Purchasing Dilemma

I am a little concerned about Apple’s product lineup. I have a daughter starting university and want to get her a laptop, but the choice seem far from ideal. I wrote about my concerns here

Now I am even more concerned given the recent comparison by DigitalTrends

I’m in a similar situation with children at university needing a new Mac. I’ve been trying to push out the date with the hope of new MacBook Pro’s. If you can bear the cost I would recommend her starting university with iPad Pro, keyboard, leather sleeve and pen. Hopefully, there will then be a new MacBook Pro before New Year.

If that doesn’t work for you, I would recommend following Marco’s advice and purchase a used MacBook Pro.

tbh, I’d recommend against anybody migrating to MacOS today. Chromebook might be a better option for anyone not already invested in the full Mac ecosystem.

Although I’m not in university anymore, I too am due for a new computer. I’m waiting till the MacBook Pro’s get announced and hopefully they are of better keyboard etc. Otherwise I think I’ll get the 2015 MacBook Pro as it has good keyboard travel but not quite sure what I’ll do given its 2018.

What is your daughter studying in college? Will she have specialized computing needs?

My “default” recommendation at this point for people is a 13” MacBook Pro without TouchBar. Several members of my family own this machine and have never plugged a dongle into it. We’ve been fortunate to avoid keyboard problems.

With the exception of USB A converter, most “normal folks” just don’t plug all that much into their computer. As “power users” we tend to skew our thinking of what we need.

My family members don’t use external monitors, print and surf wirelessly. It’s been a great machine for them and plenty powerful.


yes, just get a mac from the current lineup and don’t worry about it. usb-c adapters are plentiful and cheap and barely needs in most real life situations. keyboard hype is overstated (writing as someone who had half my keys inoperable at one point…) and touch bar is actually quite useful.


Either get the one you can afford (MB Air) or push for a MB Pro without tough bar.

Storage is the least of her worries, get an iCloud account and let iCloud drive take care of the data storage.
You know she will not back-up and something will go terribly wrong. Having all her data in iCloud will be a blessing…

A modest suggestion, or at least food for thought. If I were going to college today I would choose an iPad Pro with Apple Pencil as my computing device of choice. YouTube is full of well made videos illustrating how students take notes and otherwise use the iPad Pro in a school environment. It’s highly portable, durable, and you can use almost any keyboard you want (or different ones for different environments, which is what I do now).

Of course, some fields of study may still require laptops, but iPads Pros are surprisingly capable and many seeming issues can be solved by finding the right software. Macstories.net is a great place to start for information on using an iPad as a primary computing device.

Since new iPads are likely coming in the fall you can find good discounts on current models at Best Buy and other third party sellers.

Anyway, just a suggestion. I wish they had iPads when I was in school. Or laptops for that matter. OK, it’s been awhile!


As someone currently in college and is the go to tech guy for family and friends I know exactly where you’re coming from. The iPad Pro with Apple Pencil is definitely my suggestion. For most majors, the only thing holding back the iPad Pro from doing everything that a student might need is the fact still, even today there are websites for college courses and assignments that use adobe flash. If that’s the case or the student will be in a major that requires more power (or desktop apps) I would follow @katiefloyd ‘s suggestion.

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The point about Flash is a good one. At my university the learning management software uses flash for several vital features including some for getting grade feedback. I have had students doing all their work on a tablet only to find they hadn’t seen or heard (there’s an audio record feature) any feedback for most of the semester.

For people saying iPads, I agree for the basics, but as a recent adult graduate I wouldn’t want to be limited to a tablet. If you are in a major where you are just writing papers and doing online homework it will be ok, but I was a accounting major and it didn’t long before most of my homework was in Excel. There is no way I would want to do complicated spreadsheets on an iPad. Plus even for stuff like writing papers, I found my iMac or MacBook much easier to use. I could have multiple notes, webpages, PDFs, etc open and switch as needed much easier than I could on a tablet. I found my iPad excellent for in class note taking and studying, but for homework, I would much rather have a desktop or laptop.

I know it’s not a popular machine, but I love my MacBook. It’s incredibly light, fits in my purse, and does everything I need it to do. I’ve used it daily as my main computer since October without any problems. It does need an adapter when I’m connecting in classrooms for VGA - but then so does every other Mac.

