Writers: which MacBook would you choose?

Discussion in 'Buying Tips and Advice' started by EmmaBeth, Aug 6, 2014.

  1. EmmaBeth macrumors member

    Jul 11, 2014
    I'm still in the process of deciding on a replacement for my mid-2010 13" MBP, which is going to my sister sometime soon. My primary applications are Safari, iTunes, the occasional basic editing (mostly just cropping and a little color adjustment) in iPhoto, and Scrivener. That's pretty much it. I've used iMovie a couple of times, and I do use Garageband on occasion for sharing practice tracks with friends, but nothing too hard core. I don't game.

    My 13" MBP isn't exactly hefty compared to a lot of older systems or Windows laptops (I once owned an Inspiron 8000 that weighed over seven pounds, so you'd think I'd be grateful...), but I'm looking for something easier to tote around this time. I'd love something I could tuck in a purse or book bag, thus I'm really tempted by the 11.6" Air. I do, however, worry about how I'd handle having one as my primary machine, though I have a full monitor and keyboard setup at my desk at home.

    On the other hand, the rMBP screen is gorgeous. And I know I could easily attach *two* monitors without a lot of finagling if I wanted to go that route later. I have two monitors at work, and it makes it sooo much easier to compare revisions or keep reference materials in view. But I'd give up the crazy portability, and the standard "Best for Retina" resolution is even less (horizontally) than the bitty Air. I'm also worried that not everything really works with Retina/high res screens as of yet.

    I've been trying to come up with a full list of pros and cons for various setups I could go with, but would appreciate any thoughts. I'm hoping whatever option I choose will last me 4-5 years. Assume base CPU in each case--I don't see me getting enough benefit from faster CPUs to be worth the cost.

    Option #1: MBA 11.6" w/ 8MB RAM and 256GB SSD
    Cost: $1179 from Adorama w/ 3yrs Apple Care
    - Great portability
    - Lowest overall cost
    - Could keep all data on one system
    - No worries about Retina compatibility (which still seems like bleeding edge tech to me)
    - Could get Apple Care free if I buy now
    - Commitment to small screen, as I'd have trouble recouping cost of an upgraded model if I decided to sell (might find myself having to plug in a lot)
    - Somewhat outdated tech
    - No SD slot

    Option #2: MBA 11.6" Base + (later) iMac or Mac Mini
    Cost: About $1800? w/ free Apple Care for the MBA from Adorama
    - Portability (Air) AND stable desktop (no cables to connect)
    - Lowest initial cost, since I'd wait on desktop
    - Least commitment: could probably recoup most of cost if I wanted to upgrade MBA soon
    - No worries about Retina compatibility
    - Could get Apple Care free if I buy now
    - Highest overall cost
    - Less consistency because of multiple systems--might be frustrating not having all data on hand
    - Somewhat outdated tech (in the MBA)
    - No SD slot

    Option #3: rMBP 13" w/ 8GB RAM 256GB SSD
    Cost: $1299 + $179 for Apple Care (could wait a bit)
    - Great screen
    - Bigger trackpad, better keyboard
    - More port options, built in SD slot
    - Most future proof option

    - Highest initial cost
    - Not as portable
    - Concerns about Retina fragility and compatibility
    - Can have some lag when used in scaled settings
    - Adorama is sold out of older model, so if I wanted Apple Care, I'd have to spring for more expensive model or buy later
  2. willentrekin macrumors regular


    Jun 12, 2013
    Definitely Retina

    I have a first-gen MBPr 15, from which I run a small press. So I use it for Photoshop, Dreamweaver (for coding HTML for ebooks), MobiPocket (on a Windows VM), and others. I could probably do everything I do on the MBPr on an Air, but the display is really what makes it.

    I haven't found it to be fragile, so I'm not sure how that factors.

    I always thought Retina displays were more suited for videos and games, but after using both an iPad mini and an iPad Mini retina, I discovered that text is where I most noticed the Retina difference. For reading and writing, the text is just better--noticeably sharper and more crisp.
  3. EmmaBeth thread starter macrumors member

    Jul 11, 2014
    There just seem to be a lot of threads about image retention or odd blemishes in the coating showing up a few years down the line, which worries me. Needless worry?
  4. willentrekin macrumors regular


    Jun 12, 2013
    I got it refurbished from the Apple store on Black Friday this past year. I haven't noticed any burn-in/retention/ghosting. I will note that I've got it set so my screen immediately goes to sleep when I'm not using it.
  5. garirry macrumors 68000


    Apr 27, 2013
    Canada is my city
    So, here is what I recommend. Get the 13" rMBP. It is less portable than the Air, but it is still very thin. You can connect two displays, one using a mini-displayport (Thunderbolt) adapter, one using HDMI. Even though the cost can be high (if you order with upgrades), I recommend not getting the AppleCare (unless what you buy is very expensive), since they last very long and they don't cover damage made by you (such as dropping the computer or water damage). This computer is not fragile and very durable, however if you break anything, repairing it is very difficult, and can be costly.

