So I bought a Mac. I was the last person to think I would switch over, especially as I had been using PC laptops for so long. April 2012 marked ten years since I bought my first laptop, and in that decade I owned four laptops, averaging 2.5 years per laptop (which is roughly the depreciation span for laptops in Australian business).
I had resisted getting a Mac over the years for many reasons. The combination of being comfortable with the familiar and annoying Mac fanboys kept me in the PC camp for that long. However, at the start of 2012 I began to consider what to replace my old laptop with and I looked into getting a Mac for the first time. By June I was a freshly-minted Mac user.
It’s now been over half a year since I switched so here are my thoughts on the MacBook Air from the perspective of a long-time PC user.
[Shopping for Macbooks]
Why Did I Switch?
A confluence of factors tipped me over to the Mac camp:
Operating System. My last two laptops would often freeze up to the point that I wanted to throw my laptop out of the window. Slow start-up times was driving me crazy as well. Also, I was just feeling like an operating system holiday as I had been using Microsoft for so long and I was feeling stale.
Peer influence. I was spending increasingly more time with other travelling entrepreneurs who were using the Air. I would ask them questions about what they liked about it while they graciously spared me of fanboy hysteria.
The Steve Jobs Biography. Steve Jobs is one of the best biographies I have read. The combination of an epic life story written by great writer made this book hard to put down. Jobs asked the biographer, Walter Isaacson, to tell it like it is and the book doesn’t hold back. It often paints Jobs in a less-than-flattering light, yet by the end of it I came to respect what he had built.
So these factors got me into the Apple showroom to start kicking the proverbial tyres. Once I was there I was convinced.
Size and weight
The size and weight was the biggest selling point to switching to the Air, especially as a long term traveller conscious of reducing my gear weight. I would walk into a Mac store and pick one up and marvel at how much computing power could fit into something so light. At the time I was lugging around a brick of a laptop that was putting a strain on my dodgy back, and making my gear bag as light as possible was my new consideration.
I used to say that the look and design of a laptop wasn’t so important, but damn this machine is a beautiful thing to behold. It’s been over six months since I bought it and its beauty still surprises me. Every morning when I take it out of its bag I feel like I am unsheathing a samurai sword. Typing on the keyboard also feels better than any keyboard I have used.
I love how fast the Air takes to start up. My previous laptops would take so long to start that I would turn it on before having a shower so it would be ready when I start work for the day.
With my Air I open it up in the morning, type in my password, and I’m ready to go. I keep my laptop in sleep mode so it is always ready to go when where I left off. I have dozens of tabs open in Firefox and Chrome and numerous applications open at the same time and it barely misses a beat. Every few weeks I will log out of every application and shut it down to keep things running smoothly.
According to the specs there should be 5 hours battery time for the 11″ Air (and 7 hours for the 13″). Mine gets about 2.5 hours, which isn’t what I had hoped for. I have read that users are getting anywhere between 2 to 7 hours of battery time. I might be running too many apps which are eating up the battery life, which is something I haven’t experimented with. I bought an outdated model at a discounted rate, which is another consideration.
Getting used to the Mac environment
There are a number of differences between the PC and Mac which I had to retrain myself. While quickly got used to right tapping the touchpad in lieu of a right-click button, it took me longer to get used to the different filing systems and use of folders. Arranging folders to the look and feel I wanted to take some time.
Finding my way around this new filing system restrained me from loving my Mac at first, but I now find my way around effortlessly. It was not until I went to a net cafe to do some printing on a PC that I realised how much I now like the Mac environment.
11″ or 13″?
As the Macbook Air is so slender there is no place for a CD drive. I am ok with this as I can’t remember when I last used CD on my previous laptop. The 11″ doesn’t come with an SD card slot either. Not a big deal but I found having one to be more convenient than downloading photos from my camera with the USB cable.
The 11″ screen is smaller than my previous laptops, but I have become used to it by now. I don’t do graphic design so I get by on the 11″. Next time though I would get the 13″.
The Macbook Air as a travel laptop
So far the Air has been my favourite laptop to travel with for its combination of weight and processing power (I’ve technical specs out of this post as I would just be copying and pasting numbers that don’t mean much to me).
Will I go back?
I hate using cliches so I’m not going to say once you go Mac you never go back. So far though I’m happy my my selection to the point that my next upgrade will be a larger Macbook Air.
My current main computer is a 13″ mid-2011 MacBook Air. It was my first Mac but will not be my last. I freaking love this thing. I got it because I was sick of Windows machines not working well, and because the iPods I’d used over the years were so much better than their non-iPod counterparts.
It’s funny that you mention you’d get the 13″ next time, because I’d get the 11″. There’s nothing wrong with the 13″, but if I can do anything with the 11″, I might as well save the weight and money.
Hmmm… 2.5 hours of battery life isn’t very good. I get at least that when streaming a movie at full screen brightness. Odd.
Thanks James for the review. I nearly sprung for a mac before setting off on my travels 3 years back.
