As Judie and I posted last week, the MacBook Pro Retina may be pricey but it is also an amazing computer. Honestly, after using it for almost two weeks I can, without hesitation, call it the best computer I have ever owned. It is fast, quiet, runs cool and it has a screen that must be seen to be appreciated.
Yes, it is the best computer I have ever used. It is also the heaviest notebook I have owned in the last 5+ years and, since it came to Dearborn Michigan with me last week for the GoFurther with Ford gathering, I thought I might run down a few thoughts on the experience of traveling with it.
Apple offers computing power in a variety of weights so let’s start by running them down.
iPad 3 – 1.44 lbs
MacBook air 11″ – 2.38 lbs
MacBook air 13″ – 2.96 lbs
MacBook Pro 13″ – 4.5″
MacBook Pro with Retina – 4.46 lbs
MacBook Pro – 5.6″
The iPad: Over the past few years I have traveled with six out of the seven of these devices. Obviously travel, at least from a weight perspective, with the iPad is the easiest. At under a pound and a half it is 50% the weight of the 13″ MacBook air and a whopping three pounds less than my current Mac. Add in the fact that my iPad has cellular connectivity, a 9+ hour runtime per charge and a camera that is now usable for video AND pictures and you have a fantastic mobile companion. It also, however, has the limitation that comes with running a mobile OS although, to be fair, those limitations are rapidly disappearing as both the hardware and the apps become more powerful.
The 11″ MacBook air: The 11″ MBA is less than a pound heavier than the iPad. That is a huge advantage if you are on the go. Add in the fact that the 11″ MBA runs a full version of OS X and has a full-sized keyboard, the best keyboard ever IMO, and you have a computer that is not only terrific but is also a superb travel companion. It is not all good news though. The 11″ MBA doesn’t have an SD slot and its 5 hours of runtime is more like 3-4 in real-world use. Those are two limitation that, time and again, became problematic when I brought the 11″ MBA to CES last January.
The 13″ MBA: The larger MBA weighs just .6 lbs more than its smaller sibling. That weight is barely noticeable, although the increased size is definitely something about which you will become aware if you move from an 11″ to a 13″ MBA. Still, for many, the tradeoff may be well worth it. After all, the 13″ MBA DOES have an SD card slot and its runtime is rated at 7 hours or more. It can also house up to to 512GB of storage although you will pay dearly for it. Still, it strikes a surprisingly nice balance when considered as a traveling companion.
Since the 13″ MacBook Pro and the standard 15″ MacBook Pro aren’t even in the running for me as options (and in my opinion shouldn’t be for you either… if you aren’t going MBPr get a 13″ air!) let’s jump to it.
The 15″ MacBook Pro with Retina Display: At 4.46 lbs the MBPr is a full 3 lbs heavier than the iPad, and 2 lbs heavier than the 11″ MBA. Still, for the added weight you get an SD slot, a far faster computer, storage of up to 700+ GB and a screen that is remarkable. It gets 7 hours or more of runtime and it runs cool and quiet. All of that is good news. Take it with you on a trip and you will have no-compromise, on-the-go computing.
BUT, and this is a huge BUT, that 4.6 lbs is nothing to sneeze at, especially if you have other gear you are bringing along each day. And if your travel includes a fair amount of moving from one place to another you are going to notice the MBPr become increasingly heavy as the day/s go on. That certainly was my experience last week. Tuesday began with sessions at 7am and we didn’t stop moving until about 11pm. By the end of the day my bag felt like it weighed 900 lbs and my shoulders were killing me. And THAT was with my carrying the Canon G11 instead of the Canon Rebel T3i!
Put another way, if a standard 15″ or the now-discontinued 17″ MBP was your travel companion you will appreciate the lighter weight of the MBPr. If, however, you have been using an Air or an iPad as your travel computer, the MBPr will feel a bit too heavy and you will wonder if bringing it along wasn’t overkill. I know I did.
In short, even though I carried my MBPr in a terrific laptop bag that is designed to spread the weight of the computer evenly, making it more comfortable to carry, I regretted bringing it with me to Dearborn. I could easily have made it through the trip using just my iPad (and perhaps a keyboard). And if I needed a device running OS X? I probably would steal Elana’s 11″ MBA for a few days.
So what is the bottom line? Any of these devices will do for travel. If you need to travel light you would be wise to look into whether you could get by with just the iPad. It is, of course, the most mobile of all the devices but is still quite powerful. If, on the other hand, you need access to OS X, the 13″ MBA is going to be your best bet. It offers the best balance of power, portability and functionality and hits the travel sweetspot better than just about anything else.