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I need guidance buying a Mac portable as my oldest heads off to The College of New Jersey, a sort of nice smallish brainy school with the obvious New Jersey climate. He's thinking of majoring in science but loves to play his guitar, so I'm afraid he'll spend too much time playing with the GarageBand software, but maybe that's his true calling.
So, here's my question: How much Mac is enough? What model? I'm willing to pay in the $1,500 to $2,500 range, hoping that will get him through college.
If I go with a smaller screen do they offer external connections so he can wire up to a keyboard and larger monitor?
He's used MS Word for years. What is Apple's equivalent? Do it always come bundled? What other software is 'standard' when you buy a Mac? What else would someone generally have to buy?
How durable are they? This is college life so I expect a level of abuse or underappreciation. What's their reputation? Do I opt for the extended warranty? Why?
Do you advise on a particular carrying case or just assume he will throw it in his backpack? (I haven't done much portable computing so I really lack insight here.)
What else would you advise?
Any place known for the best prices on Macs? If that would trigger an edit feel free to sticky me.
What's the expected learning curve? Plug it and play?
Any quirks or things I need to be aware of that I wouldn't be expected to know since I'm a microsmurf drone?
Will I soon be borrowing his?
Lastly, I went to college in the day of punch cards and mainframes, so please educate me on the etiquette and practices and expectations of mobile computing in college. I want to be a good date but I can feel some serious 'my dad's a dork' coming over me. I mean, look at what I've just written. If that doesn't convict me what will?
Check the individual departments' pages, too.
Many professors accept assignments only via email.
[edited by: lizard49 at 10:34 pm (utc) on July 7, 2004]
I got a 12" PowerBook... it has everything you need to attach to a larger monitor, television, and pretty much anything else. Firewire, USB, CAT5 network cable, phone line, etc.
I'd recommend one of the smaller ones, assuming students tote everything around with them, the bottom-of-the-line 12" PowerBook would be more than enough for a college student, and well within your price range.
The OSX version of TextEdit, which comes installed, is a very usable word processor, and can save files in Word-friendly Rich Text Format. But for familiarity's sake, Apple laptops come with a 30-day demo version of Word as well. You can get educational pricing on MSOffice stuff as well. No worries on that end at all. Heck, you can even get a Windows emulator with the school's preferred WinOS if it comes to that. Apple knows they are the market minority, and make sure that their products can co-exist in a Windows world.
OSX is the best MacOS by far for connecting to Windows networks, and since it's *nix based, you can also get TONS of free/open source software for it. Really, it's the only OS I know of that plays happily with all three major platforms: Windows, *nix and (of course) Mac.
So there's my sales pitch. :)
Do I opt for the extended warranty? Why?
Yes. Because he'll be carrying it around everywhere, and laptop repairs cost an arm and a leg. The warranty will pay for itself if he needs a major repair a couple years down the line.
Case: Get a laptop backpack. They carry them on the Apple site, so you can order both at once... Has a padded laptop sleeve built-in, with room for books and whatnot. Perfect for a college student.
Learning curve: Close to plug and play.
Needed software: You'd want to check with the University about most of that... but have him download Firefox for his browser. Free, and really a fast, quality piece of software. Safari (Apple's browser) is annoying, IMO, and I only use IE when some idiot webmaster has a browser sniffer getting in my way.
Apples comes with a great browser, Safari (authored by the same guy who started Firefox), a great email application (Mail.app), iCal, iPhoto, and Address Book all integrate seamlessly with each other without stepping on the other's toes. I prefer Apple's Keynote over Microsoft's PowerPoint, it just feels slick and clean.
Apple laptops have USB and firewire connectors down the sides (I cannot stress how wrong it is to have connectors on the back of the laptop) and a slot-load CD-RW/DVD-ROM drive (no messy trays that accidentally pop open just in time to get bent/broken).
The built-in keyboard has a nice feel Should a replacement be needed, any USB keyboard will work.
Like all trackpads, the one on the powerbook works ok, but sometimes you just need that external mouse. (The one benefit to the apple trackpad is that you can't accidentally right-click, only one button.)