Like yourself I have always been a pc user, my current 14″ lenovo y410 has served me well for many years. Battery life seems a little short on your mac, still better than I’m getting currently though. As I don’t really travel often I’m thinking of something a little bigger, with apple’s prices starting at $2000 for a 15″ I might need to stay a pc user though.
Steve wyman says
A lot of us are facing this choice. As a long time PCM guy (20+ years) and a 5 week iPad user! The instant on and lack of app fails is an eye opener.
The only issues remaining are price . Realistically 3x the cost of a new notebook.. And small screens I really want 15″
But the ecosystem integration of being all apple is very real. I hardly use my PCM notebook any longer and I’m nline10+ hours most days
James Clark says
Yes the price is a sticking point. It is interesting to note what I have paid for laptops over the years. My first laptop in 2003 was 1300 EUR! The cheapest laptop I ever owned was $550, one of the ones I wanted to throw out the window, so I am happy with my puchase now.
Very nice post James– I’ve been traveling w/a Mac since I started taking a laptop with me on trips years ago, but can you imagine how much more time you’d spend just getting connected with a PC laptop with all the weirdness at Wi-Fi hovels around Asia? Nightmare.
As to the cost, we have found that we resell our Macs two or three years after we buy them for 70 to 80% of what we paid for them originally, and in fact with the last MacBook bought in the US/sold in Bali, we got very nearly the same as we paid for it new!
I never got more than a pittance for my Windows computers after a few years of use. I think resale value is often overlooked when we are debating Mac versus PC cost. Once you buy a Mac, assuming you take care of your machine, it won’t cost you to much to upgrade. My two cents…
James Clark says
Hi Tom, thanks for that insight. My previous laptops have been recycled to family members so I have never resold a laptop. Even if I did I wouldn’t have got much for them. Resale value is a great consideration!
Shannon O'Donnell says
You cheated James. Sadness, I feel like the last holdout over here. But, you gave a great case for it. Microsoft sent me the Acer Aspire, which is same specs as the Air, so I think I have another few years in me at least as a die-hard PC user, buuut, now I am the lone PC user in our group. :::tear:::
James Clark says
Aww, never mind. Don’t worry, I won’t be one of those annoying Mac users around you, and if it makes you feel better I have an Android phone like you….oh wait, you have an iPhone! 😉
Wes Nations says
I’m not one to say “I told you so” so I’m specifically not saying it 🙂
James Clark says
No, you would never specifically say that 😉
Adam @ PergiDulu says
James, I’m getting one soon. I am so sick of my current laptop just stopping for no particular reason. Yeah ok I have maybe 20 or 30 tabs open, word docs and itunes. But it wasn’t always an issue and now it is. Maybe as apps get updated and their demands becoming more intense, the computer says no. So I say no. Macbook Air next time.
Scott Agnew says
One thing you didn’t mention is the cost of ownership. You mentioned having bought a new PC laptop about every 2 and half years or so. That sounds about right.
With a Mac though, barring any accidents involving the Air, you won’t need to upgrade that baby for AT LEAST 4 to 5 years. My iMac at home is over 6 years old and it runs as well as the first day I got it. It is running the current version of the OS, all apps are up to date and working fine and I routinely run Adobe Creative Suite CS 6 on it. My buddy had to purchase 3 new PC’s in the time I’ve owned this Mac.
So yes, Macs might seem expensive at first, but do the math on the number of PC’s you’d need to buy in 5 or 6 years and you’ll quickly realize that the MacBook Air is actually a better use of your $$.
Red Hunt says
Nice review here. I’m planning to buy a new laptop in the coming month or two. Right now I have a tiny, slow, netbook and a great PC desktop computer. I’ve considered the Macbook Air and still am…but I don’t think I can justify the cost, when I can get a PC for half the price. If I didn’t have the powerful desktop PC at home, and had to rely on the laptop as my main computer then perhaps it would be a different story.
Welcome to ‘the other camp’.
James Clark says
And it is good to be in the camp 🙂
I enjoyed reading your review. I’ve been a PC user for as long as there have been PCs (even before laptops) and have been considering the move to a Mac in recent months. Your article tipped me over the fence, so to speak. The only problem for me is… I’m a web developer, so I really need the large screen size. My current PC is a 17″ Dell with an extra capacity battery. Try lugging *that* around in your day-pack. I think I’ll take a look at the Macbook Pro 17″ – when I can afford to let go of a small fortune, that is.
On a slightly off-topic side-trip… You and I seem to be in parallel universes here. I sold (almost) all my worldly possessions at the end of 2000 and have been “on the road” (mostly) ever since. The home page of the jdfowler.net site has some statistics on my travels – namely 55 countries (so far) with *many* return visits, mostly to Asian countries – such as 17 times to the Philippines, 34 times to Thailand. And to add to the coincidental aspects of our lives, my first name is James as well.
From one nomad to another… happy travels!
James Clark says
thanks for sharing your story, that is impressive!
Yes if you are a web developer you will struggle with the small 11″ screen. I will be interested to hear in what you end up getting.
20 yrs is enough w/pc…you converted another of us.
The wait, the stall, the refusal to take action, the fussy days (tooo hot…I live in the desert for heaven’s sake!), dumb language. I’m clearing it all with AIR.