I bought a new MacBook - here's how I chose

I bought a new Mac the other week. My “old” MacBook Pro, which dated from 2016, had run out of full support from Apple, and wouldn’t update to Ventura.

The MacBook Pro was a bit of a lemon. It had a silly touchbar which was useless (and gave me a horrible fake escape key which annoyed me). Just outside the warranty period, the battery swelled up, which gave me cause for concern: but because I’d bought it from the Apple store, the Apple store were kind enough to replace the battery for me free of charge: it just took me mentioning Australia’s rather generous consumer protection laws once, and they were awfully keen to help. A year later, the video driver went - a massively expensive repair which involved, because of the way this model was built, replacing the entire top of the computer: the screen, the lid, and the keyboard, for more than $600; had I paid for it, but the Apple store person was gracious enough to notice that my experience hadn’t been ideal with this machine so far and so had done it for me for free. (That gave me a replacement keyboard instead of the butterfly one which had been relatively temperemental, too).

I have a rather boring IT policy (being in charge of my IT policy) that when a computer or phone is no longer supported with the new OS, it’s time for an upgrade: and this machine was clearly a lemon anyway. So, upgrade I did. But… what to?

Josie emails and asks:

Is your M2 a Pro or Air? I’m looking into one myself and debating between the two.

I’d waited until an M2 MacBook Pro came out (with the new chassis) because part of my job is to do quite complex presentations and I felt it made sense to get a Mac with HDMI built-in. So, once the right MacBook Pro had come out, I did a bit of the maths to work out which was the right one to get.

I mostly… a) write words into a simple text editor (I use iAWriter if you’re interested); b) record into a simple audio editor (Hindenburg PRO); c) deal with images (I use Keynote for this don’t judge me); d) do some coding (Visual Studio) on a remote machine; and e) run transcripts and audio encoding jobs once a day.

Nothing I do, with the exception of the last thing there, is particularly onerous on the processor of any machine. But I did want to make sure that this machine would last me until the OS is no longer supported, which I’d hope will be another seven or eight years into the future.

So, first, I worked out what I wanted.

  • I don’t buy the base RAM model of a laptop, because I know that it probably won’t be enough in five years. I made this mistake with a MacBook Air once, and I’ll not be doing that again. So, instead of 8GB, I went for 16GB RAM
  • I needed to bump up the base SSD size to 512GB. Not because I felt that I needed the extra space - I really don’t - but because if you leave the base SSD on 256GB, then the write speed to the SSD is half as fast; and I figure that the real “grunt” that I need a computer for - the audio encoding and transcript work - could benefit from a fast SSD
  • I wanted an inbuilt HDMI output to ensure that the presentations I do will run flawlessly
  • I use a big USB-C monitor at home, and a mechanical keyboard, so the size of the screen isn’t that important
  • When travelling, the MacBook is in my backpack, and I don’t want a heavy thing weighing me down
  • When travelling, I want something with USB-C power, because I don’t really want to carry another mains adaptor round with me

So, both Air and Pro fit the last bill: they both work with USB-C power. They also have a fancy MagSafe cable again, and that’s also nice.

So, it came down to weight vs HDMI output. My old MacBook Pro is a 13" and it weighs 1.83kg, apparently. You feel every bit of that 1.83kg on your back (or, at least, I do). The new MacBook Pro, despite being 14", is slightly lighter at 1.6kg. But the MacBook Air is a svelte 1.24kg - two-thirds of the weight of my previous laptop.

Not only is it lighter, it obviously still works with the USB-C HDMI dongle that I already own. Now, my old MacBook Pro had a bug with the HDMI output that I could never convince Apple of: but certain displays had an audio connection that “timed out” on the HDMI signal, which caused all kinds of annoying problems with Keynote. It was an edge-case on an edge-case, but one I trust has now been fixed (and one I know how to work around now - insist on a separate audio connection, which almost every conference’s AV team will do for you anyway).

So, as you might have worked out, I went for the 512GB SSD, 16GB RAM, 10-core M2 Macbook Air. That was a significant price hike from the base model, at AUD $2,649 - but still cheaper than the base model of the MacBook Pro, which is $3,199 (and I’d have gone for a model costing at least $3,499).

If you buy the 10-core version, you get the choice of a bigger, faster charger for free; or a dual charger (so you can charge two USB-C devices at the same time). A dual charger would be great for travel: so I got that. Travel tip: yes, mine has a Australian mains plug on it, but if you pull the mains plug bit off the charger, underneath you’ll find a pretty standard figure-of-eight mains socket, which will take figure of eight mains cables. I’ve a collection at home: UK, EU and US cables. And a cable is much better than Apple’s plug adaptors, since invariably hotel/airport/aircraft mains sockets are loose and wobbly anyway, so a cable works better.

And what do I think so far?

The reviews you read of M1 or M2 Macs never really give you the proper feeling of what it’ll be like when you upgrade from a 2016 model to a 2023 one. This is most likely to be the upgrade pattern for a lot of people: and I’d heard the M2 was fast, but the speed is really obvious when you start using it. Everything just powers through: every single window is faster to open, and those little micro-delays are all gone. It’s very, very good. Speedy and fast, and also (here’s a fabulous benefit) it doesn’t crash when awakening from sleep and connected to the USB-C monitor. Bravo, Apple.

I bought the Midnight Blue version. It’s very nice, but (as the reviews all say) it looks filthy as soon as you touch it. It’s covered with horrible fingerprints.

I take it on my first travel journey in a few weeks - a trial run down to Sydney and back. Here’s hoping it performs (I’m sure it will).