Comparing Apple laptops, part 2

May 6, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
May 6, 2015

Author’s note: In my previous post, I considered the pros and cons of three different Apple laptop computer models: the MacBook (no modifiers), the MacBook Pro (full stop) and the MacBook Pro with high-resolution Retina display — or as I like to call them, the MB, MBP/fs and the MBP/r. Today, I consider Apple’s other laptop, the MacBook Air. MEM 

Like the MBP/r, the MBA comes in two sizes. I feel that the 11-inch MacBook Air is a bit too small for my taste, so that leaves the 13-incher.

The 13-inch Air has a 1,440 by 900 pixel screen. Apple doesn’t call it a Retina display, but I thought it was a bit sharper than the screen on my 2009 MacBook Pro when I examined a model on a recent visit to an Apple Store. The onboard memory starts at 4 GB, which is what I have now; the battery is rated for up to 12 hours between charges, which is far, far better than my current computer’s endurance. The Air has two USB 3 ports, which would be faster than the older USB 2 ports my current model has, and a Thunderbolt port, which my 2009 model lacks. On all of these points except memory, the Air is ahead of what I now have.

I think my old laptop has two advantages. One is that the MacBook Air, like the MBP/r, lacks an internal optical disc drive. But as I wrote on Tuesday, that’s not a deal-breaker. The other is that the Air’s hard drives, at either 128 GB (base model) or 256GB (midrange model), are smaller than my old MacBook Pro’s 500 GB capacity. Which is slightly annoying, yes, but not a huge deal.

So what about price? Well, this is where my clear-cut preference for the 13-inch MacBook Air over other Apple laptops runs into a little hitch. Or maybe a not-so-little hitch…

The 13-inch MBA starts at $1,000, which is a better deal than the $1,300 base price of the MB and the MBP/r. However, the 13-inch MacBook Air’s midrange model, which comes with the 256 GB hard drive, costs $1,200. And I’d really prefer to have a drive that size or larger.

The midrange model with the 256 GB drive can be upgraded in three significant ways:

• Bumping the processor up from 1.6 gigahertz to 2.2 GHz costs $150.

• Doubling the memory from 4 GB to 8 GB costs $100.

• Doubling the hard drive capacity from 256 GB to 512 GB costs $300.

I think that the hard drive upgrade is too expensive. The processor upgrade is a little pricey but not outrageous. I love the option of increasing the memory, and the $100 expense seems reasonable.

So let’s say I go with a 13-inch MBA with a 256 GB drive and 8 GB of memory but, for the sake of saving money, I skip the processor upgrade. That brings the total to $1,300 — exactly the same as the MB and the MBP/r.

Again, I’d want an extended AppleCare warranty, which is a standard $250. I shouldn’t need to purchase any adapters, which is a hidden cost engendered by the MB’s single (!) USB-C port, so there’s that. But cost-wise, my ideal MBA and the basic MBP/r are a wash.

Which leaves me — where? Well, I’m thinking I’ve got to do few choices:

• Go back to an Apple Store and play around with an 11-inch MacBook Air. If I’m comfortable with the size of the screen and keyboard, that would allow me to get a machine I like at a more affordable price.

• Go back to an Apple Store and compare the 13-inch MacBook Air with the similarly size MacBook Pro with Retina display. If they’re the same price, I might be better off with the latter, even if it comes with only a 128 MB hard drive. Or perhaps I’d feel more comfortable with a slightly cheaper MBA with just 4 GB of memory.

• Check out the refurbished items at the online Apple Store. There can be some pretty good deals there — never on the very newest stuff, but still on some solid computers.

Obviously, I’ve got some cogitating to do…

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