Evaluating the Needs of Your Primary Computer

When selecting a new portable computer today I think now more than ever you have to consider how you use your computer, what external equipment you have, what is most important to you in terms of portability and how and where do you work most frequently.

I have had the second generation 13” Macbook Air since Febuary.  I love the machine. It has been the best Mac I have every owned.  It is fast, easy to travel with and offers a great combination of battery life and screen real estate. Last week the line of machines were refreshed and included a thunderbolt port. The addition of the port was very interesting to me for running high speed external discs to store a vast amount of large RAW photograpy files.

Through an odd set of circumstances I had the opportunity to sell my 6 month old machine machine to my girlfirends brother. So I decided to refresh mine. I went to the store and I played with the 11” version. I loved it. I loved the sharpness of the screen - loved the 16 x 9 aspect ratio of the screen. And unlike previous generations of the MBA the processing power and storage were equal. I thought this was the perfect opportunity to go to the ultra-portable, but not anemic, machine.

I got the machine home and began the basic setup.  The machine was so fast and setup was complete in a matter of minutes. After using the machine for a couple of hours my impression was that perhaps the screen was a little too small but then I a figured I would adjust to it over time. Many others have switched to it as their primary machine and I had planned to as well. But something felt a little odd to me.

Before switching to the Air I had a 15” MacbookPro. I had no issue moving down in screen size when I went to the 13 inch so downsizing to the 11” I figured would be a non event. Plus if I was going to to an really lengthy photo editing I would then purchase a large external monitor (the announced Thunderbolt version of the 27” monitor was on my wishlist).

I continued using the machine as I normally do over the course of the weekend. On the couch, in bed at the table and the coffee shop. But something still was not right and I could not put it together. I jumped into a series of neurotic events of justification for it, thoughts about returning it, pros and cons etc. I certainly made my girlfriend a little nutty I am sure.

On a whim I decided to send a few emails to professional bloggers who I read and respect get their opion on the 11” versus 13” debate. Hoping to a identify what was bothering me and also recognizing each person has their own personal opinion. I asked Shawn Blanc why he selected the 13” over the 11” given they could be configured with the same hardware (processor and RAM). Shawn Blanc said:

Screen real-estate. I didn’t want an 11-inch computer as my main machine. But I know there are some who do.”

Which made perfect sense to me. I sent a note to Michael Evans at Macfilos as well. I asked Michael who has written a lot about how much he loves he loves his 11 inch machine. If he had any issues with the more diminutive screen size. He let me know that there was an adjustment but certainly not an issue and I would be happy in time. I replied back that I agreed but that I was having some issues with my hands relative to the smaller palm rest and  the sharp edge where the beveled covers meet pressing on my palms.

Funny but I’ve not noticed that as a problem, and I had a MacBook Pro before. Maybe it’s just something you get used to. Another possibility is that if you were in an Apple Store you could have been standing up and therefore at an unusual angle.  I’m sure you’d soon get used.”

He was correct. I had tested the machine while standing at the apple store in ideal conditions, not how I would probably be doping 90% of the time.

What I failed to ask either of them is:

  • Whether their primary machine included using an external monitor or not

  • Do they have other machines.

I think these were pretty big omissions on my part. In my mind I was thinking of a primary machine as a stand alone machine without a monitor. Having used both, even for a brief period of time, I can see both sizes would work excellent as primary machines with the use of external monitors. They are both extremely portable for travel - the 11 inch being ideal for ultimate portability. I think if you are using purely only the laptop the 13 offers the best mix of services.

The long and the short of it is I went back to the Apple store and exchanged the 11” for the 13” and I am very happy with my decision. When I add another mac to my setup or when I get an external Monitor I would certainly consider the smaller MacBook Air.

What did I learn? I did not heed my own advice and look at the overall computing needs and wants.

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