Traveling Light

I’m off to China for a week-long business trip soon and, because I didn’t want to take my MacBook Pro with me (amongst other things, for privacy and security reasons I’d have to clear off a lot of data belonging to other clients) I decided to look into a couple of alternatives.

The work relating to the trip is all web-based (mainly Node.js, the Meteor JavaScript framework and Python) and I’d read a few articles about people successfully using Chromebooks for this kind of work so I ordered one costing £230 and decided to see what it was like.

Without going into a lot of detail, it was okay and I could probably have worked with it but doing any development on a Chromebook involves a certain degree of hacking around. It all feels clunky and I felt that I’d spend as long fighting the setup as I would actually being able to develop on it. I’ll carry on playing around with it and it feels like things might become more flexible in the coming months but I wasn’t confident enough to be happy taking it with me.

I wondered about cloning my MacBook Pro’s contents onto an external drive (SuperDuper! is something I rely on for nightly clones as well as backups like the one just mentioned) and setting up a clean install for the trip but, since the laptop is now old enough for my business to justify replacing it I decided to see what the current set of laptops Apple are selling is like for myself first.

A few years ago this would have been a no-brainer and I’d not have needed convincing to go out and buy a new MacBook Pro but I’ve heard a lot of grumbling about the keyboards, performance, lack or ports, etc. However my decision making is driven by fact that I do the vast majority of my work on my iMac and my laptop is used in a more limited capacity when I’m on the sofa, travelling or otherwise out and about. Therefore I can accept some compromises such as performance and lack of ports and my main requirements these days are light and compact.

I had a brief look at the current MacBook Pros and they all seemed okay but then I looked at the 12” MacBook which is unbelievably light and is much smaller than my current MacBook Pro. It ticked all of my boxes but comments I’d read and heard about the keyboards were still putting me off.

I spoke to the business team at my local Apple store and they suggested that I could buy a MacBook, try it out and then, if I didn’t like it I could use the 14 day return period. So I did. And I love it.

Contrary to what I was expecting, I can type quite happily on the keyboard and I don’t have any of the touch-typing or key-travel issues that others have mentioned. I’d not be surprised if I do encounter the unresponsive-due-to-dust issue at some point but if I do I hope that it will be when I’m at home and would be using my iMac anyway.

The lack of ports don’t bother me yet. I’ve bought a small USB-C to USB 3 adaptor as well as a dual USB 3 and USB-C flash drive. I do miss the MagSafe connector however and I really hope that one day Apple re-implement it.

Having said all of that I will be returning my new MacBook. I’ve currently got the bottom of the range model (which is all that the Apple stores stock). For most things it’s actually fine but I do notice some slowness here and there so I will be ordering one with 16GB of RAM and a faster processor.

My take-away is that if you want a laptop to supplement your main computer and you want something small and light then the MacBook is definitely worth a look. Until Apple re-release the 11” MacBook Air.