    This computer is compatible with pretty much any app, since all you're using is a high-resolution display. As for the lag, I don't think that's the case. So, as you can see, you don't really need to worry about that. This is the model I recommend.
  6. EmmaBeth thread starter macrumors member

    Jul 11, 2014
    That screen *is* beautiful, and I do like the expansion options. And it's a good pound less (and much more compact) than my current system. Hm.

    Does anyone use the 1440x900 scaled option extensively? For editing, the extra real estate would be nice. I can't see going much smaller than that except in short stints, so I'm not too worried about performance in those resolutions.

    Also, the local Best Buy has an open box sale on the exact model I'm looking at for 1,221.99. I have a mover's coupon, so it'd be 1099.79 before tax. Does this seem like something to jump on?
  7. monokakata macrumors 68000


    May 8, 2008
    Hilo, Hawai'i
    That wouldn't be "Exciting Press," would it? It's the Saddle Road Press designer, whose initials are DM, asking you.

    But . . . on topic now. I'd go with the rMBP. I have a recent 15" rMBP and although it's not my main machine, I could do a lot of work on it if I had to.

    My partner (a poet) uses an 11" Air and sometimes I need to use her machine. I couldn't work on it at all. There's not enough real estate, and the text isn't sharp enough to suit me.
  8. potvkettle macrumors newbie

    Nov 7, 2012
    13" rMBP

    I frequently take advantage of Best Buy's Open Box purchasing. If you've got the option now, jump on it.

    As for your questions, I don't run a press, but have a similar use case as yours (including running Scrivener), and do plenty of writing and editing.

    I've found the 11" MBA too small in the vertical screen real estate for me to use as a daily driver. However, I do have one that I use as a traveler (picked up on the Best Buy Open Box deal the day after Apple's last price drop — it was too good to pass up).

    My daily driver is MBP 13" with a little soup-up under the hood, which is the reason I chose to stick with it rather than upgrade to a Retina machine.

    Other thoughts to your rMBP vs. MBA wonderings — the 13" rMBP vs. the 11" MBA: .1cm taller at the MBA's tallest point, 1.4cm wider, 2.7cm deeper, and .49kg2 heavier.

    In fact, as I watch 13" rMBP vs. 13" MBA arguments (and those folks wanting a Retina MBA), I can't help shake my head — the 13" rMBP is pretty much already a Retina MBA.

    Oh, and the text difference is noticeable side-by-side. I don't miss it, not having it, but I'm sure I'd like it if I did.

    Sounds like your mind's made up. ;)
  9. willentrekin macrumors regular


    Jun 12, 2013
    Heh. It would be, yes.

    On-topic, to echo other sentiments: definitely recommend the 13" MBPr (second-generation or its recent update). Besides BestBuy, you might also consider the refurbished option.
  10. Meister Suspended


    Oct 10, 2013
    The mba has no "outdated tech". Thats a ridicolous statement.
    If you want the mba for writing and browsing, like you stated you will not need to upgrade anything in the foreseeable future.

    I would suggest:

    Base mba: 650,-
    Thunderbolt display: 800,-

    Portability + screen estate = problem solved
  11. gnasher729 macrumors P6


    Nov 25, 2005
    Lots of posters here seem to have no other way to justify their lives other than by complaining. In addition, there are lots of people who will find every fault in their computer, existing or non-existing, that others complain about. You can observe that all the time, once someone finds a fault, suddenly everyone sees it.
  12. EmmaBeth thread starter macrumors member

    Jul 11, 2014
    It was overly harsh, I admit. I was referring solely to the screen, and I know it's no worse than a lot of other systems out there.

    I don't have an .edu coupon or a way to get one, so a base MBA is $799 at cheapest, and doesn't give me access to all my data (admittedly the bulkiest data is just music). Yes, I can use an external drive, but that's clunky.

    The more I think about it, the more I wonder if I'd regret not having some of the connectivity options available on the Pro. I certainly don't need the power, but if the screen would make it easier to stare at text all day AND the ports will make it easy to connect a couple of external monitors for the times that would come in handy, I think that's likely the logical way to go.

    It's just...that little Air is so doggone cute. And easy to pull out whenever and wherever. Not so good for editing, but it might be inspiring otherwise.
  13. nightlong macrumors 6502a


    Jun 16, 2012
    I love the 13" MBPr for writing ... When I'm at a desk (doing things other than writing) I do sometimes connect it to a bigger screen (Dell u2412), but although the Dell is okay, it's not retina, and I prefer to write with the retina screen away from a desk in a very good reclining chair.

    I had an MBA13", great computer but I just couldn't do long hours of text on that screen.

