It’s an upgrade year in the Heathen Office, and so I recently ordered a new laptop from Apple. What I didn’t buy is their new super-sexy 2-pound MacBook, but I admit I was very tempted.
If your use case runs to web, email, and Office apps, though, and you don’t mind the unusual port configuration, it may well be the laptop for you. Anandtech has a long review of the new machine. I’ve seen them in person, and while they’re not as shockingly small as the original Air was, it’s a pretty damn svelte computer. The keyboard feels fine (but unusual), and the display is shockingly good.
At this point, the lower end (well, non-Pro) laptops at Apple come in two flavors: the now-venerable Air platform (in 11″ and 13″ varieties), and the new Retina Macbook. Assuming you want 8GB of RAM (and you do) plus at least 256GB of storage (and you do), the pricing looks like this:
- 11″ MacBook Air: $1,199 with 256GB; $1,499 at 512GB.
- 13″ MacBook Air: $1,299 / $1,599, or basically $100 over the 11″ model.
- 12″ Retina Macbook: $1,299 /$1,599, or the same as the 13″ Air.
So which one do you buy if you don’t need the Pro?
It’s not a simple answer. The Air models still come with a “normal” complement of ports, and are technically faster, but are saddled with the non-Retina display. You probably think, as I once did, that the display isn’t that big of a deal, but once you see a Retina screen it’s super hard to go back. Trust me.
Also, the speed thing isn’t a slam dunk for the Airs, owing to the novel characteristics of the new Intel chip in the Retina model. Basically, it can “sprint” for short bursts very well, so it punches above its weight in situations where that’s indicated. If your workload includes long, computationally intense tasks (e.g., video rendering, or gaming), the Retina model will fall behind the Airs, but this does not describe most people.
That leaves the port situation. Having a single port (plus headphones) allowed Apple to make this thing way, way thinner than they would have been able to otherwise, but this has costs. First and foremost is that you’ll need an adapter to plug in so much as a thumb drive, since the port is the new USB-C, not the regular USB you’re familiar with. This port type is absolutely NOT proprietary to Apple, and we’ll start seeing it in normal peripherals very, very soon now — every manufacturer will want to support it, for the same reasons Apple used it: it can simplify design dramatically.
In real terms, though, buying a Retina Macbook now means you need at least one and probably more adapters. Apple sells three:
- One, for $19, that converts the fancy new port to normal USB;
- Another that “splits” the port into regular USB, USB-C (for charging), and HDMI (think of this as the desktop dock) for $79; and
- Another splitter (also $79) that swaps out regular VGA for the HDMI, in case your monitor has the older connector.
Realistically, there’s no way you can use the new Retina Macbook without dropping coin for at least one of these, and probably two of them — the simple USB one, plus the multiport one of your choice. That’s not a HUGE deal, but it matters.
For me, if I were in a mode to buy a web/email/Office computer, I think I’d probably bite the bullet and get a Retina, but if goofy ports scare you, getting a Macbook Air at this point is still a defensible move. If you’re more mobile and spend less time at a desk plugging things in, the Retina starts to look even better, though.