Client email: Should I get both a laptop and desktop?

Names have been changed, but this is an actual question we've been asked, and thought you might enjoy the answer.

Hi Rick,

My old iMac has run its course and needs to be replaced. I'd like to be more mobile with my Mac, so this time I'm thinking of getting both a new iMac and MacBook. What do you think?

Susan

Hi Susan,

Here are a few thoughts; there are a couple ways to go about this.

First, the Desktop + Laptop idea works for a lot of people, but it sometimes can create additional stress when it comes to making sure documents, pictures, and programs are where you expect them to be. I've noticed some folks in this situation find themselves thinking, "Hey, I want to show you a picture on my laptop, but I just remembered it's actually at home on the desktop right now," or "Didn't I already download Pages to this computer?" Stuff like that. In my opinion, the only folks who need to go the Desktop + Laptop route are ones who need the extra horsepower of a desktop computer.

The alternative would be going with a Laptop + External Monitor. Think of it like an old "docking station" that a lot of computers had in the late 90's. Here's what the modern equivalent would look like: [click here]. In that particular picture, the laptop is closed and being held up by a stand. On its backside, a cable is running to the monitor and it's wirelessly connected to the keyboard and mouse via Bluetooth.

I think the Laptop + Monitor is one of the most elegant and easy ways to go. From an IT perspective, it's way easier to manage, too. All the files are on one computer. When you're at home, you just plug in the laptop, and what you were working on appears on the big monitor. The other items that would need to be purchased are they external keyboard and mouse. 

As far as the initial purchase goes, the Desktop + Laptop and then the Laptop + Monitor situation actually comes out costing roughly the same up front. (Also, if you want to replace the laptop several years down the road, you can still continue to use the same monitor. So over the long run, it's much more cost effective.) One difference is that in the external monitor option, you would have a bit of bigger screen -- which is nice.

Let me know what you think of that idea. If you still want to go with the Desktop + Laptop scenario for other reasons I don't know about, we can definitely go that route, too. And from there, we can then talk about which specific laptop to pick out, etc.

Rick

How do I buy a Mac?

Your PC just died, you got your hands on some cash, or maybe your iPhone has been telling you to surround it with more Apple homies.  Whatever the reason, you're now looking to get a Mac.  Here are some answers to the questions you're probably asking.

When is the best time to buy a Mac?

Apple actually releases Macs on a somewhat predictable schedule.  In fact, a certain website has built a solid Buyer’s Guide. Here, you can select the model you want, read related rumors, and view the predicted release date of the next generation.  They also keep tabs on iOS devices as well.

Now, if you're a student, work for an accredited college, or homeschool your kids, it might be worth waiting for Apple's annual "Back to School" sale.  It usually runs from May to September.  This is when Apple Retail will toss in a hundred bucks towards an App Store Gift Card.  Hard to resist, right?

When is the best time to buy an iPhone, iPod, or iPad?

These iOS devices get updated pretty much once a year.  Again, your best bet is glancing at the MacRumors' Buyer's Guide.

Where is the best place to buy a Mac?

Being a former Apple Retail employee I know the benefits of shopping in one of Apple's own branded stores.  First, the staff is knowledgable and well trained.  They are not commission based and for the most part, will shoot straight with you.  Furthermore, One to One can only be purchased from an Apple Store.  If you have a ton of questions, then buy your Mac at the Apple Store.

If you don’t have questions and want to shave about 3% off the price, check out MacMall.  Of course, if you don't need a brand new Mac, check out either Apple's own refurbished Mac site or your local Craigslist.

Do Macs ever go on sale?

Only on one day a year: the day after Thanksgiving.  The sales are fairly predictable since they follow the basic education discount pricing (which differs from product to product, usually it's around 8%.)  The best discounts on Black Friday are on iPhone and Mac accessories.  And like I said before, there is also the Back to School iPod promo every summer.

Should I buy AppleCare?

For Macs, yes. Personally, I buy AppleCare on all my devices. If you like the peace of mind that comes with knowing the Apple Retail store will gladly troubleshoot your device and not charge for parts or labor, then go ahead and get AppleCare.

Which Mac should I get?

Whichever one you think feels and looks the best.  Seriously.  These days, they are each extremely fast for the average user and it's hard to feel disappointed once you bring one home.  Now, if you’re a professional photographer, videographer, or gamer, then look at anything with “Pro” in its name, or consider the high-end iMac. But my guess is that if that’s you, you’re not reading this page! Bottom line is this: go to the Apple Store and picture yourself using those computers in a day to day environment. Whichever one has the screen size you like, fits in your bag, or looks best on your desk is probably a great choice.

Personally, I love the MacBook Pro with Retina display and try to recommend it to as many folks I can. The Retina display is Apple's latest display technology. The pixels in this display are so small that your eye cannot distinguish them; it's like looking through a window!

Most Macs no longer have a DVD drive, and this fact spooks a lot of folks. Seriously, when was the last time you used your DVD drive? If you use it a lot, purchase an external one for $79.

No really, which Mac should I get?

Get the MacBook Air if you favor portability. Get the MacBook Pro with Retina display if you want speed and a sweet screen. Get an iMac if you want a desktop.

How long will this Mac last?

Every Mac should at least last as long as your 3-year AppleCare plan.  After that, it’ll last as long as you treat it well and meets your needs.  It's not rare to hear of someone getting seven or eight years out of a desktop Mac.  Now, the more mobile and rough you are with your Mac, the less likely you'll be seeing that kind of longevity.

What are some more resources for first-time Mac buyers?

Hear it from the horse's mouth: http://www.apple.com/why-mac/. Apple also has some good training videos here: http://apple.com/findouthow. And of course, when you really want to learn how to master your Mac, book an appointment with one of many former Apple employees: http://macinstructor.co/appointments.