it’s a word, ok no it’s not I’m using it anyway) than my late 2013 MacBook. I feel like I’m hammering these keys into a solid block with every stroke past 200 words. But boy is this thing stylish and light… Did I mention that the screen is absurdly good. It’s miles beyond the old MacBook Air and pretty much equivalent to the MacBook Pro albeit 1.3in smaller.
Horsepower wise the laptop will do any office related things and play video just fine even at its native resolution and as such if fine for non-power users. In fact it’s exception for short bursts of work, before the keyboard starts to hurt your fingers, and to toss back in the bag. You will hardly notice it’s there while you’re on the road and it will be ready to roll when you need it.
But, it does have it’s frustrations beyond the keyboard. The number one frustration would then go to the lack of ports. Aside from a single usb-c on the side this thing is barren. There are very few USB-C peripherals at the moment, which means, dongles. Baring the use of said dongle there’s no way to charge it and add a peripheral. I have a very personal aversion to touch-pads and I NEED my little Logitech receiver to be plugged into my laptop at all times other wise I will lose it and with it my mind. I shouldn’t have to spend an extra 50 bucks to accomplish this while the laptop is charging. I will give them credit for leaving a regular plug for the headphones however.
Another odd frustration comes in about the MacBook’s best feature, its weight. I find that it’s a little too light, let me quantify that for you. When I have this thing on my lap it lacks some substance. It’ s so light that it moves about on my lap when I type. This is an odd quirk I had never encountered or even thought of until I sat down and started using it. It’s getting on my nerves. I like to use a trackball mouse because I can flop it down anywhere and it works. The MacBook doesn’t allow that because it bobbles about when I type. It’s not Microsoft surface bad, but it is irritating.
The screen, while beautiful and great ona plane or in a lap is just too small for a desk. Propped up in your lap with a pillow or something it’s perfect. Of course this has everything to do with how close the computer is to your face. It’s like reading an iPhone, you don’t set it on a desk, you hold it entirely too close to your face and walk into traffic. It’s the same here with the MacBook.
While I absolutely love the idea of the MacBook and I’m pretty sure this is where all laptops are headed it just doesn’t have the comfort and usability hashed out for me yet. The world isn’t quite ready for it I don’t think.
The competition: The Dell xps 13
Alright, I do some side IT work for a local charity here and they love their windows laptops. I have at their request purchased many a dell computer for them. They have an extremely high up front failure rate and many of the lower end models fail in short order. They have been so bad that they have been sworn off. I have been loading windows onto MacBook’s for them and they have been far better machines. We have a few old dells that are tanks and have been hanging on since 2008 with nothing but hard drive replacements. But the newer stuff has been ridiculously bad. I went and took a look at the XPS 13 and you know what, it’s just lacking something. When I set it in my lap it lacks the solid feel. It feels like a toy compared to the macs and this isn’t just because it’s lighter. Annoyingly the screen jiggles when I type on it, this drives me crazy and reminds me of many of my old dell laptops with bad hinges and generally poor designs. But boy that price is attractive.
The surface pro 2, 3 and 4 soon to be 5.
I still use a surface pro 2 as my travel computer. I bought a MacBook Air to replace it once. I then gave it to my wife because I never used. The screen was crap in comparison and it was too weak to use for anything but writing. The surface pro 2 is wide and short and tilts back on its stand and is absolutely the perfect form factor for an airplane. This is especially true if you fly in cattle class like I do. My MacBook’s would always have to close a little or jam the keyboard into my stomach when the person in front of me leaned back. The battery life is not so hot but the screen is a great, gorilla glass touchscreen. The keyboard is a floppy odd little thing that can’t be used on the lap but boy is it good for an airplane. It makes a great movie player and it’s even good to type on. The issue is that they were overpriced. But now they are old and cheap! Huzzah!
Conclusion: So what does TravelShaun recommend? Honestly for what these things cost I would pickup an equally great used//Refurb MacBook pro retina 13.3 in. The keyboard is considerably better, it has all the ports you need and you can pick one up for 700-1000 dollars, which is a bargain in the world of MacBook’s. The Refurb 2013-15 MacBook Pro will have all the ports you need, be a lot faster, have a better typing experience, have longer battery life and generally annoy you less. Really it is not that much heavier and you’ll lose less on depreciation. So while I do like the new MacBook, I don’t Love it. I certainly don’t “thousand plus dollars” love it and I don’t think you will either.