Recommending a New Mac

I got an email from my mom the other day asking me for a recommendation on a new Mac. The first question I asked was what her budget was like. She said she’d like to keep it under a grand, which right away narrowed the field quite a bit. Next I asked what she would be using the machine for, to which she replied with the standard home use cases of “income taxes, email, scanning, internet, etc”, as well as printing to a Brother ink jet.

At first glance, it would seem like she would be the perfect candidate for an iPad. Modest computing needs, tight budget, and she doesn’t want junk. Or, in her words, “I hate slow computers but don’t need top of the line either.” I considered steering her towards an iPad, but that first item in the list of things she uses a computer for gave me pause, “income taxes”. I don’t know exactly what software she uses to do taxes, but I started imagining scenarios where she would run up against the edges of what the iPad, or more specifically, iOS, can do. Would she need to download and import files from banks? Would she need to read files off a USB drive? She’s into wildlife photography in Montana, how would she get the photos on the iPad?1 My mom’s no slouch, but she’s not Federico Viticci either. Pushing the boundaries of iOS is not what she cares to be spending her time doing.

I imagine Mom just wants to use a computer like she’s been doing for the past thirty years. Given the budget, and after eliminating the iPad from the equation, I briefly considered the desktop options. Of course, all of those were thrown out almost immediately. The iMacs are too expensive, the Mac Mini is too slow, and the Mac Pro, uh, no. That leads us to the laptop line. The MacBook Adorable was considered, then eliminated for lack of ports and high price. The new MacBook Pro also suffers from a lack of standard ports and a price tag that’s far too high. That leaves us with the venerable MacBook Air.

The Air has been Apple’s best laptop, and possibly best computer period, for years. While the MacBook Pro is the workhorse of the lineup, the Air’s svelte styling and weight paired with an affordable price tag to make an extremely compelling offer. While the MacBook Adorbs is beautiful and portable, Apple is pushing the envelope with the single port, and consumers are footing the bill for the new technology with a higher price. While the Air is plenty fast enough for all but the most demanding tasks, I’ve heard more than one user complain that the mobile chip in the MacBook Meh is sluggish. Jony’s styling doesn’t win out over performance with my mom.

In the end, I found a 13” Air with 8GB RAM, 128GB SSD, and an Intel i5 for $850 on Apple’s refurbished site. I think Mom will be happy with this machine for many years to come.

Next, my daughter and I are going in on a Mac for her to take to college. That’s an entirely different set of requirements and a different use case, one that I’ll follow up with here, as soon as we decide what to get.

  1. Yes, I’m aware of the dongle. It seems like a wonky workaround.