Back in January I wrote about returning to the fold of desktop computers with the purchase of my 27" iMac with Retina 5K display. After four and a half years with a MacBook Pro (2011, 15") I was not in love with the laptop concept.
In that post I said I didn't see myself returning to a laptop for my primary computer, which implied what I had and have been thinking – a laptop as a secondary computer was still appealing.
A week ago I decided to make that leap and what I found surprised me.
My personal circumstances were about to change and I faced splitting my time between two locations that would make it troublesome to decide where to keep my iMac. It's not a terribly portable system! So I thought now might be the time to try out the "laptop as secondary" concept. Now... which model?
A friend recently bought a 13" MacBook Air, which she loves, but the thought of a non-retina screen puts me off what is otherwise an outstanding machine.
The new MacBook Pros are lighter and thinner than my 2011 model was, but not by much. Mine was 2.54kg and the new one is 2.25kg. I'd always found the weight of my MBP to be its limiting factor. It was uncomfortable to use on my lap for any length of time and virtually impossible to fit in my carry-on bag for business travel due to that weight and, to some extent, size.
So the Air was not modern enough and the Pro was too cumbersome. That left only the 12" MacBook. This model has long fascinated me as I have listened to prominent podcasters try it out and fall into two distinct camps. Some fell in love with it, and some found it wanting. Was it the one for me?
On the surface, the technology is brand new, it has a retina screen, it is ridiculously light (0.96kg) and small enough to fit in bags with ease. But could it be underpowered, and would I cope with that keyboard and the lack of ports? There was only one way to find out.
I tried and failed to purchase it immediately before going on a 5 day business trip, but on the first day of my trip I managed to sneak enough time to pop out to a high street shop and purchase one. I got the higher specced model in gold. My free time over the next couple of days was, shall we say, "messed up," due to working some long and oddly timed shifts, but I managed to find time to go through setup, installing commonly used software and tweaking settings. Thank goodness for free wifi at the hotel and in the office.
On the evening of the third day I actually had a decent amount of free time in the evening and so started really using it – for email (Gmail in Safari), Notes, OmniFocus, Photos, and various web reading and responding. I was doing much of this lying on the bed in the hotel room with the TV on. I'm never comfortable for long when sitting or lying down so I was shifting around quite a bit, but I noticed that no matter how I sat or lay, the MacBook was easy to shift around to somewhere comfortable.
I could lay it on my lap in classic laptop style, I could open it to its fullest extent and prop it up against my knees. For reading, I could even hold it by one side near the hinge and suspend it in the air at an angle. When I wanted to get up to grab a drink or snack, I could easily toss it aside onto the bed and maybe flip the lid closed. I realised after a while that the MacBook is pretty much as portable as an iPad.
Since then, I had two more nights in the hotel and now several nights at home, and even a couple of days off work where I've grabbed it during the day in much the same way I would previously have grabbed my iPad mini. The poor iPad mini has barely been touched. In fact, it hasn't been on a charger since I left for my trip. That's over a week now! I had preloaded the WWDC Keynote video, in HD, on the iPad and when I finally got around to watching in my hotel room on the last night, I ended up stopping it after 20 minutes and finding a low def stream I could run on the MacBook simply because I could easily prop it up or lay it on the bed to watch.
I'm still getting used to the keyboard, and I wish it was exactly like the Apple Magic Keyboard (which I love), but it's not bad and so I get by. I've not yet noticed any sluggishness with tasks I have done on it. The screen is gorgeous. But most of all, its lightness and diminutive form factor are its best features. I still don't think I'd be without a desktop for heavy lifting work (recording podcasts, image compositing, photo management and processing, and more) but as a secondary device, the MacBook shines.
One day, perhaps, the power of a MacBook Pro will be available in the same form factor, and I look forward to re-evaluating my stance at that time, but for now – the MacBook is what a laptop should be.