A Request for Reader Input and Advice Regarding My Gear

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Here on Gear Diary we often review new products and, sometimes directly and at other times indirectly, we offer recommendations. This time out, I’m turning to all of you for guidance and input: which laptop I should use on a series of upcoming trips. Here’s background on where things currently stand and what kind of input I am seeking.

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MacBook Pro With Retina Display: Why We Bit

A year and a half ago, both Judie and I purchased the new 15″ MacBook Pro with retina display. I upgraded to 16 GB of RAM and put a 512 GB solid-state drive in it. It is by far the best computer I have ever owned. This despite having a keyboard failure early on that required a complete replacement of the upper portion of the laptop. Coincidentally, Judie had a touchpad failure which also required a complete replacement of the upper portion of the laptop, including keyboard. My only issue with the 15″ MBPr since repair is that it is a beast to carry when traveling. This is particularly true during CES each January. At 4 1/2 pounds, it may not sound like a heavy computer, but about halfway through the day it really starts to wear on you. My initial solution was to purchase the base 11 inch MacBook air when it was updated a few months ago. I made the mistake however of ordering one with just 128 GB storage and quickly discovered it was hard to limiting for the kind of work I do. Judie also purchased an 11″ MBA, but she was smart enough to double the storage, and it is working just fine for her as a travel solution used in tandem with her 15″ MBPr. The good news is that I was able to quickly turn around and sell my 11″ MBA on eBay, which recouped pretty much all of my initial expenditure outlay.

Fast forward a few months, and I have three upcoming trips. Two of them, an 11 trip I am leading to Israel and our annual week at CES, will have me doing a good bit of moving about from place to place on a daily basis while also requiring me to do a fair bit of writing. I could try to go all-in with my iPad, but it is just a bit too cumbersome for some of the tasks I know I’ll need to undertake; I really need the efficiency of laptop.

So here’s what I have been thinking and where I would love your input.

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Option 1: Sell my 15″ MacBook Pro with retina display and purchase the 13″ MacBook Pro with retina display when it is updated this week. The offset amount from selling and purchasing would likely be $1000-$1500. Ouch.

On the upside, the 13″ MacBook Pro would become my full-time computer; it would serve me quite well, have excellent battery life, and expect virtually no compromises compared to what I am doing now. It would also save me some weight. The downside is the initial expenditure and the fact that it only saves under 1 pound. (The 15″ is 4.46 lbs while the 13″ is 3.57 lbs.) That’s significant, but not a total solution from the sole perspective of weight reduction.

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Option 2: Purchase a 13″ MacBook air with 256 GB of storage. Use it for the next 3 to 4 months, and then sell it recouping a significant percentage of the initial outlay. I suspect that will end up costing me about $200 to do this.

On the upside, this would save me about 1 1/2 pounds of computer while requiring me to make almost no compromises. (The 15″ is 4.46 lbs while the 13″ air is 2.96 lbs. If I went to an 11″ I would save over 2 lbs.) Sure the MacBook air doesn’t have a retina display yet, but that’s not a deal breaker for me. The downside is the fact that the initial outlay of money is significant but, at the same time, because I can sell it in a few months, the final cost of this is not all too significant.

Option 3: Purchase a Chromebook for $250 and use it on the go. (HP’s new Chromebook is even lighter than the 11″ MBA at just 2.3 lbs.) Sure it requires me to work in the cloud, so it won’t be quite as efficient as a MacBook would be, but it does have advantages over trying to use an iPad full-time and it certainly is a cost-effective way to get something smaller and lighter than my 15″ MacBook Pro. Best of all, I could purchase it for about $250 and then in three or four months sell it for $150. That would make the total expenditure for me somewhere around hundred dollars. That’s well worth it to have increased efficiency while I’m traveling.

So I ask of you – with these three options being the only available options I can see, which would you recommend? Or do you see another option that I’m missing? I appreciate any and all input.

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7 replies

  1. If all you’re doing is writing and some basic photo editing (and no video editing) then there’s no point in getting an Air. Get the Chromebook. Going the 13″ rMBP route would be a downgrade; Haswell highlights efficiency over power and I wouldn’t expect the GPU to be much (if at all) better than what you already have.

    Just remember to pack a card reader or a cable for your camera since the HP Chromebook doesn’t have one, unlike the slightly older Samsung Chromebook. Or you could just get the Samsung Chromebook, which uses the same chip as the HP Chromebook and can be found for cheaper now; it has a somewhat worse screen, but does have a card reader and HDMI output. The one downside is that you can’t charge it with microUSB.

    Also, some people report that the Samsung Chromebook has better battery life.

    • Thanks. Talk to me about video editing since I think I would be hard pressed to not at least have the option to do some basic video work.

      • If the video is intended to be uploaded to YouTube (e.g., the Gear Diary channel), you *could* use the Google’s YouTube Editor. My understanding is that it’s their servers doing the heavy lifting, so it’s workable.

        The other main (and somewhat more powerful) option would be WeVideo, which if nothing else has an interesting pricing model. Editing video is free; when it comes time to export your work, you pay one of three prices depending on quality. 480p plus watermark is free, 720p is $1, and 1080p is $2. Alternatively, there’s a choice of monthly and yearly subscriptions. WeVideo exports to Google Drive and YouTube.

        • The other problem is that the Samsung (and I assume HP as well) is brutally slow … trying to do much of anything that resembles a laptop would be laughable if it wasn’t frustrating. For example, imagine you are writing a post in one tab, with email in another, and two tabs for search and a research backup article. You will already have significantly degraded performance. It is basically about the speed of my 2010 Lenovo s10 netbook … which only cost <$300 back then.

  2. Having owned both Mac and Chromebook, as a power user I think that you would feel limited by the Chromebook. Yes I found that I could do everything that I wanted on the Chromebook – eventually and sometimes not easily. Last spring when I was using it as my primary computer I had to do too many work-arounds to get what I wanted done and could do it, but not always as easily as I can on a PC or a Mac. I found video editing online to be cumbersome, yes it is improving, but, still not as good or as intuitive as iMovie (if that is what you are using) – yet.
    I liked a lot of things about my Chromebook, but found even the 4GB RAM model that I had would bog down and most of the ones you are talking about only have 2GB RAM. The Chromebook will surprise you with what it will and can do, but it takes some re-thinking how you do things, that you take for granted on a Mac.
    Based on the comments you provided above, if I had the choice I would probably go with the MBA and then sell it later or suck it up and get the 13″ model – while it doesn’t seem like a lot of weight savings, the difference is more than just the physical – at least that is my experience. Also if you do a lot of video editing or photo editing what are your screen real estate needs?
    It sounded like when you were writing you were more positive in option 2, than the other two????
    Good luck on your choice

  3. I would say go with what you know and do one of the Macbook options. I’d hate to learn that the Chromebook was a bad choice in the middle of a trip. That said, the new Asus C7 is a Haswell device, and should perform well compared with older Chromebooks based on phone/tablet processors, like the new HP model.