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Agreed, the MacBook is a great computer. In school I just wanted something small and light to take to class (depending on the class I used an iPad Pro or a MacBook). Never had any keyboard issues, never needed multiple USB ports, etc. I thought it was the perfect school/coffeeshop laptop.

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In the past (before my university purchased a MacBook Pro for me) I was doing the iPad only thing with the Air 2. I really like working on the iPad although I still needed a Mac for some of the video work I do for my department. Unfortunately, while I find the iPad Pro solution a good one, my daughter does not. She still likes the idea of a laptop and doesn’t like to have to figure out the little work-arounds still inherent in iPad-laptop replacement.

Looking at the price points (edu discount or refurbished), the MacBook might be an option. I really, really, wish they would just update the Air to a retina screen and processor bump. If they did that it would be an easy choice.

Right now I think this may be the way to go IF I can find a refurbished MPB (though as anneperez pointed out below) the MacBook could be an option if my daughter wants something a little lighter. I think part of my issue is I feel Apple isn’t offering particularly impressive specs for the price. In the old PowerPC vs. Intel era, it was easier to make the case that the specs were the same or better between Macs and PCs. Once the switched happened, Apple seemed to be keeping pace in terms or price and performance. You paid an Apple tax, but the machines were more stable, ran longer, had a better OS, and (in my opinion) have better software. Many of those things are true, except Apple seems to be ignoring the lower end (loved my first poly-carbonate MacBook) and not upping the basic specs on the higher end. When I look at the types of screens, processors and RAM you get on a Windows laptop, I start to wonder whether Apple is losing its edge.

My girlfriend is starting grad school next Fall and her 11" Macbook Air is not going to cut it. I’m hoping that there’s a total refresh of MBPs at the September event this year. I know we’re not due for them two years after the launch of the last gen, but Apple needs to buck the problems and perception issues with the current lineup.

As an additional input from a parent with multiple children at university, I would also like to point out that you should assume that at a minimum her laptop should dual boot Windows and macOS. I say this because many university curriculum include materials or tools which may only work on Windows. This might be due to limitations of the tool or even licenses that the university has obtained. Ideally, your daughter might want a Mac with enough power to run Windows in a virtual environment but at a minimum be set up to dual boot. This is one of the reasons that you might prefer a used machine with more horsepower.

Unfortunately, I agree with you that a certain designers fondness for thinness has effectively eliminated an advantage Apple had with upgradeability of memory and storage which previously resulted in prior generation Apple laptops having a much longer productive life and being more cost effective than the typical Windows laptop. I’m hoping that we will see some improvement on that front. But it may be wishful thinking.

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This 100%. I’m facing the same dilemma myself. I can’t bring myself to buy any of the butterfly keyboard versions as the MacBooks I buy usually stay in the family as long as they’re supported by macOS, but given that I don’t live in a cleanroom, I have more or less zero confidence that the butterfly switches wouldn’t give me issues at some point of the computer’s lifespan, and as you can’t do any meaningful DIY repairs anymore (like you could back in the day a certain designer didn’t want to shave with his laptop), it seems too risky and wasteful to buy an expensive laptop with known issues in a mission-critical area for me. The Air, on the other hand, still lacks the retina screen and I really wouldn’t like to buy a computer without at least one USB-C port in 2018.

I sincerely hope there’s a meaningful update to Apple’s laptop lineup before the end of the year, as otherwise I’ll most likely go with my plan B of buying a ThinkPad which have awesome keyboards (this I know for a fact as I have one from my employer and another from my current client project) and which still support basic upgrades and repairs. While I could live with the current Windows 10, there are things I’d miss from macOS and I wouldn’t like to end a 14-year run of having a Mac as my primary private computer.

I think that there is a lot of over-reaction to any keyboard issues on Macs. I use three Mac Laptops two with the new keyboards. I really enjoy the Touch Bar on my 15in and I find the 12 in a bit too small.

My main mobile computer is the 12.9 iPad Pro. It is a Goldilocks machine for me! IF you can use ipad at school I am a HUGH fan. You have to know the school and the major,…