    I love the versatility of the MBPr, writing in various locations, I also use it to run workshops plugging into a big wall screen via HDMI.

    Depends on the sort of writing you do, and if this would be your only computer. For some projects 13" is too small for me ... Then I use my iMac in dual screen mode with the Dell. Hopefully Apple will release a better Thunderbolt Display in the not too distant future. I will then have just that and the 13" MBPr.


    Meant to add ... For backup on the go (when I don't want to carry my Time Machine drive) I use a 64GB card in a nifty drive, plenty big enough to back up text files, this is permanently in the machine.
  14. SpyderBite macrumors 65816


    Oct 4, 2011
    I do a lot of writing. Magazine, newspaper, a book, a blog and some technical writing. I use a 13" 2012 cMBP that I upgraded the ram to 16gb. I expect that I should be able to continue writing on it for a few more years if I wanted.

    When I'm out and about I do a lot of my notes, handwritten and typed, on a 5.5" g3. All the writing apps I use are synced via various cloud services so it is easy to edit or pick up where I left off on any of my devices including my iPhone in a crunch.

    Regardless of which writing apps you're using, any of the MBP model lineup will work for you. I do know some people who find Word and Pages clunky on mobile devices but that my not affect you. I stay away from word processors and use more specialized tools that allow me to publish to universal formats and offer a spectrum of tools tailored for writers.

    Long story short, (too late), pick any Mac you want and keep writing!
  15. EmmaBeth thread starter macrumors member

    Jul 11, 2014
    You'd think I'd be decided by now, but the fact that you can get a refurbished Air for just over $700 is giving me pause.

    One more stupid question: let's say I decided to go with an Air model (either 11 or 13), and just use both an external HD monitor (it's a pretty basic 1920x1080 setup from a few years back) and the built-in screen when at my home desk. Does the Air have any trouble driving both screens without getting hot or lagging? My 2010 MacBook Pro seems to struggle a bit when I'm working on the larger screen (the fan comes on a lot, for example), though I'm not generally dealing with video--just text and half a dozen browser tabs. Are the current Airs more capable in this regard?
  16. mad3inch1na macrumors 6502a

    Oct 21, 2013
    The MBA can handle 1080p perfectly, and can even run 1440p. The rMBP is actually has more UI lag than the MBA for some reason, even in clamshell mode.

    In an earlier post, I saw that you couldn't get a BestBuy .edu discount. Many forum members here would be happy to send you a code, myself included. PM me if you need one.

  17. EmmaBeth, Aug 9, 2014
    Last edited: Aug 11, 2014

    EmmaBeth thread starter macrumors member

    Jul 11, 2014
  18. EmmaBeth, Aug 9, 2014
    Last edited: Aug 11, 2014

    EmmaBeth thread starter macrumors member

    Jul 11, 2014
  19. Naimfan Suspended


    Jan 15, 2003
    Option 3.

    The screen on the Air gives me eyestrain after a while - it looks washed out relative to the rMBP.
  20. nightlong macrumors 6502a


    Jun 16, 2012
    This thread might be helpful, in the MacBook Air forum, lots of writer info:
    Hey writers ... What do you use?
  21. EmmaBeth, Aug 10, 2014
    Last edited: Aug 11, 2014

    EmmaBeth thread starter macrumors member

    Jul 11, 2014
    Thank you! I found it and will do some reading through it today, especially the more recent responses. Very much appreciate the tip!
  22. arsimoun macrumors member

    Jan 24, 2013
    What to get...

    As someone who makes his living at a keyboard -- and has for a very long time -- I have come to the conclusion that there are only two whines which matter to a writer: 1) keyboard and 2) screen.

    No laptop has a great keyboard (at least not in my experience) so as a writer you are left worrying about the screen. I like as big as I can get and the retina Display technology is the best out there. My recommendation? Get the biggest Retina Display Mac you can afford and call it a day.

    Hope this helps.


    Adam Rodman

  23. EmmaBeth thread starter macrumors member

    Jul 11, 2014
    Succinct and thoughtful. Thank you. This was helpful.
  24. IGregory macrumors 6502a


    Aug 5, 2012
    I can't say its a needless worry but you should keep in mind forums like MacRumors are where some come to complain. There are other customers who are satisfied with their purchase and you never hear from most of them. My suggestion is to go with the retina display. If you have too return it. That's the beauty of Apple's 14 day return policy no questions asked.
  25. eXan macrumors 601


    Jan 10, 2005
    Buy rMBP, the screen is super high res, has insane viewing angles and true colors. Feels more solid, has more ports, better cooling and faster internals. Its a much better package overall.

    I see slight UI lag at scaled res only when Im trying to see it. There is no lag when using native + 1080 on external.

    I'm yet to come across anything serious thats "retina incompatible". So far it has only been a few websites with lower res images. These pics are just displayed more blurry.

    Either way, get a test drive.

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