Thursday, 17 December 2015

Mac Air 11” vs Windows laptop?

I spilled a small amount of water on the top-right hand side on my 11” Mac Air a couple of weeks ago, and though I mopped up quickly, and it carried on working for a while, but once it went into hibernation it refused to wake up again. When I connected the power lead, the light didn’t come on. The guys at Mac1 Spitalfields pronounced it dead, and ridiculously expensive to repair, and my insurers paid up the cost of a new one minus the excess. So I bought the 13” 256GB version as an upgrade, which I had been thinking of doing for a while. I really can’t justify a MacPro with Retina - I’m never going to be doing image processing on a grand scale.

Of course, the original upgrade plan would have left me with the 11” Air as a travelling computer. Right now, I’m back using the old 10” Asus EEPC, which while it works, really doesn’t handle Chrome very well, stutters a lot when I edit in Evernote and can come to a halt when task-switching. Four or so years ago it cost about £200, and needs to be upgraded. Software has moved on, and bloated.

£200 now gets me a 2 x 16 GB Chromebook, especially if I really want an 11” screen. If I can live with a 13” screen and a 3lb computer, I can get a proper laptop for around £250 - £400 depending on storage. From Amazon it will have Win 8.1 and there can be issues with upgrading to Win 10 with some OEM installs – I have an issue with Win 7 on the Asus. The spec of those mid-price machines is variable at best, and looking in PC World suggests that the keyboards can be random in quality. If I want an i5-level spec, it’s going to be around £600 for a 13” machine.

Let’s deal with the 11 vs 13 thing. The Air actually has an 11.6” screen with 1366x748 pixels, and the 13” has 1440x900. These are different aspect ratios, but in terms of real estate, the 11” gives 1,021,768 pixels and the 13” gives 1,296,00, which is almost 30% more. Frankly, I’m not noticing it while writing in Evernote. I probably would if doing photo manipulation.

How much is the 11” 4MB x 128GB Air? With a keyboard you can only love? And a solid aluminium body? Oh, yes, £749. Which I know is 11” vs 13”, but it’s also 2 lbs vs the 3 lbs+ of the 13” machine. I’m not taking a chance that the lower price has been achieved by scrimping on the processor, HDD or motherboard. I can avoid by getting an i3/i5 or above 13” Wintel machine, but then it costs about £100 less than the 13” Air, and we have the same arguments again. If I needed to use Windows and was doing something that needed computational heft, I’m fairly sure I’d go for an i5 / i7 Asus Zenbook – and those things cost as much as the equivalent Macs. (Sure, there’s stuff on sale at Amazon for less than these numbers, but look closely and you’ll find it has Win 7, or is almost three years old, and may not be Win 10 upgrade-friendly.)

There’s what looks to be the truly awesome Chillblast Helios i5 6200U 13 Ultrabook with 8 x 250GB, what looks like a good chicklet keyboard, a 1920x1080 screen and an aluminium unibody chassis and all for just £735 (inc VAT). My alarm bells ring on seeing that they offer to upgrade the glue that holds the heat sink to the CPU for £5.99, and that may reduce temperatures by up to 5 degrees Centigrade. Um… why not just do that anyway? It’s less than 1% of the final price? It’s an odd thing to tell people is an option. But… that spec in a Mac would be nearly twice the price at £1,319. Shame you can’t see or try a Chillblast. I would want to if I was after a Wintel laptop. Also Chillblasts are hand-made, and for computers that’s not always a good thing.

While we’re on the subject of Apple’s pricing strategy, here’s why it is what it is. Their core market is photographers and video makers. A high-quality telephoto lens can cost as much as a 15” Mac Pro Retina with all the trimmings. A basic pro-quality lens costs as much as a decent 26”+ display. Compared to camera kit, Macs aren’t that expensive. They handle Adobe’s programs really well, and seem to have drivers for every camera ever made. Next market along are people who make music, and the same thing applies: compared to old-school music recording and mixing gear, Macs are cheap as chips. Next market along is / was designers: design workstations used to cost multiple thousands, and with horrible screens. This is how pricing is supposed to be done: not by using the manufacturing cost as a benchmark and marking up to cover fixed costs and profit, but by charging less than the ridiculous prices your target market is paying to do on the existing kit what it can now do on your kit.

So the “Apple Tax” is now the “no compromise on quality or consistency” premium, and it’s got smaller. It’s now around £150. This has the effect of making people like me trade up to a Mac, or to trade down to whatever I can get for £400 but has a really good keyboard. Sadly, laptop keyboards are a prime thing to compromise on, and it takes a lot of search time to find one. I chose the Asus EEPC because I could test the keyboard in-store.

In the cafes of Soho, Shoreditch and Richmond-on-Thames, all I see are Macs. I see all brands of tatty Wintels being used by commuters on the train, and I assume these are supplied by work. When people buy a computer they are going to be using a lot, for themselves, they pay the premium.

I’m stalling buying the 11” Air pending just this kind of review and how long I can go on working with my Asus. If I had not had the accident, I would have spent £999 on the 13” Air and had the 11” already. I spent £400 (net) on the 13” and £749 on the 11”, which is of course the insurance excess of £150. So that’s what the accident cost.

Expensive water.

(PS: How’s this for an alternative? I don’t really need a computer: I need something that runs Evernote and has a keyboard that isn’t horrible to use. That would be an iPad Air with a Logitek keyboard. I have the iPad, so instead of buying the 11” Air, I bought a Canon inkjet colour printer and the keyboard. I’ve been promising myself the printer for an age. As a consumer, I am a total mystery to myself.)

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