Apple Quest

A once hard-core PC user contemplates the exciting world of the Mac

Monday, June 19, 2006

At the Apple Store

So this past weekend, I took a trip down to the local Apple Store to play around with some of their computers for a while. All my blogging about Macs has got me itching to get my hands on a computer and to start playing around with it. So, I made my way around the store, checking out the different models and playing with Photobooth, surfing the web with Safari, and checking out FrontRow. Anyway, I learned a great deal on this little trip. First and foremost, I think I've decided which model of Mac I'll get, when and if I ever do. Let me run through the different models I test drove, and tell you what I thought of them.

Mac Mini:
This little computer really intrigued me. I'm amazed that Apple fit everything they did into that little box; it must be packed all the way to the aluminum case. The price also caught my eye. The Mini is significantly cheaper than any of its Mac counterparts. True, this is due to the lack of keyboard, mouse, and display that normally come with a computer, but it's still a fairly reasonable price for a nice system. One of the drawbacks I saw with this model is that it doesn't offer the same specifications as some of the more expensive models. The fastest processor is a 1.66 GHz Intel Core Duo, with a cheaper 1.5GHz Intel Core Solo model as well. These low performance specs seem to agree with the concept that the Mini is a "stripped-down" version of the iMac. I wouldn't be using this computer recreationally, but rather as an essential tool for college, so I think I'd need the computing power. Also, I think that I'd rather have a laptop than a desktop.

I didn't get to play with the G5 much; there was only 1 in the store and I wanted to check out some of the newer computers. In contrast to the Mini, this system seems to be aimed at the professional computer user who needs a lot of extra computing power and expandability options. This did appeal to me, but I don't think I'll need ALL that much in my next computer. It's also still using a PowerPC chip, and I really want to make the switch using an Intel machine. And again, I don't think I'm looking for a desktop.

Intel iMac:
This is, without a doubt, the most unique desktop computer on the market. I liked the all-in-one design, and the way the screen just floats in the air is gorgeous. I think I also have a thing for slot-loading CD/DVD drives. I did see the all-in-one design as a possible problem spot though, seeing that future expansion might be severely limited and that a part failure might cause headaches on my part, trying to access and repair that part. But that's what Apple's amazing tech support is for, right? :) This model seemed to strike a nice balance between the Mini and the G5, as a computer that can handle nearly everything you throw at it, but doesn't yet approach unnecessarily fast speed. One thing I didn’t like in particular was the keyboard. In all of the Apple desktops I’ve used over the years, the keyboard has been their most limiting factor. Either they’re too sticky or the make my hands hurt after typing something. Luckily, that’s easily swap-out-able. Something that’s not so easily swap-out-able is the screen. To tell you the truth, it didn’t really impress me. Maybe I was standing too close or something, but I felt like my 2 year old LCD at home looked much better than that. I also didn’t like the thick bezel around the screen itself, even though it is a necessary part of the computer. And just to repeat, I’m not really focusing on shopping for desktops. On to the next model.

This is where I started to get excited. I’m really looking for a computer that will perform in the college environment, and I feel like a laptop would be the best choice for me. I also hadn’t had any playtime with a Macbook since they were released, so this session was very informative. The first thing I noticed was the lack of some sort of clasp to secure the lid down. The magnet idea is innovative and all, but I’d still like the security of something mechanical to make sure everything stays where it’s supposed to when it’s supposed to. I can just envision a pencil wedging itself in there in my backpack and wreaking havoc on everything. There’s also no express card slot in this laptop like there is in the Macbook Pro, which I found kind of odd, since there aren’t many ports on the computer to begin with. Some of the sacrifices Apple is making for the sake of simplicity are starting to get on my nerves a little bit, but I guess that’s why they develop several different models. Before I actually started playing around with the Macbook, I had seen pictures of it on Apple’s website, and I was a little hesitant on how well the keyboard would function. It looked a little strange to me, but once I got in and actually started typing some things, it didn’t really seem to be much different than any other keyboard I’ve used (and certainly much better than the stand-alone keyboards Apple produces for its desktops.) The clincher for the Macbook was its case. I just didn’t like it. It rubbed me the wrong way or something. The ultra-glossy outer coating reminds me of some cheap children’s toy, and the inner surface around the keys looks too milky or moldable or something. The edge where the inner meets the outer felt a little sharp for my tastes, and the thick display bezel didn’t impress me either. So all-in-all, a Macbook would probably be usable, but it’s definitely not my first choice.

So what is my first choice? Well, I’ve done a pretty nice job of narrowing it all down for you, so by now, I’m sure you know I liked the Macbook Pro the best. Everything about this computer just seemed to meet my wants. Maybe I’m attracted to the beauty of the sleek metallic exterior, who knows. The Macbook Pro includes all the bells and whistles: everything that comes with the Macbook plus an express card slot, a mechanical screen clasp, more visible stereo speakers, and additional ports and such. The 15” model looked like the perfect size for the computer I had envisioned; the Macbook’s 13” was just a little too small for me. The display bezel is also much smaller than on the Macbook, and the edges are rounder, less harsh, and generally more aesthetically pleasing. The keyboard on the Pro is also less foreign looking than the Macbook’s, and includes a backlight sensor that illuminates the keys when the surroundings get dark. Unfortunately for me, the price tags on these systems are more than double the cost of the lower-end Macbooks. But, the Pro’s pack much more punch in terms of processor speed and the amount of RAM that comes installed. The extra money might be worth it to buy a computer that doesn’t make me cringe when I look at it, has more expansion possibilities, has a larger screen, and can handle more than the Macbook. Ideally, I’d get a Macbook Pro; practically, I’d get a Macbook; realistically, I might get neither, but it’s always nice to dream.


At 2:04 AM, Anonymous kassof said...

the macbooks are definitely nice. the glossy screen can be a pain but it's something you have to get used to.

of course, if you could upgrade, go with the macbook pro. larger screen, matte display, backlit keyboard, a seperate video card, etc. etc.

one thing I'd be weary of though is heat. there have been reports of significant heat produced in both the macbook and the macbook pro, though more especially with the macbook pro.

this is something you should keep your eye on when/if you make your purchase.

Good luck!

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At 11:08 AM, Anonymous Mr Skills said...

The magnetic catch on the MacBook is fantastic - I wouldn't worry about it accidentally opening. It is much more likely that a traditional catch would fail (or the latch button be pushed by something in your backpack).

Also the glossy screen is less glossy than most - a good compromise between quality and glare - the glare only ever seems to affect it when viewing off-angle.

I absolutely love the MacBook and it's much more easily portable than the Pro. Only 2 disadantages: 1, it's not great for the very latest games and 2, it gets pretty hot (only use on your lap if wearing jeans!). Neither of those are a bother for my personal use.

At 7:30 PM, Blogger Kevin said...

Lately, I have been reading very good things about the glossy screen on the laptops, so maybe I'll have to give that option a little more mulling-over time. I'm glad to know that the magnetic clasp works better than I originally thought it would, and considering I might get a protective case for the Macbook even when it's in my backpack, I should be safe from accidental openage. Heat seems to be an issue with both models, so a lapdesk or something might be in order.

I still like the metal finish of the MBP, and I think I still want the graphics superiority of the MBP, since it might end up being a desktop replacement eventually. The affordability of the Macbook is really alluring though...

Thanks for your insight and comments!


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