My girlfriend's 12" iBook, which is all plastic, has had zero problems despite being slung around just in the backpack with no extra protection. I know of a 15" powerbook that got run over by a car with no damage (other than that it is not quite flat anymore). Yes, the screen remained intact. The hinge is very sturdy and takes up 1/3 of the back of the laptop.
I have a Dell Latitude D600 at work, and it has a cheap, flimsy feel. The powerbook feels professional, sturdy, and buisiness like. Furthermore, it has a humongous, heavy power brick, unlike Apple's lightweight, small power brick. (You need to carry around a power brick for an equivalent PC, since the battery lasts slightly over half as long.)
You do want the extended warranty. It isn't very expensive, and just in case something goes wrong, you won't have to worry about repairs. Replacing the display can cost half of the original purchase price.
Most people use Mac MSWord, and Mac word files are fully interchangeable with PC Word - students email me both and they open identically on my Mac. Web browsers are all free - I like Mozilla, others prefer Safari. The campus will probably provide any software needed for classes.
Both the iBooks and the G4 notebooks are common. Apple has higher education discounts, so I would certainly recommend buying that way. You can probably do it through the campus bookstore, or just as easily from apple.com (look in the online store for the higher education section).
The biggest problem with all notebooks on campus is theft. If you're so inclined you might want to buy insurance (or see if you have it covered already). I believe all the Apple notebooks have an optional bracket you can get that will allow you to attach something like a bike lock; that's another thing to consider.
Screen size varies along with price of course. Small ones are cheaper and lighter, but many students use their machines to watch DVDs, so an 8x10 screen can seem pretty small. But all the Mac screens (speaking as a partisan) are gorgeous. Every now and then I have to use one of the PCs in the library and I sigh at how ugly they make the web look.
I will go against the grain and recommend a 12" iBook rather than a Powerbook.
If it gets stolen, it's less money out of YOUR pocket.
The Powerbook "looks" cooler and can burn DVDs though...
The smaller form factor of the 12" models is perfect for a student because it is so small and compact and oddly enough it's also perfect for my 76 year old mother-inlaw because she uses bifocals. She compared the 14" and 12" iBooks and I was sure she would go for the 14". Nope.
Which reminds me, if there is an Apple Store near you, its worth the trip. See the stuff in person, mess with it.
Definitely get APPLECARE for a laptop. Laptops in general have a tendency to break down or are harder to repair than a desktop unit and just try to replace the Hard Drive in a iBook or Powerbook in 18 months! *ouch* You won't be covered for obvious damage from physical abuse, but its well worth it.
Get a wireless card for it too. I think you are stuck using the airport extreme card, but really, its worth it. He'll be able to connect most anywhere and the less wires he has coming out of the machine, the less chance there is of tripping over them and dragging the laptop to the floor.
Don't get an extra battery unless you find out later that he uses it extensively in the field with no source of AC and is constantly running out of juice. He can figure out how to maximize run time by dimming the screen when he is not actually using it.
as for pricing, the best deals are on refurb models available at a number of places because they are not really limited to Apple's pricing policy. If you can get an educational discount, you'll get about $100 off the computer.
there is a place called dealmac where you can ask about pricing and refurb resellers and other stuff too, I'm there all the time.
Apple offers great educational discounts and being a college student it's nice to get a price break whenever you can. That being said, I would get a 12" powerbook. I've had a couple of ibooks and now have a powerbook, it's made of aircraft aluminum :) Get the warranty, I dropped my Tangerine ibook and paid $800 to get the screen fixed :(
He'll love the performance, power, and portability of the 12" powerbook and impress roomates with it's simplicity.
The software that comes shipped with OS X is perfect for college life, he'll be thankful for Garage Band. Plus he'll be able to download many free/open source apps.
Sticky me if you have any other questions.
When I travel with my laptop I usually carry it in a sturdy canvas tote bag which I fitted with extra pockets to hold cables and gizmos. It doesn't look very businesslike, but neither does it shout to potential thieves "laptop inside". Security through obscurity!