One computer, two computer

Yesterday my friend Edward and I went to the Apple store in Chelsea (New York City) to check out the 21″ iMac, 11″ MacBook Air, 13″ MacBook Air, 13″ MacBook Pro, and iPad. Edward is an old friend and a MacHead of the first order. He’d not seen the new MacBook Airs yet so this was a treat for him too.

In short, the iMac is the most amazing deal going on a Mac. It’s capable and inexpensive and durable. Given that I’ve been a laptop guy for a long time I’ve never owned an iMac but now that this computer is being designed for professional use it’s the one to get for most people needing a desktop Macintosh computer.

Edward likes big screens and thinks I ought to go for the 27″ iMac but it’s too massive for my desk and my life and while I understand where he’s coming from, the smaller machine will be a huge increase in screen real estate for me compared with my 15″ MacBook Pro. If there was a 24″ model I’d go for that but I’m fine with the 21″ screen. All models of iMac have screens that are so easy to read it’s a no-brainer for me. The glossy screen gives me pause but I’m using my wife’s MacBook while my computer is in the shop and its glossy screen isn’t a problem for me here in my office where the iMac would be, the one window that would cause problems is off to the side. I think the iMac’s glossy screen will be fine once I calibrate it and tone it down some.

MacBook Air
The 11″ MacBook Air, while amazingly small and cute, is not a good option for me. I really can’t see its screen all that well. In Safari I could increase text size but in fact, there are many other situations where the small size of elements on this great, high resolution screen would be a problem for me. I’m guessing for people with younger and/or better eyes this computer will be the favorite. For me, it’s not. But, I’m also less interested in it because I want to think of this second, portable computer as something that could take the place of a 13″ MacBook Pro on the road and the 11″ Air is just too small for that.

The 13″ MacBook Air is a very nice computer. Its screen is slightly higher resolution than the 13″ MacBook Pro’s but that extra resolution doesn’t make it unreadable for me. The tradeoff is, would I go for the “old fashioned” computer (MacBook Pro) with hard disk, more ports, optical drive, etc. for a slightly easier to read screen and a bit less money. I’m leaning toward the Air but this computer is new territory because one has to consider that on the road with it as your sole computer you cannot burn a CD/DVD and backups are slower via wifi or USB.

Given that my plan is to to use this computer primarily to access cloud-based data: RSS feeds, email, web sites, backing it up may not be all that necessary on the road. I don’t plan to have everything on this computer that I might have on the iMac. I’m thinking of it as an iPad with a keyboard that does a bit more (and less).

I could and probably will make use of Dropbox to gain access to files from this computer and also to move things from it to the iMac.

How many times in the ten years that I’ve been flying to LA to visit my mother have I burned a CD or DVD? Maybe once.

How many times have I needed anything that’s on a MacBook Pro that might not be on the MacBook Air on these trips? Only the firewire port to connect to a backup hard disk but, that was when the computer I had with me was my only computer and my strategy was to back it up every single day, even when on the road. Again, the Air, as a second computer, used primarily for cloud-based computing might not need backing up. Certainly not as often, and regular use of Dropbox would take the pressure off to on the road backups.

And, I’m now using Apple’s MobileMe so my address book, calendar and a few other things are backed up all the time to the cloud.

Shopping list
So, if I had to pull the trigger on this right now I’d buy:

21″ iMac: $2218

3.60GHz Intel Core i5
8GB 1333MHz DDR3 SDRAM – 4x2GB
2TB Serial ATA Drive
ATI Radeon HD 5670 512MB GDDR3 SDRAM
8x double-layer SuperDrive
Apple Wireless Keyboard (English) & User’s Guide
Magic Mouse
AppleCare Protection Plan for iMac

13″ MacBook Air: $2048

2.13GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
256GB Flash Storage
Keyboard (English) & User’s Guide
MacBook / MacBook Air / 13-inch MacBook Pro – AppleCare Protection Plan – Auto-enroll

Total for both: $4266

And in case you think this is over the top, here’s what a 15″ MacBook Pro would cost with an Apple 27″ monitor (not the same hard disk space but even 500 gigs is more than enough for me).

15″ MacBook Pro and 27″ Monitor: $4197

2.8GHz Intel Core i7
8GB 1066MHz DDR3 SDRAM – 2x4GB
500GB Serial ATA Drive @ 7200 rpm
SuperDrive 8x (DVD±R DL/DVD±RW/CD-RW)
MacBook Pro 15-inch Glossy Widescreen Display
Apple LED Cinema Display (27″ flat panel)
Backlit Keyboard (English) & User’s Guide
AppleCare Protection Plan for MacBook Pro (w/or w/o Display)

Add an Apple wireless keyboard to that at $69 and you have, amazingly, $4266, the same price.

Seriously, I didn’t make this up or fudge it.

The two computer solution, which is a new way to work for me, might give me the best of both worlds:

A workhorse on my desk with bigger components that might not fail as often (cheaper AppleCare), a larger screen built in, all the regular desktop computing features I need to do work: CD/DVD player/burner, ports galore, etc.

A very portable computer for travel that’s fast, light and capable, connected via the cloud and although not an equal of the desktop computer, enough computer for the kind of non-business travel that I do.

The fact that the two prices lined up seems like a sign: two for the price of one each one does better at its tasks than my “traditional” 15″ MacBook Pro one computer solution.

Actually, there is another possibility that combines a bit of old and new and that’s to go with the iMac, a 13″ MacBook Pro and an iPad. What’s great about this solution is that it gives me two completely functional computers and something even smaller for the plane (without a decent keyboard). Given that I’m borrowing my wife’s computer while mine’s in the shop, the nice thing about this solution is that it gives me two full-featured computers in case one goes down. The negative is that I’m carrying a MacBook Pro in a bag on a plane. That negative doesn’t sound all that bad.

13″ MacBook Pro: $1498

2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
4GB 1066MHz DDR3 SDRAM – 2x2GB
320GB Serial ATA Drive @ 5400 rpm
Backlit Keyboard (English) / User’s Guide
SuperDrive 8x (DVD±R DL/DVD±RW/CD-RW)
MacBook / MacBook Air / 13-inch MacBook Pro – AppleCare Protection Plan

32 Gig iPad with portfolio case and AppleCare: $766

Total for for both: $2264 compared with $2048 for a 13″ MacBook Air.

Oh my, back to the drawing board.

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