Sunday 26 October 2008

Notebook Shopping

So I'm in the market for a new laptop. This kind of annoys me because I don't actually want a laptop. Expensive, barely upgradeable, tiny keyboards, and (worst of the all) the temptation to sit awkwardly in front of the television with the thing precariously balanced on your knee, cooking and radiating your organs and destroying your body through poor ergonomics. But I'm traveling a fair bit, doing consulting, and there are occasions where a laptop is, if not essential, at least very very useful.

So here I am looking around at the options and, while I've been telling friends and colleagues for years to buy Mac laptops if they can afford them, I now find myself unsure. I was intending to get a MacBook Pro in September in order to get the free iPod Touch but decided to wait for the new Macs to be announced. I was underwhelmed: there's really not much new there despite the heavy sales pitch and I don't like the new look. Even with the education discount, the cheapest MacBook Pro would cost me over $2400 after tax.

The problem is that I really like Mac OS X and I really like that the freeware people write for it actually looks good (unlike for Linux or Windows, at least in general). I discovered over the last 9 months that, for the things I do, I can manage fine with Windows. And as a major plus, I don't spend hours endlessly "tweaking" my system like I do with Linux. Sure, every time Apple releases a software update, Mac owners everywhere cower in fear wondering what will be broken, but I'm still happier in OS X than in any other operating system.

I'm looking around at Dells and Compaqs and I can get a laptop that would probably serve my needs just fine for $700 or so plus tax. That makes the MacBook Pro something like three times as expensive! If Apple would sell me a copy of OS X to run on a PC, I would buy it in a flash but $1500 is a hefty tax to pay for it. Even refurbished old-model MacBook Pros are selling for $1449 plus tax but that's still double.

Now I just read Jeff Atwood's post about netbooks. Netbooks are an emerging category of small ultra-portable computers basically designed for running a web browser, checking email, and maybe doing some word processing. Their specs seem to be in the range of 1.5GHz processor, 1GB RAM, 160GB hard drive, and a 7"-9" screen. Aside from the screen, that's better than the computer I'm writing this post on. And the price? Under $500. Jeff says:
They still have a way to go, of course, but the $299 or $199 no-compromises, go-anywhere, zero-monthly-contract-fees web browser in the palm of your hand -- with the requisite 9" or larger screen -- is almost upon us. I guess I hadn't been paying enough attention, because that's a shocker to me.
And that's exactly how I feel. I've heard people talking about Netbooks for a while but hadn't really realized how far they'd come. I'm still considering this new laptop my primary machine so I can't handle the small screen but if I had a desktop computer I would seriously consider getting one of these (with an external keyboard) to cover those "useful-to-have-a-laptop" situations.

The social pressure to display an Apple logo is intense (do you have any idea what percentage of people at computer conferences have Macs?) and I would probably spend $200 or $300 more for the privelege. If I can find something with a comparably beautiful screen, though, I think I may have to make do without the metallic finish.


Anonymous said...

Hmm, the $700 notebooks are the ones comparable with a Macbook, but not with a MBP. And a lot heavier.

Stephan Eggermont

Julian Fitzell said...

I ended up getting an old-model MBP after the new ones came out for $1699 CDN + tax. I nearly got a refurbished one but it ended up that they couldn't guarantee delivery before I left Canada again for Germany.

So I decided I'd just get a Dell but they couldn't deliver in time either. In the end I just walked into an "Authorized Apple Reseller" and walked out with an MBP. It was the only thing that I could just walk in and buy where I knew for sure what I was getting.

Call whatever extra I had to pay the dummy tax for taking so long to make a decision. :)

Anonymous said...

Ha. I also got the old MBP. Old MBP or new MB. The larger display was the deciding factor.

Stephan Eggermont